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Small number of proprietors of land in fee—Tenants in possession very numerous—Large grants of land in Munster—Long leases—Many subordinate interests—Smaller grants in Ulster—Cromwell's grants— Property accumulates—Estates rarely sold in parts—Mortgages, &c. —Unsuitable agents—Land but little improved—Settlement of Ulster —Tenant-right compared with copyhold tenure in England–Cannot be safely interfered with where established—Agrarian outrages—Their objects—Insecurity of possession—Its depressing effect upon industry —Subdivision of land—Consolidation—Consequent sufferings of ejected tenantry—Difficulty of obtaining another farm—Wretched condition of labourers living by con-acre–Difficulties attending this state of things.
From the Report of the Commissioners for the Census in 1841, we find the whole number of farms in Ireland, exceeding one acre in extent, to be 691,202, of which nearly one-half, or 310,436, are under five acres. If we add the number of holdings under one acre, (which the census does not state) it will make the holdings under five acres much more than half. The proprietors in fee are probably fewer than in an equal area in any part of Western Europe, Spain only excepted; whilst the tenants in possession of land are more These remarks apply more strongly to Connaught than to any other of the provinces. The estates in Connaught are peculiarly large. Several proprietors have more than 100,000 acres. The proportion of small farms is greater there than in the rest of Ireland, being 100,254 from one to five acres, while the whole number of farms is only 155,842.*
* The number of proprietors in fee has been estimated at about 8000.
By far the greater part of Ireland has been confiscated since the reign of Henry VIII. The grantees of confiscated lands in Munster received from Elizabeth large tracts of 4,000 to 20,000 acres of good land, besides mountain and bog. The result has in many cases been, that the owners preferred living in England, and let their lands on long leases, or for a perpetuity, to others, who in their turn let the lands in smaller portions, at a profit rent; thus becoming inferior landlords, or middlemen. It frequently happens that two, three, or four of these intervene between the head landlord and the actual possessor of the soil, each of them holding by a long lease, and deriving a profit rent. This multiplication of subordinate interests is a great bar to improvement.f
* See Appendix D. + The following is the substance of a statement made by an applicant to the Relief Committee of the Society of Friends, respecting a townland in the county of Roscommon, for which he asked assistance: “It contains about six hundred acres; is owned in “fee by an English nobleman, but leased in perpetuity to a gen“tleman living in another part of Ireland, for the sum of £30. “He has again leased it in perpetuity at a profit rent of £200 per “annum. The third landlord has divided it, the applicant holding from “him nearly one third, for which he pays a rent of £150 per annum.” The applicant, retaining a portion in his own hands, appears to have subdivided the remainder of his holding among sixteen families, who are the actual tenants in possession, and cultivate the soil. He states that the two first mentioned landlords “care nothing about the tenants;” considering no doubt that they have no interest in the good or bad management of the property, as they have ample security for their rent, and can never hope for any increase; and that the whole care and expense devolve on himself. This is not an uncommon case. The same condition of things, variously modified, is to be met with in all parts of the country.
When James I. undertook the plantation of Ulster, the evils of Elizabeth's large grants had become evident. His grants were therefore generally limited to 1,000 or 2,000 acres of good land, with a fair proportion of mountain and bog, and some provision was made to secure the residence of the grantee. The grants made by Cromwell were still smaller, being in many cases about 100 acres; and the grantees being generally resident, constituted a small proprietary, whose influence has been most beneficial in the districts where they settled.
Property naturally accumulates. The personal estate being generally divided on the death of the owner, counteracts this tendency; but when a landed proprietor buys up a small neighbouring estate, he frequently entails it, and both descend to his heir as one property. Even when estates are brought into the market for sale, they are rarely sold in parts. Thus the number of landed proprietors constantly lessens. The commissioners for enquiry into the occupation of land in Ireland allude to the landed proprietary thus : —“The number of proprie“tors of land in Ireland is small, when com“ pared with its extent, and the amount of its “agricultural population. This circumstance, while “probably it is one of the causes, which have led “ to the want of that personal attention to the “condition of the tenantry, which is at once the “duty and interest of landlords, renders also the “impediments in the way of improvement, arising “from the nature of the proprietor's tenure, a mat“ter of more urgent public importance in Ireland “ than elsewhere. “It frequently happens that large estates in that “country are held in strict limitation ; and the “ pecuniary circumstances of the landed proprie“tors generally, arising in some cases out of “family charges, and resulting in others from “improvidence or carelessness, possibly of former “ proprietors, disable many, even of the best dis“posed landlords, from improving their property, “ or encouraging improvement among their tenan“try, in the manner which would conduce at once “to their own interest and the public advantage. “Many of the evils incident to the occupation of “land in Ireland may be attributed to this cause.” In this portion of their report, the commissioners have mentioned two of the grand difficulties in the way of improvement : that the proprietors are bound up by strict settlement, and that they are embarrassed by mortgages and family charges. Another and a very important one has been already alluded to, namely, the leases and sub-leases in perpetuity, or for a very long period, which absentee owners of land deemed it their interest to grant, for the purpose of devolving the cares and duties of landlord on some one who might be better able to perform them, and thus securing to themselves a more certain though it may be a smaller rental. Public opinion attributes a great part of the evils of Ireland to these middlemen, probably without sufficient consideration. No doubt many of them are hard and griping landlords; but there are others, whose property is extremely well managed, and it should be recollected that in many districts they form almost the only resident gentry, and almost the only semblance of a middle class.