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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37

Irish Peasantry.—Land Tenure

Irish Peasantry.—Land Tenure.

Vast tracts of land are kept vacant by the will of landlords and others which poor men would gladly cultivate, and from which they would get an independent livelihood. How selfish a use can be made of this power may be judged from the following Irish illustration.

"It is well known that much waste land has been brought under culture for several years past. This had been effected chiefly by allowing cottiers to take a portion of the mountain side; and when they had tilled it for a few years, and partially reclaimed it, calling on them either to give it up to the landlord or pay a rent.

"In some cases they probably retained it; but in others they gave it up and commenced anew; not unfrequently ending near the top of the mountain, at the bottom of which they commenced many years before. Thus cultivation crept up the mountain-sides or encroached on the secluded valleys heretofore untilled. This mode of reclamation required no capital on the part of the landlord. The cottier or tenant was the sale agent. He obtained a bare subsistence by severe labor, and rarely effected any improvement in his own condition."—Jonathan Pirn, 1848.

The excellent writer from whom I quote, does not venture to hint, nor does it seem to occur to him, that it is an essential iniquity for one man thus to appropriate the labor of another. Here is land kept in waste because no farmer will pay rent for it. It is wild and unreclaimed; but Cromwell or William or some other conquering warrior in antient times gave it to a predecessor of the present lord of the manor, and through his legal power it is kept barren. But a poor cottier gladly accepts the toil of cultivating it free from rent; he turns it from a wilderness into a fertile field without any aid from him whom the power of the sword and the dogma of law have pronounced to be its lord. No sooner is the barren land made fruitful than the lord steps in, to reap where he did not sow. The laborer, if left to himself in the wilderness, would soon become rich: but this is not page 19 to be endured—the landlord takes care that he shall rarely have more than "bare subsistence." And these are Irish peasants so much calumniated for idleness.!

The rich need exceedingly to learn home truths obvious to common men; our judges also and our Parliaments need to enforce them: such as—That God made the solid land for something else than to pay rent; and that the tenant who improves the soil, and not the landlord, has a right to every tittle of the increased value.

(Prof. Newman.)