Hardships of Irish Tenants

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XXIV (4) | Start of Chapter

Two miles from the town a decently clad farmer accosted me. He had been to attend a lawsuit, a case of ejectment. "I have worked," he said, "on a farm since a boy; my father died, and left it to me, three years ago. I had made a comfortable house for myself and family, and been preparing manure all winter to put in a greater crop of potatoes and corn. The agent came round, saw the improvements, and told me I should not sow any seed, but must quit the premises." And he was actually ejected, notwithstanding the encouragement he had had from the landlord to make the improvements. From twenty to twenty-four shillings an acre were tenants giving on this rocky spot, which in many places could not be ploughed. "I must take my little all," added the man, "and leave my fathers' bones, and seek a home in America." Hard is the lot of the poor man in Ireland. If he is industrious, his industry will not secure him a home and its comforts; these he must lose so soon as this home is above the abode of the ox or the ass.

"Why don't you," said I to a widow who had an acre of ground, "make things about your cabin look a little more tidy? You have a pretty patch of land, well kept, and might look very comfortable." "But, lady, I have but one little slip of a boy of fifteen years of age, and he toils the long day to rair a bit of vegetable to carry to market, and he helped me to put up this little cabin, and if I make it look nice outside, the agent will put a pound more rent on me, or turn me out and my little things; and I couldn't pay the pound." These are facts all over Ireland. If the poor tenant improves the premises, he must be turned out or pay more. If he do not improve it, he is a lazy dirty Irishman, and must he put out for that. I reached Roundstone, and was kindly received by a Christian Protestant woman who had invited me there before in Clifden. Met an intelligent police-officer and his sister; and in the morning visited the school, taught by a Roman Catholic, and supported by the Home Mission. It is in its infancy, its funds low, and the children supplied themselves with what books they had, which were few and defaced. I sat in the school-room till eleven, waiting for the scholars to assemble, and with much urging succeeded in hearing two girls attempt to read. The teacher is a learned man, but the appearance of his person told that a schoolmaster's salary in Ireland is a poor inducement to plod through the declensions and conjugations of a Latin grammar. The whole together was not attractive. The Testament is kept in school, and the teacher observed, "It is read by all who wish to read it, and the others omit it."

Mr. Crotty, the Presbyterian clergyman who employs the teacher, says he can do no better in the present state of things. Poverty sits brooding on everything here. A Church of England curate, a Presbyterian clergyman, and Romish priest divide the town among them, leaving a scanty pittance to each of the laborers. Mr. Crotty was once a Romish priest, and is now a thorough adherent to those principles he once denied. He certainly has done honor to the change he has made, if the voices of his neighbors weigh anything; for the Catholics all spoke kindly of him as a peacemaker, wishing to do good to all, and "given to hospitality."

Ireland’s Welome to the Stranger is one of the best accounts of Irish social conditions, customs, quirks and habits that you could wish for. The author, Mrs Asenath Nicholson, was an American widow who travelled extensively in Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine and meticulously observed the Irish peasantry at work and play, as well as noting their living conditions and diet. The book is also available from Kindle.