Landlords and Tenants in Mid-Victorian Ireland

By W. E. Vaughan | Go to book overview

1
Landlords and Tenants

ONE of the most familiar pictures of the land war was an illustration in the Illustrated London News of January 1881, showing the burning of the duke of Leinster's lease at a land league meeting.1 Solemn-looking men, heavily bearded, burning a piece of paper, assumed a specious ferocity because they were burning the lease on a '98 pike. As an image of revolution it was not striking; certainly it was not as striking as Delacroix Liberty Leading the People. The picture, however, did suggest one thing about the land system: compared with other forms of wealth, landed property and the relationship between landlords and tenants were remarkably public. Estates were concentrated in easily identified territorial blocks, often comprising dozens of townlands. The greater estates were often distributed through two or three counties. The duke of Leinster had 73,000 acres in Kildare and Meath; the marquis of Downshire had 115,000 acres in Antrim, Down, Kildare, King's County, and Wicklow; the earl of Erne had 40,000 acres in Donegal, Fermanagh, Mayo, and Sligo.2

The most visible aspect of the estates was their mansion houses, ranging from great palaces like Castletown, Powerscourt, and Castle Coole to substantial houses, perhaps little bigger than rectories, like Woodbrook in Roscommon, but forming centres of employment and social power.3 The houses of the gentry were not for the most part sited conspicuously on hills or precipitous cliffs ( Lord Palmerston at Classiebawn was one of the few landlords whose front door could be seen from the public road); but the paraphernalia of demesnes were strikingly visible: the demesne walls stretching for miles at Carton; gate lodges, better than many farmers' houses, at Powerscourt; model villages such as Adare and Caledon, and Coolattin where 'the houses are all bright and fresh as a new pin, having been only recently erected or restored by the great lord of the land, Earl Fitzwilliam';4 the plantations at Baltiboys in Wicklow, 'the handsome seat

____________________
1
Illustrated London News, 8 Jan. 1881; see T. W. Moody and F. X. Martin, The Course of Irish History, rev. and enlarged edn. ( Cork, 1987), 290; see also the dust-jacket of C. H. E Philpin (ed.), Nationalism and Popular Protest in Ireland ( Cambridge, 1987).
2
Bateman, Great Landowners ( 1883).
3
David Thomson, Woodbrook (Harmondsworth, 1975).
4
John Forbes, Memorandums made in Ireland in the Autumn of 1852 ( London, 1853), i. 41.

-1-

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