Front Page Titles (by Subject) 331.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 24 NOV., 1846, P. 4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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331.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 24 NOV., 1846, P. 4 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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THE CONDITION OF IRELAND 
This article comments on the meeting of landlords at Dungarvon on 13 Nov., which recommended reclamation of waste lands. The meeting had been briefly noted in “Waterford County Meeting,” Morning Chronicle, 17 Nov., p. 6, and then reported more fully in “The County of Waterford Meeting,” ibid., 21 Nov., p. 6, from which the quotations have been taken. For the context of the series, see No. 306. This unheaded first leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A twenty first leading article on Irish affairs in the Morning Chronicle of 24th Nov. 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 63).
our readers may have noticed the resolutions of a meeting at Dungarvon, comprising the principal magistrates and landed proprietors of the county of Waterford, which are honourably distinguished from every other manifestation that has yet met our eyes of the sentiments of the landed gentry of Ireland upon the present emergency. Such meetings have usually been barren of any one single indication that the minds or hearts of that much-complaining, much-afflicted class have expanded to meet the demand now made on them for something like intellect and for something approaching to patriotism. What amount of feeling and wisdom may lie pent up within them, waiting for some better opportunity of coming forth, we do not pretend to judge. Hitherto the only sentiment which they had thought it becoming to testify was a tender concern for the pockets of the landlords, and that feeling had as yet suggested no more recondite expedient for accomplishing its object than to get as much money from the Imperial Treasury as possible, repaying as little of it, and that little at as distant a date as ministerial good nature might allow.
But the Dungarvon meeting is the beginning we hope of a new era. The resolutions of the Waterford gentry are conceived in a spirit somewhat different. We cannot say indeed that there is not much still to amend. Landlords will be landlords. In England and Scotland, and still more in Ireland, they have been too much accustomed to the homage of others not to have a very sincere loyalty to themselves. They are the spoilt children of society. They have been taught to believe that government, social institutions, and the human species itself exist mainly for their protection and exaltation. If actual confiscation did not drive this idea out of the heads of the French territorial aristocracy, and the generation who had been brought up in that ancient faith had to die off before the creed could be unlearned, it would be quixotic to expect that, even allowing for the great difference between this age and the last, so complete a mental revolution should be effected in the Irish gentry by the mere sight of confiscation drawing near to them. We really must not require that they should renounce the pleasing illusion of their own vast importance to the community. It would be too hard to tell them that, saving the general interest which all mankind have in justice, it is a matter of very small importance whether the land is owned by its present possessors or by others, or rather the public would be benefited by its being transferred to any others who would either hold it or be willing to grant it on a better tenure. There are some truths which cannot, consistently with politeness, be mentioned in the hearing of landlords, any more than certain remarks on the Church or its articles are permissible in the presence of a clergyman. Without requiring a renunciation of the faith of landlordism, we must hail as a sign of grace anything approaching to a liberal interpretation of that faith, and we therefore welcome and applaud a body of Irish landowners who present themselves before Government and the country with a resolution like the following:
We are of opinion that immediate measures should be taken by the Legislature for causing the waste and unoccupied lands of the country to be brought into cultivation, and for settling upon them that portion of the population for whose labour there exists no natural demand in their respective localities; and that with this view commissioners should be appointed, with power to purchase or take a lease of the lands that might be found suitable for their purposes from the owners thereof at a valuation, and to select the settlers from the townlands in which the population may appear to be most dense, in proportion to the poor-law valuation.
This is something! A light begins to pierce through the darkness. The lands are overcrowded, to the injury of everything and everybody, the land, the landlords, and the people. Close to these overcrowded lands (we use the word close in its literal sense, and we shall produce facts to bear out our assertion) lie other lands, of vast extent, perfectly capable of cultivation, and entirely uninhabited. After long ages, a meeting of Irish gentry has succeeded in putting the two ideas together of bringing these two things together. They have long groaned under the burthen of the surplus people on the right hand side of the high road, and the idea has just struck them that the unoccupied lands on the left are the very place to turn them into. If we may judge from the long time which has been required for making this step, it is not one of small magnitude. Nevertheless it is not everything. There are a few questions yet to ask. We want to know in what capacity the surplus people are to be settled on these lands? “Settlers” is a word of considerable ambiguity. We desire to be informed for whose benefit the lands are to be reclaimed? It is very easy to see what the landlords may gain by having their unnecessary hands provided for elsewhere. But we are curious to learn whether any of the gain is to be left for other people?
We lament to say that the answers to these questions are not satisfactory. The Waterford gentry have made a hopeful first step, but that is all. Our promising pupils have not got beyond letter A. They must make haste to learn the remainder of the alphabet.
The resolutions proceed: “That, upon the reclamation (?) of their purchase or lease, the reclamation and culture of said lands should be carried on under the direct superintendence and control of the commissioners.”1Halte-là, mon ami. Do we believe our ears? The reclamation and culture of the lands to be carried on by the commissioners? Reclamation as much as you please: that is a thing to be once done, and done with: no one but a public authority can do it, because it requires a system of operations for draining large tracts of country at once; and the thing is not more difficult or troublesome than making a railway, or employing the poor as the Government is now employing them, or than any extensive public work. But culture? Is the Board of Works to be farmer-general of Ireland, in quite a different from the French sense of the term? Are several million acres of the land of Ireland to be erected into an experimental farm, to be carried on by Government officials, with Government capital, every cottage, outhouse, hedge, or ditch, all ploughs and hoes, seed and manure being supplied, and all labour paid, under the orders of a board, and from the taxes of Great Britain? Was ever such task undertaken by a Government? Was ever such proposal made by any body of sane persons to a Government? Yet let us listen patiently. There is surely something behind. If Government are entreated to do what no Government was ever asked to do before, it is surely for some public benefit more splendid than was ever before realised. The hindrances to Irish prosperity are undoubtedly to be all swept off by this mighty exertion. One grand effort of the Government is to reform the whole social system of the country, and dry up permanently all the sources of poverty.
We grieve to say that the aspirations of the Waterford gentry are quite in another direction. Our readers will be surprised to learn that the purpose for which the waste lands of Ireland are to be, under public authority, and at the public expense, reclaimed and cultivated, is, that after they have been thus made valuable they may be given back to the landlords. The resolution proceeds—“And that, upon the State being repaid for its outlay, there should be an opportunity afforded the original proprietor in the first instance,” and only “on his refusal, to the colonists, of redeeming the lands so reclaimed.” The “original proprietor” is the person whose ancestor had the land granted to him in the days of Tyrone or of Cromwell,2 since which not a sixpence has been laid out on it by any member of the family, and not a sixpence received from it, except perhaps for the privilege of cutting turf; the family, with that single exception, having never exercised any one of the attributes of ownership over the land, but that of preventing other people from making use of it.
No, gentlemen; you will not have the consent of the English people to your notable project. The land of the country was originally the property of the country; we suppose nobody will dispute that. The country, wisely or unwisely, parted with its right, and gave away the land to individuals. There is a portion of it which those individuals have never used, and this you are willing that the State should redeem at the full value; and nobody wishes that it should pay less than the value. But when the State has bought back this land, it is the State’s, not yours, and you have not a shadow of any further claim on it. To give it to you would not be restitution, but a fresh grant, and the State has something else to do with public property than to give to the rich. It will now give, saving your presence, to those who are fitter objects of its care. It will say to you, “You have had all the land; you still have all of it that you have made worth anything, even to yourselves. Be thankful for that, and endeavour to make a better use of it than you have done. What still remains is the estate of the wretched—of those for whom property has never before existed, to whom law and government have yet been known by nothing but their pains and penalties. What we have is not more than enough for them, and we intend that it should be sacred to their use, and as their inheritance.”
[1 ]Mill’s parenthetical query. The Commissioners of Woods and Forests were placed in charge of land revenues by Sects. 8 and 9 of 7 & 8 George IV, c. 68 (1827), continued by Sect. 7 of 10 George IV, c. 50 (1829).
[2 ]Con Bacach O’Neill (1484?-1559?), Irish rebel leader, was created Earl of Tyrone by Henry VIII in 1542. Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland in 1652 resulted in the transfer of the estates of many Irish Catholic landowners to Protestants.