Visits to George Hill

My next visit was to the far-famed Gweedore, the estate of Lord George Hill. This gentleman is too well-known to need a description. His works will live when he is where the "wicked cease from troubling." His facts on Gweedore are the most amusing of anything I have read on the habits of the Irish; and to understand what Lord George Hill has done, whoever visits that spot should first read these "facts," and then all objections must be silenced respecting the capacity of the most savage of that nation being elevated. These "facts" I had never read till some time after my visit there, which I now much regret. It would not be supposed that during a famine this spot could be seen to much advantage; but there was, even then, a degree of comfort which did not exist in any other part I had seen. It lies in the parish of Tullaghobegly, on the north-west coast of Ireland, where the wildest scenery stretches along the bold coast, in many places; and where it would seem that man, unless driven from the society of his fellow-being, would never think of making his abode. But here men had clustered, and here they had constructed rude huts, of loose stone or turf, and with but little law, they were a "law to themselves," each one doing as he listed.

The system of Rundale prevailed, "one tenant had his proportion in thirty or forty different places, and without fences between them and the strips were often so small, that half a stone of oats would sow one of these divisions; and these "Gweedore facts" tell us that one poor man had his inheritance in thirty-two different places, and abandoned, in despair, the effort to make them out. There were no resident landlords, the rent was paid any how, or not at all, as the tenant was disposed. Sometimes a little was picked up, as they termed it, by some agent going from cabin to cabin, and receiving what each might please to give. Their evenings were passed in each other's huts, till late at night, telling stories, drinking potteen, &c. Perpetual quarrels arose from the Rundale system; for the cattle, on a certain day, were brought from the mountain, to graze on the arable land; and if Mikey or Paddy had not his crops gathered, they were injured, and then a fight set matters at rest again. The animals, too, were often divided, according to the Rundale system: if four men, for instance, owned a horse, each must provide a shoe; in one case, but three men had a share in one, consequently the unshod foot got lame; a dispute arose, one of the two complained to a magistrate, that he had kept his foot shod decently, and "had shod the fourth foot twice to boot!" Let modern socialists take a few lessons from these originals.

Their materials for agricultural labor were at one time quite novel: when a field was to be harrowed the harrow was made fast to the pony's tail; a rope was fastened to the horse's tail, and then to the harrow; but if the hair of the tail was long it was fastened by a peg into a hole in the harrow; thus equipped, a man mounted his back, and drove him over the field. Whoever lacks invention let him learn from Paddy. The following true description of that district is given by Patrick M'Kye, the teacher of the National School, in 1837, in a memorial sent to the Lord Lieutenant; nor was Patrick's memorial in vain, for it not only awakened an Englishman to send these naked ones clothing, but it will be handed down to future generations, as a memento of both the suffering state of that people, and the faithfulness of the writer; and, above all, it will show in very lively colors what persevering enlightened philanthropy can do, when in the heart of such a landlord as Lord George Hill.

Read "Annals of the Famine in Ireland" at your leisure

Annals of the Famine in Ireland

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This book still has the power to shock and sadden even though the events described are ever-receding further into the past. When you read, for example, of the poor widowed mother who was caught trying to salvage a few potatoes from her landlord's field, and what the magistrate discovered in the pot in her cabin, you cannot help but be apalled and distressed.

The text of this new edition has professionally been reset and an index added to the paperback.


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