From The United Irishman, 19 February, 1848 syndicated courtesy of An Cartlann.
Land in Ireland is Life. Just in the proportion that our people contrive to keep or to gain some foot-hold on the soil, in that proportion exactly they will live and not die.
All social, all industrial, all national questions resolve themselves now into this – how many Irish cultivators can keep root in the earth during the present year – that so the storm and blight, the famine, and the black flood of pauperism may not sweep them off, away into destruction and outer darkness?
Not to the individual farmer only is this a life-and-death question, but to society and to the nation. With the ruin of the tillers of the soil, all is ruined; – in vain shall you adopt manufacture pledges – hold meetings to develop resources – form companies – make speeches – insist upon national rights, a national legislature, a national flag; – once let the farmers be swept off this Irish soil, and there is an utter end of us and our cause. “Ireland for the Irish” means primarily and mainly, not “Irishmen for Irish offices,” not “political ameliorations,” not “assimilation to English franchises” – patient Heaven! no; – it means, first, Irishmen fixed upon Irish ground, and growing there, occupying the island like trees in a living forest with roots stretching as far towards Tartarus as their heads lift themselves towards the clouds.
In such a nation as this, industry, energy, virtue become possible; manufactures would grow up without ever a pledge, or a speech, or a waistcoat-pattern agitation; a national senate would meet and sit, and rule the land, of its own native energy and by the necessities of the case, without ever a foreign statute empowering it to do so; a national army would arise from the earth like the sons of a dragon’s teeth of old; and a national flag would paint itself without hands, and wave in the dawn of freedom, defying all the ends of the earth to pluck it down.
But let the tillers of the soil be once uprooted, – let the forest be cleared, and the prostrate, withered nation is fit for railway sleepers; the living forest is dead and gone; – the living nation is undone for ever, and the place that knew it shall know it no more.
In one word, Land is Life; and for the possession of land there is now a deadly struggle going on in every part of Ireland. The farmers of Ulster are in utter dismay, seeing their ancient tenant-right slipping away from them day by day, and the monster pauperism coming nearer and nearer to the door. The farmers of the other three provinces, without a shred of law or custom on their side, are, it is true, here and there making out a law for themselves; but, on the whole, they are yielding, sinking, withering off the earth. From north, south, east, and west, comes a terrible cry of terror and agony – Spare us, spare us our Lives and Lands!
In this crisis comes in the “Government” with a “bill to ameliorate the relations of landlord and tenant.” A fine phrase! A liberal and conciliatory phrase! But the bill, the bill? Surely it legalizes tenant-right at last? Surely it makes some first step, at least, to extend it to the South?
Surely it interposes to stop this cruel warfare at last, and to give the hard-hunted peasants some respite, some hope?
Now as Heaven is above us, it is a Bill deliberately framed to destroy Tenant-Right where it is, – to cut off all hope of it where it is not – to rob the north, – to exterminate the south, – to take care that “property” in Ireland shall support property, not by dividing the property but by slaying the surplus poverty. It does indeed interpose in the agrarian war, but for the purpose of finishing it in the utter conquest of the People. It is the brother and ally of the Coercion Act. It is the remainder of the bargain between England and the landlords, fulfilled to the letter on England’s part.
The bargain is this – Keep for us, ye landlords, our Irish province, and we shall set your heel on the necks of all your enemies.
The government bill is a complicated system of compensations for improvements, – and only future improvements, which shall have been effected hereafter according to certain notices, specifications, dockets, awards, certificates and final decrees, – improvements to which the tenant shall at last be lucky enough to make good his claim, after being coursed through four or five courts of law and equity, after employing attorneys and providing witnesses, at least three times for each improvement, covering quires of paper with elaborate schedules and statements, and dancing attendance on the clerk of the peace, the assistant barrister, the agent, the bailiff, the under-bailiff, and all the agents, bailiffs, and under-bailiffs of all persons who have any claim as landlords on the estate, which persons the tenant is to find out by his learning.
The chief point is the arbitration; and we will tell you how the arbitrators are to be appointed – the tenant to name one, – the landlord another, – and these two to name an umpire; – but if they cannot agree upon an umpire, (and they never will,) why then an umpire is to be named by the Petty Sessions Court, that is by landlords; so that in every case the landlord is to have two to one on the arbitration.
If the farmer, by any miracle or mistake, get an award for his improvements, the yearly value of them is to be allowed him in his rent for twenty-one years, and no more!
But what of past improvements, made without specification? What of the tenant-right farms purchased with money in Ulster, or held by the farmer and his ancestors time out of mind? Is it not to be legalised, then? No; this bill is intended for the gradual abolition of that tenant-right property, according to the recommendation of Lord Devon’s Commission. Sir William Somerville says plainly the bill is framed according to the report of that commission; and Mr. Sharmon Crawford says the certain effect of the bill in Ulster will be to “afford a pretence to landlords to abrogate the custom. They would say that a law had been passed for the relief of the tenants in Ireland; and the landlord would take advantage of that law to deprive the tenants of those rights who had hitherto enjoyed them.” Of course he would; and such is the intention.
But we forgot; the bill is to be retrospective, as to tenants holding at a rent under 10l. These tenants, if they have effected substantial improvements, within five years, and have kept a record of the same, and can produce witnesses to prove it, are to be allowed, on ejectment, some compensation; but, it is not in any case to exceed three years’ rent. If they cannot point out these improvements, and prove them in due form (even though they should have bought their little farms at 20l. an acre but last year), why they must tramp; and if the “union” be a solvent one they may get out-door relief.
As to the southern farmers, if they have capital; and can employ lawyers; and ejectment do not overtake them in the meantime, – they are expected to lay down their guns and proceed quietly to get estimates and specifications prepared, put themselves in communication with the clerk of the peace, and begin at once to invest the capital they have gathered through the three famines in thorough-draining according to the Deanston system, and building cottages ornees with mitred caves and Tudor gables!
Yes, let northern and southern farmers lay down their arms, and cease their “seditious projects,” as landlord Herbert calls them. They must see that “Government” is caring for them; in Government let their trust be reposed, and let them lie down to sleep in peace under the shadow of its wings.
Indeed we are glad to learn from landlord Castlereagh, in the course of this debate, “that the farmers of the north of Ireland have nothing to complain of!” Is this true, farmers of the north of Ireland?
But enough for one week; we shall return in our next number to this measure of wholesale and atrocious robbery and slaughter; and consider how it is to be met and defeated.
For defeated it must be.
Brilliant! John Mitchel remains one of my heroes.
Yet, his work remains unfinished.
Keep up the good work, yourself.
My gratitude and deepest respect to The Burkean,it’s Author and An Cartlann
for such a profound article. John Mitchel lept from the page and in reading this
poignant piece,it not only transported the situation then to today,it took me
back,in a living experience to his time…what it means to be Irish.
Land in Ireland ” IS” Life, and any human being on this planet can understand
it’s meaning to a race of people who suffered so much for the same.
It is in an Irishmans DNA,it cannot and will not be erased,by nobody or anything that seeks a replacement….every IRISHMAN, who is worth his salt,
knows and breathes its eternal place in our culture,heritage,history and life.