The Occupation of Land in Co. Armagh 1845
In 1845 a commission of inquiry into the occupation of land in Ireland was set up under the auspices of her majesty's government. The following is an account of evidence given to the inquiry from the residents of Co. Armagh:
Mr. Maurice Wilson Knox, Esq., examined; resides at Rosemount near Loughgall; he owns some land in the county, but holds a great deal more than he owns. Is acquainted with the district for five miles around his residence. The population is very great; the land generally in tillage. He thinks agriculture is improving ; a better system of cropping is being carried on, and, in some degree, the drainage system.
They have got two Farming Societies namely, at Richhill and Tartaraghan the former of which has had a good effect on agriculture. Seven acres is about the average size of the farms in the district. The improved agriculture has had no effect upon the demand for labour; the farms are so small that the farmers generally do the labour themselves. He knows of no farms held in joint tenancy. Rents are generally fixed by proposal, and in some instances, the occupying tenant has a preference of the lease. Rents vary from a guinea [sic] to 30s. per English acre the fuel makes some difference, but it
is generally very near. The poor law valuation is fully one third lower than the rent, but he does not think that valuation was carefully made, yet it is very near Mr. Griffith's valuation, which he thinks equitable on light and heavy lands. As regards the payment of rent, there is generally a hanging half-year, but that due is generally demanded three months after term. Rents are seldom paid more than once a-year, and as soon after Christmas as possible, clearing up then to the May previous. A great number depend upon Loan Funds, but not exactly for rent, some of them depend upon local usurers. He knows one such person who is selling meal to the tenantry at 14s. per cwt. which
could be bought for 10s. in the market.
Rent is generally recovered by process, if the farm is a good one, an ejectment is generally served. Distraints seldom occur. In the witness's neighbourhood, the tenancy is immediately under the proprietor, no lands there are held under a middleman. One estate is held under the Courts, just beside him, and the condition of the tenantry upon it is much worse than on the adjoining estates.
The tenantry in this district is generally by lease, and 21 years is about the term. The covenants are generally insisted on with respect to sub-letting; but that is seldom resorted to, the farms are so small. Some of the landlords don't like to grant leases to Roman Catholics, but doesn't think this is general. A good number of leases are held at will.
Mr. Knox thinks the mode of tenure has a bad effect on the condition of the farms and tenantry ; for as, in a good many instances, the tenant is every April served with a notice to quit, he is afraid to make improvements. He cannot say there are any permanent improvements for farming purposes effected in his neighbourhood. The farm offices are all kept in repair by the tenants. The sale of the good-will of farms is prevalent. If the land is held by lease, of course more money is obtained for it. Some landlords will give tenants-at-will, or from year to year, liberty to sell, but there are instances in which the tenant is not allowed to dispose of his right, and where he is turned out with out compensation. (He) Knows of a person who would have been so turned out, although he had been forty years upon the land. Thinks a tenant-at-will would be the same as a tenant on lease, under the same landlord. Can't recollect any tenant-at-will being turned off; but, in many cases, there may be a year or a year and a-half rent due, and if another person comes and says he will pay the same rent, they (the landlords) let him.
In some instances, nothing is given to the former occupier, for often more is owing than the thing is worth. He is of opinion that this year the selling price of the tenant-right is considerably lower than about three or four years ago, it was about £10 per acre. (He) Never knew of an instance of a tenant being outbid at the expiration of a lease, and receiving no compensation from the in-coming tenant, but has heard of it. The landlords are at present very anxious to enlarge the farms for one farmer to sell to another adjoining, if he wishes. The ejectment of a number of tenants, to make larger farms, was attempted, but did not go on, this was about two years ago, but the people rebelled against it. The tenant who was in offered to pay any sum demanded, he was a resolute man, refused to go out even for the Sheriff, and he was eventually allowed to remain. The sub-dividing of farms has not been carried on to any great extent. (He) Does not think the condition of the large farmers is improving a great many of them are complaining. The small tenantry are certainly not getting better in the district. It depended greatly upon weaving, and the rents were not just so great an object to the tenants as having a place to set up weaving in. It is a manufacturing district, he thinks that has failed them in a great measure, and they are obliged to look more to the land.
The small tenantry generally labour. With regard to capital, he thinks they generally resort to the Loan Fund, to purchase a cow, or something of that description. The acreable rent is higher on small farms. Large farmers set an acre or two to a small farmer, taking the rent in work, and for such holdings a higher rent is charged. (He) Thinks £3 per annum is paid for half an acre and "two bays of a house." Farm labourers get 11d. a-day. There have been no agrarian outrages in the district. On the estate where there is a person constantly among the tenantry, showing them how to farm properly, that estate is better for the tenants than where there is no such thing, and where the agent just comes and receives the rent, and goes away again. There is one estate in his neighbourhood managed in the way he has spoken of, by an agricultural steward going about. The agents are generally non-resident, but they are not more than a day's drive or so off. The agent generally gets £2 2s. for signing a lease, the stamps are paid for besides. The yearly average of the county cess is about 2s 6d. an acre. The value of the acre would be about 25s. The landlord's proportion of the poor-rate is not in all cases allowed out of the rent. This is the case on one estate near the witness. When what is called the "dead half year's" rent is paid up, the poor-rate will be allowed by the landlord. About Kilmoney the same system is carried on. Thinks the payment of the rent-charge by the landlord has no difference at all to the tenant, thinks it has been included now in all the leases. The tenants have just 25 per cent taken off.
If the landlord would drain the lands for the tenants, it would be the great means of enabling them to pay their rents, which are very high at present. Would give more for a drained farm, held at will, than for one undrained. Would allow the landlord to charge a part of the expense of drainage upon the tenant-at-will.
Mr. Robert Crone, examined, is a linen manufacturer, residing at Derryinn, Barony of O'Neill
West, a very thickly populated district. The district affords as many opportunities for extensive and remunerative improvements as any other in Ireland. (He) Lives at the edge of Lough Neagh, and
when the Lough fills, the water overflows a large tract of country. It is a most ruinous thing to the tenants.
(He) Thinks the state of agriculture in the districts is not improving. The small farmers depend more upon the linen trade than anything else. There is no class of people in the world more
depending upon the linen trade than those in his part of the country. (He)Thinks the average size of the farms is from four to ten acres. It is a tillage country. There is not much of green cropping, nor are there many cattle fed. There are some grazing farms, but they are greatly lost by the water thousands upon thousands of acres are overflowed. Very few farms are held in joint-tenancy. The rents are usually fixed by contract between landlord and tenant. They are not high. People complain more of their inability to earn money by their trade than of paying their rent. The average rent of the best quality of land is about £1 per English acre and knows very little under rate. About one-third added to the Poor Law valuation would make the difference between it and the rent. When there is a year's rent due, they generally call forhalf [sic] a year's. It is usually paid in cash. The tenants are too much dependent upon Loan Funds and local usurers. The condition of people
so dependent is getting worse. (He) Thinks the system is ruining the country. Has a good deal of experience of that. Some of the people will weave night and day to get their web home, that they may get money to pay the Loan Fund, others sell very small trifles and run to pay it. They lose much time in running every week to pay it. They are not to so great an extent dependent upon local measures. If the latter lend a small sum, it is sometimes at a very high rate.
The usual way of recovering rent is by process. Arrears are not kept long standing over the tenants. The receipts for rent, so far as he knows, are generally in full, the landlords don't like to take the rent otherwise. Tenants hold under the proprietors, for the most part, the middlemen are mostly done away with. Those under the head landlord are best-off. Most of the tenants in the witness's neighbourhood hold at will. Lives under Col. Verner and Lord Charlemont. A good deal of the
land is held on lease. Those who hold on lease anywhere will take an interest in the place, and improve more than where they have an interest in it. Perceives that practical effect. Thinks that if the people had good leases, the country would improve far more. Has not lately heard of any anxiety on the part of the people to obtain leases. As things were getting lower, they were ready to
quit at anything. Any improvement that is made, the tenant makes it. The sale of the good-will is recognised in his neighbourhood. It would not sell so high as formerly, thinks that the value of land is decreasing. Thinks a farm of ten acres would bring £5 an acre. The population is so great, that the people will, for the accommodation (of a farm), give more than it is worth. Land is not worth more than the rent at present. One-third more would be given for an interest in a lease than for a tenancy-at-will. No consolidation of farms, nor any ejectments of tenantry, have taken place in this district.
The condition of the farming population is very low at present. There are no large farmers, they are very poor, and there is no district class of labourers. The people in his neighbourhood are all weavers, and, if it were not for the weaving, bad as it is, and it has been very poorly remunerated, they would be badly off. The corn-acre system does not prevail there. There have been no agrarian outrages. The people would like to have the landlords resident. Thinks the condition of the farming population is not improving. Thinks the county cess might be a good deal remedied, there is no tax they pay with more cheerfulness, but still they consider it very high. The poor-rate is 10d. in the pound, and the landlords allow their proportion of it in the rent.
Mr. Nathaniel Greer, examined, is a farmer and flax miller, high constable, and collector of
county cess. Resides in the townland of Ballynahinch, near Richhill. The land in that district is good,the population dense. (He) Holds better than 100 acres. Thinks the state of agriculture is improving, by attention being paid to drainage, and a more regular rotation of crops than formerly. Farming Societies have been formed with good effect. The average size of farms will be about ten acres, allowing half an acre for cottiers' houses. The general mode of culture is raising potatoes and turnips, wheat, flax, and oats, with artificial grasses. There is a good deal of rotation of crops on Lord Gosford's estate, where he lives, and the house-feeding of cattle is increasing. The improvement in tillage increases the demand for labour. There are farms held in joint-tenancy. Tenants who hold singly are much better off. The rent is fixed by contract, and the farms are valued by the acre, generally by land surveyors. The usual letting value, under the principal landlords, is
from 25s. to 20s. the statute acre, some is let a great deal.
There are but few large farmers in this district, some of whom live comfortably and independent, though apparently not increasing in wealth. The small tenantry are not so well off as formerly, when the manufacture of linen was carried on by spinning and weaving in their own families, which is done, especially the spinning department, in the large manufactories. The condition of the labourers cannot be said to be good, yet their wages are fully as high as farmers can afford to pay,
which, in this part of the country, is generally about one shilling per day. The capital of the farmers is altogether insufficient for the operations that should be performed. The acreable rent upon the small farmers is generally greater than upon the large, especially under middlemen. Children are provided for, at the death of their parents, by the executors, if the parents have any property, if they have not, they are sent to the poor house. Labourers usually hold their cottages under farmers, by whom they are built and kept in repair. They are held from year to year, or from week to week, and are usually paid for in labour. Generally, there is from an acre to a rood of land attached, and, for cottage and land, from £2 to £4 a-year is paid. The con-acre system does not prevail to any great extent. They don't know anything about it, except for setting potatoes. Where land is let in this way, the rate is from 30s. to 40s. the rood, manured and made ready for the seed. Another kind of con-acre ground is that let to people for their manure, which they prepare themselves, this is let at from 5s. to 10s. a rood. Labourers do not appear to be too plenty, the wages are 1s. a-day.
There have been few agrarian outrages in the district. As High-Constable for the Barony of O'Neilland West, he has got notice of one, committed on the 1st or 2d of March, damages laid at £30, for burning. There is the greatest difference in the management of estates under different classes. Where the landlord is an absentee, and the agent non-resident, the land will inevitably be found out of order, the house out of repair, and the appurtenances getting worse; whereas the tenants are found prospering where they have a resident landlord, and, more especially, a resident agent,
whose principal duty not only lies in collecting the rents, but whose duty should be to lead the tenantry into a better system of agriculture, by introducing a regular system of cropping, especially green-cropping, and house-feeding, whereby they will be enabled to improve their holdings, and give them less trouble at the gale day. Has heard of a good many instances in which the landlord's
proportion of the poor-rate was not allowed in the rent to the tenant. Thinks it was the case of tenants-at-will. Cannot see any difference to the tenant by placing the rent-charge on the landlord. The rent charge, in whatever shape or form, is a heart-felt grievance to a great majority of the people of Ireland, and should be paid, not in name, but in reality, by the landed proprietors, or by the sale of Church property, due regard being paid to the present incumbent's rights, or by some
such other means as Government might devise. Considers that the landlord should pay one-half of the county cess and the tenants the other. Would also suggest that the landlord should pay the tenants for all permanent improvements.
There might be some shade of injustice in placing the rent charge upon the landlord in the case of an old lease, where the tenant had covenanted to pay it; but the people think there is a deeper shade of injustice in the Church being supported by people of altogether another persuasion, who do not believe in the doctrines that they receive there. There is no question that tenants have taken their farms agreeing to pay their proportion of the tithe as part of the payment for that farm, without religious considerations. (He) Considers that the tenant should give notice to the agent of any permanent improvement he was going to make, and that it should be done with the consent of both parties. Thinks it is a great hardship that the tenants should be turned out without payment for his improvement. There would be no better judges of the necessity of repairs than two respectable men, neighbours, who knew the state of the concern before those repairs or improvements were placed
upon it, provided the landlord named one, and the tenant the other.