Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter I.: IRISH ECONOMY. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3
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Chapter I.: IRISH ECONOMY. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 3 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 3.
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The Glen of the Echoes,—a title which conveys more to an English ear than its Irish counterpart, is one of the most obscure districts of a remote county of the Green Island, of which little is heard on this side the Channel except during the periodical returns of famine, when the sole dependence of its miserable population is on public benevolence. This glen probably owes its name to its vicinity to the sea, whose boisterous waves, keeping up a perpetual assault, have worn the coast into deep bays from the North Cape to Mizen-head, and whose hoarse music is chaunted day and night, summer and winter, from steep to steep along the shore. It is a rare thing for a traveller in the western counties of Ireland to behold a calm sea. Whatever the features of the land may be,—whether he passes through meadows and oat-fields, with villages and towns in the distance, or over black mountains and across shaking bogs, where a mud cabin here and there is the only vestige of human habitation,—the Atlantic is still swelling and lashing the cliffs, as if bringing its mighty force to a perpetual war against the everlasting hills. Such a traveller would have pronounced that the Glen of the Echoes was designed for no other purpose than to give perpetual tidings of this warfare; for no place could be more wild in aspect, or less apparently improved by being inhabited. It was a tract lying between the cliffs and the mountains, consisting partly of bog, and partly of cultivated patches of and, divided one from another by ditches, and here and there by a turf bank, which was the best kind of fence used within many miles, except on the grounds belonging to one or two mansions within sight and reach. Scarce a tree or a shrub was to be seen within the bounds of the glen, though tradition related that a vast forest had once extended along the sides of the mountains; which tradition was confirmed by the circumstance that trees were easily found in the bog as often as the inhabitants were at a loss how to pass a ditch or drain, and there happened to be hands enough near to make a half-buried trunk into a temporary bridge, for the advantage of a short cut to any given spot. A resident proprietor, Mr. Rosso, had surrounded his house with young plantations; but as these were intercepted from view by the shoulder of the mountain, they did not relieve the bleakness of the glen itself. The woods of another proprietor, Mr. Tracey, who had been for some years on the continent with his family, had been so effectually thinned by his agent, that little of them remained, and, in consequence, his mansion, Woodland Lodge, might now have better borne the name of a lodge in the wilderness. Woodland Lodge was about half a mile distant from Mr. Rosso's dwelling, and the contrast between the two was remarkable. The riding, driving, shooting, and fishing parties, in which the young Rossos were perpetually engaged, gave an appearance of bustle to the neighbourhood of their residence; and the fine growth of the plantations, the entireness of the stone fences, and the verdant crops of the surrounding fields, betokened good management: whereas the shutters of the Lodge were for ever closed; grass flourished on the door-steps, and moss on the window-sills; lean cattle were seen lying about in the woods, or rubbing themselves against the bark-bound trees; and goats, the most inveterate of destroyers, browsed among the ruins, which alone remained to mark the boundaries between corn-land and pasture, plantation and bog. The traveller's greatest perplexity was as to where the people dwelt whom he saw scattered in the fields or lying about on the only visible track by which he could traverse the glen, or assembled around the Lodge chapel, if it chanced to be a holiday. It was only by close observation that he could perceive any other erections than the little school-house, built by Mr. Rosso, and the farm-house, where a tenant of the better sort lived, and where the priest boarded. To the accustomed eye, however, a number of huts were visible on the mountain side, which were more like tufts of black turf than human dwellings. An occasional wreath of smoke, the neighbourhood of goats, pigs, or a starved cow, marked them as the abodes of the tenantry of the glen,—a tenantry neither better nor worse off than that of many a district in the island.
The school-house just mentioned had been built by Mr. Rosso, who, though himself a Protestant, wished his poor neighbours to have such an education as they were willing to receive, though it was mixed with much that appeared to him very baneful superstition. To the astonishment, first, of the objects of his bounty, and, next, of his Protestant visitors, he appointed a Catholic teacher to this school, and interfered no further in its management than to see that the teacher was diligent, and that the school was kept open to as many children as chose to attend. The reasons he gave were, that there were none but Catholics within five miles, out of his own house, and that as his neighbours would at all events be Catholics, he saw no harm in giving them reading, writing, and arithmetic, in addition to that instruction, of a different kind, which their zealous priest, Father Glenny, took care that they should not be without. These reasons, whether sound or not, had no weight with his Protestant friends, who might, as they said, have forgiven him, if he had had the good of a tenantry of his own in view, but who began to doubt the goodness of his religion, morals, and politics, when they considered that he had no tenantry but a farmer's family or two, who did not need his assistance: and that he was, therefore, gratuitously offering support to the most damnable faith in religion, and the most iniquitous creed in politics, that had ever deserved the wrath of God in heaven and of man upon earth. Mr. Rosso very quietly went on, holding an occasional conference with Father Glenny on the state of the school, and stepping in sometimes as he passed, to hear how the spelling improved, and whether the children could be induced to give attention to something besides arithmetic, which is, almost universally, the favourite accomplishment of the Irish who have had the advantage of any schooling at all. Father Glenny, and the young schoolmaster whom he had trained, always appeared glad to see Mr. Rosso. and even asked him occasionally to address the children, which he always took care to do so as to convey to them some useful information, or moral impression, which Protestant and Catholic would equally allow to be good. Thus, as the parties concerned wrought their benevolent work without jostling or jarring, it mattered little what any one else had to say about it. When importuned upon the subject, Mr. Rosso endeavoured to appease the inquirer by an acknowledgment that he might have found some difficulty if Protestant children had been brought to learn with Catholics, within so small a space, and with so few resources in the way of instruction; but he never could admit the doubt of its being right to supply a Catholic education to a purely Catholic population.
It was a much easier matter to the neighbouring cottiers to spare their children to the school, than it would have been if they had enjoyed a more prosperous condition. An English labourer employs his boys and girls as soon as they are strong enough for work; or, at least, has the excuse that he may do so: but an Irish cottier finds his business finished when he has dug and planted his potato-field, and lounges about the harvest; or, if he hires himself out to labour, does not find out that there is anything for his girl to do but to milk the cow and boil the pot; or for his boy but to feed the pig. This leisure, joined with the eagerness for learning which subsists among the Irish poor, kept Mr. Rosso's school always full, and might, under good management, have wrought a material improvement upon the rising generation: but it is too much the way with Irish “scholards” to be always reading, never learning; to be listening to legends, when they should be gaining knowledge; and invoking the holy blood of Abel, instead of improving the powers which God has given to each of them for a far more natural and effectual dependence. The real advancement of the young folks of the glen was, therefore, much less than it ought to have been, in return for the time bestowed; and though some came out ready readers, and most fluent story-tellers, there was but little knowledge even among the oldest of them.
Dora Sullivan was one of the most promising of the troop, and the master praised the prudence of her parents, and her own docility, for coming to the school as regularly as ever when she was past sixteen. It was feared that she would disappear when her only brother departed for England, in hopes of making a little money to bring back to his father; but Dora's parents were proud of her, and anxious that the most should be made of her, and, therefore, spared her from home for the greater part of every day, though she was now like an only child to them. There was another reason for their not grudging her absence, which was, that Dan Mahony, who lived in the next cabin, and had frequent access to Dora's society, from being the son of her father's partner in his lease, had been long in love with Dora, and would have married her out of hand, if he had had so much as half an acre of ground to marry upon. All parties approved of the match; but would not hear of its taking place till Dan had a roof of his own to lodge a wife young, and did what they could to separate the under, folks, by keeping Dora at school, and encouraging Dan to go and seek his fortune at a distance for a while; which the young man, after much murmuring, consented to do, upon a promise from both fathers that they would abstain from quarrelling about their partnership, or anything else, during his absence: a promise which they afterwards declared it was rash to have given, and next to impossible to observe. They contrived, however, to keep within the terms of their vow, by venting their wrath, in all difficulties, upon the third partner in their lease, Tim Blayney, who made an opportunity to elope before rent-day came round, leaving nothing but an empty cabin and a patch of exhausted soil for his creditors to wreak their vengeance on.
These partnership tenancies were almost universal in he district. In one or two cases there were as many as fourteen or sixteen tenants associated in one lease: in which ease the disputes respecting the division of their little meadows, or the payment of dues, became so virulent, that the agent could get no rest from squabbles and complaints in his occasional visits; and the middlemen, to whom the rent was paid, adopted the practice of getting it as they could, without waiting for the decision of opposing claims, or regarding the protests of those whose property they seized. Sullivan might think himself fortunate in having no more than two partners, since he could not be made to pay more than three times his share of rent; and being under vow not to quarrel with one partner, and the other being beyond the reach of his ears and tongue, he was in an enviable situation compared with many of his neighbours. As to the middlemen who were over them, indeed, there was little to choose among them. All pleaded alike that they had their rents them.to pay to other middlemen, or to the landlord; all were too busy to hearken to excuses, —too determined to be diverted from seizures,—too much accustomed to their business to regard appeals to their justice or their compassion. They were not all, or on all occasions, equally pressing as to time. Their urgency about their dues depended somewhat upon their own resources, and much on those of the people under them. If they could afford to wait, and their debtors were likely not to be totally destitute sometime hence, the middlemen mercifully consented to wait, for certain considerations, and with the prospect of extorting rich interest upon the payment thus delayed. The middleman, Teale, to whom Sullivan, Mahony, and Blayney paid their rents, was one of this merciful class.
When Dora came home from the school one fine afternoon, she perceived from a distance, that Mr. Teale's horse was standing within the inclosure, and grazing the roof of her father's cabin. Her approach was seen by Teale from the door, for there was never a window in the place. His humour being propitiatory this day, he assailed Sullivan's weak side:—
“Here she comes,—the pretty creature she is, that Dora of yours.”
“She's good, let alone her being pretty; and ‧tis she will write the note and sign it all and same as me. Here, Dora, my darling, hold the pen and write as you're bid, and show what a scholard Father Glenny has made of you.”
Dora, who was remarkably quiet and thoughtful for her years, and suited her deportment to the gravity of her mind, did not quicken her movements, but prepared to obey her father's request. She slipped down the petticoat tail which she had worn as a hood, gave the pig a gentle rebuke with her bare foot, which sent him out at the door, and room being thus found to turn about in, she made a table of her mother's low stool, took the paper Mr. Teale offered, dipped her pen in his inkhorn, and waited for directions.
“You have only to sign, you see,” said Mr. Teale,“ ‘Dora Sullivan, for John Sullivan,’ that's all”
“Hold your whisht,” cried the father: “you have had your time to write promises for me, Mr. Teale; but I've a scholard now of my own kin, and no occasion to be taken in with a scrap, when I don't know what's in it. So let Dora write after your words, Mr. Teale.”
“Pho, pho, Sullivan;—for what and for why do you misdoubt me this day? Miss Dora will be more polite—and I so pressed for time.”
Dora's politeness, however, disposed her to do as her father desired, and did not prevent her doing more. She wrote to Teale's dictation; and, before signing, looked up at her father, and asked if it was meant that he should promise to pay, both for himself and partners, all that should be in arrears, as well as all presently due (including the interest of the arrears), immediately after harvest, under penalty of seizure.
“I'm not clear of the meaning of it all, but I'm thinking it is much to pay, and more than we have to pay with, father; that's all.”
“Be easy, Miss Dora, since it comes out of your own mouth that the meaning is not clear. Only sign, my jewel; that's what is still to be done.”
“Quiet, my darling of the world, quiet! for what should I do? Here's Blayney, the scatterbrain! gone, the devil knows where, and left not a rag behind him; and Mahony has left the whole to me, entirely, the ruffian. And you wouldn't have the beasts driven away, Dora, and we left without a sup to sleep upon — you wouldn't, Dora?”
“Come, sign, my jewel,” said Teale, “and up with your pail to be milking the creatures, Dora, and that's better than seeing them lifted to the pound.”
Dora still balanced the pen, vainly wishing that Dan was at hand to fulfil his father's part of the contract. Sullivan urged her to finish. She begged to read it over once more aloud, and at the end asked if there was no way of making such an agreement as many made, that certain kinds of produce should constitute the rent, while the family lived as they could upon the rest, and so have nothing to do with coin, which she simply supposed was the cause of all the misery in the world. Some middlemen, she knew, took butter and pigs for the rent, and oats where there were any, and then there was no trouble about money.
“With your leave, Miss Dora, we'll hear what the priest has to say about that another time; for I suppose what you say is all one as listening to him; and very natural: but I must be going, my jewel; so give me my scrap, and no more words.”
As there was no help for it, Dora signed, and then saw the pen put into her father's hand, that he might make his mark, without which Mr. Teale would not allow the business to be finished. She did not smile, as her mother did, at Sullivan's joke about a raking fellow, like him, sitting down with a pen, like a priest or one of the priest's scholards. When the middleman was gone, and her father laughed at the easiness of putting a man off with a scrap of paper instead of the rent, she took up her pail to go and milk her lean kine.
“Off with you, honey, and leave your sighs behind you,” said her mother. “If I had begun as early as you, sighing and sighing, there would have been little breath left in my body by this. To-morrow or next day will do for care, honey. Go to your milking to-day, anyhow.”
“By dad, honey, your mother known more trouble and sorrow by your time nor you, by reason she was my wife, and had babbies to lose in the fever. I would have dried up her tears in a hurry if she had had no more to bestow them on nor you; and so will Dan, by dad, if you've no better a welcome for him.”
Dora smiled, and went about her dairy affairs, her father following to help, in case the kine wanted lifting; that is, in case they should be too weak from starvation to rise up at bidding to be milked. The poor animals being fairly set upon their legs, without much fear of falling, Sullivan directed his steps towards the last bush which was left in his field, and cut it down for fuel, not having turf enough dried to boil the pot this evening.
Sullivan was not very fond of looking about him on his little farm, or of observing the portions of his partners. It was hard to say which was in the worst condition, or which might have been in the best if properly cultivated. Their nearness to the coast put them in the way of manure; such part of the soil as was dry might have been made into fine grazing land by the frequent rains which fell in that district, or have answered for the growth of various crops in rotation; and such as was wet might have been improved, to almost any extent, by the limestone from the neighbourhood, or by fine sand from the beach. Instead of laying plans with prudence for their common advantage, however, and prosecuting them in harmony, the three partners made choice each of what his land should produce, and neither varied his crop from first to last. Their only agreement was to divide their portions by ditches, pronouncing a stone fence a trouble not to be thought of, turf banks a botheration, and a ditch the most “asy and nate to the hand.” This done, Mahony sowed barley every year, and every year less and less came up; and that which did make a shift to grow yielded less and less meal, till he began to wonder what ailed the crop that it had come down from being food for man, to be nothing better than pig's meat. Blayney tried his hand at oat culture with no better success than his neighbour, the produce being such as many a horse on the London road would look upon with disdain. Sullivan grew potatoes, as we have seen. While the land was in good heart, that is, for a season or two from the commencement of his lease, he had grown apple potatoes; but when the soil became exhausted, he could raise only an inferior kind, which is far more fit for cattle than foillegiblemen, and on which he and his family could not have subsisted, if it were not for the, milk with which they varied their meals. Sullivan's acre and half did not yield now more than eleven hundred stone; and as the consumption amounted to more than four stone a-day, at fourteen pounds to the stone,—a very moderate allowance for three hearty people,—there was no chance of paying the rent out of the crop, even if Sullivan had been answerable for nobody's dues but his own. He depended upon his live stock to clear him with the middlemen; or, rather, he depended upon nothing, but made a shift, when the time came near, to sell and raise the money somehow; and when that could not be done, he deferred the evil day, by giving his note of hand, as we have seen. Half these difficulties might have been avoided, if no one had stood between Sullivan and his landlord; and the other half, if he had known how to make the best of his own resources. In the first place, Mr. Tracey would never have thought of asking such a rent as eight pounds pet acre for such land; and, in the next place, he would have been so far considerate as to encourage Sullivan to improve the land; whereas the middleman under whom Mr. Teale held the place, paid the landlord a moderate rent, and made his profit out of the higher rent he asked of Mr. Teale, who, in his turn, did the same by Sullivan and his partners: so that the poorest tenant paid the most, and the landlord got the least; or, to put the matter in another light, the little farm was expected to support three families of tenants, and to pay rent to three landlords. Again: two of these landlords, having only a temporary interest in the place, cared only for getting as much out of it as they could while connected with it, and had no view to its improvement, or regard for its permanent value. This ruinous system has received a check by the operation of the Subletting Act; but not before it has inflicted severe injuries on the proprietors of the soil, and never-to-be-forgotten hardships on their tenantry.