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The economic history of Ireland in the eighteenth century online

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have set it down here just as the Lacedaemonians made
their slaves, the Helots, drunk, and then exposed them to
their youth to make them ashamed of such odious folly."
Bush, an Englishman, who travelled through Ireland in
1764, was much struck by the unimproved condition of
the country: "The land almost universally wears the
face of poverty for want of good cultivation, which the
miserable occupiers really are not able to give it, and few
of them, indeed, know how if they were; and this, indeed,
must be the case when the lands are canted in small
parcels of £20 or £30 a year at third, fourth, and fifth
hand from the first proprietor .... the produce of this
kingdom either of corn or of cattle is not above two-thirds
at most of what, by good cultivation, it might yield. The
province of Leinster, and the middle parts of the Kingdom
in general, are the best cultivated and the most generally
enclosed — especially Kilkenny.'"

Of course, the best known and most valuable
account of the state of agriculture in the eighteenth
century is to be found in Arthur Young's Tour in
Ireland. The author, an acute observer, and a keen
and successful farmer himself, travelled Ireland from
end to end in order to acquire all the information he could
on this very subject. The whole of the first volume of the
Tour, which consists of a diary recording what he saw
as he travelled from place to place, presents a complete
picture of the methods of farming then practised. Young's
general conclusion was that the Irish farmers were, in their
knowledge and skill, at least five centuries behind the
English.* Such barbarous practices as ploughing bv the
tail and burning corn in the straw were still to be found

> Bush Hihrr-iirt Curtosa : and see A Shorl Plan for More E/tcctually Propagating
tlushirulry. Dublin. 1764.
' Tour. vol. ii.. p. 1(H.



IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY. 131

in some places. The manuring of the land with Hme was
generally well understood, but the use of dung as manure
was to a large extent unknown.' The average crop per
acre was smaller than in England, in spite of the greater
fertility of the soil, as the following table' shows: —

AVERAGE CROP PER ENGLISH ACRE.

ENGLAND. lEELAND.

Qrs. Bush. Pecks. Qra. Bush. Pecks.

Wheat •••3 o 0...2 2 3

Barley •••4 o 0...3 4 3

Oats ■■■4 6 0...3 4 3

The quality of the crops was also inferior to that of the
English, owing to the imperfect understanding of the
system of rotation.' The wasteful methods in vogue were
strikingly illustrated by the fact that, in spite of the fact
that Irish land paid no land tax, no poor rate, and was
worked by men at sixpence a day, Irish corn was
uniformly dearer than English. Land in Suffolk paid
three shillings in the pound land tax, three shillings more
poor rates, and was worked by labourers at sixteen pence
a day ; yet the corn from that county, under the expenses
o,i land carriage, freight, lading, unlading, insurance,
commission, and port charges, was able to undersell Irish
corn in the Irish market."

The rearing of cattle and sheep was better understood
than tillage. The breeds of Irish cattle had been much
improved by the introduction of some good English stock,
and the culture of turnips was beginning to receive
attention.* But the care of the pastures was shamefully
neglected, no attention being given to draining or
fencing them properly."

It must not be supposed that no inducements were
offered to farmers to improve their methods. Erom the
year 1764 great efforts were made in this direction by
John Wynne Baker, an expert who was employed by
the Dublin Society. An agricultural school was founded

1 To«r, vol. ii., pp. 93-5. 2 Tour, vol. ii., p. 21. •'•Vol. ii., p. 22.

* VounfJ, Observations on Commercial Arrangement, Annals of Adricitlture. vol. iii.,
p. 257. 6 Tour, vol. ii., p. 107. ^ Vol. ii.. p. 30.



i.Tj I in: I'X-ONOMic history of Ireland

|,v this Kt-ntU-nian at CHbricige, where boys from the
fnutulHnK liospital were apprenticed, and many encourage-
ments were given to improved methods by means of
premiums.' About the same time, farming societies were
f(,unded in some counties, which afterwards became
general.' Parhament also tried to encourage the reclama-
tion of barren lands by exempting such lands when
reclaimed from the tithe for flax, hemp, and rape for
seven years'— an exemption which was extended to all
tithes in 1793.* In 1771 an Act was passed enabling
" Papists " to take a sixty-one year lease of fifty acres of
bog. and half an acre of arable land adjoining, and pro-
viding that the lease should be void if half the bog were
not reclaimed within twenty-one years/

The svstem of agriculture did not improve, as one
might expect, towards the end of the century, in spite
of these encouragements. This is not surprising when
we remember that the real obstacle to improved methods
of cultivation was the system of land laws which pre-
vailed and which was not revolutionised until late in the
nineteenth century. It is true that the Inland Bounty Law
of 1757 and Foster's Corn Law of 1784 greatly increased
the market for Irish corn, and that the repeal of the more
severe Penal Laws in 1778 took away many of the dis-
couragements under which Catholic tenants had laboured
before that time; but these were matters of minor
importance compared with the system of short leases at
rents so high as to leave the tenant no capital wherewith
to cultivate his holding. " An extension of tillage has,
no doubt, taken place," said Wakefield, " but there is a
wide difference between extension and improvement."

In England the latter half of the eighteenth century
was marked by a great agrarian revolution, which accom-
panied the industrial revolution, but in Ireland the
agrarian as well as the industrial revolution came some
voars after the corresponding events in England.

' Berry. History of Royal Dublin Society, p. 137. 2 /j, p 222.
"SOeo. II.c. 9. * 33 Geo. HI., c. 25. »11 & 12 Geo MI. c. 21.



IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY. 133

Toynbee says that the causes of the agrarian revolution
in England were, first, the discontinuance of the common
field system of cultivation ; second, the enclosure on a
large scale of common and w^aste lands; and third, the
consolidation of small farms into large.' None of these
causes operated in Ireland; the common field system of
cultivation had never existed ; there were no large com-
mons or waste lands to be enclosed; and the consolidation
of small farms into large did not begin to take place until
about the year 1820. Indeed, the tendency in Ireland
was in quite the opposite direction ; sub-divisions of large
farms into small was the order of the day. Moreover,
the slowness of the industrial revolution in other direc-
tions still left the farmers under the disadvantage of being
artificers as well. About this time, modern machinery
was gradually concentrating industrial pursuits in towns
in England, but the change had not begun to operate so
markedly in Ireland.'

In 1788, Grattan described the state of agriculture as
" miserable and experimental,"^ and a very unflattering
description of Irish farm methods was drawn by Crumpe
in 1793: "The low and wretched state of agriculture in
Ireland requires little proof ; even those perfectly
unacquainted with its practice who have seen the rich and
regularly cultivated fields of Flanders and England must
be convinced from a glance of its great inferiority. The
mouldering fences, scanty crops, weeds universally
prevalent, and a thousand other similar symptoms bring
it home but too forcibly."* The following good summary
of the state of agriculture at the end of the century is
from Chart's History of Ireland from the Union to
Catholic Emancipation: — "The state of agriculture was,
in many respects, disappointing. Something was un-
doubtedly got out of the land, but not nearly so much as
might have been. The consensus of expert opinion is
that farming of every kind was carried on in a slovenly

1 Industrial Revolution, p. 68. 2 See Chapter xxiv., infra.

^Oraitan's Speeches, vol. ii., p. 41. * Essay on Providing Employment.



131 THK ECONOMIC HISTOKV OF IRELAND

and uupraclical way, and witli most rudimentary
appliances. I'or instance, bullocks were used for
plougl.inj,^, although it had been shown by this time that
they consumed proportionately more food and gave less
work in return than horses. Corn was threshed on clay
floors, and consecjuently became so dirty that its value
deteriorated. Thatching was done with straw not
properly dried and prepared, with the result that seeds
germinated in the roof covering, and it soon presented
the appearance of a meadow or a corn field."

A very full account of the state of affairs in 1814 is to
be found in Wakefield, who says:—" The arable land in
Ireland is cultivated on a system very different from that
pursued in England. If any of my readers expect to hear
of enlarged plans of farming or improved methods of cul-
tivation worthy of the present enlightened state of science
and the arts he will be disappointed. In consequence of
the .... partnership system which prevails chiefly in
the Western districts of the country ; the petty manufac-
turing farmers in the east parts of Ulster, the equally small
sub-division throughout the greater parts of the Southern
coast ; the large tracts of mountain or large grazing
pastures in many of the counties; and in places where
these are not found, the land occupied by dairies, very
little room is left for tillage purposes." On the smaller
farms the spade did the work of the plough, harrow and
roller; the ground was insufficiently manured and w^eeded,
and the corn was threshed very wasteful ly. On the prin-
cipal farms, English methods had been to some extent
introduced, but they were worked in a very slovenlv way.
Oxen and horses were even yoked together in a " plough
that would disgrace the most unskilful workman that ever
undertook to construct an implement of that kind."' The
Scotch plough had been introduced in some places, but
the many varieties of English ploughs were all unknown,
and the other implements used were all indescribably
inferior to those used in England. The practices of

1 Wakefield, vol. i.. p. 413.



IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY. 135

ploughing by the tail, however, and of burning the straw,
seem to have gone out of use, and a more extensive system
of hoeing to have been introduced.

The last authority I shall quote on this subject is an
English traveller who visited Ireland in 1818: — "The
superior freshness and fertility of the soil enable the
husbandmen in Ireland to obtain crops, with, perhaps,
one-third of the manure that is required in Great Britain ;
were this not so, the country must long ago have been
excessively deteriorated. The richness of the surface
resists all the efforts of man to sterilise it; for, however
just may be the censure of want of exertion on other
occasions, I must give the Irish credit for being very per-
severing in their endeavour for this purpose.'"

The great success which the Irish attained in the
provision trade might lead one to suppose that the care
of cattle had been brought to a very high pitch. The
breeds of Irish cattle were greatly improved in the
eighteenth century by the introduction of some good
English stock, but the bulk of Irish cattle seem to have
remained rather poor, and the care of the pastures to have
been to a large extent neglected. Wherever cattle and
sheep were kept together, the sheep were well attended to
by those who had charge of the cattle, but such a thing
as a shepherd to look after sheep specially was unknown
in Ireland.'



• Cttrwen's Letters : and see Ferguson and Vance, Improvement of Land in Ireland.
1851. p. 160; and Trimmer, 4 Brief Inquiry into Present State of Agriculture in the
South of Ireland. London, 1808.

'2 Wakefield, vol. i.. p. 342.



CHAPTER XIII.
Early Irish Co-operation.

TIIlUxH was one feature of Irish agricultural life which
is interesting, in view of the fact that it seems to
contain the germ of the co-operative system which, in
recent years, has been revived so successfully in Ireland.
It is possible, indeed, that the rapid progress which co-
operative methods have attained during the last twenty
years may be to some extent explained by the fact that
joint effort in farming had been practised in the past by
the Irish. As we have seen, the old Irish tenure of gavel-
kind was abolished in the reign of James I., but remnants
of this old custom persevered among the peasantry,
especially in the West, until the nineteenth century.
When the tenant of a farm died, it was the usual practice
for his children to remain on, holding the land in
common ; the shares of daughters were usually paid off in
money, but sometimes a son-in-law was admitted to share
equally with sons. Any differences which might arise
between these joint owners were not settled in the law
courts, but were submitted for arbitration to the elders
of the village. In this way a true system of gavelkind
was kept up, in spite of the legal abolition. A step
further was taken in the direction of re-constituting the
old Irish tenure, when several members of different
families combined to take a holding, either in all their
names, or in the name of one of them. A combination
of this kind was known as a " knot " ; when anv member
of the knot died, his share— or " rundale," as it was called



THE ECONOMIC HISTORY OF IRELAND. 137

— passed to his children in gavelkind; and disputes,
whether between the children of a deceased holder, or
between the holders themselves, were settled by the
arbitration of local courts composed of village elders.

Wakefield gives a full account of how this system was
worked in Connaught : — " It is common in County Gal-
way to grant leases for three lives or thirty-one years to
an indefinite number of persons, very often twenty — in
other places to fewer — who, by law, are joint tenants, and
entitled to the benefit of survivorship. This has been an
old-established practice handed down from father to son
for many generations. These people divide the land and
give portions to their children, which consist of a fourth
or a fifth of what is called a ' man's share,' that is, of
the land which originally belonged to one name in the
lease. ... A certain portion of the whole farm, or
' take,' as it is called, is appropriated for tillage, and
this portion is then divided into lots. These lots are sub-
divided into fields, which are subdivided into smaller
lots, each partner obtaining one or two or more ' ridges.'
These ridges do not continue in the hands of the same
occupier longer than the time they are in tillage. The
pasture is held in common, and the elders of the village
are the legislators, who establish such regulations as may
be judged proper for their community, and settle all dis-
putes that arise among them.'"

There can be no doubt that this system, which was a
survival of the old custom of common ploughing' recog-
nised by the Brehon Law, contained the idea of co-operative
working. This is brought out by Young's notice of the
custom as he found it in County Kilkenny: — "They
have here a practice which much deserves attention :
three, four, five, or seven little farmers will take a large
farm in partnership; they must be equal in horses, cows,
and sheep, and tolerably so in other circumstances ; they
divide every field amongst themselves equally, and do

' Wakefield, vol. i., p. 260. An interesting account of the survival of old customs in
the Highlands is to be found in Skene's Celtic Scotland, vol. iii., ch. x.
' Montgomery, History of Irish Land Tenure, p. 34.



1.38 Tin- r-CONOMIC HISTORY OF IRELAND

all tin- labour of it upon their separate accounts, assisting
each other mutually; they never throw the whole into one
stock and divide the profits, through suspicion, I suppose,
they have of one another.'" The same system was
practised in County Sligo: " Farms in culture are exces-
sively small ; a number of the people divide and take
them in partnership, four or five to a ploughland of ten
acres, but in general they sub-divide down to five or six
acres,'" Young approved of the system, as it enabled
small farmers to cultivate their land on a large scale, and
made it possible for them to obtain the use of agricultural
implements which they would otherwise have been unable
to afford: " Where it is the custom to take in partner-
ship, the difficulties are easier got over; for one man
brings a few sheep, another a cow, a third a horse, a
fourth a car and some seed potatoes, a fifth a few barrels
of corn, and so on until the farm amongst them is toler-
ably well stocked, and hands upon it in plenty for the
labour.'"

Crumpe, in 1793, found the custom still common:
" Agriculture requires to be carried to any degree of
perfection a fund or capital, which is at first expended in
a variety of preliminary operations without any immediate
advantage, but which ultimately returns with accumulated
profit. In England no man thinks of taking a farm
without a certain proportion of capital and a stock of
farming utensils. In Ireland the wretched peasant will
undertake the management of many acres without six-
pence in his pocket, and no means of breaking and
improving the stubborn glebe but the spade he carries
on his shoulder. To remedy, as much as possible, these
inconveniences, he associates with others in a similar
situation, thus endeavouring to supply the place of
capital, and the various necessary apparatus of agriculture,
by a union of the powers of rude labour, which, if divided,
must be still more inadequate to the task it attempts to
effect. Hence rises the destructive system of taking large

' To„r. vol. i.. p. 79. 2 Tour. vol. i., p. 234. 3 Tour. toI. ii.. p. 32.



IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY. 139

farms in partnership — a practice in a great degree neces-
sary where the husbandman is abjectly poor and unpro-
vided, but which always disappears in proportion as he
acquires capital. At present the possession of the most
necessary of implements, the plough, is, in several parts
of the Kingdom, by no means considered as essential to
constitute a farmer ; nay, frequently even when a farm is
taken by a number of wretched cottagers in partnership,
there frequently is not one in a whole colony. In general,
they scratch the surface of their corn land with the spade,
and when the fields are too extensive for this manage-
ment, perhaps there are half a dozen ploughs in a parish,
the owners of which earn their livelihood by hiring them
out by the day at a very high rate."*

Dr. Sigerson, who was the first modern writer to
throw any light upon this system, expresses the opinion
in his book that it was of the utmost value to the agri-
cultural progress of the country: "This system of co-
operative agriculture may have dated from the entry of
colonisers amongst the woods and wilds of ancient Erin.
If it was of old found well adapted for the reclamation
of a new country, it was now considered not ill-suited to
the incumbrances of a poor tenantry, whose chief riches
consisted in their labour. Two or more families, each
bringing a little, were thus enabled by joining their forces
to accomplish what they were individually unable to. The
continued existence of this system through turbulent
times proves the presence of elements of organisation and
order which merits respect. '"* Another industry in which
co-operative methods were resorted to was the fisheries,
where it was the almost universal custom for the boats to
be owned by the fishermen in common, and for the profits
to be divided amongst the crews.'

The idea of mutual assistance amongst farmers seems
to have been common in Ireland. Wakefield found in
various parts of Ulster that the hiring of labour was

1 Crumpe, Essay on Providing Etuf>loymettt, 1793, p. 227.

2 Sifierson, History of Irish Land Tenures, p. 162.

3 Townsend, Survey of Cork, 1810, p. 251.



no INK IXONOMIC HISTORY OF IRELAND

unknown, and the neighbours helped each other to work
thfir land in turn— a custom known as "swapping."'
No doubt, the system of tenure referred to by Arthur
Young as *' changedale," which consisted of the changing
of every man's land every year, was a variant of the
common holding which we have described/ Confusion
has sometimes been caused by the use of the word
'* rundale " to describe this system,' whereas the real
meaning of rundale was the share of one man in a system
of gavelkind.'

The co-operative system of agriculture remained
common in Ireland until the end of the eighteenth century,
and references to it occur in many of the statistical surveys
prepared for the Dublin Society between 1800 and 1810.
With the introduction of modern methods of agriculture,
however, the difficulties in the way of successfully con-
ducting partnership tenure increased, and the greater
number of the "knots" were voluntarily dissolved."
Remnants of the old custom are stated by Doctor Sigerson
to have survived in the West as late as 1870.



•Wakefield, vol. i.. p. 362. s Tour. vol. i.. p. 161
'e.g..Tour yo\. i . p. 151. * Sigerson. p. 161.
•coulter. West of Ireland, 1862.



CHAPTER XIV.
Tithes.

THE Irish tenants were subjected to another burden
which was a great hardship, and which became so
oppressive as to keep whole districts of the country in a
state of perpetual unrest. The principle on which tithes were
based was condemned by Adam Smith as being a tax not
only on industry, but on the industry to which the country
looks for its food supply: " The tithe, as it is frequently
a very unequal tax upon the rent, so it is always a great
discouragement both to the improvements of the landlord
and to the cultivation of the farmer. The one cannot
venture to make the most important, which are generally
the most expensive improvements, nor the other to raise
the most valuable, which are generally, too, the most
expensive crops, when the church, which lays out no part
of the expense, is to share so very largely in the profit.'"
If Adam Smith objected so strongly to the tithe
system in England, he would, no doubt, have objected
much more strongly to the system in Ireland, where the
tithes were levied with more severity even than the rent,
and where it was said that " the clergy's little finger was
thicker than the landlord's loin.'" It is true that many
articles were charged with tithes in England which were
not charged in Ireland, and that the average rate in Eng-
land was slightly higher,' but these small advantages
were counterbalanced a thousandfold by the many

• Wealth of Natiotts. Bk. v.. ch. ii.. pt. ii.. art. 1.
2 Disiretsed State of Ireland. Dublin. 1740.
Imi>artial Discussions on the Subject of Tithes, Dublin, 1786 ; Young's Tour in
Ireland, vol. ii., p. 110.



ML' THI-. PXONOMIC HISTORY OF IRELAND

(lisailv.-mla^H'S of tlic Irish system. In the first place, the
cler^^y in receipt of tithes in Ireland belonged to a church
which ministf-red to only a minority of the population.
Titiics arc supposed to be in the nature of a payment in
return for the ministrations of the clergy, and are only
justilicil in a country where all or nearly all of the people
belong to the church to which the tithes are paid. In
Ireland, as we know, the clergy who received tithes only
ministered to about one-sixth of the population, while the
other five-sixths had not only to pay the tithe, but were
also at the expense of supporting their own clergy as
well.' The evil was aggravated by the fact that a great
number of the State clergy were absentees, so that the
money which they received was not even spent in the district
where it was raised. In County Clare, for instance, in
1763, in sixty-two out of seventy-six parishes in the county
no Protestant Church existed, and the rectors of most
parishes were non-resident:^ "The established churches-
are shamefully neglected by their clergy, who consider
nothing but how to make the most money out of their
benefices, and, instead of applying any part of their tithe
to acts of charity and hospitality, do not so much as lay
it out amongst those from whom it is collected.'"

The grievance of the tithe system was not so much
the tithe itself as the manner in which it was collected :
** In parishes where the Rectors took the tithes into their
own hands it is acknowledged that the clergyman
received much more than he ever did through the
mediation of agents,"* and there were very few complaints



Online LibraryGeorge Augustine Thomas O'BrienThe economic history of Ireland in the eighteenth century → online text (page 12 of 38)