Ireland; Past, Present and Future

by William T. Thornton

First published in A Plea for Peasant Proprietors, John Murray, 1848

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Ireland, even more commonly, and with more confidence than France, is appealed to as testifying strongly against small farms and small properties. The 'cottage system,' it is said, has there been tried on a very extensive scale, and has utterly and lamentably failed. Five-sixths of all the farms in the island are less than fifteen acres in extent, and nearly one-half are less than five acres; yet in no part of Europe is agriculture more defective, nor the peasantry more idle and thoughtless, or so miserable and ill-disposed. What reply can be made to a statement, the truth of which is too notorious to be disputed? Simply, that to Irish farms are wanting certain conditions, without which no farms, whether small or great, nor their occupiers, can be expected to flourish. There are no bounds to the tenant's liabilities, and no security against his ejection. That Irish holdings should have been supposed capable of furnishing any argument against peasant properties, is only one among many examples of the profound ignorance which prevails respecting Irish affairs. Ireland is one of the few countries in which there neither are, nor ever were, peasant properties. From the earliest appropriation of the soil, down to the present day, estates have always been of considerable size, and though these estates are now cut up into many small holdings, the actual occupiers of the soil, far from being landowners, are not even lease-holders, but are rackrented tenants at will. In this single phrase may be found a complete explanation of all the evils of their condition, and all the defects of their character. They are indolent, because they have no inducement to work after they have obtained from their labour wherewithal to pay their rent, and to save themselves from starvation. Whatever additional produce they might raise, would only subject them to further exactions. They are careless of the future, because they cannot, by taking thought, improve the gloomy prospects of the morrow; they are reduced to the verge of destitution, because they are permitted to retain no more of the fruits of their labour than will barely suffice for their subsistence; and they set at naught all other laws, divine or human, partly in obedience to the first law of nature, that of self-preservation, and partly because familiarity with misery has rendered them desperate.


Before we proceed further, it may be well to inquire how it is that Irish cottars are unable to make better bargains with their landlords. In other countries, in which the property of the soil is not vested in the peasantry, the latter nevertheless obtain possession of it without submitting to terms altogether unreasonable. Leases may not perhaps be granted to them, but they do not suffer the landlord to fix his own rent. They will not consent to pay more than the land is worth, as a means of employing their capital and labour. But in Ireland they do not venture to reject any demands, however outrageous. Whatever rent may be asked, they readily agree to pay, perfectly heedless whether they shall be able to fulfil engagements which the necessities of their situation leave them no choice but to undertake. In a country in which farms are in general too small to afford employment for hired labour, a peasant has scarcely a chance of being able to gain a livelihood, unless he obtain possession of land; and in Ireland the competitors for land are so numerous, that the price paid for the use of it has reached a degree of exorbitancy unheard of elsewhere. Such keen competition clearly shows that population is excessive; that is to say, that the labouring class is too numerous in proportion to the amount of employment for it; but it would be a mistake to regard this redundancy of population as a consequence of the prevalence of small farms. The progress of population has, indeed, been extraordinarily rapid since the period when nearly the whole territory was given up to pasturage, and since the immense grazing farms, by which it was formerly occupied, have been brought under tillage, and divided amongst more than half a million of cottage holdings. But population, in becoming more dense, has not, perhaps, become much more excessive. Ireland was certainly never before so populous as at present; that is to say, it never before contained so great a number of inhabitants, but it has long, perhaps, been nearly as much overpeopled; that is to say, the number of inhabitants has long been nearly as much disproportioned to the means of subsistence. The prodigious strides which population has made of late years, have made the destitution of the poor more obvious than before, but it is doubtful whether they have rendered it much more severe. The mass of the people has always been subjected to such extreme privations, that although the number of sufferers is now far greater, the sufferings of individuals have not been much aggravated. A very hasty retrospect may serve to discover the grounds for this opinion.

From the earliest times Ireland has been noted for the excellence of its pastures. Its level surface, overspread with the most luxuriant herbage, presented a wide field over which the cattle of the first settlers might freely range and multiply at an exceedingly rapid rate. Their owners became proportionably wealthy, but the possession of great wealth by individuals implies a corresponding disparity of ranks in the community. The authority of the leader of a tribe may have depended on his personal character or on accidental circumstances, but whatever may have been the political position of the chief with respect to his fellow-herdsmen, the latter, no doubt, exercised almost unlimited power over their servants and dependents. It is, indeed, a recorded fact, that these retainers did, after a while, degenerate into absolute bondsmen, who were attached to the manor on which they dwelt, and, under the name of 'betages,' were as completely at the disposal of their lords as the serfs of Continental Europe. The pastural occupation of the primitive Irish was not laid aside as soon as they had divided their new country amongst them, and had stationed themselves on particular spots, but continued to be practised by their descendants for many generations. The principal obstacle to change was, probably, at first, the nature of the climate, which, Mela says, was as unsuitable for grain as it was favourable to the growth of grass[1]; and this was, perhaps, the sole reason why, so late as the twelfth century, the people could still be represented as despising husbandry, and as not having laid aside their ancient pastoral mode of life.[2]

When greater intercourse sprang up between them and more civilised nations, they would have been taught the advantage of cultivating the soil; but, unfortunately, in the long period of anarchy which succeeded to the conquest by Henry the Second, the incessant warfare between the English colonists and the natives acted as an effectual bar to agriculture, for both parties thought it wiser to keep their property in the shape of flocks and herds, which could easily be removed to a place of refuge, than in corn stacks or standing crops, which must have been left to the mercy of a successful invader. Cattle thus continued to be the principal produce of the country, so much so, indeed, that they were often used as a medium of exchange, and that, even in the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Book of Ballymote, is said to have been purchased for 140 milch cows.[3] More than a hundred years later, we find the poet Spenser lamenting that 'all men fell to pasturage and none to husbandry,' and recommending that an ordinance should be made to compel every one who kept twenty kine to keep one plough going likewise. [4] It is not likely that agriculture made much progress during the reigns of Elizabeth and of the first two Stuarts, and during the Protectorate, a period marked by the rebellion of the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnel, the massacre of the Protestants at the instigation of Roger Moore, the equally bloody invasion of Cromwell and the confiscation of five-sixths of the island; and, if it did, it must have been thrown back as much as ever after the Revolution of 1688, when a twelfth of the land again changed masters; and in the reign of Queen Anne, when a series of penal acts was directed against the Roman Catholics. These atrocious laws, amongst other monstrous provisions, forbade papists to purchase lands, or to hold them by lease for more than thirty-one years, or to derive from leasehold property a profit greater than one-third of the rent. The great majority of the people being Roman Catholics, were thus, in effect, restrained from the practice of agriculture, and the proprietors of estates had really no option but to let them to the few capitalists who could legally compete for them, and who could not, of course, properly superintend the management of the immense tracts which fell into their hands, except by keeping them almost entirely under grass. So general and so prolonged was the neglect of tillage, that, in the year 1727, a law was made to compel every occupier of 100 acres to cultivate at least five acres; but the injunction seems to have been little regarded, and, until about forty years later, little additional land was brought under the plough.

From the earliest times then, until late in the last century, Ireland was almost entirely a grazing country. Now it is true that in pastoral communities which have little commercial intercourse with more civilised nations, every class of persons is commonly sufficiently supplied with the necessaries of life. In such circumstances, a rich herdsman has literally no means of getting rid of his superfluous wealth, except by maintaining a large retinue of servants, and he is naturally liberal enough of the milk, cheese, flesh, hides, and wool, which would be wasted if he did not give them away. But Ireland, from a very remote period, has carried on a considerable export trade, and the owners of the soil have always possessed in foreign countries a market for their surplus produce. It was therefore the interest of the primitive Irish herdsmen to restrain the consumption of their servants, and to confine it within the narrowest possible bounds. When the servants became serfs, they were not, according to the custom in more agricultural countries, provided with portions of land to cultivate for their own support; for the estates of their lords, however extensive, could scarcely be too extensive for pasturage. They lived on such fare as their masters chose to provide, went half-naked, and slept under trees, or the scarcely better shelter of branches cemented together with mud. When they became enfranchised, they gained nothing but personal freedom. Their condition in most other respects remained unchanged. Froissart describes them as living in forests in huts made of boughs, like 'wild beasts'.[5] There was so little demand for labour, that most were still glad to serve for a bare subsistence, and the few who were permitted to be tenants of land, obtained little more from their farms. 'Irish landlords,' says Spenser, 'do not use to set out their lands in farm, or for terms of years, but only from year to year, and some during pleasure; neither indeed will the Irish husbandman otherwise take his land than so long as he lists himself. The reason hereof is, that the landlords used most shamefully to rack their tenants, laying upon them coigns and livery at pleasure, and exacting of them besides his convenants what we pleaseth.' Spenser goes on to speak of the farmhouses, which he calls 'rather swine-styes than houses;'  and of the farmer's 'beastly manner of life, and savage condition, lying and living together with his beasts in one house, in one room, in one bed, that is clean straw or rather a foul dunghill.'[6] Matters were not at all mended in 1672, when Sir William Petty made his survey, and estimated that out of 200,000 houses then existing in Ireland, 100,000 were 'wretched, nasty cabins, without chimney, window, or door-shut, even worse than those of the savage Americans.'

From these premises it may be inferred that the present misery of the Irish peasantry is of no recent origin, but has been from time immemorial an heirloom in the race. The number of labourers has always been greatly in excess of the demand for labour, and the remuneration of labour has consequently never been much more than sufficient to procure the merest sustenance. This was as much the case when Ireland was one vast grazing farm, and contained few inhabitants beside cattle and their attendants, as now, that the face of the country is cut up into potato gardens, and dotted with cabins, each containing a separate family. The inhabitants have always been as numerous as the country in its actual circumstances could support, and population has only advance in proportion as the limits set to it have been widened. How much soever population may have varied in amount at different periods, it has always been nearly equally in excess of the means of subsistence; and the multiplication of the people, much as it has increased the mass of misery, has not perhaps sensibly aggravated the misery of individuals. The chief difference is that, whereas people were once starving on a short allowance of meat, they are now starving on a short allowance of potatoes. Abundance of the former they never knew, nor of the latter, except during one short period. This brief interval of comparative plenty commenced soon after the middle of the last century, when the increase of tillage increased the demand for farm servants; but the increase was too gradual to produce any material or permanent effect. In the year 1762, the Irish parliament granted high bounties on the inland carriage of grain, and in 1783 and 1784 granted further bounties on its exportation, and prohibited its importation from abroad; and the rise of price which took place in consequence was further promoted by the demand for foreign corn in Great Britain after the commencement of the war with France, and by the abolition in 1806 of all restrictions on the corn trade between this country and Ireland. Inducements were thus given to landholders to substitute tillage for pasturage, and as the tracts held by single graziers were in general much too extensive to be cultivated by the actual tenants, they were divided into farms of more convenient size, and let to such persons as were willing to undertake them. There was not, however, capital enough in the island to meet the requirements of this revolution in husbandry, and most of the new race of farmers were so poor that they could not pay their labourers in any other way than by assigning to them pieces of ground to build cabins upon, and to cultivate for their own subsistence. Together with the farmers, therefore, a considerable body of cottars sprung up, and in this manner the bulk of the peasantry were converted into occupiers of land; but the conversion was effected much less suddenly than is commonly supposed. Although the inland carriage bounty caused a good deal of pasture to be broken up in a few counties, yet, after it had been several years in operation, the proportion of tillage to pasturage over the whole island was still not more than one to ten; and it is certain that the acts of 1783 and 1784 caused only an inconsiderable tract to be brought under the plough. The increase in the exportation of grain, which may be regarded as an exact measure of the increase of cultivation consequent upon those Acts, shows that the latter was inconsiderable. The quantity of corn exported from Ireland was 211, 979 barrels in 1783, and 648, 884 barrels in 1789, showing a difference in six years of 436, 905 barrels, or about 266, 000 quarters; and this quantity divided by six gives about 44, 000 quarters as the annual ratio of increased exportation. But to produce 44, 000 quarters of corn, not more than 20, 000 acres can have been required, and nine hundred men are many more than are commonly employed to cultivate 20,000 acres in the ordinary manner. In each of the six years, then, ending with 1789, additional employment was created for no more than nine hundred labourers, at the very outside. But such an increase of employment in the midst of a population of nearly four millions, could not materially raise the price of labour, nor enable the peasantry to live much better than they had always been accustomed to do. The usual rate of wages was sixpence a day, but after the necessary deductions for Sundays, holidays, and bad weather, there remained only about 270 working days in the year, and of these the labourer was generally obliged to give up 60 to his master in payment for his cabin and garden, and 60 more in payment for the grazing of a cow. His actual cash receipts were therefore not more than three pounds fifteen shillings. His allotment of land, which was generally an acre or an acre and a half, might indeed have supplied the deficiency of his money wages; but as it was held at will, and as the extent was regulated by the slovenly mode of tillage commonly practised, the rent would no doubt have been raised if the tenant had made the land more than ordinarily productive. He only troubled himself, therefore, to obtain from it as many potatoes as he needed, and with these, and with milk, he was, at that period, abundantly supplied, insomuch that Arthur Young was struck with the contrast between the scanty meals of an English cottager, and the exuberance of the Irishman’s potato-bowl, to which every member of his family, wife, children, pig, and poultry, enjoyed free access. Plenty of food was however the sum total of the Irish peasant’s advantages, even in this, his short age of gold. While revelling at a succession of potato feasts, his clothing was little else than rags, and his cabin was the same miserable hovel as at this day, consisting generally of only one room, without chimney or window, and with walls, which, if artificial, were built of mud and straw, but which were sometimes merely the sides of a broad ditch, united at the top by a roof of thatch or sods overgrown with weeds on which the pig might sometimes be seen grazing.[7] Thus the increased remuneration of the labourer did not raise his standard of comfort by enabling him to procure new enjoyments and to satisfy new wants, but merely gave him an ample meal, and enabled him to feed his children better. The addition to the resources of the peasantry was just sufficient to give a fresh impulse to population, which advanced so rapidly, that although the extension of tillage continued to increase the demand for labour, the supply of labourers fully kept up with it, and prevented it from working any beneficial change in the condition of the people. The partition of grazing farms, and the creation of cottage holdings, enlarged the field of employment; but the enlargement was effected so gradually, that time was allowed for the number of seekers for employment to increase in the same proportion, and the same keen competition raised the rent of land which had formerly depressed the rate of wages. Thus, from the very first, land was procurable by the peasantry only on terms which forbade their deriving any benefit from their possession, and to this defect in their original tenure may be ascribed all the evils which have resulted from the introduction of the cottage system into Ireland. Population could not indeed have reached its present amount but for the general distribution of land among the peasantry; but neither would it have done so, if the peasantry had obtained the land on advantageous terms. If their conversion into landholders had sensibly improved their condition, the benefit would probably have been permanent, for their indigence and their improvidence would have been cured by the same means. From the peculiar manner in which the change was brought about, it failed to relieve that ancient and inveterate poverty which is not the less the cause than the effect of the redundancy of population in Ireland, or it would probably have produced effects the very opposite of those which have actually proceeded from it, and would have established the prosperity of the peasantry on a firm basis, instead of merely increasing the number of participators in their misery.

It is a conclusive proof that the occupation of land by the Irish peasantry does not of itself contribute to their misery, that it is precisely where the distribution of land amongst them is most general that population is least redundant, and the condition of the people most tolerable. In Ulster, the number of farms not exceeding five acres in extent, and the proportion of inhabitants occupying land, are greater than in any one of the other three provinces; yet in Ulster, the competition for land is less keen than in the rest of Ireland, and in Ulster only is the English tourist occasionally reminded of the happiest parts of his own country, by the comparative neatness of the white-washed cottages, and by the appearance of the comparatively well-dressed and well-fed inmates. It is true that Ulster is the most densely-people portion of the whole island, but population has not outrun subsistence in the same manner as in the other provinces, and the inhabitants, though much more numerous, have long preserved the same proportion between their numbers and their means of livelihood. The reason of this is, that they have always enjoyed something approaching to a comfortable subsistence. The terms of their tenure of land do not leave them just so much only of the produce as may suffice to keep them from starving. They are not mere tenants in the ordinary sense of the word, but possess a proprietary right which limits that of the landlord, and restrains his power of raising the rent, or ejecting the actual occupant. This ‘tenant-right,’ as it is called, which is peculiar to the north of Ireland, has probably grown out of the privileges conceded to the English and Scottish emigrants, by whom Ulster was colonised in James the First’s reign, to induce them to settle in so barbarous a reign. Although founded solely on prescription, its operation is almost as effectual as if it were recognised by law, and its value to the possessor is self-evident. It stimulates him to exertion by securing to him the entire produce of his additional labour, and enables him to procure some few of the conveniences as well as the necessaries of life. The natural desire to retain these advantages is only another name for prudence. A cottar’s sons possess still greater facilities in Ulster than in Munster or Connaught for dividing their father’s holding, yet they have long been much less in the habit of effecting such a partition. If they saw that they could not maintain themselves on their respective shares without sacrificing the few comforts they had been accustomed to, they naturally sought for some other means of livelihood. The cottage farms have consequently been transmitted from one generation to another without diminution[8], and the agricultural population has advanced only in proportion to the increase of means for its support. The only county in Ulster to which this description does not apply is Donegal, in which, as the indigenous Celtic inhabitants were never extirpated, tenant-right has not been introduced except partially, and in an imperfect shape. The peasantry of that county, ever since they became occupiers of land, have been kept as poor as their brethren in the most wretched districts of Connaught, and their numbers have increased as fast, and the partition of their holdings has been carried to the same extent.

If it be objected that the prosperity of Ulster is, after all, only relative, and that anywhere but in Ireland it would receive a very different name, it may be replied, that tenant-right is a very inadequate substitute for the protection of leases or ownership. It has no legal sanction, but derives all its validity from custom; and, having grown up by slow degrees, was no doubt at first stoutly contested by those to whose pretensions it was opposed. If, wherever even this imperfect security exists, the condition of agriculture and of the peasantry is far better than in other parts of Ireland, may it not be fairly concluded that, with more complete security, the superiority would be proportionably more striking? Is it not likewise reasonable to suppose that, in order to place the peasantry of the other provinces on a level in all respects with those of Ulster, nothing more is required than the concession to them of equal rights? Yet with these grounds for presuming that the small farm system of Ireland needs only to be modified in order to become a source of national prosperity, nothing short of its utter abolition is insisted on. The consolidation of small farms is continually declared to be an indispensable preliminary to the improvement of Irish agriculture, or to the regeneration of the Irish people. This sentence is surely somewhat arbitrary. The present race of cottars, exhausted and disheartened by merciless exactions, and liable as they are to have their rents raised, or to be themselves ejected at a moment’s notice, are confessedly, for the most part, wretchedly poor and shockingly demoralised. The fact is decisive against rack-rents and tenancies-at-will; but does it prove anything against small leasehold farms, or small properties? Because small farmers cannot thrive without security of tenure, therefore security of tenure is to be refused them. Why not add, that because hunger cannot be appeased without food, therefore a hungry man should not be permitted to eat?

Not only, however, are not small farms the cause of Irish misery; not only is their preservation quite compatible with the improvement of Ireland; their continuance (though on a different tenure) and a considerable increase to their number, are perhaps the only means by which the manifold disorders of that country can be radically cured. Whatever may have been the original source of the wretchedness of the Irish people, its proximate cause is evidently a deficiency of employment; the supply of labour so greatly exceeds the demand, that multitudes have not adequate means of gaining a livelihood. This being the nature of their present distress, no scheme for its relief can have complete success which does not furnish them with adequate occupation, and it may not be difficult to show that for the agrarian population of Ireland, adequate occupation cannot be afforded except on small farms. This will appear from a hasty examination of the various schemes proposed. By a large class of reasoners, the deficiency of employment is held to be a necessary consequence of deficiency of capital, and to be incapable of being supplied except by the introduction of additional capital; and as capital will not enter a country in which life and property are unprotected, the first step towards improvement is declared to be the repression of that spirit of outrage which makes Ireland the terror of all who have anything to lose. For this purpose, either coercion or conciliation may be tried. But four or five millions of famishing desperadoes must be almost exterminated before they can be dragooned into loyalty. If force only is to be used, force must create a solitude in order to establish peace. Still less can be expected from conciliation, if by that term be understood merely the redress of political grievances. Most of these causes of complaint have already been removed, without removing anything of that bitterness of feeling which they were supposed to have engendered, and the redress of the monster grievance which remains, however desirable on other accounts, would assuredly not have a much more soothing effect. Should the church of the majority be at once reinstated in her ancient position, and again endowed with the wealth of which she has been plundered, her clergy would be almost the only gainers. The mass of the people would remain as destitute as ever, and would have as little reason to submit quietly to their dismal lot. The priests, indeed, when in the receipt of liberal stipends, and when no longer dependent on voluntary contributions, would have no motives for affecting to sympathise with the evil passions of their hearers, and would rather exert themselves for the maintenance of order. Their influence has, however, been exceedingly overrated. With a few disgraceful exceptions, the Roman Catholic clergy are not accused, even by their most virulent calumniators, of openly countenancing violence. Many have used their utmost efforts to allay the evil passions of the people, and almost all are so far mindful of their sacred obligations as to remain at least quiescent: if they do not labour very earnestly to prevent crime, they do not directly encourage it. In truth, such encouragement would be superfluous. Where the materials for spontaneous combustion exist in such abundance, no torch is needed to kindle them. The flames burst forth as freely without any extraneous aid. The outrages by which life and property are endangered in Ireland, result naturally from the wretchedness and desperation of the people. The law is disobeyed because, to the multitudes who have nothing to lose, it affords no protection, while it withholds from them everything they covet. Self-preservation is the first law of nature, and they who cannot keep their lives by any other means, must fight for them. To an Irish cottar a writ of ejectment is equivalent to a sentence of starvation, and he not unnaturally endeavours to retain possession of his land by sending a bullet through the head of every competitor. It is the fear of destitution that goads him on to crime. In such a temper he is doubtless more easily led away by factious demagogues, and more morbidly alive to national insults; but, independently of such additional excitement, he finds in his own reflections but too many stimulants to aggression and assassination. As, then, the lawlessness of Ireland does not originate in priestly instigation, so neither could it be repressed by priestly authority. As long as the peasantry continue on the verge of starvation, the most persuasive eloquence will fail to keep them quiet. There will be no peace, even though the priests take upon them the office of peacemakers. Their counsels will be disregarded until their hearers are tolerably fed, and that cannot be until work is found for such as require it. For this first essential, no conceivable substitute can suffice. Education would avail as little as clerical authority;  it could neither give the people food, nor reconcile them to the want of it. Poor-laws  may possibly be mentioned as providing for the first of these alternatives; but poor-laws create nearly as much distress as they relieve. What they give to one section of the labouring class they take from another; whatever is levied for poor-rates is subtracted from wages. Besides, the gratuitous maintenance of one-third of the Irish people cannot be seriously proposed. A compulsory provision for the poor must be intended to have only partial operation, and to be combined with measures which shall enabled the great mass of the poor to earn their own livelihood. But such measures, it is said, require additional capital. If so, we have before us a complete circle of difficulties, impregnable at every point. The country cannot be tranquillised until the people are employed, nor the people employed until capital be introduced, and capital will not enter until tranquillity be established. So that the end proposed must be accomplished before the requisites for its accomplishment may be procured! 

But it may be urged, that although private speculators are unwilling to venture their money in such a country as Ireland, capital might be introduced by government, and expended on public works – in the construction of roads, railways, canals, and bridges, in drainage, or in the embankment of rivers. Such measures might be adopted with a view to two distinct objects. The first and most obvious would be that of affording facilities for the development of the resources of the country; but it might also be expected that the works, while in progress, would furnish occupation for the multitudes who would had been previously unemployed. We need not stop to inquire whether the enormous expenditure requisite for this purpose would be incurred by any government. Undeterred by this, or any other objection, let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that government had undertaken to provide occupation for all who required it; that the peasantry were all in the receipt of good wages, and either too busy, or too well pleased at being paid for idling to think of mischief; and that, tranquillity and confidence having been established, British speculators had crossed the Channel, with as large an amount of capital as the country could absorb. In what manner could this capital be applied? Partly, perhaps, in fisheries and manufactures; but the former could not afford regular occupation, except to the inhabitants of the coasts; and the latter do not seem to attract surplus hands from other occupations, but rather to encourage the growth of a fresh population for themselves. A future generation of Irishmen might perhaps consent to become operatives, but the existing race would exclaim as loudly against being shut up in factories as in workhouses; and even if they were more tractable, no manufacturer would think of engaging, for his delicate machinery, hands that had only been used to the spade and pickaxe. The only occupation suited to an agricultural population is agriculture; and if the Irish peasantry are to be adequately employed, they must be principally employed in farming. Let us suppose, then, that the greater part of the newly-imported capital had been entrusted to scientific agriculturists, who, overcoming all the obstacles which have hitherto impeded such operations, had removed the present class of cottars, and, consolidating their holdings, had divided Ireland into farms of the same size as those of England. Let us next calculate what proportion of the peasantry could obtain employment on these enlarged farms. The extent of land in Ireland, either already cultivated, or capable of cultivation, may be stated at eighteen millions of acres, which, at the rate of one person for every twenty-eight acres [9], the proportion usual in England, would furnish work for 642,000 male adults. But of one million and a half of families, constituting in 1841 the entire population, nearly one million were chiefly engaged in agriculture; and of 2,400,000, the total number of male adults, 1,600,000 were similarly engaged. When, therefore, the new farms had absorbed all the labour they required, there would remain nearly 600,000 families, comprising three millions of individuals, who, after the termination of the works undertaken by government, would be without work of any kind. The revolution effected in agriculture would have deprived them of their former occupation, and manufactures, as we have seen, would offer them no resource. It is true, that those who recommend the extinction of the cottage system, and the adoption in Ireland of the English mode of farming, acknowledge that those measures must be accompanied by others for the promotion of emigration, and are not dismayed even by the necessity of transporting across the Atlantic, a colony of two millions of human beings. The eminent names appended to a recent scheme for that purpose, and the ability with which it is drawn up, forbid its being mentioned otherwise than in terms of respect; but it may, without disparagement, be pronounced of too startling a character to be adopted by an government without much more mature deliberation than the urgency of the case will allow time for. The plan of improving the condition of the Irish peasantry by the consolidation of farms might therefore be at once rejected, if only on account of its requiring, as supplemental to it, a scheme of emigration on so vast a scale.

There remains no resource but that of small farms. So far as Ireland is concerned, the question is not whether small or large farms are preferable, abstractedly considered. The former do actually predominate, and have raised up a population for which they alone can furnish occupation; to what objections soever they may be open, their abolition is nevertheless impracticable; if they be an evil, they are a necessary evil, and the only wise policy is to make the best of them. Subjoined is a table, showing the distribution of the cultivated area, and of the agricultural population of Ireland:-

Cultivated Area in Statute Acres:                                           13,838,782
Number of Families chiefly employed in Agriculture:             974,188
Total Number of Persons holding land:                                   935,448
Number holding not more than one Acre:                               135,314
Number holding between 1 and 2 Acres:                                 50,355
Number holding between 2 and 3 Acres:                                 35,951
Number holding between 3 and 4 Acres:                                
45,363
Number holding between 4 and 5 Acres:                                 50,281
Number holding between 6 and 7 Acres:                                 36,630
Number holding between 7 and 8 Acres:                                 31,610
Number holding between 8 and 9 Acres:                                 41,596
Number holding between 9 and 10 Acres:                               35,408
Number holding between 10 and 20 Acres:                             187,582  
Number holding between 20 and 50 Acres:                             
141,819
Number holding between 50 and 100 Acres:                            45,394
Number holding between 100 and 200 Acres:                          17,121
Number holding between 200 and 500 Acres:                          6,393
Number holding between 500 and 1000 Acres:                        1,179
Number holding between 1000 and 2000 Acres:                      286
Number holding between 2000 and 3000 Acres:                      46
Number holding between 3000 and 4000 Acres:                      13
Number holding between 4000 and 5000 Acres:                      3

N.B. - This Table is altered from one inserted in Captain Kennedy's most able Digest of Evidence on Occupation of Land in Ireland - a work which cannot be too carefully studied by all who would obtain a knowledge of the actual state of that unhappy country.

This table shows, that of 974,000 agricultural families, only 40,000 are altogether without land, and that more than 500,000 occupy farms of eight acres or upwards. Eight acres are quite enough to enable a tenant family, paying a fair rent, to obtain a competent maintenance; so that occupiers of this class, in order to be enabled to thrive, require only a secure tenure, or, in other words, the security of leases, with such conditions as would ensure to them a fair remuneration for their expenditure of money and labour. Without such leases, wherever the cultivators are not owners of the soil, it is impossible that agriculture can flourish; and wise landlords are as ready to grant as tenants are anxious to receive them; but landlords in general are short-sighted judges of their own interests, and with the view of quickening their perceptions, it has been proposed to make rent irrecoverable without a lease. The late Mr. O’Connell, by whom this expedient was recommended [10], acknowledged it to be a violent remedy; but a more serious objection is, that it would probably have little effect upon the disease. The value of leases depends entirely on their provisions; and the Legislature, although it might require them to be granted, could not pretend to regulate the demands for rent, or the other conditions to be imposed upon the tenants. Thus the only lease to which the landlord would consent, might be such as either the tenant would not accept, or such as would fetter without protecting him. As a substitute for leases, the propriety of establishing tenant right throughout Ireland has, of late, been a good deal discussed. If by the term be meant the qualified propriety right enjoyed by the peasantry of Ulster, the beneficial effect which would result from its extension to the other provinces will scarcely be denied by an advocate for peasant proprietorship. The equity of such a measure is, however, a different question. The tenantry of the midland and south provinces are, in general, tenants at will, removable at the landlord’s pleasure; and to give them, with what conditions soever, permanent possession of land, which they previously held by so slight a tie, would be an invasion of the rights of property, from which even Stein and Hardenberg – the boldest innovators of modern times – would have shrunk, and which will certainly not be attempted by the statesmen of a country, in which reverence for vested interests is carried to the verge of superstition. If, on the other hand, nothing more be meant than that an ejected tenant should be entitled to compensation for substantial improvements, the advantages of a law to that effect would probably be more than counterbalanced by the endless litigation to which it would give rise. The only unobjectionable way of enabling tenants to obtain reasonable terms from their landlords, is to diminish the competition for land, by lessening the number of competitors. There are at present in Ireland nearly half a million of farms large enough, if held on leases and at fair rents, to maintain the actual tenants in plenty and comfort; and there are about 400,000 smaller holdings, comprehending more than a million of acres, which might be consolidated and redistributed into 130,000 farms of eight acres each. Moreover, the farms of more than twenty acres each are 202,260 in number, comprehending about fifteen millions of acres, which would furnish occupation for about 120,000 families, in addition to those of the occupiers. Thus, of the whole number of agricultural families, which, in 1841, was 974,000, but which must have been considerably reduced by the famine and pestilence of the last two years, and does not probably now exceed 950,000, about 750,000 might obtain a competent livelihood from the land actually under cultivation, if relieved from the competition of the 200,000 families remaining. These last constitute a redundant population, which must be withdrawn from a field of employment in which, while they have not room to work themselves, they are always in the way of their neighbours. But whither can they be removed? Emigration cannot dispose of such multitudes, nor can they betake themselves to the sedentary occupations of towns. The employment afforded to them must be agricultural, and must be procured in Ireland, yet not on the land already under cultivation. Where, then, can they be provided for? The question admits of but one answer. – They must be transferred to the waste lands.

Of such lands Ireland contains 6,290,000 acres, of which 2,535,000 are said not to be worth the cost of improvement; but 1,424,000 acres are acknowledged to be improvable for tillage, and the remaining 2,330,000 for pasture. These wastes are scattered over the whole island, but it fortunately happens that they are not extensive in those counties in which there is the larges amount of destitution. In Mayo, for example, there are 170,000 acres of waste land fit for cultivation; in Galway, 160,000; in Donegal, 150,000; in Kerry, the same number; and in Cork, 100,000; while in all Ulster, exclusive of Donegal, there are only 269,000; and in the whole province of Leinster, only 186,000. Altogether there are 1,425,000 acres, classed as arable; and these, with the addition of 175,000 acres of land, which, though represented as only fit for pasture, is really, as shall be presently shown, well deserving of tillage, - would suffice for 200,000 allotments, of eight acres each.

The waste land of the best quality is, however, far from being fit for immediate cultivation. Some of it may only require to be pared, burnt, and limed, but much is bog or moor, which requires to be thoroughly drained, and to have the sub-soil mixed with the surface mould and with lime; but these, and all other preliminary operations, might be performed at very little expense by the persons for whose ultimate benefit they were designed. The proposed grantees are at present without employment, and, unless some such measure as that under consideration be adopted, without any prospect of it. They are now, and they must continue for an indefinite period, to be supported at the public expense, and it would be much cheaper to keep them usefully engaged than to maintain them in idleness. It would therefore be good economy to take them forthwith into pay, and to employ them in draining and sub-soiling the wastes selected for reclamation. After the completion of these preparatory operations, the next step would be to mark off districts suitable for the settlement of collections of families, which would vary in size according as the colonies were intended to constitute separate village communities, or to be united to communities previously existing. Each district should be divided into lots corresponding in number to the number of settlers, and the latter should be further required to construct a cottage, according to an approved plan, on every lot. Every family should then be placed in possession of one of the cottage farms, and be made perpetual lessee, at a fixed rent, and on certain other conditions, which will be more particularly described hereafter; and having been furnished with tools and some farming stock, should be instructed that, after the next harvest, they would have to provide for their support by their own industry.

Before we proceed to inquire what further measure would be necessary to ensure the success of this great social experiment, one or two apparent objections to it must be answered. One, which will occur to most minds, is the enormous expense which would be required. To maintain two hundred thousand families for many months, to purchase land for their occupation, and to supply them with materials for building, and with farming implements and stock, would certainly cost an immense sum. But the cost of an undertaking, however great, would not justify its rejection, provided its advantages could be shown to be commensurate, more especially if, as in the present instance, great part of the expenditure were inevitable in any circumstances, and if the further outlay were calculated to prevent the recurrent of demands which would otherwise be perpetual. Two hundred thousand destitute families must be fed at the public expense, whether they be set to work or be suffered to remain idle, and must continue to be so fed until they are placed in a position to provide for themselves. The present cost of maintaining them is an annual tax, which must be levied until redeemed, and exemption from it would be cheaply purchased at many times its amount. At how low a price its removal might be effected in the mode indicated above, will appear from an examination of the various items of expense.

It would be necessary, in the first place, to buy up the proprietary rights possessed by private persons over the waste lands required. Of the perfect competence of the Legislature to enforce the sale of such rights, there can be no question. An authority which compels individuals to part with their most valued property, on the slightest pretext of public convenience, and which permits railway projectors to throw down manor-houses, and to cut up favourite pleasure-grounds, need not scruple to insist upon the sale of boggy meadows, or upland pastures, with the view of curing the destitution  and misery of an entire people. But upon this point it is the less necessary to dwell, as the right of Parliament to dispose of the wastes has been asserted in the most explicit terms by the first Minister of the Crown [11]. The compensation to be made to the proprietors would depend on the present produce of the land. The average value of this cannot at present exceed two shillings an acre, so that two pounds an acre, equal to twenty years’ purchase, would be a very liberal payment for the fee-simple. The expense of thorough drainage would scarcely reach 4l. an acre, and that of sub-soiling would not exceed 30s. A cottage, with its appurtenances, suitable to a farm of eight acres, might be built for 40l. [12]; and the farmer, on entering, might manage to get on without an advance of more than 20l. the whole outlay may, therefore, be stated as follows:

Purchase of 1,6000,000 acres, at 2l per acre                     £3,200,000

Expense of drainage and sub-soiling, at 5l. 10s.                £8,800,000

Construction of 200,000 cottages, at 40l each                  £8,000,000

Advances to 200,000 cottiers of 20l each                          £4,000,000

TOTAL:                                                                              £24,000,000

 From which must be deducted the cost of maintaining 200,000 families, or 1,000,000 individuals, for the two years during which the operations might be expected to last. This, at 5l per head, would be 5,000,000l annually, or for two years, 10,000,000l.; which, subtracted from 24,000,000l., would leave 14,000,000l. At this low price, less than three years’ purchase, the public would be relieved form the necessity of an annual payment of 5,000,000l. The operation, viewed merely as a financial feat, would establish the reputation of the minister by whom it was achieved. The transfer to the waste lands of the destitute portion of the Irish peasantry has here been treated as the only feasible scheme for placing them in a satisfactory position, public works of other descriptions, as well as emigration, having been previously examined, and rejected as incapable of effecting the grand object. Otherwise the reader might be reminded that, according to the estimates of Mr. Godley, the transport to Canada of 200,000 families would occasion a certain loss of 6,000,000l., and a possible loss of a still larger sum; and that not many months ago one hundred and eighteen members of the House of Commons were ready to vote sixteen millions sterling for the prosecution of a Railway project, which at best could only be expected to improve the condition of the people by preparing the way for measures calculated to benefit them more directly. Besides, the expenditure on the waste lands is not to be regarded as money irrecoverably sunk, but rather as a loan to the settlers, who should be required to pay interest upon it. Five per cent. upon fourteen millions sterling, payable by 1,600,000 acres, would be something less than nine shillings an acre, a very moderate rent to be paid by the perpetual lessee of a farm, with a substantial dwelling upon it.

These anticipations of profit may certainly be not unreasonably pronounced somewhat premature, inasmuch as they take for granted the complete success of an experiment of which many persons would as confidently predict the total failure. The fact of land having been suffered to lie waste up to this time has been cited as a proof of its being unworthy of improvement; if it had promised a fair return for the applicant of capital, capitalists, it is said, would not have delayed so long to avail themselves of it. To this it may be replied, that most of the resources of Ireland are acknowledged to have been as yet only very imperfectly developed, in consequence either of the poverty or of the apathy of the people: to these causes are owing the neglect of mines and fisheries, and the backward state of agriculture; and it would be only reasonable to account for the neglect of the wastes in the same manner, instead of ascribing it to their inherent worthlessness. Besides, the classification of the wastes adopted in the preceding pages is not founded upon doubtful estimates, but is the result of careful investigation, by an engineer of the highest eminence, Mr. Griffith, the general valuation commissioner. This gentleman is so little disposed to an extravagant appraisement, that he condemns considerably more than three-fourths of all the wastes, as either unimprovable, or as only improvable for pasture; yet, even after this large deduction, there remains of superior quality nearly enough for the home colonisation proposed above. The land of this superior description is represented as capable of being prepared for tillage, at an expense which its increased value would fully repay, and the opinion coming from an authority of so cautious a character, might, even if otherwise unsupported, be accepted without much hesitation [13]. An attempt will presently be made to prove that it is correct, but let it in the meantime be supposed to be erroneous. Let it be supposed that even the best of the waste lands would never yield any rent, and that it would be necessary for the settlers to be placed in possession of their farms not as lessees, but as absolute proprietors. Even in that case the money expended in preparing the land for their occupation, in drainage and sub-soiling it, and in buildings, would have been most advantageously laid out, provided only the settlers should thenceforward be enabled to provide for their own subsistence. Even this partial success would be a sufficient recommendation of the scheme. There would be little cause to regret the outlay, even though it should do no more than raise two hundred thousand families from destitution to independence; should relieve the rest of the peasantry from the ruinous competition which now depresses them; and should, at the same time, absolve the public from the necessity of an annual payment of more than one-third its own amount.

Whatever doubts may be entertained of the realisation of these results must be of one of two kinds. It must be supposed either that the land, after every preliminary improvement, would still not repay even the current expenses of cultivation, or that the cultivators would not properly avail themselves of their advantages. Now, when land is said to be not worth cultivating, the meaning is, that the produce would not afford to the capital and labour employed so large a return as they might obtain, if otherwise applied. It is not necessary to inquire whether the Irish wastes are of this character, for the only capital of the colonists, whom it is proposed to transfer to them, is labour, and that labour for which there is no demand, and which, consequently, has no market value whatever. Unless employed upon the waste lands, it cannot be employed at all – there are no other means whatever of turning it to account; how small soever may be its produce, that produce is all clear gain, which could not have been acquired in any other manner. The question is not whether if otherwise employed, the colonists might not have obtained a larger remuneration, but whether, in the only occupation open to them, they are able to maintain themselves; - whether the returns from the lands, given to them to cultivate, will be sufficient for their subsistence.

Now there is no land so poor that it may not be rendered fertile by artificial means. Its barrenness commonly arises from the deficiency of certain substances, which need only to be supplied in order completely to change its character. To procure the requisite ingredients might, perhaps, be a work of much time and labour, to pay for which might cost so much as to make the business anything but a profitable employment of money. But no such objection could apply, if none but spare and superabundant labour were used: the work, however tedious and toilsome, would then cost absolutely nothing. However great the expenditure of labour, none of it would be wasted, for the labour would only have acquired value by being so expanded. No ground is so worthless that an English labourer will not eagerly accept an allotment of it for the occupation of his leisure, and that he will not speedily convert it into a productive garden, benefiting himself proportionably at the same time. Nor is it only unmarketable labour that may be profitably employed in this manner. In long occupied and well-peopled territories, where wages are not extraordinarily high, and where good land is not easily procurable, it would seem that no soil can be so bad that a labourer, to whom it is granted in full property, will not find it for his interest to cultivate it, even though by so doing he should be obliged to neglect other employment. No soil can be imagined more unsuitable for vegetation than the sand with which the maritime provinces of Belgium were once overspread, and with which extensive tracts are still covered. It can be likened to nothing but the sand on the sea shore, which it no doubt originally was, and it offers about the same attraction for the investment of capital; but although the rash speculator, employing hired labour, who should have undertaken the improvement of such land, would probably have been ruined, the attempt was made with the most complete success by moneyless boors, who, working on their own account, contrived to enrich both themselves and the soil, and, indeed, to make the latter the richest on this side of the Alps. The conversion of sand into mould is not yet complete in Belgium, and the process may still be witnessed at every stage. In the first place, broom seed is sown, which will grow anywhere, and the plants from which are fit to be cut in three years, and are then sold for fire-wood to bakers and brick-makers. The ground has acquired some compactness from the fibres of the roots, and has been enriched by the leaves which have fallen, and by the manure purchased with the price of the faggots. It is now in a fit state to be ploughed and to be sown with buck-wheat, or even with rye; and by the time this is reaped, a sufficiency of manure may be collected to allow of a regular course of cropping. As soon as clover and potatoes enable the farmer to keep cows, improvement goes on rapidly. In a few years the soil undergoes a complete change; it becomes mellow and retentive of moisture, and enriched by the vegetable matter afforded by the decomposition of the roots of the clover and other plants. The Flemings seem to want nothing but a space to work upon: whatever be the quality of texture of the soil, they will, in time, make it productive. It is deserving of the remark, that their improvements, when once begun, are seldom abandoned, unless undertaken on too large a scale, in which case the land is soon divided into smaller portions, and improvements proceed from a greater number of centres, and with more certainty.[14]

These examples may serve to show that there is no land not absolutely incapable of cultivation, of which the produce, though it may not yield profit enough to satisfy a capitalist, will yet not yield some profit – will not somewhat exceed the expenses of cultivation. In the expenses of cultivation is included the cultivator’s subsistence; there is, therefore, no land from which the cultivator may not obtain a livelihood. It is true that the Flemish process, just described, is somewhat tedious, and would be but ill adapted to cultivators who were entirely dependent for subsistence on the land they were reclaiming. It would by no means suit our Irish colonists, for instance, who might perish with hunger while their farms were producing only crops of brushwood. But neither would the adoption of so slow a process be requisite on the better sort of Irish waste land, which bears no sort of resemblance to the sands of Belgium. Much of it, even in its present state, is used as pasture, and the rest consisting of heathy bog, though at present valueless, has a surface of vegetable matter from one or two feet thick, resting generally on a bed of clay or gravel. The intermixture of the upper and lower soils will supply to each what the other principally wants, and this operation, as well as drainage, would be performed before the settlers were placed in possession of their farms. The latter, therefore, from their first occupation, would possess as high a degree of fertility as the soil of Belgium would acquire after several years of incessant labour. Indeed, with the addition of lime (or where lime were not procurable, of sea-weed or sea-sand) they would immediately bear tolerable crops of roots. Of this experience affords abundant proof. The reclamation of waste land has been undertaken of late years, in several parts of Ireland, by private persons, and as it would seem, with invariable success. Several instances are on record, of land naturally worth not a shilling of rent per acre, which, by draining, subsoiling, and liming, has in the first year been made to produce five tons of potatoes per acre, or corresponding crops of turnips, and in three years’ time has been prepared for an ordinary five years’ rotation, being then estimated to be worth a rent of 30s. or 35s. per acre. It is easy to show how a farmer, with a wife and three young children, might obtain a livelihood from eight acres of such land. Two acres, in the first year, would yield 300 bushels of potatoes (and two hundred would suffice for the consumption of the family), and the turnips, or other produce of the rest of the farm, would be much more than enough for the keep of a cow or pig. By the end of the year there would be a considerable accumulation of manure, and it would be the farmer’s own fault if the quantity did not annually increase, until every portion of his land had been brought into the highest state of productiveness of which it was capable. With abundance of manure at his disposal, all his difficulties would vanish. In the second year he might substitute oats for potatoes, and, in every subsequent year, he might sow a considerable part of his land with some sort of grain. But even although he should make corn his principal article of diet, he would not, when his land was thoroughly fertilised, require more than two acres to produce food for the direct consumption of his family, so that six acres would remain under grass or green crops for his cattle. A Fleming, in such a situation, would be able to keep at least four cows, stall fed; and as we are now considering what the land is capable of, we may assume that an Irishman would do the same. The milk and butter of one cow he might use at home, but the rest of the dairy produce might be sent to market, and no elaborate calculation can be needed to prove that the proceeds would enable him to defray all the expenses incidental to his station in life, and to save a good deal of money besides, even though he should not be absolute owner of his farm, but should be subject to an annual rent of nine shillings an acre. 

It will have been observed, that potatoes form, as it were, the basis of the farming just referred to. They seem to be thought the only crop on which man can subsist, that in this climate can be obtained from newly reclaimed land without the assistance of manure [15], and to be, consequently, the only provisions which pauper cultivators could raise during the first year. But after failing in two successive seasons, this crop can no longer be safely depended upon; and should the disease, by which it has been twice destroyed, be still continuing its ravages when the waste lands are prepared for tillage, a considerable alteration of plan will be necessary. The changes will be a subject for regret, inasmuch as it will occasion a considerable increase of expenditure; but, on the other hand, its effect will be to hasten, by a year or two, the process of improvement. One object of every scheme for the benefit of Ireland, and one sign of its success, must be the adoption of better kinds of food by the labouring classes. In attempting to raise the social condition of the people, some higher end should be proposed than that of enabling them to obtain a sufficiency of potatoes. If this only were aimed at, it would be quite unnecessary to allot so much as eight acres of land to a family. Farms of that size were recommended, in order that the occupants should be able to make bread their staff of life, and to grow grain enough for their consumption, as, in the course of two or three years, it was expected they would do. If, however, the potato disease prove permanent, the Irish peasantry must needs be fed on grain at once, and unless Government prefer to furnish the people with food, instead of enabling them to raise it for themselves,  its simplest course will be to supply every settler on the waste lands with manure enough to prepare part of his ground for oats. His first harvest will then supply him with bread instead of potatoes, and this will be the principal difference, so far as he is concerned. His subsequent operations will be nearly the same as in the case previously supposed.

It will here be proper to show, that the management of eight acres of land will not be too severe a task for those on whom it is to be imposed, viz., for a family of five persons, including only one male adult, and possessing, besides their land and their industry, no other capital than the small advance made to them for the purchase or indispensable implements and stock. The head of such a family would not be able to procure either a horse or a plough, and would be obliged to use a spade; but this, as every one may see, by comparing a field and a garden, is by far the more efficient instrument when time will allow of its being used; and the only question is, therefore, whether one man could spare time for the spade work annually required on a farm of eight acres. A more than ordinary share would be necessary on waste land, during the first year or two after its reclamation, but still not more than could be easily performed.

‘A good labourer can trench four perches (each perch being a square of five and a-half yards) in a day, or dig eight perches. It will take him thirty days to trench an acre, and sixteen to dig it well.’[16] If placed in possession of his farm in October, therefore, he could easily dig six acres before the season arrived for planting potatoes and sowing turnips; and when a regular rotation of crops was established, his labours would be greatly abridged. Suppose him to appropriate three more acres to corn, one to potatoes, one to clover, and one to turnips, and to keep two under grass. Between harvest and spring he must trench one acre twenty inches deep, and manure it for potatoes, and dig three acres; one acre being under clover, sown with the corn of the previous season, will not require digging, and another will have been sufficiently prepared for wheat by taking up of a former crop of potatoes. His spade work will occupy him only seventy-eight days, and he will have the rest of the year for wheeling manure, harrowing, sowing, planting, mowing, and reaping, while his wife and children weed the crops, tend to the cows and pigs, and perform other light offices.

The whole amount of labour would be but a moderate burden for the united strength of the family, whose own fault alone it would be if they did not prosper. But it is not sufficient to have shown what a mine of wealth lies hidden in the waste land, if there be reason to believe that it would not be properly wrought by the settlers whom it is proposed to place there. A colony of Flemings, in such a situation, would speedily bring the soil to the highest pitch of fertility, and enrich themselves with the abundant tribute they would extort from it; but Irishmen, it will be said, are not Flemings [17]. The former would, indeed, have the same motives for industry. In their proprietary character, they would possess that strongest of all incentives to exertion, the knowledge that they were working for themselves; they would feel the influence of that affection for their little domains, which, according to Adam Smith, makes small proprietors ‘the most industrious, the most intelligent, and the most successful of improvers’ – of that ‘magic of property,’ which, as Arthur Young says, ‘turns sand to gold.’ Such impulses might be irresistible be ordinary mortals; but Irishmen are apparently considered exempt from the rules by which mankind in general are governed. It seems to be thought that with them self-interest is less powerful than habit; that having hitherto always lived in constrained inactivity, they now value no privilege so highly as idleness; that having never possessed anything but the merest necessaries of life, they have little desire for its comforts, or, at any rate, think them not worth the price of steady labour. What little employment is at present offered to them, either in their own potato grounds, or by larger occupiers, is often either neglected, or listlessly performed; and it may be suspected that they would exhibit the same apathy, even if constituted owners of farms large enough to furnish them with constant occupation, more especially when those farms, consisting of land recently reclaimed, demanded more than ordinary assiduity for the development of their resources. In reply to this, reference might be made to the notorious fact, that Irish labourers, when removed to situations in which industry is liberally rewarded, exert themselves as strenuously as those of any other nation; and even in Ireland examples are not wanting of peasants not only working hard, but applying themselves with ardour and success to the very occupation, their fitness for which we are now considering. Young observed, long ago, that ‘little occupiers who can get leases of a mountain side, make exertions in improvement, which, though far enough from being complete, show clearly what great effects encouragement would have amongst them;’ and he adds, ‘that the idleness seen among them when working for those who oppress them, is a very contrast to the vigour and activity with which the same people work, when themselves alone reap the benefit of their labour.’[18] Among the grounds for this estimate of the Irish character, was an experiment tried by Young himself. On Lord Kingsborough’s estate he marked a road, and assigned portions of the waste on each side to such as were willing to form the fences in the manner prescribed, to cultivate and inhabit the land, allowing each a guinea towards his cabin, and promising the best land rent free for three years, and the worst for five. The eagerness with which the poor people came into the scheme, convinced him that they wanted nothing but a little encouragement, to enter with all their might and spirit into the work of improvement. They trusted to his assurance to go to work upon the ditches, and actually made a considerable progress. ‘In all undertakings of this kind in Ireland,’ he continues, ‘it is the poor cottars and the very little farmers who are the best tools to employ, and the best tenants to let the land to;’[19] and this is confirmed by Mr Nicholls, who says that ‘most of the recently reclaimed land which he saw in the western counties, was reclaimed by the small occupiers, who drained and inclosed an acre or two at a time.’[20] But the evidence taken by the Land Commission, being the latest, may also be considered the most valuable. A practice, we are told, not uncommonly adopted by Irish farmers, is, that of ‘giving a small piece of waste land to a poor cottar or herdsman, for the first three crops, after which the improved portion is returned to the farmer, and a fresh portion is taken on the same terms by the cottar. Here are persons of the very poorest class obtaining a livelihood by the cultivation of waste land, under the most discouraging and least remunerative circumstances that can well be imagined.’ Where more favourable terms are conceded to the tenants, the progress of improvement is proportionate. On the Lough-ash estate, in Tyrone, about four hundred acres of waste land have been distributed among thirty tenants, most of whom have leases for twenty-one years, and obtained the land rent free for the first part of the term, on condition of paying a gradually increasing rent during the remainder. These tenants took possession of their respective allotments at different periods, between the years 1829 and 1840. They belonged originally to the ‘poorest classes of cottars;’ but when visited by the Land Commissioners, ‘had raised themselves into a comfortable body of farmers.’[21]

Examples of this kind may not, however, be numerous enough to establish a national reputation for industry, and it would no doubt be safer to assume that the energies of the Irish peasantry would require to be artificially stimulated. Without adopting the theory of the incorrigible laziness of the Celtic race, with which some writers perversely choose to stultify all their own suggestions for the benefit of Ireland, we may acknowledge it to be doubtful whether people who had been dawdling about all their lives, would, when regular occupation were offered to them, spontaneously apply themselves to it. There is certainly some reason to apprehend, that if settlers of this description were merely translated to their respective allotments, and there abandoned to their own devices, many of them might prefer sloth and poverty to toil and comfort; and, at any rate, no appeal to their hopes or fears, that might help to rouse them to activity, should be rejected as superfluous. Some direct attempts might be made to imbue them with new and improved tastes, and they should certainly be made acquainted with the advantages of their position, taught how to avail themselves of them, and threatened with their withdrawal in the event of their neglecting to make use of them. One advantage of having the houses on the reclaimed lands built under the superintendence of public officers, would be, that their occupants would receive at once tolerably exalted notions of one sort of comfort, of which they might long have remained ignorant, if they had been permitted to build dwellings according to their own fancy, and had taken for their models the vile styes from which they had previously been satisfied. In general, however, it is sufficient, in order to create new wants, that the means of gratifying them be provided. If the colonists could be made to understand, that by taking a little pains they could procure good clothes and good food, they would quickly discover that a whole coat is better than rags, and that a dinner of potatoes would be immensely improved by the addition of bread and cheese and bacon. In order to convey to them the needful preliminary information, the whole number of colonies might be arranged in districts, to each of which should be appointed a scientific agriculturist, whose duty it would be to visit periodically every farm place under his superintendence, and to instruct the owner in the principles of husbandry. Such agricultural teachers are already employed by several landlords, and have in general done much good. When their advice has not been neutralised by superciliousness on their part, it has commonly been very well received. They have easily overcome the prejudices against new practices, entertained by the peasantry, and have persuaded them to adopt improved modes of drainage, better rotations, artificial grasses, and green crops.[22] Equal success might be expected with the settlers on the waste lands, and the more surely, as with regard to them, a little compulsion might be used in case of need. The permanence of their tenure might be declared contingent on their behaviour, and they might be threatened with the resumption of their grants unless their farms were brought into cultivation within a specified time.

Such measures, however, would be necessary only with the original colonists, whose vicious habits, inherited from a long line of ancestors, might frustrate any scheme that depended for success on their eradication. But the second and all succeeding generations might be trained betimes in the way in which they should walk. The influence of education might be brought to bear upon them by machinery to be provided in the following manner. The home colonies would either be annexed to villages previously existing, or would constitute distinct communities; and on account of the situation of the waste lands, the latter arrangement would probably be by far the most general. To each of the separate colonies should be appointed a schoolmaster, who besides the usual qualifications for the post,  should be required to have studied at an agricultural seminary, and thus to have become competent to impart to the children of farmers the special instruction which such pupils require. Every householder should be required by the conditions of his tenure to send his children, between certain ages, to attend the lessons of this master, whose remuneration should consist partly of a fee for every pupil, partly of a rent-free house and ground, and party of a rent charge on the land. In a community consisting at first of two hundred families, and occupying consequently sixteen hundred acres, a contribution of eighteen-pence an acre would amount to 120l a  year, which, added to the other emoluments of the office, would procure the services of a properly qualified person. The spiritual instruction of the community might be provided for in a similar manner by the appointment of a priest, who, besides a manse and glebe, and the usual ecclesiastical fees, should be allowed a stipend of the same amount as the schoolmaster, and arising from the same source. The rate which it would be necessary to levy for the payment of both religious and secular teachers, and for the satisfaction of the government claim, would not exceed twelve shillings an acre, or only one-third of the rent that might readily be obtained for the land.

With these precautions, there can be little doubt that the experiment would succeed. The wastes recommended for reclamation are such as would deserve the attention even of a speculator, seeking, not a mere livelihood, but a profitable investment for his money; for experience has shown that an outlay of five or six pounds per acre would add twenty or thirty shillings to the rentable value. Six acres of such land, held at the full rent, enable the Belgian tenant-farmer, not only to live in comfort, but to save money. Eight acres, therefore, held in perpetuity at a rent of only one-third the original yearly value, could not be an inadequate provision even for Irishmen, if only the latter could be induced to work; and it is proposed to urge them to exertion  by every motive that can stimulate industry. Perhaps then we may be permitted to assume that the original grantees would rise from their present indigence to comparative affluence. It remains to be considered whether their prosperity would be permanent or whether it would be frittered away by the gradual subdivision of the original tenements. The question of the inherent tendency of small properties to continual diminution has already been fully discussed, and it is hoped that sufficient cause has been shown for answering it in the negative. The partition of land, it appears, is seldom carried too far except where the various claimants have, by constant companionship with privation, learned to expect nothing more than a bare subsistence, and have no means of obtaining even that except from the occupation of a piece of ground; and it is probable, that even Irishmen, when relieved from the necessity which now leaves them no alternative but to divide the holdings of their parents, would refrain from a course of which they could not fail to perceive the ruinous consequences. With all their Irishism, they are not altogether void of reason, but would probably act in much the same manner as other rational beings in similar circumstances. If brought up in the enjoyment of competence, they would not content themselves with a mere pittance, merely because they could derive it from land of their own. If their patrimony were insufficient to maintain them in the style to which they had been accustomed, they would rather dispose of it and seek a livelihood elsewhere. Such are natural inferences from observation of what happens among peasant proprietors in other countries. Still, if attention be confined to Ireland, it cannot be denied that subdivision has long been the universal practice there, - not indeed among peasant proprietors, for there are none such in the island, - but among the miserable cottars, from whom it is proposed to select the future proprietors. It is possible that, with these men, notwithstanding the change in their situation, habit might be more powerful than prudence, and that the continual subdivision of farms might, in two or three generations, plunge the descendants of the colonists into the destitution from which their forefathers had been raised. Such a result, although very unlikely to occur, is nevertheless possible, and in a matter of so much moment, it would be unwise to leave anything to chance. All ground for apprehension might however be removed – assurance might be made doubly sure, - the possibility of excessive subdivision might be prevented, by the adoption of regulations respecting the succession to the farms to be formed on the waste lands. The construction of such rules would doubtless be a work of great delicacy. In legislating for small estates two opposite evils are to be guarded against – their too frequent consolidation not less than their excessive partition. The former is, indeed, by far the most difficult to prevent, for contiguous properties have so much attraction for each other, that very strong opposing forces are necessary to prevent their union. Small properties have scarcely anywhere stood their ground permanently, except where gavelkind or some similar custom of inheritance has prevailed; and if the law of primogeniture should be enforced among the colonists of the Irish waste lands, the class of small proprietors would, doubtless, sooner or later, disappear. But, on the other hand, to establish gavelkind, would be to give a legal warrant for the partition, against which extraordinary precautions are supposed to be necessary in Ireland; and gavelkind, besides, by ensuring to every child a portion of the family estate, might, perhaps, unduly weaken parental authority. In this dilemma a middle course would perhaps be most advisable.

When it was proposed to divide the reclaimed wastes into allotments of eight acres, it was not intended to attach any special importance to that size, or to recommend that it should be protected against subsequent alteration. There is, however, a minimum size which properties must possess in order to deserve the name of farms, and a maximum size which they cannot exceed without ceasing to be peasant properties. These limits cannot be defined, for they differ in different situations with the productiveness of the soil, and the skill and industry of the cultivator; but we will suppose that in Ireland, under good management, five acres would furnish a family with full occupation and plentiful subsistence, and that fifty acres would elevate the owner above the condition of a mere husbandman. If it should be thought desirable to prescribe these as the most usual boundaries for the possessions of the settlers and their descendants, without, however, absolutely prohibiting the future formation of any of larger or smaller size – the end might be attained by some rules as the following. An owner of more than five acres might be allowed the power of alienation during his lifetime, provided that he did not dispose of a smaller portion than five acres. A person whose estate did not reach that limit should not be permitted to diminish it, but if desirous of alienating, should be required to alienate the whole. Every landowner having children might be allowed to select from amongst them one or more to be his heirs, provided that he bequeathed to no one more than fifty acres, without making the same provision for as many of his other children as his estate would permit; and provided also, that he bequeathed to none a portion of less than five acres, unless, after division into portions of five acres, one portion of inferior extent should remain, of which he might then be permitted to make a separate bequest. In the case of persons dying intestate, the eldest son should, if the estate were under five acres, be entitled to the whole, and if it exceeded that limit, should take the principal dwelling-house and five acres adjoining. The remainder of the land might be distributed among the other children or among as many of them in order of seniority as could put in possession of five acres each. If any land then remained, it might, if less than five acres, be given to the eldest of the children previously unprovided for; and if it exceeded five acres, it should be divided equally among all the children, care being taken in such partitions that every inheritance should be compact, and not composed of scattered fragments. It will no doubt be perceived that a law of succession like this, though professedly designed to prevent the size from falling below five acres, would not only permit, but would favour, the formation of some properties of smaller size. It must also be remarked, however, that it would limit the number of such properties; and would moreover prevent a property of less than five acres, when once formed, from being again subdivided. With these precautions, the existence of such properties, instead of being an evil, would be attended with the best consequences. If there were no farms too large to be cultivated exclusively by the occupiers, pieces of land too small to furnish their owners with adequate employment and subsistence, might be productive of idleness and poverty, for the deficiency of their resources could not be supplied. But in Ireland there are, and probably always will be, a considerable number of farms extensive enough to require the engagement of hired labour, and upon those farms, petty proprietors insufficiently employed at home might obtain supplementary occupation. Their pieces of ground would not constitute their principal means of livelihood, but would merely answer the same purpose as the allotments occasionally granted to English labourers, and this the more efficaciously, as they would be held on much more favourable terms. Now the occupation of a little land for cultivation in their intervals of leisure, is not only advantageous to agricultural day-labourers, but seems to be almost indispensable to enable them to live in comfort and security. This they can seldom do when they are entirely dependent upon wages. It seems impossible so to accommodate the supply of agricultural labour to the demand, as that the latter shall be fully satisfied, and yet that labour shall be adequately rewarded. And for this reason. Agriculture requires different quantities of labour at different seasons. If, then, the number of labourers be equal to the demand in the busy season, it must exceed the demand in the slack season. But as even during the first period, competition will have been keen enough to prevent wages from rising above the sum required for the maintenance of a family; at other times it must depress them below that amount, so that the labourer who has no resource but his hire, must be reduced to distress during part of every year. Where day-labourers enjoy competence, it will be found almost invariably either that they are artisans or manufacturers as well as husbandmen, or that they hold a little land in their own possession. In many parts of the continent they have both these additional resources. In England they have neither. In England, accordingly, when their employers have no immediate occasion for their services, they must apply for eleemosynary aid, and in many rural parishes half the labourers are every winter entered on the list of pauper pensioners. In the settlements to be formed on the Irish wastes, such of the labourers as inherited small plots of ground, would be relieved from this degrading necessity. 

Thus, in the colonisation of the waste lands is offered a means of speedily raising the most destitute portion of the Irish people to independence and comfort, and of permanently securing those blessings to their descendents. But the advantages of the scheme would not be confined to those most directly affected by it, but would be shared largely by the remainder of the peasantry, and more or less by every section of the nation. By the removal of nearly two hundred thousand families from the lands already cultivated, an end would be put to the ruinous competition in the land and labour markets; labour would command, and land would be obtainable at reasonable prices; rent would fall to the amount which the farmer could pay without impoverishing himself, and wages would rise in consequence, both of the decrease in the number of labourers, and of the increase of the means of the farmers. Improvement to this extent would take place naturally and as a necessary consequence of the reclamation of the waste lands, and legislative interference would be requisite only to promote and confirm it. With these views, two suggestions may be offered: one, the enactment of a law rendering the grant of leases obligatory, a measure which, if no longer recommended by the same urgent necessity, would, when tenants were able to negotiate with landlords on more equal terms, be no longer open to the same objection as at present; and the other, the allotment to the labourers remaining on the present cultivated area, of plots of common land, of half an acre or an acre in extent, on the same conditions as the grants made to the settlers on the wastes. The whole body of peasantry – labourers, cottars, and farmers – would then, for the first time, be placed in situations in which their subsequent lot would depend upon their own exertions. Specific instruction might still be necessary to teach them the value of the means at their command, but were this afforded, it cannot be doubted that industry would require no other stimulus than self-interest. Industry would introduce plenty, and plenty be accompanied by content. Tranquillity would succeed to desperation and violence, and capital would no longer be deterred from flowing wherever a suitable field were offered for its employment. Canals and railways would at once mark and facilitate the progress of enterprise, mines would be worked, fisheries and such manufactures as were adapted to the country established, the conveniences of civilised life would be multiplied and brought within the reach of every class of the community. The advance of national prosperity would correspond with that of individual happiness. The whole empire would receive a vast accession of vigour when its most exhausting drain was converted into an abundant source of wealth, and when the festering wound in one of her principal members was at length healed.

A scheme, so simple, yet promising such brilliant results may perhaps, on that account alone, be summarily rejected as visionary. Large professions are generally received with distrust, the stronger and more natural, in proportion as they are declared to be easy of fulfilment. The condition of Ireland is commonly regarded as almost hopeless; ingenuity has long perplexed itself in attempts to investigate the nature of her disorder; every remedy hitherto applied has failed to afford even partial or temporary relief. It will not, then, be readily believed that the means of effecting a perfect cure were always at hand, open to view, but unnoticed or unappreciated. Yet, when every other prescription has been tried in vain, a new proposal is at least entitled to examination; and the one offered in the foregoing pages has stronger recommendations than that of mere novelty. Its adoption would procure for the peasantry an extension of territory, which, even if it were not, as it has been shown to be, the only means, would certainly be an infallible means of procuring for them that additional employment, without which they can never emerge from their present debasement. They themselves, with an instinctive perception of what their situation requires, are resolute in their demands for land, and are even now engaged with its actual proprietors in a fearful struggle, of which it is impossible to foresee the end. Yet, to pacify them by assigning additional tracts for their occupation, is not even pretended to be an object of any scheme hitherto propounded, save of this for the reclamation of the waste lands, and of another, already alluded to, - for emigration to British America. The latter, beset as it is with difficulties, apparently insuperable, has nevertheless attracted a considerable share of attention; the very simplicity and practicability of the former are perhaps the cause of its having been treated with comparative neglect. Great statesmen will scarcely deign to listen unless some complicated project – some ‘great thing’ – be submitted for their consideration. They disdain to use plain and obvious methods for the cure of national leprosy, even as Naaman, the Syrian, hesitated to wash in Jordan and be clean, while there were Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel.

[1]    Pomp. Mela, de Situ Orbis, lib. iii. eap. 6.
[2]    'Gens agriculturae labores aspernans, a primo pastorali vivendi modo non recedens.' - Giraldus Cambrensis apud Moore, Hist. of Ireland, vol. i. p. 317
[3]    Moore, vol. i. p. 191
[4]    Spenser's View of Ireland, Dublin, 1763, p.230.
[5]    Johnes's Froissart, Edition of 1839, vol. ii. p 578
[6]    Spenser. View of Ireland, pp. 125-7.
[7]    Young's Tour in Ireland, vol. ii. App. pp. 25 -7.
[8]    In the north of Ireland, Arthur Young in 1776, found that ten acres were considered a large farm, and five or six a good one (Tour, vol. ii. App. p. 21). Farms had been reduced to that size because the tenants, being rather weavers than farmers, required no more land to furnish them with a competent livelihood; but having once reached that limit, they did not afterwards fall below it, being at this day quite as large as they were seventy years ago.
[9]    This is the proportion of land to male adult labourers; but of agricultural labourers of both sexes and of all ages, there is one for every twenty-four acres, as stated at p.8.
[10]    Arthur Young had long before suggested, as a necessary step towards improvement, that 'the meanest occupier should have a lease, and none shorter than twenty-one years.' (Tour, vol. ii. App. p. 24).
[11]    Lord J. Russell's Speech on the State of Ireland, Jan. 25th, 1847
[12]    Digest of  Evidence on Occ. of Land, pp. 82-3 and p 139
[13]    Upon mountain wastes, as all wastes in Ireland, that are not bog, are called, 'is to be practised,' says Young, 'the most profitable husbandry in the king's dominions, for so I am persuaded the improvement of mountain land to be.' (Tour, vol. ii. App. p. 69.) And again, 'no meadows are equal to those gained by improving a bog; they are of a value which scarcely any other lands give rise to. In Ireland, I should suppose, it would not fall short of forty shillings an acre, and rise in many cases to three pounds.' (Ibid. p. 74).
[14]    Flemish Husbandry, pp. 11 - 13
[15]    Young, however, from land which had been merely pared, burnt, and limed, took crops of wheat, rye, and bere, the first year. (Tour, vol. ii. App. p. 70.)
[16]    Flemish Husbandry, p. 75
[17]    Young has some remarks so singularly apposite, that it would be unpardonable not to insert them here. 'A few considerable landlords,' he says, 'many years ago, made the experiment of fixing, at great expense, colonise of Palatines on their estates. They had houses built for them, plots of land assigned to each, at a rent of favour, assisted in stock, and all of them with leases for lives from the head landlord. The poor Irish are very rarely treated in this manner, but when they are, they work much greater improvements than are common among these Germans.' (Tour in Ireland, vol. ii. App. pp.24, 25).
[18]    Tour, vol. ii. App. pp. 22 and 72.
[19]    Tour, vol ii. App. p. 72.
[20]    Nicholls's Reports on Irish Poor Laws, p. 18.
[21]    Digest of Evidence on Occupation of Land, p.570.
[22]    Digest of Evidence, ut supra, p. 28.