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Peasant Proprietorship in Urney, Erganagh & Tattyreagh Glebes

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Peasant Proprietorship in Urney, Erganagh & Tattyreagh Glebes

Transcribed by Teena
The 19th Century, A Monthly Review edited by James Knowles Vol. 8 December 1880

Urney Glebe Lands

Whilst at Londonderry, my friends also visited the glebe lands near Urney, three miles south of Strabane, of those whose names are given. These holdings vary from five to fifty acres. Several of them are of medium size. They were purchased from the Irish Church Temporalities Commissioners in 1875. The purchase money was high for Ireland, from 23 to 25 years purchase on the rental, especially when the cost of the tenant right is added.

1 John and Unity Shearin 11a, 2r, 5p
2 Denis Shearin 22a, 0r, 15p
3 James Shearin 11a, 0r, 30p
4 Moses Adams 75a, 14r, 3p
5 " " 4a, 12r, 0p
6 John Gallagher 5a, 5r, 6p
7 Denis Shearin 15a, 15r, 0p
8 John Mclwee 7a, 3r, 15p

The Adamses (4 and 5) are thriving, flourishing men, who had leases before they purchased and had done all that men could, under the security of a lease for the improvement of their land, hence no marked further improvement could be looked for in their case. They considered the price paid, (25 years purchase), too high and that they would have done better as tenants under lease. They had also bought, some years ago, the tenant right at a rate of 10£ to 15£ per acre, thus adding very largely to the cost of the capital invested, making the actual cost of the land 33 to 35 years' purchase.

In all these cases, however, the purchasers complained that the three years of bad crops which have been so general have made it very difficult for them to keep up their instalments of principal and interest without borrowing, which gives a different aspect to their bargains from that which would have been produced by as many good years.

The smaller buyers, we found, had borrowed money locally at 6 per cent to pay the deposit of one- fourth of the purchase, and so began in debt. This, followed by the bad years, had greatly impoverished them and they were, we inferred, rather going back in the world ,and the land with them.

Some of them had other means of income. Gallagher, with 4a 3r , was really a farm labourer to Adams. McElwee, with 7 to 8 acres, a cattle dealer. Shearin had two daughters in the Lion Flax Mills. Adams was a blacksmith. All the smaller owners stated that with the land alone, they would have been beggared. This fact does not at all lessen the advantages which may result from the possession of a little freehold on which the owner can, with other employment, be improving and independent.

Erganagh glebe lands

Erganagh glebe is about three miles from Omagh. Here there were twenty six purchasers with farms varying from 5 to 30 acres. A few of these selected from the whole number may be taken as fair samples of the sizes and values. The lands were purchased in 1876.
1- Thomas Maguire, old rental 10£ 5s; acres 19a, 1r, 24p, purchase money 273£ say 27 years' purchase. He was a very intelligent man and was at work planting out cabbages in the field when we saw him. He had built a limekiln to burn the lime needed for the bog- land, of which he had brought some quantity into cultivation. He had tile drained the land and made good fences and taken down old banks or headlands, and so far as we could judge, the land was well farmed and in a very satisfactory state. He had put 200 loads of clay on the land and had a good road up to his house, to which he took us. It had two rooms and some good furniture in it. His children were eating potatoes from an improvised dish and were certainly neither clean, nor well dressed, none were old enough to help him on the farm. His wife, a tidy, well dressed woman, complained of the bad times and did not know that they were better off than before, and her husband said that the seasons had been so against them, that he did not know that he could afford this year, to pay the wages of one of the "Donegal boys", who came in spring for work to these districts and he must work all the harder himself. He thought he had given too much for the land, 27 years purchase, he admitted he would have given 28 years, rather than not have it, for his father had it before him. He and his father had held the land on a lease, but he said he felt much greater security in making improvements now that he was the owner and was evidently well satisfied with his position, though the times were much against him. Many of the rents of these glebe lands had been raised just before the Church Act passed, so as to increase the selling value for the incumbent. He brought out a plan of the townland, and his deed of conveyance, and thought the price paid for the stamp (nearly a year's rent) and the law expenses were very heavy, a 'great tax for a poor man'. He had paid the whole of the purchase money down, which, not more than three or four of the other purchasers in the townland,had been able to do: some paying one-fourth, or a third, or half down, as they had the means and the rest by instalments.

2- Robert Hanna, old rental 8£ 2s, acres 11. purchase money 177£ one-fourth paid down, and the remainder by instalments. He had lent his horse for the day to a neighbour to make a pair for ploughing, and seemed to be watching that it was taken care of, as he remained idle whilst we were looking over the adjoining property. No doubt, as is customary, the neighbour's horse would be lent to him another day for the same purpose. The land seemed well cultivated and the fences between this and the adjoining property were really remarkable for their neatness and order. Though times were bad, he was hopeful and rejoicing in his position.

3- T. McKenna, old rental 7£ , acres 11, purchase money 160£, one-fourth paid. Here we found the sister of the owner taking charge of the children, whilst her brother and a neighbour, who had purchased a rather smaller farm, were at work in England. They were working at the Consett ironworks Shotley Bridge, earning 35s a week, as they could not live on these small farms without other employment and were earning money to pay for the seed, needed to crop their farms. The sister was an intelligent girl and told us that the farm had been much improved, and that her brother had some grazing land towards the mountain, which we saw subsequently. The neighbour had a smaller farm of about five acres, for which he formerly paid 4 £ 19s 8d rent, and had given 103 of which 261 had been paid down about five acres for which he formerly paid 41 IDs 8d rent and had given 103£ of which 26 had£ been paid down.

4- The next farm visited was that of Widow Patterson rental 5£ 8s 4d, acres 8a 2r 26p, purchase money 115£, 29£ paid down. The husband had died recently, but she and her family were most industriously at work cultivating and improving the land. They had engaged a man at 2s a day to plough the land. This man was a tenant of fourteen acres in a neighbouring parish and a pleasant and singularly well informed man, more so, I think, than any we had seen, perhaps partly owing to his having been in America for four years, where he had earned 250£. He had then returned and bought the tenant- right of a farm, costing him 200£, had married, and did not wish to go out again. He wished he could have a farm of his own, but of this he said there was now no chance for him.

5- The next man whom we saw was Devlin, who had purchased a small farm of about eight acres, of which, the rent had only been 4£ per annum, for this he had given 96£, paying down half the purchase money. He was a curious loquacious little man, a most energetic supporter of peasant proprietorship, and could not say enough as to the advantages resulting from it, and begged us to go with him to see the improvements which he, and some other tenants, were making on a tract of mountainy land which they had enclosed. We were heartily glad that we had accepted the invitation and as we walked with him, he told us that he had a contract to keep the roads in repair or he could not live on his small farm. On the road we met the cows of the little community coming home for the night to be milked, or for shelter.

In addition to the arable lands we had seen, it appeared that twenty of the purchasers in this townland had a right of stray, as it is called in England, over 200 acres of rough, uncultivated ground, covered with heather. This was offered to them by the Commissioners at a low sum and in place of leaving it as a 'stray', they had agreed to divide it, in proportion to their holdings and had engaged the best surveyor they could find to come down and map it out and allot it among them in separate shares. This gave an average of ten acres, more or less, to each of the twenty proprietors and it was agreed that each lot should be carefully fenced, not only from the adjoining lots, but also from the road and outer boundaries. This was most substantially done, or in process of being done, and we saw widow Patterson's son, a boy of sixteen, working most industriously at a fence six feet high of peat and soil, which he was throwing up the trench, forming a drain for the land.

Some had already ploughed up portions of their newly acquired lands, others had not touched them, but our guide pointed, with justifiable satisfaction, to the good fences and amount of work already accomplished, as a proof of the benefit of peasant proprietorship, and I do not know that we could require a stronger one than the Erganagh glebe lands afford.

Tattyreagh glebe lands

The following morning we visited the glebe lands of Tattyreagh, which had been purchased by the tenants from the Commissioners in 1872, comprising about 40 farms, varying in size from 4 to 154 acres and in price from 60£ to l,000£, but chiefly of 20 acres and under. They are situate about five miles from Omagh in an opposite direction to those we had seen the previous day.

Before starting, we called upon Mr Eliott, a well to do tradesman, who had purchased the glebe house and some of the land. He gave us the names of several tenants who were bona fide owners, but stated that many so-called purchasers were too poor to find the fourth required to be paid down, and that some had borrowed the money, paying 7 or more per cent for it. Others had obtained it from a solicitor in the town, who had in fact bought the lands in their names, and then obtained a transfer from the so-called purchasers of their interest in the land. They are therefore, no more proprietors than before, and their position is hardly altered, as the rent or interest charged is nearly the same, the only point in their favour being, (we are told) that long leases had been promised. Mr Eliott said that the very small tenants or owners, under ten or fifteen acres, of whom there are several, could not bring up a family without other employment and that one of the purchasers, at any rate, was so poor as to need relief. It will be seen from the above how very unprepared in this case the tenants were to change their position into owners.

On arriving at Tattyreagh the first farm we inquired about was that of Annie Slevin, who had about five acres. Her son was busily engaged upon the land. He did not think the land would keep him and his mother, but they had another business behind, a whisky shop, which judging from appearances, was profitable.

The next farm we saw was that of Bernard Breen, who had been a tenant at 33£ of thirty-six acres, for which he gave 660£, paying down 165£, and the rest is in course of payment by instalments. With him, we met James Young, one of the largest buyers, who had been a tenant at 49£, for sixty acres of land and for which he had given 980£, paying down half the purchase money. Both of these were very intelligent men and in the most obliging manner, entered into the subject of our inquiries and answered our questions. They had been owners since 1872, longer than those whose farms we saw on the previous day. They thought an improvement in cultivation had been the result of the change throughout the glebe lands, but they added that we had come at a bad time to look for improvements, as unfortunately, the depression in agricultural produce had seriously affected them and for the past three years, it had been hard work to hold their own and pay the instalments on their purchases. If there had been three good years, in place of bad ones, we should have seen much more improvement but they had all suffered severely. He added, " It would be a great deal pleasanter if we could give you a better report" but afterwards both of them said that the township showed many signs of improvement in drainage fencing &c. Many had to borrow the fourth when they became purchasers in 1872, and they had hardly got over this when the bad seasons came. So they had not had a fair trial yet. Both of them thought ownership was the right thing, but it was not all that was wanted, 'peasant proprietorship would not do alone it must be coupled with industry'.

They pointed out to us other farms, which appeared to be well cultivated and also directed us to some smaller purchasers, whose lands we wished to see.

The first of these was a very small farm of about five acres, belonging to a poor man with a very large family, the oldest boys about twelve and fourteen, were helping their father, whose ragged clothing indicated poverty; he was preparing the land for potatoes, which appeared to be well done. The other children were very ragged and delighted to have a few pence among them. He was anxious to know whether he could obtain a supply of seed potatoes and oats from the Union under the provisions of the recent Act, and we were sorry to have to tell him that being an owner and not a tenant there was no prospect of his doing so. We were not able to learn whether he had paid the deposit on the purchase money, which amounted to about 100£, from his own earnings, or had borrowed it.

The next man we saw had purchased about eight acres. He had ten children, two of them were working hard with their father. He complained of the times being against him, said that the floods last year had swept away his crop of hay and that he had not been able to pay the instalments due for the past year and a half, and was in fear lest he should be come down upon for the amount. He begged us to ask for a reduction in the amount, as it was impossible to pay it; he could not keep his family on the land these bad times, though he had work as a blacksmith as well. He had to borrow the money needed for the deposit. There were probably personal reasons which prevented this man from succeeding; but both these cases seem to me to point to the conclusion, the evidence of which has been so strong throughout our journey, that farms under fifteen to twenty acres cannot alone support a family.

The last visit was paid to George Golorah, an old man and quite a character, as we were told by another tenant. He had bought twelve acres, the rental had been 10£, and the Poor Law valuation was 9£ a year. The purchase money was 212£ 11s 8d and, as he had saved a little money. he had no difficulty in paying the deposit of 53£ 2s 11d. He had only a small family to support, and had probably little difficulty in making a living; but his land was poorly cultivated,and he himself a ragged looking man. He had no complaint to make, though he said he did not know that he had bettered his position, having been a servant to the rector before the glebe lands were sold, and taking wages then, which was not now the case. Though saying so, he was careful to add that he was well content to be the owner of the land and when asked what the advantages were, he replied with strong emphasis, "Satisfaction!, satisfaction, just the satisfaction of feeling that the land is your own", He spoke very strongly against the complaining agitating tone of the present day, saying the people would 'agitate, agitate for anything, they would agitate for a sore finger.' He thought that many of the purchasers of these glebe lands were very poor, and had a hard struggle to pay their instalments. In Tattyreagh, as in some other instances, there is no doubt that they were unprepared, when the opportunity of purchasing came suddenly upon them. The intense desire, the satisfaction of being an owner of land, which fills the Irishman's heart, would no doubt also operate with its magic force. From all we heard here in reference to the process of converting tenants into proprietors, it is no kindness, useless in fact, to expect it to succeed, unless the tenant has previously saved sufficient money to pay the deposit required by the Act, and is thus able to begin with a fair start. We heard of some cases, where this having been borrowed, had with infinite struggling been paid; but of others, in which the debt was accumulating with heavy interest, and hung like a dead weight around the neck of the would be owner. In a few instances as we have seen the so- called purchaser had merely become a tenant under conditions not changed for the better. No doubt the three lean years which they have been passing through, have made all the difficulties greater.

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