Front Page Titles (by Subject) 332.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 25 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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332.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 25 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 
For the context, see No. 306. This unheaded leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A twenty second leading article on Irish affairs, in the Morning Chronicle of 25th November 1846 (the second leader)”
(MacMinn, p. 64).
in discussing the question of the reclamation of Irish waste lands, we have not hitherto troubled our readers with statistics. Round numbers have contented us, because such was the strength of our case, that it could bear any abatement which the most recalcitrant opponent would think of demanding. We could afford to give up half, two-thirds, three-fourths of our estimate of the waste land, and still leave enough for realizing, to such an extent as to be infinitely valuable, our two objects, the removal of the surplus hands from the present cultivated surface, and the location of those surplus numbers in the independent and honourable character of proprietors of the soil they cultivate. We could reasonably content ourselves with the aperçu of Mr. Thornton, who estimated the whole extent of waste lands at considerably more than six millions, of which three-fifths are improvable, while six hundred thousand acres would be sufficient to establish as small proprietors one-fourth of the whole peasant population of Ireland.1
But in the progress of the discussion, this rough estimate has ceased to be sufficient; we are called upon to justify the high scale of our expectations from this source, and to produce chapter and verse for the quantity of reclaimable land. There are writers who, since attention has begun to be directed to the waste lands as a national resource, have begun to tell us that the Irish wastes are not of a quality to be worth reclaiming; that Irish bog soil is of a peculiar antiseptic quality, and incapable of fertility; that reclaimed wastes are always tending to fall back into their original state; and that the expense of reclaiming them exceeds the market price of the fee simple of the best old lands.
The nature of bog and peat soils, and the obstacles which they oppose to fertilization, are no such unknown and mysterious subjects that those who come forward at this time of day with a simple statement of them have much chance of enlightening the world. We may presume that these things were well known to Arthur Young, when he said that on the Irish wastes was to be practised the most profitable husbandry in the King’s dominions;2 and the many subsequent authorities who have made statements, more or less positive, to a similar effect, have not, we suppose, been ignorant of the worst that could be said respecting the unreclaimable character of peat bogs. Everybody who has any right to an opinion on such matters, is aware that the fertilization of soils of the description alluded to depends on permanent manures; that the inherent quality of the soil must be modified by the admixture of new ingredients; and as these cannot be brought from a great distance without swallowing up the whole profit in the expense, the question mainly depends on the existence of the necessary materials in some near and accessible situation, or (still better) in the subsoil itself. It is incumbent on us, in descending to particulars, to be able to show that these conditions have been duly taken into account by the authorities whom we follow. We refer, then, to the latest and most careful estimate of the Irish wastes, and of their capabilities of improvement, an estimate made with express reference to these very difficulties, and to the means which each locality affords of overcoming them. We refer to the paper by Mr. Griffith, general valuation commissioner, printed at the end of the report of Lord Devon’s commission.3
Mr. Griffith estimates the extent of the waste lands of Ireland at 6,290,000 acres, of which 3,755,000 are improvable, being, as nearly as possible, Mr. Thornton’s estimate of three-fifths. Of these, however, 2,330,000 are in his opinion improvable only for “coarse meadow, together with pasture for sheep and young cattle,” leaving 1,425,000 acres, which “might be advantageously reclaimed and improved, so as to produce both corn and green crops.”4 Here, therefore, on an estimate studiously low, in which every abatement was made which was deemed necessary by a practised land valuer, taking into account all difficulties, there remains nearly a million and a half of acres capable of being converted into valuable arable land, with a much larger extent of pasturage to support cattle, and keep up a supply of manure. Of some of these lands Mr. Griffith says, that they “offer great facility for improvement, inasmuch as there is abundance of clay and gravel immediately beneath the bogs, which are frequently shallow, and, in consequence, the surface when drained can be easily and cheaply coated with the subsoil.”5 Where experiments have been made, as in the Crown lands of Kingwilliamstown, in the county of Cork, under the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, lands which were valued for sale at the rate of fourpence per acre per annum, have been raised to a value varying from 7s. 6d. to 20s. an acre.
Mr. Griffith’s figures also afford some important results with respect to the locality of these waste lands, as connected with the local distribution of the surplus population, and of the sufferers by the potato failure. Seven counties in the west and south-west of Ireland contain more than one-half of the entire extent of improvable waste. These counties are Mayo, Galway, Roscommon, Clare, Limerick, Kerry, and Cork. These same counties, according to the statement in our paper of Friday last,6 supply 107,634, being more than two-thirds, of the number of persons now receiving Government wages for useless public works. This wasteful squandering is going on in the immediate neighbourhood of the great unoccupied field of productive employment. In one of these counties, Clare, there are thus unprofitably employed 23,899 persons, being more than one in three of the able-bodied male population. The payment of wages to these, together with the expense of superintendence, cannot be much less than ten thousand pounds per week, being at the rate of half a million a year. The rated annual value of all the land in the county is but £292,000. Say that only half the outlay now going on is ever repaid by the landlords, it absorbs the whole year’s income. Is it not time that they looked about them? Are appeals to mercy respecting the amount and date of repayment, all they rely upon to avert the confiscation now staring them in the face?
If the potato disease continues, these people cannot find their own subsistence where they are, even in the wretched manner to which they are accustomed. It is certain that they will not be allowed to starve; the English nation will not maintain them, and their landlords cannot, unless by drafting them off to other lands. Is it not wonderful that an unanimous voice has not been raised from the landlords, at least of these seven counties, for locating the peasantry on the waste lands? Would not any mode of locating them be the salvation of the landlords from ruin? and is it for them to higgle, and make conditions for their own pockets, with the hand which is held out to save them?
[1 ]Thornton, Over-Population, pp. 430-1.
[2 ]A Tour in Ireland, Pt. II, p. 48.
[3 ]The Commission, made up wholly of landlords, was appointed by Peel in 1843 with William Reginald Courtenay (1807-88), the 11th Earl of Devon, as chairman. The “Report from H.M. Commissioner of Inquiry into the State of the Law and Practice in Respect to the Occupation of Land in Ireland,” PP, 1845, XIX, 1-1183, was published separately in Dublin in 1845. It includes “Return of the Probable Extent of Waste Lands in Each County in Ireland,” pp. 48-52, by Richard John Griffith (1784-1878), Irish geologist and civil engineer, an expert on mines and bogs.
[4 ]Griffith, “Return,” p. 52.
[5 ]Ibid., p. 51.
[6 ]“The Public Works Drainage,” from the Dublin Correspondent, Morning Chronicle, 20 Nov., p. 6.