« PreviousContinue »
created by the law which conferred in 1793 the right of voting on Roman Catholic freeholders of forty shillings. But this law was made by the Protestant landlords to increase their own power. It was a weapon which enabled them to combat with their political adversaries * ; but it broke to pieces in their hands, and the splinters were thrown in their faces.
I have expressed myself strongly because I speak of the generality: there are many and glorious exceptions to this description; and perhaps those exceptions are to be found more among the English proprietors and the Irish residents, than the absenteest.
It is an opinion currently received, that the best condition for the agricultural free labourer is that, where he has constant employment and regular money wages ; that the garden attached to his dwelling should be appropriated rather to a supply of vegetable luxuries than of constant food. Certainly, my own observation confirms this opinion; but it is the tendency of the principle of population to increase the number of labourers beyond the demand for agricultural labour; and the limited markets for manufactures, afford not room for the superfluity of agricultural labourers to become manufacturers. The improvements in machinery still further contract the demand for human labour, and, leaving open to its superfluity only the land, force a more minute cultivation; and the land is cultivated by the labourer, not only as a garden, but as a means of his necessary and daily existence.
* See Mr. Wyse's History of the Catholic Association, vol. i.
+ It would be also unjust to mention names ; but, as in the violence of party rage, most injurious reports have been raised against the Marquis of Lansdowne, I am bound to say that my own observations on some parts of his estates, and unasked-for testimony respecting other parts of them, concur in not only denying the truth of those reports, but of affirming that he may be accounted as one among the very best landlords in Ireland.
This state of society has been retarded, if not prevented, in England by its wealth and manufactures, and not a little by the operation of the Poor Laws, which, giving the labourer a right to relief, induces the capitalist to expend more in labour upon the land he occupies, in preference to paying for unproductive labour out of the poor’s-rate.
It has been retarded, if not prevented, even in a country which altogether is not more fertile than Ireland, by the metairie system. In Lucca, where the population is said to be upwards of 7000 to the square mile, (being nearly 2000 more than in Ireland,) the division of the produce of the land, between the landlord and tenant, is much more favourable to the latter than in Ireland; and the tenant, although poor, is not so poor as in that country. There, the immediate cultivators receive from the landlord the land, and the land alone, without house, without fences, but generally with a right to a certain proportion of the common bog, wherein he may cut his fuel, and after deducting the bare existence of himself and his family, the whole produce, or the money-sale of it, goes to the landlord.
“We in England imagine,” says the author of Philosophical Letters on the South of Ireland, (p. 316) “ that a twenty-one years' lease is a good one, and where the tenant is allowed to make three times what he pays his landlord; but here, if the tenant can pay his rent and subsist upon potatoes and buttermilk, his landlord thinks he has a good-enough bargain. The tenant starves, and the landlord has almost the whole value.”
From the non-existence of any law whereby the poor have a claim on the produce, and the political causes to which I have alluded above, “the population of Ireland is so disproportioned to the means of employment, and there being no 'means but agriculture, there is always more competition for land than the value of the land will justify, and the rents offered are above the value.” The condition of people under such circumstances inay be easily anticipated.
“ Their habitations are miserable, the mode of sleeping the most wretched possible. The cabins are of mud, the floor sunk below the ground, often without apertures for admission of air and light; almost all have a passage for the smoke, few have regular chimneys *.”
At night all sleep on one common bed of straw, whilst the sow and its young, the cow and the watch-dog, partake the same shelter. The clothing of the poor labourers is, in general, wretched in the extreme $; but in some parts of Ireland, and especially in the county of Cork, it is represented as having much improved within the last twenty years.
Their diet is universally potatoes ), sometimes with milk, sometimes with only salt and water. Dry potatoes, that is, potatoes without milk, are very commonly the food of the poor; but the kind of potatoes is inferior to what it used to be. In some small towns on the sea coast the diet is varied, consisting of potatoes and fish.
“ It is a prevalent opinion that the use of potatoes, not sufficiently boiled, prevents the speedy
* Report of Board of Health, pp. 22, 23. + Ibid. p. 26.
# Ibid. p. 34. § Ibid. p. 42.
return of hunger, and the practice of eating them so prepared gives rise to complaints of the stomach *."
The natural consequence of this wretched diet and lodging is, that a disease, which may
be called fever, always exists in Ireland in a greater or less degree ; and that when the seasons are more unfavourable than ordinary, and food less in quantity and worse in quality, and when employment fails, this fever increases in violence and becomes contagious and epidemic, malignant and fatal. Sad enough would this be, if the evil were stationary, and the increase of fever confined only to the localities where the causes of it existed. But with this want of food and disease, there follows another and greater evil—mendicity ; too prevalent indeed at all times, but in the season of distress operating with tremendous effects. “ In 1817," says the Medical reporter of the province of Munster,—and his strong language sums up the whole, “beggars passed through the country in crowdst, seizing on provisions .... There was an influx of strangers to such a degree that it was emphatically said the whole country was in motion,' and female mendicants often carried about children suffering from fever in their
Spreading of disease under such cir* Report of Board of Health, p. 44. + Ibid. p. 36.