Front Page Titles (by Subject) Subsection II.: Feudal condition of landed property in Ireland—Necessity of a change. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 2
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Subsection II.: Feudal condition of landed property in Ireland—Necessity of a change. - Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 2 
Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W.C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). Vol. 2.
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Feudal condition of landed property in Ireland—Necessity of a change.
The law relating to estates is the same in Ireland as in England. Thus, the same causes which tend to the conservation and indivisibility of the soil in the former country, exercises the same influence in Ireland.
The obscurity respecting the titles of property is not, however, so great as in England. In the reign of Queen Anne (ad 1708) a system of public registration for all deeds relating to land was established in Dublin, and since that time every deed of sale or mortgage is regularly registered. The principle of the institution was doubtless good, but, whether through original defects of form or subsequent abuse, the benefit is of little value. The expense of searching the registries is very considerable, and can only be borne by the rich.
Besides, this examination does not dispense with the necessity of consulting a lawyer, who possesses the same monopoly in Ireland as in England, and the same mystic authority in contracts. Though land in Ireland is not covered with so thick a veil as in England, it is, perhaps, loaded with more complications, embarrassments, and encumbrances. Independent of the feudal bonds that fetter it as in England, it has chains peculiar to itself.
In the first place, a great number of titles in Ireland are vitiated by defects belonging to the time when, according to law, the Catholics of Ireland could neither be proprietors nor tenants on long leases. As it sometimes happened that Catholics had money wherewith to purchase, and Protestants land to sell, a disposition to elude the law arose on both sides, and the land afforded an opportunity for a thousand clandestine transactions, the object of which was to bestow a right of property on those who could not legally possess it.
Every estate in Ireland, small or great, is, besides, infected with a kind of incurable leprosy. It is covered with an immense population of small tenants, whose burden must be borne by the person who becomes proprietor. And all these tenants do not occupy the ground on the same terms; some have a lease for twenty-one years, others for thirty-one, some for ninety-nine, and others for ever: there are some also who hold their farms not directly from the landlord, but from an intermediate tenant. How can a new purchaser recognise the rights he acquires in the midst of this crowd of occupants, middlemen and tenants, secured by anterior rights, and often mutually pledged to each other?1 Must he examine successively all the contracts between the occupants and the middlemen, to find which are obligatory on the lord of the soil, and which illegal? How can he purchase an estate entailing such investigations? And if he omits them, how can he purchase without any security?
But if it be true, that there are more physical obstacles to the transfer of land in Ireland than in England, we must at the same time confess that its indivisibility is not protected in the first country by the same moral and political laws that come to its aid in the second.
We have seen that there is in England a population which, so far from envying the land, has no desire to possess it, but rather regards it as a weighty charge imposed upon the wealthy. It is a superfluity of luxury and opulence; and in this country, where so many different roads are open to human exertion, it is not easy to see what interest the lower ranks would have in becoming proprietors; it is certain that they do not aspire to be so.
In Ireland, on the contrary, land, instead of being a luxury, is a necessity. It is the only good to which everybody aspires, it is the subject of all engagements; it is the passion which rouses every soul; it is the interest which stimulates every intelligence. Land in Ireland is the common refuge; it is not enough to say, that land is desired in Ireland; it is envied and coveted; it is torn to pieces, and the fragments are fiercely contested: when it cannot be occupied by fair means, it is seized by crime. I need not inquire if the Irish people are anxious to become proprietors of land, when I see them risk their own lives, and take those of others, to become tenants of half an acre of ground: though the peasant could not explain his passion, it would not the less exist; property is so far from him, that it appears to his mind as a chimera for which it would be folly to hope, and if he does not aim at its acquisition, it is not because he disdains it, but because he deems the price too high.
Feudal property in Ireland, besides, is not fenced by the popular sympathy which in England protects its indivisibility. Confiscated three or four times over, land in Ireland is associated only with recollections of violence, persecution, and blood. In some hands, it is the solemn testimony of an usurpation which does not go farther back than a century, and those who possess it in general excite nothing but hatred.
It must also be observed, that the economic advantages asserted to result from the concentration of land in a few hands in England, can in no way follow from a similar system applied to Ireland.
England prides itself on an agricultural theory, which, by employing few hands, sends into the factories all those who are not employed in the cultivation of the soil. Who does not see at the first glance that such a system is inapplicable to Ireland? It is not for keeping up large farms, that the indivisibility of the soil is maintained in Ireland; for all the farms are small, and an extensive system of culture is unknown: it is not for the sake of public wealth that a system is maintained by which the most fertile lands continue unproductive, or produce less than half of what is obtained from inferior soils in England.
In a country where there are eight millions of inhabitants, without any other resource than the land, what can be the advantage of this theory, the object of which is to employ on land the smallest number of labourers possible? If such a system suits a country where hands are wanting for manufactures, would it not be fatal to a people, where all not occupied upon the land are necessarily unemployed?
The English labourer, repulsed from the land, immediately becomes a producer of national wealth in the manufactory. But what will the Irish peasant do when removed from his little cabin? To what branch of industry will he apply himself in a country where no manufactures exist? Do you suppose that the land will produce more, when freed from the superabundant labourers? Perhaps it might, but society will have to take charge of an unemployed labourer whose idleness will be dangerous. The day that the labourer quits the land, what can he become but a mendicant or a Whiteboy?
None of the moral and political reasons which, if they do not justify, at least explain the permanence of feudal land in England, exist in Ireland. In this latter country, to become proprietor is a question of life or death for the people; but, in spite of this necessity, they have the same obstacles to overcome as in England, where the people have neither the desire nor the want of land. The chief obstacles, as I have already stated, are the laws of entail and primogeniture; these are of sufficient importance for us to resume their consideration.
[1.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]