Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

property, had induced those who acquired money to hoard it in concealment, instead of using it for the improvement of their property ; and had in great measure prevented the formation of a middle class. The reckless management of many of the large estates, and the impoverished condition of their owners, had a most injurious effect. The agitated state of the country previous to the Union, the short but bloody contest in 1798, the means taken to quell the insurrection, in arraying one portion of the people against the other, increased the embittered feelings already existing, added to the difficulty, and delayed the period of improvement.

By the enactment of 1793, the lower classes of Roman Catholics obtained all the political power which their position in life enabled them to exercise, while the rich and educated were refused those posts of honor or emolument to which they might naturally aspire. The fruits of this injudicious policy were soon apparent. The upper classes were dissatisfied. They petitioned parliament for complete emancipation from all the disabilities affecting them. For many years their representations were disregarded ; at length the attitude they assumed, the completeness of their organization, their numbers, and the power of the forty-shilling freeholders, whom a stronger motive had freed from political subserviency to their landlords, imperatively enforced their claims ; and in 1829, the act for emancipation received the royal assent.

The successful result of the means used in support of the Roman Catholic claims, taught the people to rely on intimidation for the attainment of political objects. The agitation produced in the minds of men by the various political associations, whether for the advocacy of those claims, or for a repeal of the Union, has had a serious effect in depressing industry; by holding out to the people undefined prospects of important advantages, to be obtained from political changes, which have tended to withdraw them from a reliance on their own exertions, as the only sure means of improving their condition.

The writer is well aware that the spirit which dictated the penal laws no longer exists; that they have been repealed with the hearty concurrence of the great majority of the people of England; and that for many years past the government and the British people have evinced great anxiety for the complete identification of the interests of Ireland with those of England and Scotland. The subject is here referred to, merely to show the effect of these laws on the industry of the country. The laws have been changed, but their depressing influence has not yet ceased to exist. In spite of all depressing circumstances, Ireland has improved during the past sixty years. Statistical proof could be readily obtained. The city of Dublin may have lost something by the removal of the Irish nobility and gentry, consequent on the union with England ; but even Dublin has improved; while the progress of many of the small country towns has been great and rapid. The wealth of the country has increased. This is proved by the large amount of the public funds transferred from England to Ireland. The comforts of the upper and middle classes have increased. The internal trade of the country has increased greatly, and many small towns have well-stocked shops and comfortable shopkeepers, where a few years since it would have been difficult to purchase the commonest necessaries of life. The state of society is better. The people are more industrious and more provident. But, in all these respects, we are still much behind our richer neighbours, whose wealth and civilization date from a period so much earlier.

The agricultural class is certainly much inferior to that of England in wealth, management of their farms, and manner of living ; yet in many districts the farmers are in much better circumstances than they were ; the system of cultivation is improved, and a considerably greater value of stock is to be found on the farms. The lowest class of all, the mere labourer, is the only one whose advancement is not evident; there is even cause to fear that his condition is worse now than it was sixty years ago. Certainly the number of the distressed has greatly increased. The report of the commissioners on the occupation of land in Ireland, contains the following remarks on this subject :

“Another general remark which our tour “ through the country, and an extensive intercourse “ with the farming classes enable us to make, is, " that in almost every part of Ireland unequivocal “symptoms of improvement, in spite of many “ embarrassing and counteracting circumstances, “ continually present themselves to the view ; and " that there exists a very general and increasing “spirit and desire for promotion of such improve“ment, from which the most beneficial results “ may fairly be expected.

“Indeed, speaking of the country generally, “ with some exceptions which are unfortunately “too notorious, we believe that at no former period “did so active a spirit of improvement prevail ; nor “could well-directed measures for the attainment “ of that object have been proposed with a better “prospect of success than at the present moment. . “We regret, however, to be obliged to add, that “in most parts of Ireland there seems to be by no “means a corresponding advance in the condition “ and comforts of the labouring classes. A reference " to the evidence of most of the witnesses will show, “ that the agricultural labourer of Ireland con“ tinues to suffer the greatest privations and hard“ships ; that he continues to depend upon casual " and precarious employment for subsistence; " that he is still badly housed, badly fed, badly “clothed, and badly paid for his labour. Our “personal experience and observation, during our “ inquiry, have afforded us a melancholy confir“mation of these statements; and we cannot “ forbear expressing our strong sense of the patient “ endurance, which the labouring classes have “ generally exhibited, under sufferings greater, we “ believe, than the people of any other country in “ Europe have to sustain."*

No one will deny the correctness of this statement. It is not overcharged; it might well have been stated in stronger language. The condition of our peasantry is the opprobrium of the empire. The causes of their degradation and the means of remedy is the great question, on the solution of which depends the well-being of the whole kingdom ; for it may safely be asserted, that our peasantry must be elevated to the position of the English labourer in civilization, in industry, and in

* Par. Rep. 1845, vol. xix. p. 12.

« НазадПродовжити »