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18-03-2015, 22:32   #1
Flex
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What was life like in Ireland prior to the Famine?

Just looking for some insight into what life was like in Ireland before the Famine.

Ive become quite interested in the Famine again recently, always find it interesting to work out what Ireland would be like today had the population not collapsed and instead of 6.4m people we had a population of 20m or more (potentially)
  • Basically, what I was wondering was, what was the country like? I had this notion that with a population of some 9m people there were dozens of medium to large towns. However, I was amazed to read that in 1841 only 15% (or about 1.2m of the 8.2m) of the country lived in 'urban areas' compared to approx 45% in England. My surprise was compounded by the fact I subsequently read that an urban area was defined as a settlement of 1,500 people or more. Some accounts I had read of the period suggest that most of the countrys 'settlements' consisted of some really poor make shift huts in the middle of nowhere, with no amenities, no shops, no nothing, and people routinely had to walk 40 mile round trips to the nearest town to get even the most basic of provisions. Could this be accurate? Nearly 7m people living in settlements consisting of little huts and shanty towns dotted up and down the country?

  • The next question I had was around why Ireland had become so utterly poor. Once again, a vague presumption of mine is that after the act of union, Irish industry lost whatever trade protection it had against British industry and was crushed as a result. Further, as most British landlords were absentee landlords and resided in Britain, when crops were sold from Ireland the money would be transferred out of Ireland to the landlords in Britain and thus the money wouldnt circulate in the Irish economy. Another side effect of this was that there was no coinage throughout large parts of the country.

If anyone has any insights or opinion, or any sources that discuss and describe living conditions in Ireland prior to the Famine, that would be great!
  • As a final question, something I find myself wondering about when I do think about that period is, do you think the Famine/collapse in population would have been so bad (or indeed, happened at all) had we still had our own domestic parliament?

As mentioned, this is something Ive found a great interest in again and have just been reading from various sites and online resources. Completely open to correction on any of the above if Im way off the mark on anything and would appreciate any info!
Thanks
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18-03-2015, 22:33   #2
Atlantic Dawn
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What famine?
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19-03-2015, 01:26   #3
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The next question I had was around why Ireland had become so utterly poor.
I'd imagine that the landlord system and the Penal Laws go quite a way towards explaining how things got to such a desperate pass.
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19-03-2015, 11:49   #4
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More to the point, what Irish industry?

Mainland United Kingdom had had the Industrial Revolution. The island of Ireland had nothing like that - it was basically an agricultural economy where little had changed, or been allowed to change, since the 1600's. By 1840 mainland UK had a huge rail network connecting centres of major industries of all kind - London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Tyneside. Ireland did not.

The big island had huge reserves of coal for fuel, and the huge labouring population to extract it - Ireland did not.

The Irish canals built in anticipation of growing industrial need languished into silt.

Where were all the Irish workers at the time, just as in the previous near-century?

In England, building railways.

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Last edited by tac foley; 19-03-2015 at 15:36.
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19-03-2015, 13:59   #5
 
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Depends on what you mean by "before the Famine".

For example, in 1782 "dependence" on Britain was repealed and for 15 golden years Ireland didn't have tariffs and taxes on exports to Britain, and was legally able to export to Europe and the Americas. Commerce boomed and it was a brief age of prosperity, ended by the Act of Union in 1800, when all political influence, along with its normal adjunct of bourgeois industry, left the country for London.
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19-03-2015, 18:28   #6
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Nationalist history would mention that the economic of Ireland was disadvantaged by being tied to that of Britain from the turn of that century. While the economic boom for certain stakeholders that resulted from increased demand during the Napolonic wars would have brought some property the crash afterwards would have hit hard.
In terms of ordinary rural life, a ruling class with different language/religion would not have been unknown. However the lack of certainty in land tenure would have contributed to the Agrarian violence.
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19-03-2015, 19:42   #7
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However the lack of certainty in land tenure would have contributed to the Agrarian violence.
Most of the agrarian violence during the nineteenth century was the result of attacks by landless labourers against Irish Catholic tenant farmers over the price of provisions, the cost of conacre, the export of food out of local districts and wages.
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19-03-2015, 22:33   #8
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Most of the agrarian violence during the nineteenth century was the result of attacks by landless labourers against Irish Catholic tenant farmers over the price of provisions, the cost of conacre, the export of food out of local districts and wages.
I had always thought the attacks by Whiteboys, Ribbonmen etc were more against the landlords and their agents rather than against larger tenant farmers. Perhaps your right about particular parts of the country at particular times, but hardly true for whole 19th century?
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19-03-2015, 22:39   #9
 
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Depends on what you mean by "before the Famine".

For example, in 1782 "dependence" on Britain was repealed and for 15 golden years Ireland didn't have tariffs and taxes on exports to Britain, and was legally able to export to Europe and the Americas. Commerce boomed and it was a brief age of prosperity, ended by the Act of Union in 1800, when all political influence, along with its normal adjunct of bourgeois industry, left the country for London.
That period allowed the growth of an Irish commercial class. O' Connell Street heralds from that era.
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19-03-2015, 23:20   #10
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I had always thought the attacks by Whiteboys, Ribbonmen etc were more against the landlords and their agents rather than against larger tenant farmers. Perhaps your right about particular parts of the country at particular times, but hardly true for whole 19th century?
The Caravat V Shanavest conflict of 1808-1816 was a direct conflict between the landless labourers and the tenant farmers.

The Rockite Rebellion 1819-1824 was primarily a conflict between the landless labourers and tenant farmers. The resurgence of the rebellion in 1825 was more a conflict between the tenant farmers and the landlords.

The Terry Alt Uprising of 1831 was a direct conflict between the landless labourers and the tenant farmers.

The agrarian conflict of the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s (and particularly during the famine) was primarily the result of tensions between the landless labourers and tenant farmers - indeed, during the famine many landlords were more sympathetic to the plight of the labourers than the tenant farmers (who made a financial killing from the crisis).

The Land War was primarily a conflict between the tenant farmers and the landlords, with the labourers playing an auxiliary role of support on the promise that the farmers would look after the labourers once they got tenure. Of course once the land issue moved towards resolution the farmers turned and shafted the labourers leading to renewed conflict over the Labourers Cottages Act in the 1890s.

The conflict between rural workers and the farmers continued during the War of Independence and the Civil War and into the 1920s when the CnanG government hired a bunch of fascist thugs known as the Special Infantry Corps to suppress strikes by farm labourers.
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19-03-2015, 23:41   #11
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Most of the agrarian violence during the nineteenth century was the result of attacks by landless labourers against Irish Catholic tenant farmers over the price of provisions, the cost of conacre, the export of food out of local districts and wages.
That is incorrect and is a sweeping generalisation to suit your oft-propounded and biased political beliefs.

Most of the violence in Ireland was internecine and – other than a few high-profile cases - was small farmer against slightly bigger farmer. I’m talking about the cottier who farmed 3 acres fighting the one who farmed 6 acres, or the guy with no sheep stealing from the guy with one sheep.
Look at the figures – for example, read the Petty Sessions cases, look at some of the transportation figures for petty crime.

Look at the numbers in the county gaols. Clare, Limerick and Tipperary were the most lawless counties in Ireland, where robberies of arms accounted for 75 per cent of the total for all the robberies of arms in Ireland; in Limerick they were 42 per cent of the total, in a county that had a population of only 4 per cent of the entire population of Ireland. These were labourers against a grouping that was - notionally - marginally better off. By no means do they qualify for the misleading description of "Irish Catholic tenant farmers".

Look at the 1841 census for descriptions of housing: - the housing stock in Co Tipperary showed that 34% of all houses were of the poorest type; the figure for Clare was 51% and Limerick 46%. These were mud huts, hovels, not houses. Literacy levels for the same counties were 30%, 25% and 34%

The industrial revolution in England devastated not only their own small industries but also the cottage industries in Ireland, especially weaving and spinning, and many hundreds of thousands were left without employment. Investment in the Irish economy was low, and therefore productivity was low. The poor had nothing to invest, and those who had money invested it elsewhere because there was nothing in which to invest in Ireland. By British standards Ireland was poor, and the Irish poor constituted two-thirds of the population. Ireland was a basket-case, and a famine, or a similar disaster (perhaps like the contemporaneous cholera outbreaks in England) was an event that inevitably would happen.

Apart from the vote, the Penal Laws were over decades before, and had little impact, just as Dev’s economic protectionism/isolationism of the 1930’s was redundant by the 1960’s of Lemass.
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20-03-2015, 09:00   #12
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That is incorrect and is a sweeping generalisation to suit your oft-propounded and biased political beliefs.
And again we have the typical derogatory swipe from you. I have made no secret that I approach historiography from a certain persepctive. However, every historical claim that I make is based on extensive research that I have conducted, including spending many hours in the National Archives researching Police Reports and Outrage Reports from the nineteenth century, plus month after month researching local newspapers from the nineteenth century.

Now maybe you can indicate the research you have personally conducted on nineteenth century agrarian outrages rather than demonstrating that you can google.

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Most of the violence in Ireland was internecine and – other than a few high-profile cases - was small farmer against slightly bigger farmer. I’m talking about the cottier who farmed 3 acres fighting the one who farmed 6 acres, or the guy with no sheep stealing from the guy with one sheep.
Look at the figures – for example, read the Petty Sessions cases, look at some of the transportation figures for petty crime.
The interesting thing is that nothing you post here (in terms of factual information rather than your false interpretation) contradicts my assertions - this is demonstrated by the link you posted to the Clare Library website. So - from this page -
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A very high proportion of those sentenced to transportation at the assizes were from the labouring class.

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Originally Posted by pedroeibar1 View Post
Look at the numbers in the county gaols. Clare, Limerick and Tipperary were the most lawless counties in Ireland, where robberies of arms accounted for 75 per cent of the total for all the robberies of arms in Ireland; in Limerick they were 42 per cent of the total, in a county that had a population of only 4 per cent of the entire population of Ireland. These were labourers against a grouping that was - notionally - marginally better off. By no means do they qualify for the misleading description of "Irish Catholic tenant farmers".
And what evidence do you have for this assertion - specifically - you are asserting that the people I am describing as 'labourers' were 'marginally better off' and could not be described as "Irish Catholic tenant farmers".

This comment is utterly confused both in its assertion and in your interpretation of my claims.


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Look at the 1841 census for descriptions of housing: - the housing stock in Co Tipperary showed that 34% of all houses were of the poorest type; the figure for Clare was 51% and Limerick 46%. These were mud huts, hovels, not houses. Literacy levels for the same counties were 30%, 25% and 34%
Even though you dont realise it - your argument here actually reinforces my assertions . Yes the landless labourers (not the Irish Catholic tenant farmers) lived in mud huts, hovels, not houses

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The industrial revolution in England devastated not only their own small industries but also the cottage industries in Ireland, especially weaving and spinning, and many hundreds of thousands were left without employment. Investment in the Irish economy was low, and therefore productivity was low. The poor had nothing to invest, and those who had money invested it elsewhere because there was nothing in which to invest in Ireland.
The people primarily impacted by these developments were the landless labourers and the small cottiers (not the Irish Catholic tenant farmers).

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By British standards Ireland was poor, and the Irish poor constituted two-thirds of the population.
Again reinforcing my assertion - the tow thirds of the population that were 'Irish poor' were (primarily) the landless labourers and the small cottiers - not the Irish Catholic tenant farmers.

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Ireland was a basket-case, and a famine, or a similar disaster (perhaps like the contemporaneous cholera outbreaks in England) was an event that inevitably would happen.
The famine happened because of a reliance by the landless labourers and the cottiers on the potato as a source of food for their families - their holdings were so small that they were unable to grow any other crop that would produce sufficient food to feed a family. The famine struck when blight hit the crop. During the famine Irish Catholic tenant farmers survived with little difficulty (by possessing 10+ acres) and made a financial killing from the crisis (by possessing 20+ acres) as a result of hoarding food and then selling it in the cities markets at high prices. Most of the outrages during the famine were perpetrated by the labourers and cottiers and were targeted at the Irish Catholic tenant farmers for hoarding provisions, driving up prices and selling the food out of local districts.

The landless labourers dropped from 1.2million in 1841 to 600,000 in 1851 and continuted to drop right up until the 1930s when they numbered about 100,000.

The section of the population classed as 'farmers' dropped from 850,000 in 1841 to 450,000 in 1851 - but this drop was almost exclusively the result of the decimation of the cottiers (most of whom possessed 2 acres or less) who were driven into the landless class as a result of clearences (many instigated by the Irish Catholic tenant farmers who were the main providers of cottier land and conacre). The numbers of farmers in the country stablised after the famine and actually experienced a small growth in numbers in 1861.

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Apart from the vote, the Penal Laws were over decades before, and had little impact, just as Dev’s economic protectionism/isolationism of the 1930’s was redundant by the 1960’s of Lemass.
This is not relevent - and as regards the 'vote' - that was a stitch-up by O'Connell who secured the vote for wealthy Catholics but shafted the 40s freeholders and dramatically reduced the voting population by the 'deal' he did with the British government for Emancipation.

If you really want to learn somthing about the class tensions of this period you could do worse than read this from the Clare Library website
http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coc...mine_index.htm

Last edited by Jolly Red Giant; 20-03-2015 at 09:03.
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20-03-2015, 10:59   #13
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'The industrial revolution in England devastated not only their own small industries but also the cottage industries in Ireland, especially weaving and spinning, and many hundreds of thousands were left without employment. Investment in the Irish economy was low, and therefore productivity was low. The poor had nothing to invest, and those who had money invested it elsewhere because there was nothing in which to invest in Ireland. By British standards Ireland was poor, and the Irish poor constituted two-thirds of the population. Ireland was a basket-case, and a famine, or a similar disaster (perhaps like the contemporaneous cholera outbreaks in England) was an event that inevitably would happen.'

Nailed it.

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20-03-2015, 12:28   #14
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And again we have the typical derogatory swipe from you. I have made no secret that I approach historiography from a certain persepctive.
My comment was not intended as derogatory, it is a comment on the issue I have with any slant/bias used to interpret data in an attempt to justify a political belief. If you want to propound your politics, there is a forum for that. To classify a tenant farmer with 9 acres living in a hovel as “an Irish Catholic Tenant Farmer” and an exploiter the masses is inaccurate. Ireland had huge economic problems, to try to simplify it to your view of a "downtrodden proletariat" is a nonsense.
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Now maybe you can indicate the research you have personally conducted on nineteenth century agrarian outrages rather than demonstrating that you can google.
Rather childish comment from you, I expected better……I too have spent hundreds of hours on researching pre and post Famine-era events surrounding several branches of my ancestry and also their impact on the area in which I live. I’ve also made a comprehensive study of several trials that took place as a result of the Coercion Act of 1847– one high profile Limerick case that comes to mind is the murder of a misfortunate named Kelly who took the 3 acres of an evictee (Ryan) to add to his own 9 to help provide the means of survival for a large family. Ryan Senior had been killed in a faction fight and despite having several adult sons they had not paid rent for years. (And, BTW, the evictor landlord in question was not “an Irish Catholic Tenant Farmer”.) I’ve also studied advowsons and the Tithe wars, and am familiar with the work of many on that topic (for e.g. Noreen Higgins-McHugh of UCC)
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And what evidence do you have for this assertion - specifically - you are asserting that the people I am describing as 'labourers' were 'marginally better off' and could not be described as "Irish Catholic tenant farmers"…………This comment is utterly confused both in its assertion and in your interpretation of my claims. …………..Yes the landless labourers (not the Irish Catholic tenant farmers) lived in mud huts, hovels, not houses.
It should not be confusing. I said a holder of less than ten acres had only marginally better circumstances than a labourer with one or two. Both lived in primitive conditions (look at the Census returns for ’41 I quoted earlier) , both were dependent on the potato, and the ten-acre owner also needed the potato for animal feed, so the failure of the staple diet affected both dramatically. To suggest that a ten-acre man is to be blamed for what happened to the labourer is not correct.
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The landless labourers dropped from 1.2million in 1841 to 600,000 in 1851 and continuted to drop right up until the 1930s when they numbered about 100,000.
I never contested otherwise – numbers fell due to death (mainly by disease) and emigration. However, your argument is again specious and shows bias by extending to the 1930’s and omitting to mention the Land Acts of the 1890’s to 1903 and the post Free State Land Commission, which made landowners out of thousands of tenant farmers. (But I suppose they should be ignored as they had joined the bourgeoisie!)
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Originally Posted by Jolly Red Giant
The section of the population classed as 'farmers' dropped from 850,000 in 1841 to 450,000 in 1851 - but this drop was almost exclusively the result of the decimation of the cottiers (most of whom possessed 2 acres or less) who were driven into the landless class as a result of clearences (many instigated by the Irish Catholic tenant farmers who were the main providers of cottier land and conacre).
“Clearances” is hardly the correct word to apply to a small tenant farmer refusing to renew conacre for one or two landless labourers living at the end of his field. The farmer’s back was to the wall as he had to pay his rent and provide for his family. Sub-division and subdivision of subdivisions of smallholdings made the unit size totally uneconomic. I repeat what I said earlier – Ireland was a basket-case, over-populated and overdependant on the potato. (I’m quite prepared to go into an argument on the nutritional aspects of the potato, yield rates, etc. but see little point at this stage, as we both accept its role in the downfall.) Many of the smallholders surrendered their holdings under the ‘Gregory clause’ in the Relief Act of 1847. Many others surrendered to avail of assisted emigration – look at several of the big estates in Kerry, Sligo, Mayo, etc. and the thousands who were evicted or whose ‘leaving’ was financed by big absentee landlords To cite just one big landlord eviction, the Times of London protested vigorously against the treatment and eviction of 300 tenants from the estate of Mrs Gerrard at Ballinglass, Co. Galway, on 13 March 1846:-
‘How often are we to be told that the common law of England sanctions injustice and furnishes the weapons of oppression? How long shall the rights of property in Ireland continue to be the wrongs of poverty and the advancement of the rich be the destruction of the poor?’ [Times, 31 March 1846]

As for “forced emigration” generally there always was a steady stream of emigrants from Ireland to England and an average annual figure in the pre-famine era amounted to about 100,000. This number doubled with the onset of the Famine and a total of almost two million Irish arriving at Liverpool, in the eight year period between 1847–54, about a third of them classed as paupers. (Source: Frank Neal, Black ’47: Britain and the famine Irish (Basingstoke & New York 1998 pg61)

Long before the Famine, Ireland was in abject poverty - the French sociologist, Gustave de Beaumont visited Ireland in 1835 and wrote:
"I have seen the Indian in his forests, and the Negro in his chains, and thought, as I contemplated their pitiable condition, that I saw the very extreme of human wretchedness; but I did not then know the condition of unfortunate Ireland...In all countries, more or less, paupers may be discovered; but an entire nation of paupers is what was never seen until it was shown in Ireland."
(Gustave de Beaumont. Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious. ed. William Cooke Taylor, Tom Garvin, and Andreas Hess. (Cambridge (Mass.): Belknap Press, 2006), pg130)

Hermann Fürst von Pückler-Muskau, on his visit to Athenry, Co. Galway in 1828 wrote :

This bathing-place, Athenrye, is also one of the curiosities of Ireland. From what I have already said, you will conclude that no Polish village can have a more wretched aspect. The cluster of cabins is on a bare hill rising out of the bog, without tree or bush, without an inn, without any convenience, inhabited only by ragged beggars, and by the few invalids who bring with them everything they want, and must send for even the most trifling article of food to Galway, a distance of twelve miles. Once it was otherwise; and it saddens one to see at the further extremity of this wretched village the proud ruins of better times. .........I visited these ruins with a most numerous company: I do not exaggerate when I say that at least two hundred half-naked beings, two-thirds of whom were children, had collected round my carriage at a very early hour in the morning, doing nothing: they now thronged round me, all begging, and shouting, ‘Long life to your honour!’ Every individual among them stuck faithfully by me, leaping over stones and brambles. The strangest compliment now and then resounded from the midst of the crowd: at last some called out, ‘Long life to the King!’ On my return I threw two or three handfuls of copper among them; and in a minute half of them, old and young, lay prostrate in the sand, while the others ran with all speed into a whiskey-shop, fighting furiously all the way.

Such is Ireland! Neglected or oppressed by the government, debased by the stupid intolerance of the English priesthood, and marked by poverty and the poison of whiskey, for the abode of naked beggars!—


The poverty and poor quality of housing were not limited to the rural poor; the cities were just as wretched: an account of the Dublin slums of the Liberties area in the early 1800s illustrates the contemporary housing situation:
“In the ancient parts of this city, the streets are, with a few exceptions, generally narrow, the houses crowded together, and the rears, or back-yards, of very small extent. Of these streets, a few are the residence of the upper class of shop-keepers, and others engaged in trade; but a far greater proportion of them, with their numerous lanes and alleys, are occupied by working manufacturers, by petty shop-keepers, the labouring poor, and beggars, crowded together, to a degree distressing to humanity. A single apartment, in one of these truly wretched habitations, rates from one to two shillings per week; and, to lighten this rent, two, three, and even four families, become joint tenants. As I was usually out at very early hours on the streets, I have frequently surprised from ten to sixteen persons, of all ages and sexes, in a room, not fifteen feet square, stretched on a wad of filthy straw, swarming with vermin, and without any covering, save the wretched rags that constituted their wearing apparel … The crowded population, wherever it obtains, is almost universally accompanied by a very serious evil; a degree of filth and stench inconceivable, except by those who have visited those scenes of wretchedness.”
(Whitelaw, J, An Essay on the Population of Dublin (Dublin, Graisberry & Campbell, 1805), pp 50–52.)

Your assertion
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jolly Red Giant
Most of the agrarian violence during the nineteenth century was the result of attacks by landless labourers against Irish Catholic tenant farmers over the price of provisions, the cost of conacre, the export of food out of local districts and wages.
simply does not meet normal proof criteria and your answer to Kildare John on Whiteboy offences ignores what happened at their inception – refresh your mind on the Ascendancy landlords and Fr. Sheehy.

Last edited by pedroeibar1; 20-03-2015 at 12:32. Reason: to correct typo
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20-03-2015, 14:17   #15
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............ However the lack of certainty in land tenure would have contributed to the Agrarian violence.
Probably, but in general it did not pay a landlord to get the name as an 'evicter' as he then would not get the 'better' sort of tenant and this would decrease the value of his estate. It was far better to nurse along a tenant who was known to be 'good' but who had suffered a bad year. That is why abatements were quite common. The position in Ulster was considerably different / more peaceful because the 30 year lease was common, and a holding could be transferred with some benefit for inputs accruing to the transferor.
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