Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

!! The Times; Dec 11, 1866 "Irish Emigration"

Expand Messages
  • Cathy Joynt Labath
    The Times London, Middlesex, England Dec 11, 1866 IRISH EMIGRATION ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES Sir, - If Ireland were a thousand miles away from
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 5, 2005
    • 0 Attachment
      The Times
      London, Middlesex, England
      Dec 11, 1866

      Sir, - "If Ireland were a thousand miles away from us all would be changed,
      or the landlord would be exterminated by the vengeance of the people."
      Such are the words to which one of England's leading politicians has
      thought it advisable to give utterance at a time when the most reckless portion
      of the Irish lower classes are supposed to be on the eve of insurrection. They
      are pregnant and comprehensive words. They envelope in the same stern
      condemnation both the cultivators and the owners of the soil of Ireland. Their
      meaning cannot be mistaken. The term "vengeance" presupposes injury, - injury of
      as deep a dye as the revenge it has evoked.
      To some persons the picture thus set forth will appear but as an
      exaggerated description of a patent fact; by others it will be considered an
      ignoble calumny.
      Now, Sir, I do not presume to pronounce dogmatically between these two
      conclusions. No one man can hope, by so simple an expedient as a letter to The
      Times, materially to influence the opinion of his fellow countrymen on so vital
      a question. But as one of those held up to the execration of the civilized
      world, and to the special hatred of those in the midst of whom I live, it will
      not appear unreasonable that I should suggest the propriety of a patient
      examination of the grounds which are supposed to justify these denunciations.
      Perhaps the simplest method of conducting such an inquiry will be - first,
      to specify the several counts in the indictment against the landlords of
      Ireland, as set forth in the public manifestos of such man as may be supposed to
      speak with the greatest authority on the subject, and then to examine, one by
      one, the truth or falsehood of each.
      With this view I propose to take two remarkable speeches upon Ireland - the
      one delivered in the House of Commons on the 2d of August by Mr. Maguire, the
      member for Cork; the other spoken by Mr. Bright at a banquet in Dublin on the
      30th of October. Both these gentlemen are grave and responsible persons, and
      enjoy the confidence of large sections of their fellow-countrymen. For the
      talents of the one I entertain great admiration, to the other I am united by
      tries of personal esteem, while on many questions of the day I probably agree
      with both. These considerations justify me in regarding their utterances as
      representative expressions of opinion, and at the same time they are a guarantee
      that I shall conduct the discussion in a conscientious and temperate spirit.
      As the speeches referred to are within the ready reach of all your readers,
      I will not occupy your space with unnecessary quotations, but will content
      myself with condensing their substance into the remarkable series of
      propositions they allege- namely,
      1. That the emigration from Ireland has been a curse to that country.
      2. That this emigration has been occasioned by the eviction of the rural
      population by their landlords.
      3. That acts of eviction in Ireland are to be attributed rather to the
      cruelty and injustice of the landlords than to any failure on the part of those
      evicted to fulfill their legitimate obligations.
      4. That the present discontent in Ireland has been chiefly occasioned by
      the iniquity of the laws affecting the tenure of the land.
      5. That a change in those laws in a specified direction would pacify
      discontent and create agricultural prosperity.
      A few references will show that I have not misrepresented the gist of the
      speeches referred to:-
      "The emigration is a disgrace to this country and a calamity to Ireland."
      "The landlords are the cause of emigration." " A million victims have borne
      testimony to the unwillingness of Parliament to do justice to the occupiers of
      the soil." " The landlords must be rigorously dealt with." "Pass a Tenant's
      Compensation Bill, and you will have loyalty and peace," - says Mr. Maguire.
      Mr. Bright's language is almost identical: - "The Irish landlord is a
      creature of the conquest; Ireland is a land of evictions." "The law has been
      made by the landowners for their own behoof, and, as a result, you have a
      population fleeing from their country." " Ireland is a country from which
      thousands of families have been driven by the force of the landowners and the
      power of the law."
      Now, Sir, are these things true? That is the inquiry I propose to
      First, Has the Irish exodus, as it has been termed a calamity or the
      We have to consider this question from two points of view, inasmuch as it
      has affected the condition of two classes of persons, namely, those who went
      away and those who stayed at home.
      There is one single fact which will probably be accepted as a safe
      indication of the effects of emigration on the destinies of those who took part
      in it. To their immortal honour, within 16 years after their departure, they had
      sent back to Ireland upwards of 12,000,000l. of money, chiefly for the purpose
      of enabling their friends to follow their example. Now, unless they had
      prospered, these savings could not have accumulated; unless their new existence
      had been full of promise they would not have tempted their brethren to join
      them. But what if, instead of setting forth to reap the golden harvests of the
      West, these forlorn multitudes had remained pent up with their rainy valleys,
      would the existing population, those that have clung to the old country in spite
      of everything, - would they be now the better or the worse? Two obvious
      consequences must have followed - wages would have been lower, rents higher than
      they are now, while a very large proportion of the peasantry would be occupying
      farms half the size of those they are presently cultivating. Now, low wages and
      high rents may be advantageous in a certain sense to the manufacturer, to the
      landlord, and to the recruiting sergeant; but how do they affect the masses -
      the tenant, the labourer, and the mechanic? When I was in the west of Ireland
      some 15 years ago the rate of agricultural wages varied from half-a-crown to 5s.
      a week. Ever since it has gradually advanced, ranging in the south and west of
      Ireland from 10s. to 12s., or even 14s. a week; while in the north the labourer
      is almost absolutely master of the market, and can dictate what he pleases.
      To those who closely watch the transitional phases of our national life
      indications are perceptible of a similar emancipatory process beginning to
      affect the position of the farming classes. In proportion as the peasant
      cultivator has become aware of the existence of a more hopeful theatre for the
      exercise of his energies than that presented to him and his children by the
      miserable seven or eight acres he now miserably cultivate, hat morbid hunger for
      a bit of land which has been the bane of Ireland is gradually subsiding;
      competition has relaxed something of its suicidal energy, and there is reason to
      hope that in the same way as the Irish labourer has already risen from the
      condition of a mere serf to be his employer's equal, in process of time the
      tenant farmer will be able to treat with his landlord on more independent terms.
      But it may be objected by those who deplore emigration, that had those
      vanished thousands remained among us production would have been stimulated, and
      the well being of the whole community proportionately increased. Let us see how
      far this would be a reasonable expectation.
      Had no emigration taken place from Ireland, and had the population
      continued to multiply at its normal rate, the additional increase to our present
      numbers would by this time have amounted to three millions of souls, and as
      there is not reason to suppose that such a circumstance would have materially
      expanded the restricted manufacturing operations of the country, the larger
      proportion of these three millions would have had to depend upon the land for
      their support. Now, it appears from an official Report, drawn up on the conjoint
      authority of Archbishop Whately, Archbishop Murray and Mr. Moore O'Farrell, that
      in 1846 five persons were employed in the cultivation of the soil in Ireland for
      every two that cultivated the same quantity of land in Great Britain, while the
      agricultural produce of Great Britain was four times the agricultural produce of
      Ireland. As a matter of fact, therefore, and so far as the past is concerned,
      the addition to the agricultural produce of Ireland has not been proportionate
      to the excess of the agricultural population.
      It may, however, be pretended that so unsatisfactory a result is to be
      accounted for by the unintelligent method in which this redundancy of labour has
      been applied to the soil. But in the Lothians of Scotland and in certain parts
      of England, the art of agriculture is neither unintelligently nor unsuccessfully
      practised, and probably a given space is there made to produce as large a crop
      as the united efforts of man and nature are destined to accomplish; yet in those
      localities it has been found that about 18 men, with a small proportion of
      women, are sufficient to cultivate in the most efficient manner 500 acres of
      arable land.
      If we apply this proportion to the 15,832,892 acres of land under cattle
      and crops in Ireland we shall see that about 500,000 persons would be able to
      cultivate the entire area. But by the Census returns of 1861, the number of
      those engaged in agricultural pursuits in that country amounts to upwards of
      800,000 persons - that is to say, to 300,000 more than are necessary to the most
      consummate cultivation of the soil. Consequently, there is still in Ireland a
      considerable section of the inhabitants with their wives and children dependent
      for their support upon the land, whose misapplied industry is as unproductive as
      if it were devoted to the grinding of a treadmill or the lifting of shot; but
      though contributing nothing to the producing power of the class with which they
      are incorporated, they have to be supported out of its profits, of which,
      consequently, they diminish by so much the share to the remainder. To deny this
      is to assert- first, that you make a vessel sail faster by doubling the
      complement of her crew, and, second, that the supernumerary hands will have made
      no impression on the ship's rations by the end of the voyage.
      But if, instead of the 300,000 persons at present left in this false
      position, the hundreds of thousands who have emigrated had remained at home to
      breed and stagnate on the overburdened soil, is it not evident that a state of
      things would now exist in Ireland such as no man can think of without a shudder?
      The increase of every nation must be limited by the extent and capabilities
      of the area it occupies, and the mount of capital it possesses.
      This law of universal application, though one race from its more sordid
      habits, or lower civilization, may be more compressible than another. But, the
      appointed limits once reached, either the procreative energies of the people
      will relax, as they have done in France, or the surplus population will
      emigrate, as has been the case in Germany, in Ireland, and to a lesser degree in
      Up to the year 1846 the soil of Ireland retained the capacity of the
      producing, to an almost unlimited extent, a certain root, containing all the
      elements necessary for the support of human life. The expansion of the
      population was proportionate to the facilities it enjoyed for obtaining
      sustenance. Suddenly, by the visitation of God, those facilities were withdrawn;
      the potato failed; no other product of the soil existed to take its place; corn
      crops neither supplied the same amount of nutriment, nor could they be grown in
      successive years on the same spot. The life-sustaining power of the soil, in
      fact, had become restricted; as an inevitable consequence the population of the
      island has become proportionately restricted, and exactly in the same way as the
      working classes of Manchester would have been obliged to remove to other centres
      of industry, had the cotton famine continued, has the surplus population of
      Ireland been compelled to emigrate to a more fertile soil.
      When, therefore, Mr. Bright speaks of Ireland as being the only country
      from which an extensive emigration has taken place, he misrepresents facts which
      ought to be within his knowledge. The average of emigration from Ireland has
      amounted to less than 100,000 a year during the last ten years, but from Germany
      alone, and principally from North Germany, as many as 250,000 persons have
      emigrated in a single year, while between 1851 and 1861 the emigration from
      Great Britain has averaged about 74,000 a year; and when he describes those whom
      he invariably terms "the ruling classes" as standing alone in their opinion - an
      opinion which, according to him is inspired by their own selfishness and
      stupidity - that emigration has been no calamity to Ireland, he states what is
      both ungenerous and untrue. Plans for the express purpose of stimulating
      emigration have been devised and advocated from time to time by such men as Mr.
      Smith O'Brien, Mr. Wyse, and Mr. Sharman Crawford; while, did your space permit,
      I might furnish dozens of quotations to show how common such a conviction is to
      every school of politics and class of society.
      To attribute its existence to our stupidity and selfishness is even more
      gratuitous. When did a tradesman ever complain of the multitude of his
      customers, or a manufacturer of the easiness of the labour-market? But what is
      the owner of an estate other than a trader in land? His tenants are his
      customers; the more strenuous their competition, the higher his rents, and the
      denser their number, the more keenly will they compete; emigration has a
      tendency to diminish rather than to increase his rental, and if it has not done
      so already, it is because it has not continued long enough.
      Very frequently the landlord is a large employer of labour. With the last
      15 years I myself have paid away upwards of 50,000l. in wages alone. During the
      last half of that period, in consequence of the rise in wages, I have got much
      less for my money than I did during the first half, and my consequent loss,
      comparing one period with another, would amount to several thousand pounds, and
      this has been a direct consequence of the emigration. But, though a dealer in
      land, and a payer of wages, I am, above all things, an Irishman, and as an
      Irishman I rejoice at any circumstance which tends to strengthen the
      independence of the tenant farmer, or to add to the comforts of the labourer's
      For these reasons I believe that emigration has been, and will continue to
      be, a benefit in Ireland, and I disagree with those persons who consider that
      the Almighty pronounce a curse, and not a blessing upon His children when He
      bade them "go forth and multiply, and replenish the earth."
      I propose to consider the next point in the inquiry in a subsequent letter.
      I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant,

      Cathy Joynt Labath
      Ireland Old News
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.