(The Freeman's Journal on Thursday 9 June 1881 carried the following letter, written by Charles Quin, a priest who had grown up in the parish, but was then parish priest of the South Armagh parish of Killeavy. The letter gives details of the way rents were raised on any land that the farmers worked to improve. It mentions the hardships of the mountain farmers at the end of the 1870s, hardships which, locally, Quin says were worse than those of 1847. John J Monaghan, in his letter of 2 March 1880, writes of the danger of starvation in Kildress if funds were not forthcoming from charitable donations on a monthly basis [see elsewhere on this blog]. Fr Quin's letter give much interesting information on the Loughrans of Evishbrack - [written Evishbrook - a typesetting error], the Monaghans of Dunnamore and the Quins [of Dunnamore?].)
TO THE EDITOR OF THE FREEMAN.
Sir – Facts are very stubborn things in their own way and it is a fact that the years 1878, ’79 and ’80 were very trying on the tenants in the mountain land, and Kildress being in the main a very mountainous parish, suffered much. I know of no other parish in Ulster that was so literally ruined by the continuous rains, the variations in the price of stock and produce, the total failure of the potato crop, and the partial loss of hay and oats that were not secured till Christmas day during those memorable years. I remember well ’47 and ’48 and I assert without fear of contradiction that the tenants in Kildress suffered more acutely in the years 1879 and ’80 than they did in 1847 and ’48. Now, what would the world say at the conduct of landlords, whether lords or earls, who would extract increased rentals in 1847 when Ireland was like a huge sepulchre, strewn over with the unburied corpses which lay with starvation’s gaze in the fever sheds or on the roadsides and byways where there could be seen, if history tells us right, mothers with their infant children clasped in cold embrace, while the little ones were struggling against the mother’s fate by trying to extract their natural aliment from sources now by death dried up! The conduct of such a lord would be declared a legal and proprietary right, whilst the historian would describe it differently – as that of a tyrant, of an oppressor, and, I might add, of a monster. History tells us of many dark deeds in this our island of sorrow, but, thank God, our history’s page of ’47 contains no such case of landlordism. The history of landlordism in Ulster in 1879 and 1880 will yet be written, and I will leave to the writer of those pages to describe the conduct of the earl and his agents who extracted from their faithful tenants an increased rental in years of dire distress. In rare combination we find the charitable and humane, who, like good Christians in these years of dire distress, seemed to forget their social, political and religious differences and joined hands in the noble work of feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and comforting the poor tenants in the mountains of Kildress. In the pages of the ‘Freeman’ appear the names of our beloved Primate and the good Duchess of Marlborough, of our patriots Parnell and Dillon, of our doctors and priests, all of whom in their own way were trying to assuage the sufferings of an impoverished tenantry in the mountains.
But the names of the noble earl and his two agents (Tanner and Burly Stuart) appear in the records of the county court over 80, as I am informed, ejectment processes that were carried into effect in order to frighten the tenants and coerce them into the payment of the increased rents in these years of awful distress. If not 80 ejectments then I ask the noble earl and his two agents this simple question – how many? In my evidence at the sitting of the Bessborough Commission in Belfast I put the number at 86, but I am informed since that this number is under the mark. In my examination before the commissioners I treated the two estates as one and as such I treat them now, as they belong to one noble earl. But say they be allowed 20 per cent of abatement for the last two years, and hence, our tenants have no right to complain. They would have no right to complain, nor would they complain I am sure, had the earl and his agents paid the valuers Wilson and O’Neill to remain at home until the Land Bill would pass and the famine pass away, but as the earth and its fulness by divine right created for earls, their agents, their pleasures and sports, it would be wicked, in their view of things, to allow the serfs and the slaves of Kildress 20 per cent, on the rents of 1878. I presume the earl and his agents reasoned thus – The times are very hard now, and the landlords must do something in some way. Now let us put our heads together and see can we devise some scheme whereby we may hoodwink the public by appearing to be generous to our tenants, while at the same time we add 30 per cent to the current rental. This reasoning became too intricate for the mental capacity of the noble earl but not so for this worthy agents. We will increase the rent 30 per cent, thus. We will reduce the rents of a few – say that of the parish priest and a few others. We will make no changes in a few other cases, then we will begin by increasing some 5 per cent, some 10 percent, some 20 per cent, some 40 per cent, some 80 per cent, some 100 per cent, some 500 per cent and the reclaimed land as a general rule 1,000 per cent. We will add this increment to the old rent and embody it in the receipt of 1879. We will then offer 20 per cent abatement to some and “the increases in rent under the new valuation we will show as abatement to others for this year”. In the year 1880 we will extract the increased rent and should the times continue bad we could allow 20 per cent for that year on the increased rent, but without any loss to ourselves, and then for the future a pure gain of 30 per cent on our large rental without expending one sixpence towards its realisation. The effects of this reasoning are clearly perceptible from the receipt of Burly Stuart quoted in my last letter. Michael Quin’s rent in 1878, £2 11s 8d, in 1879 increased to £6 13s 5d which was embodied in the receipt but £4 2s 9d was refunded to him, being the increase in the rent under the new valuation. In 1880 Michael Quin paid the increased rent £6 13s 5d, receiving an abatement of £1 12s 6d for the year, when deducted from £6 13s 5d leaves £5 0s 11d, which is an increase on his original rent of £2 9s 3d.
What was Quin’s abatement during these two years of dire distress? Look at the figures which I have given, and you will at once detect the principle on which the noble earl and his worthy agents acted towards these reclaimers of mountain land in years of famine. The public may ask why did the tenants not resist such a claim at such a time and under such circumstances? The answer is plain. The few who received the small reduction under the valuation paid. The few others whose rent was not increased were glad to pay. Others, again, whose rents have increased five per cent deemed it the most prudent course to submit, and many followed the example of the few, under the threat of ejectments, law expenses, the roadside, buckshot and British bayonets. These are stern and stubborn facts which cannot be gainsaid. We now come to the two brothers of Michael Quinn, Peter and Patrick. Peter reclaimed about three acres of his portion consisting of 27 acres at £2 11s 8d. He told me in the presence of Mr Michael Quinn, Cookstown, that he broke his heart reclaiming one acre. His rent was increased, with broken heart and all, to £3 11s 10d. He refused to pay the increased rent for the very good reason that he could not pay the original rent. I saw his farm, and the reclaimed land would not set at 6s an acre in any part of England or Scotland, yet £30 an acre never reclaimed(?) . . .(unreadable). The third brother sold his portion to a man named Keenan(?), who reclaimed a few acres and was raised from £2 11s 8d to £4 16s 10d besides bog rent 15s, and the bog on their own farms. The original rent of the farm before sub-division £1 15(?)s raised to £7 15s about 40 years ago and now again raised to £17 6s 1d, including bog rent, which is an additional rent on the farm. The increase of £15 16s 1d on this farm of old Michael Quin utterly beggars and ruins his children who spend their young days trying to reclaim the unreclaimable. At 3 per cent it is interest for £500 and how the earl and his agents transfer forever this large sum from the pockets of these poor men who earned it by hard work and at the expense of much capital into their own pockets, who never expended one drop of sweat or one penny towards its realisation.
The next townland on the earl’s estate is Evishbrook, and the first man I met on entering it gave me the following facts and figures:- My name is James Loughran. My father occupied a farm containing 106 acres, at the yearly rent of £4 10s. He divided the farm between his three sons, John, Arthur and myself. The mountain part was about 6 pence an acre, and the few acres reclaimed by my father was raised to 1s per acre at the time of the straight marches. My brother John reclaimed 12 acres and he is raised to £4. Arthur sold his portion of the farm to Patrick Loughran, who reclaimed a few acres and was raised to £6 10s; but he could not pay the rent and was evicted last year by Burly Stuart. I reclaimed 6 acres and was raised then to £3 10s. I took out then a lease of lives, and while the Prince of Wales and his brother live, I cannot be raised. But if they die, I would be a ruined man, like the Monaghans, whom you know well. All the capital that I could realise by farming and other ways and the labour of my life are invested in that farm which you now see; and had Wilson, the earl, and Burly Stuart got at me now I would be robbed of all and beggared into the bargain. I said to this poor child of toil, “Take courage, poor man, there are better times before us, for the days of the confiscators of your capital and labour are numbered.” The poor man raised his eyes to the heavens and said in humble prayer, “Thank God for it;” but he added, “it is too late, as the tenants here are already ruined by the last valuation.” The reclaimed land has raised from about 6d an acre to10s per acre, that is near 2,000 per cent, and this rise in these wilds ruins the tenant. “So the general rule and general principle followed on this estate comes to this”, said I, “that the earl and his agents expend not a farthing on the reclamation of these wilds, wastes and stoney tracts which I now see, but when you expend from £30 to £40 per acre on their reclamation the earl and his agent raises the rent 2,000 per cent, thereby confiscating all your capital and labour and breaking your hearts and hopes into the bargain. Is that so?” “It is as true as you said it, and as true as the sun gets up this morning.” I shook hands with this child of toil and then offered up a prayer to the great Creator to infuse into the hearts of our legislators the spirit of justice to the poor serfs and slaves of these mountain regions. This poor man seemed to think that the end of his lease would bring an end to his happiness on this earth. Valuations, confiscations and poverty with their train of evil would be the only reward of his youth and prime spent in creating, not comforts for himself in his old age, but in creating wealth for the lord of the castle; for his sports, for his pleasures, for his wines. As proof that his visions were not phantoms, but dread realities in the near future, he directed my attention to the fate of the Monaghans after the expiration of their lease. I drove over to see the Monaghans who lived in the adjoining townland. I knew them all. The child who is carried to school on the shoulders of his schoolmates can never forget that little attention, and when I stood by the side of Edward Monaghan – those happy, happy days of my youth, and the kindness of his two brothers John and Peter – came rushing to my imagination, creating therein bright visions of the past that will never return.
The history of the Monaghans should be well studied. The late Terence Monaghan came into possession of a farm containing 217 acres, at the yearly rent of £3 8s, under very peculiar circumstances. Sixteen families occupied this farm in quick succession and all left it “broken”, in the very words of Edward Monaghan. Terence occupied a farm in Dunnamore, on the earl’s estate, containing six acres of reclaimed land. He swapped, as they say, this farm for the larger farm of 217 acres. He took Hugh Quin’s farm, and Hugh Quin took his. He got a lease for Rector Stuart’s life. He reclaimed, he paid his rent, he reared and educated his family, and lived happy and content. He divided his farm among his four sons, Edward, John, Peter and Patrick, thus – To Edward, 52a 3r; to John, 63a; to Peter, 53a 2r; and to Patrick, 48a, at the yearly rent of £2 2s each. These four young men got married, built houses and reclaimed rocky and mountainy land, which seemed to me to be beyond the powers of man to bring into the state of cultivation. Being strong, young and of giant strength, they rolled those huge boulders from their fastnesses for ages and into the fences and into pits dug into the earth, but at a great loss. Three sons of Edward Monaghan broke their hearts rolling these stones and died. The term of this lease expired in 1870. The late Mr Little, who was then agent, sent the valuer and raised the rent to the following figures:- Edward was raised from £2 2s to £10 8s plus 10s bog rent; John from £2 2s to £9 10s, plus 10s bog rent; Peter from £2 2s to £10 8s plus 10s bog rent, Patrick from £2 2s to £9 plus 10s bog rent, thus increasing the rent on this farm from £8 8s to £41 6s without ever expending one farthing. Now for the effects of this increase on the capital and labour of these poor men. Before this increase these families could pay their way, and though not very rich were respectable, happy and content. But since the time of the increase all is changed. They lost confidence, hope and independence, and as a consequence they became poor, wretched and miserable, so poor that Peter was obliged in his old age to leave wife and family and go to America. Their rents are increased £33 by the late earl and Mr Little. Now £33 per annum is good interest for £1,000 on land property. This being so the earl transfers £1,000 which in right and justice belonged to the Monaghans and was created by the capital and labour of those serfs and slaves. These poor families are now poor and wretched but the earls wallow in their lordly castles at the expense of the reclaimer, who cannot at present command a bag of Indian meal. But this earl says the parish priest is the best landlord in his parish. Well, when he is the best what must the worst be?
CHARLES QUIN, PP
The following reply from, P M'Namee, the parish priest of Kildress, was published in " The Freeman's Journal of Tuesday 28 June 1881
LANDLORDISM IN ULSTER
TO THE EDITOR OF THE FREEMAN
Kildress, June 23rd
Sir-as the name of the parish priest of Kildress has been unnecessarily been imported into the controversy at present going on between Rev. C Quin P.P. Kilevy, and Earl Castlestewart’s two agents, I think it well to make a few brief remarks to set myself right with my parishioners and the public. I don’t suppose I would have taken any notice of the references made to me, but would have passed over in silence, were it not that one of my parishioners observed the insinuations made against me and urged upon me the necessity of a reply. First reference to me; Rev C Quin represents the two worthy agents, “Tanner and Burleigh Stuart,” as he terms then, but I shall call them Mt Tener and Major Stuart, as plotting and planning to get an increase of 30% added to the rental and then they should say to each other “Let us lower the parish priest and a few others for appearance sake and to hoodwink the rest, and then go on increasing the rent 10, 20, 30, 40, 100 on the remainder making a net gain of 30 per cent on the entire rental.” The manifest insinuation here is that the parish priest is lowered for the purpose of closing his mouth, and in order that the agents might [illegible] his flock as they pleased, or in other words that the parish priest would sacrifice the interests of his flock to his own private gain. And, as a result of the reduction of his rent, the parish priest saying a little further on to Father Quin that the Earl is the best landlord in the parish, although painted by Fr Quin in rather dark colours. Now I meet those two references to my name in this way. In the first place my rent has not been lowered. Whether it may be lowered or not by the late valuation is a matter of which I have no official information either from land valuers, agent or landlord. That it should be lowered and that too considerably, is a thing which all must admit who know anything at all about the farm. It is a matter of surprise to anyone knowing ought about the farm how such an extravagant rent was imposed upon it. Those who know the value of land generally have about £15 per annum on it as something like a fair rent. Others put the figure below that and still £23 per annum is the present rent. Now I can be no means agree with Fr Quin in the plotting [illegible] for which he give the agents credit. And should there be a plot or plan in the reduction of my rent and that of a few others (if they really have lowered them). Fr Quin surely would not imagine that I would be a party to the plot and sacrifice the interests of my people for my own private advantage. Still this is the natural inference drawn from his letter by those who took the trouble of reading it. Second reference to me: I should have said, I would support, as a result of getting my rent reduced, that Earl Castlestuart was the best landlord in my parish. I plead guilty to the charge of having said so, although I sais so in a private and friendly communication, which I( addressed to Fr Quin a short time ago. I leave it then, to his own good taste whether or not he should have made use of that expression and parade it for his own purpose in the columns of the “Freeman”. If Fr Quin should succeed in getting a commission appointed to look into relations existing between landlord and tenant in the parish, he might then ascertain how much I was astray. Any parties to whom I spoke to on the subject all agree in saying that the Earl is the best landlord in the parish. However it is not in my present purpose to act the part of apologist for the Earl in his dealings with his tenants, neither shall I enter on the subject of the arbitrary rising of rent on the tenants’ improvements by the Earl or any other landlord. It may be that I hold as advanced views on this subject as Fr Quin or many others. However there is one thing I will say, and it is this: That if Fr Quin were looking for cases of rack-renting, he might have commenced nearer home and on properties with which h should be more conversant, but perhaps relations near and dear still living on these properties prevented the exposure. He could /should [?] have commenced on properties where there have been as many as three revaluations within the memory of living men and where the tenants are in such a state of poverty as that many of them do not have a four footed animal about their houses. Or he should have commenced on properties where the ejectment processes have been falling like snowflakes during the last six months. Should he pass these by in silence, some will not be slow in attributing motives for such conduct, and let him take care if the motives are mot already spoken of. In conclusion I shall say that I think I have the welfare of my people very much in heart and I should gladly do all in my power to improve their condition. No doubt Fr Quin thinks they are sadly neglected; hence the necessity for his travelling down so far, and his warm advocacy on their behalf. I am sure the people are ever grateful and can appreciate his services at their proper value. – I remain, Mr Editor, yours truly,
P M’Namee P.P.
P.S.-Please give this an early insertion as a matter of simple justice and fair play. P. M’N.