Causes of Irish Emigration

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Preface to First Edition continued

The causes of emigration, as one should think, are patent to all. Landlords do not deny that they are anxious to see the people leave the country. They give them every assistance to do so. Their object is to get more land into their own hands, but the policy will eventually prove suicidal. A revolutionary spirit is spreading fast through Europe. Already the standing subject of public addresses to the people in England, is the injustice of certain individuals being allowed to hold such immense tracts of country in their possession. We all know what came of the selfish policy of the landowners in France before the Revolution, which consigned them by hundreds to the guillotine.

The Emigrants' Farewell

The Emigrants' Farewell

A little self-sacrifice, which, in the end, would have been for their own benefit, might have saved all this. The attempt to depopulate Ireland has been tried over and over again, and has failed signally. It is not more likely to succeed in the nineteenth century than at any preceding period. Even were it possible that wholesale emigration could benefit any country, it is quite clear that Irish emigration cannot benefit England, It is a plan to get rid of a temporary difficulty at a terrific future cost. Emigration has ceased to be confined to paupers. Respectable farmers are emigrating, and taking with them to America bitter memories of the cruel injustice which has compelled them to leave their native land.

Second, How misery leads to emigration. The poor are leaving the country, because they have no employment. The more respectable classes are leaving the country, because they prefer living in a free land, where they can feel sure that their hard earnings will be their own, and not their landlord's, and where they are not subject to the miserable political and religious tyranny which reigns supreme in Ireland. In the evidence given before the Land Tenure Committee of 1864, we find the following statements made by Dr. Keane, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Cloyne. His Lordship is a man of more than ordinary intelligence, and of more than ordinary patriotism. He has made the subject of emigration his special study, partly from a deep devotion to all that concerns the welfare of his country, and partly from the circumstance of his residence being at Queenstown, the port from which Irishmen leave their native shores, and the place where wails of the emigrants continually resound. I subjoin a few of his replies to the questions proposed:—

"I attribute emigration principally to the want of employment."

"A man who has only ten or twelve acres, and who is a tenant-at-will, finding that the land requires improvement, is afraid to waste it [his money], and he goes away. I see many of these poor people in Queenstown every day."

"I have made inquiries over and over again in Queenstown and elsewhere, and I never yet heard that a single farmer emigrated and left the country who had a lease."

Well might Mr. Heron say, in a paper read before the Irish Statistical Society, in May, 1864: "Under the present laws, no Irish peasant able to read and write ought to remain in Ireland. If Ireland were an independent country, in the present state of things there would be a bloody insurrection in every county, and the peasantry would ultimately obtain the property in land, as they have obtained it in Switzerland and in France." That the Irish people will eventually become the masters of the Irish property, from which every effort has been made to dispossess them, by fair means and by foul, since the Norman invasion of Ireland, I have not the slightest doubt. The only doubt is whether the matter will be settled by the law or by the sword. But I have hope that the settlement will be peaceful, when I find English members of Parliament treating thus of the subject, and ministers declaring, at least when they are out of office, that something should be done for Ireland.

Mr. Stuart Mill writes: "The land of Ireland, the land of every country, belongs to the people of that country. The individuals called landowners have no right, in morality or justice, to anything but the rent, or compensation for its saleable value. When the inhabitants of a country quit the country en masse, because the Government will not make it a place fit for them to live in, the Government is judged and condemned. It is the duty of Parliament to reform the landed tenure of Ireland."