The Land after the Great Hunger

Molly Maguire

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What became of the land of the small tenant farmers after the Great Hunger.

What became of the big land owners when they lost thousands of rent payers, did many of them leave as well.

Did anybody in Ireland gain from the Great Hunger?
 


S

SeamusNapoleon

You could say - in very broad terms - that a huge swathe of the midlands, from Meath to East Galway became one big, f*ck off giant ranch that fed the British Army.

So I guess some people did surely benefit, aye.
Consolidation consolidation, consolidation.
 

Watcher2

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What became of the land of the small tenant farmers after the Great Hunger.

What became of the big land owners when they lost thousands of rent payers, did many of them leave as well.

Did anybody in Ireland gain from the Great Hunger?
If you take it to its logical conclusion and look at where we are today, I think you will get the answer you crave.
 

Molly Maguire

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Just wondered if there was any attempts at nationalising the land, even locally, in the aftermath of the GH.
 

Cruimh

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I'm not sure if anybody has specifically looked at what happened to the land owning class after the Famine - beginning of the end for many of them from what I have read. They were hammered by Westminster - one might even say scapegoated - and many were ruined financially. various land measures were introduced, covered in passing in by Mansergh in his excellent "The Irish Question 1840-1921".
 

Molly Maguire

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Surprising even today, a 160 years later, how cagey many of the farming community still are when the subject of land ownership comes up even at a personal level.

The Land League comes across more and more to me like the "Right to Buy" scheme for council house tenants.
 

Riadach

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Well the larger tenant farmers certainly benefitted. They (as well as the landlords) were subletting their share of land out to the labourers as conacre in return for their labour services. Of course, this took up some of their acreage. When they discovered that herding as opposed to cultivation required was much less labour intensive, such provisions were superfluous. The conacre was returned to their larger holding, and the labourer was tossed out on his ear. If he was lucky he could live in the towns, from where he would be called periodically to do minor labour services for different landlords (such as haysaving etc). Of course it was the larger tenant farmer, not the labourer whose class was destroyed during the famine, to gained the benefit of the subsequent landlord acts, which granted him fixity of tenure, free rent, and eventually absolute ownership, pending a small annuity. This class exploited British guilt over the famine to advance themselves, again at the expense of the labourer, when it could be argued they were primarily responsible for the famine in the first place.
 

Molly Maguire

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Well the larger tenant farmers certainly benefitted. They (as well as the landlords) were subletting their share of land out to the labourers as conacre in return for their labour services. Of course, this took up some of their acreage. When they discovered that herding as opposed to cultivation required was much less labour intensive, such provisions were superfluous. The conacre was returned to their larger holding, and the labourer was tossed out on his ear. If he was lucky he could live in the towns, from where he would be called periodically to do minor labour services for different landlords (such as haysaving etc). Of course it was the larger tenant farmer, not the labourer whose class was destroyed during the famine, to gained the benefit of the subsequent landlord acts, which granted him fixity of tenure, free rent, and eventually absolute ownership, pending a small annuity. This class exploited British guilt over the famine to advance themselves, again at the expense of the labourer, when it could be argued they were primarily responsible for the famine in the first place.
Thanks for that.

So i,d guess at a local level across Ireland there must have existed those who were in a position to watch with a beady eye their neighbours land as the said neighbours went under, ready and waiting to step in and snatch the acreage.

Often wondered what the exiled urban poor thought of the Land League.
 

former wesleyan

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This is a touchy subject as when the British tried to modernise landholding with the Encoumbered Estates Act they found that the purchasers were Irish, and not the modernising new English landords that they had in mind. This rarely gets a mention as it goes some way to vindicating the position of the British Government during the Famine when the excoriated the Irish for not doing anything to help themselves.


Also buried in this period is the fact that many farms of 150 - 300 acres were bought by Irish protestants who in the period of the the War of Independence were subsequently vilified as being of the "landlord " class when they were nothing of the sort. If you want to see some of the hysterical rhetoric around this particular class, you can read about the Coolnacrease controversy.
 

Molly Maguire

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This is a touchy subject as when the British tried to modernise landholding with the Encoumbered Estates Act they found that the purchasers were Irish, and not the modernising new English landords that they had in mind. This rarely gets a mention as it goes some way to vindicating the position of the British Government during the Famine when the excoriated the Irish for not doing anything to help themselves.


Also buried in this period is the fact that many farms of 150 - 300 acres were bought by Irish protestants who in the period of the the War of Independence were subsequently vilified as being of the "landlord " class when they were nothing of the sort. If you want to see some of the hysterical rhetoric around this particular class, you can read about the Coolnacrease controversy.
Curious were somebody in the aftermath of the GH was able to come up with the money for a three hundred acre farm.

300 acres is hardly a potato patch half way up a hill.
 

former wesleyan

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Curious were somebody in the aftermath of the GH was able to come up with the money for a three hundred acre farm.

300 acres is hardly a potato patch half way up a hill.
Many Irish were relatively wealthy following on the profits made during the Napoleonic Wars. There were stories of Irish people pawning money notes in favour of coinage in order to be able to buy food during the Famine. In the case of the Protestants, many came from the merchant class into farming, and many were relatively well paid estate managers on the estates being broken up because of debt.
 

Dasayev

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just to add...

Molly Maguire said:
What became of the land of the small tenant farmers after the Great Hunger.
The Westminster and foreign quarterly review 1849
One document has recently been made public which tells a startling story of the wholesale clearance effected within a very short time past of the poorer portion of the agricultural population of Ireland. It is a census, by Captain Larcom, of the number of persons occupying land in Ireland at present as compared with the period of the last census, namely, the year 1841.
It appears from this comparison, that there has been a decrease of no less than l7l,334,in the number of persons occupying between one and five acres of land, which were 310,375 in 1841, and are now reduced to 139,041. The decrease in the number of occupiers of land below one acre has been almost as large; and although the occupiers of from 5 to 15 acres have somewhat increased, and those of farms above 15 acres have been nearly trebled in number (showing the rapid progress of consolidation), yet the total diminution in the aggregate number of occupiers of land is more on the whole than a quarter of a million! with their families probably comprising near a million and a-half of souls!
It is evident from this statistical document that a most extraordinary social revolution has been taking place in Ireland within the last few years (and especially the last two), by which a large proportion of the population have been suddenly deprived of their accustomed means of living.
Molly Maguire said:
What became of the big land owners when they lost thousands of rent payers, did many of them leave as well.
John Mitchel
The next measure passed in the same session of Parliament was the "Incumbered Estates Act:" the Act of 12th and 13th Victoria, c. 77. Under this, a royal commission was issued, constituting a new court "for the sale of Incumbered Estates;" and the scope and intent of it were to give a short and summary method of bringing such estates to sale, on petition either of creditors or of owners. Before that time the only mode of doing this was through the slow and expensive proceedings of the Court of Chancery; and the number of incumbered landlords had grown so very large since the famine began, their debts so overwhelming, and their rental so curtailed, that the London Jews, money-brokers, and insurance offices, required a speedier and cheaper method of bringing their property to the hammer. What I wish to be fully understood is, that this Act was not intended to relieve, and did not relieve, anybody in Ireland; but that, under pretence of facilitating legal proceedings, it contemplated a sweeping confiscation and new "Plantation" of the island. The English press was already complacently anticipating a peaceable transfer of Irish land to English and Scotch capitalists; and took pains to encourage them to invest their money under the new Act. Ireland, it was now declared, had become tranquil: "the Celts were gone:" and if any trouble should arise, there was the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act; and the horse, foot, and artillery, and the juries.

Singular to relate, however, the new Act did not operate satisfactorily in that direction. English capitalists had a wholesome terror of Tipperary, and of the precarious tenure by which an Irish landlord holds his life; insomuch that the great bulk of the sales made by the Commissioners were made to Irishmen:—and in the official return of the operations of the court, up to Oct., 1851, I find that while the gross amount produced by the sales had been more than three and a half millions sterling, there had been only fifty-two English and Scottish purchasers, to the amount of £319,486.
Down to the 25th May, 1857, there had been given orders for sale to the number of 3,197: the property had been sold to 7,216 purchasers, of whom 6,902 were Irish—the rest English, Scotch, or other foreigners. The estates already sold brought upwards of twenty millions sterling, which was almost all distributed to creditors and other parties interested. The result to Ireland is simply this—about one-fifteenth part of the island has changed hands; has gone from one landlord and come to another landlord: the result to the great tenant class is simply nil. The new landlord comes over them armed with the power of life and death, like his predecessor: but he has no local or personal attachment which in some cases used to mitigate the severity of landlord rule;—and he is bound to make interest on his investment. The estates have been broken up, on an average, into one-half their former size: and this has been much dwelt upon as an "amelioration:" but I have yet to learn that small landlords are more mild and merciful than great ones. On the whole, I maintain that the "Incumbered Estates Act" has benefited only the money-lenders of England.
Molly Maguire said:
Did anybody in Ireland gain from the Great Hunger?
Yes, those who wanted rid of the "surplus population" but didn't want to pay for emigration schemes or the reclamation of waste lands.


The main difficulty is, of course, to provide the funds necessary to transport the emigrants, and to employ or locate them in a position to support themselves in the colony. But supposing the funds to be forthcoming, it is shown by detailed estimates in the Devon digest, that the expense of so disposing of the assumed Irish surplus of two millions of people would be at least twenty millions of money (and we think this estimate under the mark, judging from the recent report of Mr. Buchanan, the experienced Emigration Agent at Montreal, who reckons the minimum cost of location in Canada at sixty pounds for every emigrant family, over and above their passage-money), while the cost of disposing of the same number, by means of the reclamation and division of the waste lands of Ireland into farms of from 15 to 30 acres, would amount to but half that sum; or ten millions sterling.
The Westminster and foreign quarterly review (reclamation of waste lands and small farm culture)
One leading idea is thus established, namely, that the improvement of the worst districts of Ireland does not require the removal of the existing tenantry for the purpose of consolidating farms. Sir Robert Kane and Mr. Blacker have proved that the small farm system (meaning thereby farms of from five to thirty acres) is not only consistent with the most improved husbandry, but will raise at least an equal amount of produce, pay a better rent, and maintain a vastly larger population. Sir Robert Kane, in his recent most valuable paper on this subject,* concludes thus :—" There are not people enough in Ireland for small farm culture." But to bring out the full results of this, or indeed any other system of farming, the tenant must be instructed; and, above all, encouraged by security, for being permitted to reap the fruits of his industry.
But the existing landlords of Ireland (speaking of them as a body, and overlooking individual exceptions) will not or cannot do this. They will neither employ the people of Ireland to open up her latent resources, nor will they relinquish their privilege of continuing to retain their lands in a state of neglect and comparative barrenness. They will neither (if they can help it) part with their property which they thus misuse, nor allow its occupation upon such terms of tenure as would encourage and enable their tenants to effect the required improvements. The only mode of improvement which suggests itself to them—which they look upon as the simplest and the readiest means of avoiding the dreaded danger of ruin from the poor-rate, is the getting rid of their small tenantry and poor by clearance—the consolidation of small farms into large—the conversion of arable into pasture—the substitution of cattle for men—the razing of villages —the Depopulation, in one word, of the country.
 

Green eyed monster

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Of course it was the larger tenant farmer, not the labourer whose class was destroyed during the famine, to gained the benefit of the subsequent landlord acts, which granted him fixity of tenure, free rent, and eventually absolute ownership, pending a small annuity. This class exploited British guilt over the famine to advance themselves, again at the expense of the labourer, when it could be argued they were primarily responsible for the famine in the first place.
I am not sure it is fair to say larger tenants could have caused the famine, did they have the power of independent actors in this affair or where they beholden to a higher master, that of the foreign landlords who demanded maximum profits (and what that involves, namely exploitation on a massive scale) and an entire capitalist colonial system in Ireland that had always neglected the needs of the majority of the people and had probably taught the Irish to exploit each other for the last grubby penny along the way. Very interesting information which you supplied and it makes a lot of sense, it wasn't the real victims or the poorest who were in a position to excite British guilt but this new land holding class who carried that banner... Interesting.

Former Wesleyan said:
This rarely gets a mention as it goes some way to vindicating the position of the British Government during the Famine when the excoriated the Irish for not doing anything to help themselves.
The British accusation 'help yourselves' was based on a fallacious premise, namely it assumes that the Irish are in control of Ireland. Of course this is not so, the British were fully in control, had troops in place and for certain didn't want to leave (especially as their landowners were so close to the seat of power in England). Besides it was British policies during the penal laws that saw plots divided and divided and ensured no other form of income (almost all non-agrarian industries being banned by acts of parliament lest they provide competition to England) was possible, creating the tinder dry conditions upon which phytophthora infestans was a spark. And of course during the famine itself the British complimented themselves on a good job (a nuisance population cut down to a more manageable size), made it extremely difficult for Irish emigrants to move to Britain and most of all had troops in place to guard the food exports during the Great Hunger. The British will never escape culpability and responsibility for the Great Hunger, they set up the conditions for it, they stood by and were at best nonchalant, at worst pleased - while the deaths occurred.

In fact the Great Hunger stands against them as one of the blackest marks of their colonial career, many of their other atrocities happened thousands of miles away such as the famines in India or the deeds in Africa, 'out of sight out of mind' can provide them with the thinnest of excuses for their 'mismanagement' there, but Ireland was largely English Speaking, was located only a hundred miles away and was (unlike further places) actually locked into their nation itself with the hated Act Of Union, it was a part of their nation-state itself. Worse (for the honour of Ireland itself), a good number of their troops were Irish.

But even if they never have culpability for it transfered from the British, still there are areas in which the Irish people shamed themselves during this period which should rightly be explored, the avarice of some low-mid level tenants may be one, the inaction of Irish troops in doing anything may be another - we were beaten as a people in every way that we could be then.
 
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Riadach

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I am not sure it is fair to say larger tenants could have caused the famine, did they have the power of independent actors in this affair or where they beholden to a higher master, that of the foreign landlords who demanded maximum profits (and what that involves, namely exploitation on a massive scale) and an entire capitalist colonial system in Ireland that had always neglected the needs of the majority of the people and had probably taught the Irish to exploit each other for the last grubby penny along the way. Very interesting information which you supplied and it makes a lot of sense, it wasn't the real victims or the poorest who were in a position to excite British guilt but this new land holding class who carried that banner... Interesting.
Perhaps it was indeed pressure from above that forced the tenants to produce more in order to pay rents etc, but they did not need to turn attention to the impoverished labourer class. It's probably unfair to blame them for the famine per se, they had little hand in the widespread shape of the landholding, but they certainly aped the developments with gusto, and capitalised on the collapse of the labouring class.
 

studenttime

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Lads am I right in saying Charles Stewart Parnell was elected in three different
constituencies and if so how was this possible?
 

johntrenchard

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Curious were somebody in the aftermath of the GH was able to come up with the money for a three hundred acre farm.

300 acres is hardly a potato patch half way up a hill.
I would hazard a guess - English protestants new to Ireland, buying off land from bankrupt former owners ( because the famine had wiped them out ) at a knock down price?


Bear in mind that the 1840s/1850s was when a lot of new wealth was being created due to the British industrial revolution and the growth of the British empire overseas.

Did these new "landlords" come in after the famine, with barely any knowledge of what happened in the 1840s?
 

johntrenchard

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just to add...

Down to the 25th May, 1857, there had been given orders for sale to the number of 3,197: the property had been sold to 7,216 purchasers, of whom 6,902 were Irish—the rest English, Scotch, or other foreigners.
+1

fascinating.

so the bulk went to the Irish. no wonder farmers get cadgy about land ownership , even nowadays!

EDIT: and your post has answered my questions in the previous post above. Much obliged.
 

Dasayev

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I am not sure it is fair to say larger tenants could have caused the famine, did they have the power of independent actors in this affair or where they beholden to a higher master, that of the foreign landlords who demanded maximum profits (and what that involves, namely exploitation on a massive scale) and an entire capitalist colonial system in Ireland that had always neglected the needs of the majority of the people and had probably taught the Irish to exploit each other for the last grubby penny along the way. Very interesting information which you supplied and it makes a lot of sense, it wasn't the real victims or the poorest who were in a position to excite British guilt but this new land holding class who carried that banner... Interesting.
The Westminster and foreign quarterly review
... a deep-seated and general feeling has come to be entertained by the owners of the soil of the sister island that Ireland must be largely Cleared of the Irish, as a first step towards the improvement of their property—the only means of saving it from being eaten up by paupers. And the clearance of Ireland of her supposed excess of population means, and can, in our opinion, eventuate in nothing else than its transfer in bulk to England.

The feeling to which we refer exhibits itself through every class of Irish landlord, and in a variety of forms—from the amiable benevolence of Lord Fitzwilliam, who yet cannot withhold the public expression of his opinion that "the evil of Ireland, which must first be removed, is her seven millions of a cottier population*—and the phobanthropy (to coin a word) of the other, not over-wise, noble lords, who have been sitting silently for two years in committee upon a still embryo project of " Colonization from Ireland "—down to the pettiest middleman of Connaught who, no longer able to hire the labour of his poor sub-tenants by letting them conacre at ten or twelve guineas the acre, to be worked out at wages of four-pence, or at most sixpence, a-day, levels their hovels to get rid of the now unprofitable incumbrances.

The extent, indeed, to which the system of clearance is being proceeded with under the influence of this general feeling among those who have the power to execute it, ought to obtain far more attention from the public of this country than it has hitherto met with; for they are deeply interested in its results.

It dates its commencement from the period when the abolition of the forty-shilling freehold franchise put an end to the desire previously entertained by Irish landlords to multiply their tenantry for purposes of political jobbing. This motive having ceased to operate, they became suddenly alive to the fact, that the subdivision of holdings, effected chiefly by the middlemen, but tacitly, if not openly, encouraged by the head landlords, with a view to the increase of their parliamentary interest, had crowded their estates with a larger population than, under the usual wretched system of Irish agriculture, could be supported on the produce, leaving a sufficient surplus for rent.
Also with regard to maximising profits, I'm reminded of some staggering statistics that the economist JR McCulloch came up with in his work Statements Illustrative of the Policy and Probable Consequence of the Proposed Repeal of the Existing Corn Law

According to him, grain exports from Ireland to Britain increased from 3,238 quarters in 1800 to 3,474,302 quarters in 1838.
The rapid increase of the exports of corn and other raw produce from Ireland is very generally referred to as demonstrating the great improvement of agriculture; and in so far as respects the increased exports of cattle, beef and butter, the inference seems to be well founded. The breed of live stock has as already stated been very greatly improved; the system of stall feeding has also been introduced, and the increased exports of animal produce has been obtained, not only without any increase, but with positive diminution of the land in pasture. But it is quite otherwise with the extraordinary increase of the exports of corn and meal. The preceding table shows that they had increased from less than a million of quarters previously to 1817 to nearly three and a half millions in 1838! But no one will venture to affirm that agriculture has improved in anything like a corresponding proportion; and as the condition of the bulk of the people has probably not varied very materially during this interval, there cannot be a doubt that the increased exports of corn are principally to be ascribed to the extension of tillage.

The late Lord Clement says in his tract on the Poverty of Ireland that "the export of grain has increased most rapidly from those parts where no agricultural amendment whatever is visible." (P 27) It has there been occasioned partly and principally by the breaking up of grass land and partly by the occupiers being tempted, by the facility and certainty of the market, to sell every bushel they can spare, subsisting themselves principally on potatoes, and retaining the worst corn for and their own use. We are afraid too that the exportation of pigs may, to a considerable extent, be accounted for in the same way; by the ready market afforded by the steamers, and the anxiety of the peasantry to procure the means of paying their rent, though at the expense of their comforts.
Thranduil said:
...and had probably taught the Irish to exploit each other for the last grubby penny along the way...
The Westminster and foreign quarterly review
Ireland is, in fact, no enigma. Nor are Irishmen—Celts though they may be—such exceptional beings as some would have it thought. The faults of their character are the natural result of the treatment they have endured. Little more than half a century back, the Celtic, that is to say, the Catholic people of Ireland, were prohibited by law from holding real property, or, indeed, any valuable chattel property! The abolition of those infamous laws still left behind much of the same spirit. The civil and political disabilities; the sixty or more statutes passed to increase the power of the landlords, without one to protect or secure the interests of the tenant; the partial administration of justice by the unpaid and exclusively Protestant magistracy; the denial, up to last year even (the forty-seventh from the union!) of the claim of the starving poor to relief! These are parts of the system which has given to the character of the Celt some of the qualities peculiar to a slave population. The bad example set by their masters added its further evil influence. The extortionate, extravagant, dissipated, gambling, sporting, jobbing Squire-landlord, was initiated, of course, in his follies and vices by the Middleman-Squireen. The inferior peasantry were forced, in self-defence, to lie, to deceive, to fawn, to flatter, to conceal what little gains they could save, to feign poverty if they did not really feel it—in order to live. It has been often asserted, that even now few tenants dare to wear a decent coat, or build a decent house, or show any other outward signs of improvement in their circumstances, lest their rent should be raised upon them.

There can be no doubt—for it was given in evidence by numerous landagents before the Devon Commission—that it is a common practice for landlords and agents to serve yearly notices to quit on all tenants-at-will, in order to keep them completely in hand, and liable to be at any time turned out by summary ejectment at a few days' notice ! And this in a country where three-fourths of the soil is held under tenancy-at-will!
Why, what else could follow from such a mode of treating a purely agricultural population than what we see—idle lands, and idle hands; wretched farmings; huts and hovels for dwellings ; bankrupt landlords; disaffected tenants; gold hidden in rags, while the soil is left undrained and but half-cultivated; a land full of weeds and soldiers, crowded gaols, workhouses, and police barracks ; agrarian crimes, and a general spirit of combination against the law which oppresses the people so much, and benefits them so little ?
 
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Molly Maguire

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So within a couple of generations, those who survived the Great Hunger found themselves going from tenant farmers to land owners.
The new land owners themselves have big families, who in turn have to leave, possibly even meeting up with distant branches of their own families in places NY, Boston and Liverpool.

No wonder the average present day Irish farmer squirms at the thought of tourists with the same surname turning up on site in 2010.

Eh eh, sure now that branch of the family left many many years ago.

Must be like a spooky film.
 

Joseph Emmet

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It certainly did not happen overnight. The first of the land reforms secured by Parnell gave some protection to tenants, better than what they had. It wasn't till the Purchase Act of 1885 that tenants who could afford it were allowed to purchase their plots. Still not an overnight transformation as most peasant farmers could not afford the price. The greatest strides occurred in 1903 with the Wyndham Act, which actually set in motion the idea of what we call a mortgage.
 


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