An Educational Charity | Charity Reg. No. NIC100280
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Charitable Objectives

Tenures without Leases and Variable Tenures

It is difficult to quantify those holding farms without leases at various times during the century, and equally difficult to designate their economic status. Undoubtedly the overwhelming majority of such tenants were very poor, but this was not always the case. At the close of the seventeenth century the disturbed state of the country had been reflected in a larger number of tenants without leases. For instance, William Molyneux (1425) of Castle Dillon, Co. Armagh wrote that when he took over the management of his paternal estate in 1690 his 'tenants at will' included John Hutchinson (Hutcheson), the dissenting minister and the father of the philosopher Francis Hutcheson,260  who held 100 or so acres and two acres of bog for a rent of £18; he had 'a good strong house of stone and lime with a good cow house and stable and barne but all ruinous by reason the present tenant has not encouragement being only tenant at will; there is likewise a pretty garden and orchard'. Other 'tenants at will' included Thomas Stoops, who held 23 acres at a rent of £4 6d and lived in 'an ordinary mud and sod wall house'; while Denis Kennedy, a Catholic, held eight acres and lived in 'a good mud wall house'.261

Although the increasing political fervour of the late eighteenth century had encouraged the creation of 'freeholds' to enfranchise tenants, towards the close of the century and in the early nineteenth century there was a reversion262  to holding 'at will' or without formal leases, which allowed the landlord greater control over his estate, while tenants who paid their rent regularly usually had little reason to fear eviction. Despite their poverty, tenants 'at will' were not at the bottom of the social pyramid, for there were the landless spalpeens, who, looking for temporary work, lived a semi-nomadic existence in 'cabins by the roadside that have no land'.263  Also, allowance must be made for landlord-tenant relations as where these were good the tenant could feel secure without a lease.

Again there is a tendency to assume that Ireland had a uniform covering of cottiers. This was not the case. The presence or absence of cottiers was linked to the produce of the region; for instance, in a pastoral area, particularly one favouring sheep or dry cattle, less labour was required and consequently there were few cottiers. Arable or dairy farming absorbed more labour. When patterns of agriculture changed - for example in the mid-century swing towards pastoral farming - there was social dislo­cation and consequent distress.

By the end of the eighteenth century, in many areas, leases were replaced by tied labour. Under this system a cash wage was verbally agreed at the beginning of the year and was paid off in rent for a cabin, a potato plot or garden and a few collops on the landlord's grazing. Usually about 200 days of labour, at 5-6d a day, were required. This was often demanded, sometimes with the inducement of a higher payment, at times when the labourer was occupied with his own harvest. Any surplus was usually cancelled out by the supply of implements, seed or fodder. Wakefield has given the traditional description:

The cottar tenant hires a cabin, the worst in the country, with a small patch of potato land, at a rent of thirty shillings per annum. He also argues for the keep of a collop or half a collop ... At the same time he works for his landlord at the small wage of 5d per day; but when he comes to settle he receives nothing, as the food of his few sheep is set off against what he charges for labour. In this manner the poor cottar must toil without end; while his family eats up the produce of the small spot of land he has hired. This is called by the lower classes of Irish 'working for a dead horse', that is to say, getting into debt.264

In dairying areas in the hinterland of Cork there was a system of leasing land to cow keepers or dairymen. Here the rent was an agreed quantity of butter for each milking cow along with some limited labour services. The calf could belong to either the landlord or the tenant, depending on the agreement. Originally the contract was annual, from 25 March each year, but longer contracts could be granted; for instance, one lease in 1742 contracted for 21 cwt butter for 21 years (1 cwt = 51 kg). Young found leases that stipulated 1 cwt of butter per cow delivered at Cork and a guinea in money. He added that:

The produce is not much more than this cwt of butter; for the dairyman's profit lies principally in having the grass of a cow, an acre of ground and a cabin and garden, and they are generally very poor. They rear many pigs on ac­count of the dairies, about a pig to every cow, and a calf to every two cows, which they feed on sour milk giving them no new milk. They are attentive to have their cows calve in May.265

The advantages of having the cows calve in May were that the grass would be at its best and there would be food to supplement the traditionally hungry months between the end of one harvest and the gathering of the next. An entrepreneurial landlord or middleman could set up a subsidiary industry by letting land to fishermen, weavers or dairymen and sometimes providing them with capital goods such as boats, yarn or cows in return for exclusively marketing their produce.

In addition to payment in labour, rents could be paid in money or in a mixture of goods and money. In remote or backward regions there were market advantages in making payments in kind. Young found in the mountainous area on the border of Counties Fermanagh, Donegal and Leitrim that the 'rents were paid by yarn, young cattle and a little butter'.266  One Kerry landlord's rent book for the years 1755-64 stipulated butter, herring, brandy, linen cloth and cattle in his agreements - thereby indicating the illegal as well as the legal activities of his tenants. In the middle of the century a traveller reported that in the Rosses, Co. Donegal, the kelp harvest paid the rents.267  A general lack of labour specialisation was a feature of European pre-industrial societies, and its continuance in Ireland was an indication of the growing rift between British and Irish societies caused by the industrial revolution. Both Young268  and Wakefield considered that this lack of speciali­sation was detrimental to the Irish economy, as 'the same person cannot expect to be proficient in both.'269

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