Landlords and Tenants in Mid-Victorian Ireland

By W. E. Vaughan | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

THIS study is limited to certain aspects of relations between landlords and tenants in mid-nineteenth-centuryIreland: evictions, rents, tenant right, estate management, agrarian outrages, and conflicts between landlords and tenants are the main topics. The landlords and tenants whose relations form the connection between these subjects were the owners of landed estates on the one hand and the tenants of agricultural holdings on the other. Relations between tenants and sub-tenants, between the owners of great estates and middlemen, between farmers and labourers, and between town tenants and their landlords are occasionally referred to, but they are not part of the main theme. The subjects examined were largely determined by the interpretation of relations between landlords and tenants that was enshrined in J. E. Pomfret The Struggle for Land in Ireland, 1800-1923, published in 1930.1

A few quotations from Pomfret illustrate his ideas. 'The landlords as a class were alien and absentee, and had little interest either in the welfare of the peasants or in the improvement of their property'; 'the tenants never allowed an unwarranted eviction to pass without retribution, and any move toward a general clearance seriously disturbed the peace of the community'; the landlord 'was able to capitalize the desire of the peasant to obtain land at any price and as a result a rent was extorted that was out of proportion to the yield'.2 These three quotations are from Pomfret's first chapter, which covered the period 1800 to 1850; but at the end of his second chapter, entitled 'The Magic of Laissez Faire, 1850-1870', he compared Ulster with the rest of Ireland in terms that showed he regarded high rents and frequent evictions as endemic and persistent:

In the only region where customary rights were permitted anything resembling free play, there was agricultural prosperity. Contrast the two situations: on the one hand there was the subtle withdrawal of customary privileges, the ceaseless demand for higher rents, the perennial notice to quit and the cruel eviction; while on the other the tenants enjoyed within reasonable bounds security of tenure, fair rents, the recognition of their interest in the holding and the right to sell or to bequeath that interest.3

There were some lighter shades in Pomfret. After the famine, for example, he admitted that 'arrears of rent became less frequent and the wholesale evictions of former years were no longer heard of. But the relief was only temporary for the return of bad seasons following the year 1857 revealed

____________________
1
( Princeton, NJ, 1930).

-v-

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