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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 54

Evictions Described

Evictions Described.

In my checkered life I have been a private soldier, and between 1849 and 1850, I was in the county Cork, stationed at Ballancholy. Those of you who are Irishmen will want no description of that beautiful valley of the Lee, which winds between the hills from Cork, and in summer seems like a very paradise, green grass growing to the water's side, and burnished with gold in the morning, and ruddy to the very crimson in the evening sunset. I went there on a November day. I was one of a troop to protect the law officers, who had come with the agent from Dublin to make an eviction a few miles from Inniscarra, where the river Bride joins the Lee. It was a miserable day—rain freezing into sleet as it fell—and the men beat down wretched dwelling after wretched dwelling—some 30 or 40 perhaps. They did not take much beating down; there was no flooring to take up, the walls were more mud than aught else, and there was but little trouble in the levelling of them to the ground. We had got our work about three parts done, when out of one of them a woman ran and flung herself on the ground, wet as it was, before the captain of the troop, and she asked that her house might be spared—not for long, but for a little while. She said her husband had been born in it; he was ill of the fever, but could not live long, and she asked that he might be permitted to die in it in peace. Our captain had no power; the law agent from Dublin wanted to get back to Dublin—his time was of importance, and he would not wait—and that man was carried out while we were there—in front of us while the sleet was coming down—carried out on a wretched thing—you could not call it a bed—and he died there while we were there. And three nights afterwards, while I was sentry page 35 on the front gate at Ballancholy barracks, we heard a cry, and when the guard was turned out we found this poor woman there a raving maniac, with one dead babe in one arm, and another in the other, clinging to the cold nipple of her lifeless breast. And if you had been brothers to such a woman, sons of such a woman, fathers of such a woman, would not rebellion have seemed the holiest gospel you could hear preached? Two hundred and fifty thousand evictions took place in the twenty years preceding 1866. 250,000! Can you multiply the misery of that 250,000? Brother separated from sister, husband from wife, the union workhouse taking one, and the other going out trying to find life if he can. This system has gone on until it has made a misery so vast that it will require not one act of Parliament in favor of wisdom, not one statute in favor of justice, not one declaration in favor of humanity, but generations and generations of generous and kindly treatment, not to build up but in some degree to efface the bloody stain of iniquity we have made on the page of that history.

Do you want a specimen of a real English-Irish landlord? Take the late Marquis of Hertford. It was once the fortune of my life to have to meet my Lord Hertford in Paris, and he took great pains to impress upon me then his generosity. He told me he was always in the habit of assisting everybody. He had the means to assist every-body. He has died enormously rich. When he came into his property he met his tenants, and he made a pretty speech to them. He told them that it was the happiest day of his life—and I daresay it was, the coming into his property: I am not at all doubting the truthfulness of that—and he said how glad he would be to meet them again and again. He went from there to Paris, and with the exception of one visit—I think only one—that he paid to Ireland when he wanted the Order of the Garter—with that exception he never set foot on his estates again. He took from them like a cold-blooded leech, without any sort of sympathy except the swallowing of the blood he draws from it. Do not say I exaggerate. There has just been a trial in the Dublin courts in which John Stormis, the agent of the Marquis of Hertford, was defendant, and he admitted that when a man was disposed to vote as he thought wrongly he served him with a notice to quit, as an encouragement to him for his conceptions of political right page 36 and duty. And a little while ago, not going hack a long time, when in Lisburn the people were famine-stricken, they sent letters to my Lord Hertford. He had hundreds of thousands in Spanish railways, hundreds of thousands in German funds, millions of francs in French securities. I am not exaggerating, because the inventory has been taken of them since he died. But he turned a deaf ear: he gave no reply. The people who had been working for his rent were allowed to starve, and would have starved if an American citizen had not sent a ship-load of food to relieve them.

And I urge that you want something more than this land measure of Mr. Gladstone's, with which I propose to deal. But permit mo before I deal with it—for I want if I can to do fair justice to him—permit me to say one thing, which I say in no flattery to the Irish here, for I said it and printed it twelve years ago, to those who urge that the Irish are discontented and dissatisfied and lack love of country. I say it is not so. I say that if there is one thing which is shown more in the Irish character than another—so far as an Englishman can judge it: so far as Englishmen have had a fair opportunity to judge it—it is a disposition under fair conditions to do the best for the land of their birth that it is possible to do.

You ask me what evidence I have of it? I have a witness that cannot lie—a big witness—a witness called the Dublin Post-office, and the officers of that post-office will tell you that away from the western country, away from your Alleghany ranges, away from your Rocky Mountains, out of your busy streets of New York, men who have gone away from Ireland wretched and miserable and threadbare, with despair in their heart and hatred in their head for the Government that had oppressed them, have not forgotten those they have left behind, but have sent back in registered letters of their earnings here, to relieve those who were dragging down to the grave in famine, or to bring them to this land of promise.