[From the Manchester Guardian.]
I have had an opportunity to-day _ of seeing with ray own eyes two very interesting things—firstly, the working of an estate of 10,000 acres on the Scotch principle of twenty-one years’ leases, large farms, scientific tillage, and the rest of it ; and, secondly, I have seen and talked with a peasant proprietor. I will therefore speak
of the owner and his agent as Mr A and Mr B ; but anyone who knows Kerry will know very well whom I mean. Proceeding by train to the north-west of Kerry, I drove over to the estate, and was first shown through the farm buildings and cattle sheds. The agent, Mr B, is devoted to concrete. It is his hobby, and an excellent one too. Dwelling houses for the farmers are built throughout ot concrete, both inner and outer walls, and even the roof itself. The cattle sheds, the hay barns, the pigsties, nay, the very pig trough, are all concrete. The only men who have cause to dislike it are the bricklayers. Still more interesting than the sheds themselves were the cattle they sheltered. Mr A is a famous breeder of Shorthorns, and has some really magnificent animals. He has a regular sale of bulls every March, and last year the average price realised for each animal was Lsl. w His tenantry buy them largely, and the breed is gradually permeating the whole of Kerry. These animals come much quicker to maturity, and are ready either for breeding purposes or the butcher at a much earlier period than the ordinary mongrel cattle of Kerry. In the afternoon I went over the chief farms of the estate with Mr B, the agent. Since the landlord came into the estate he has spent L 30.000 on improvements. A great of land has been reclaimed, and an immense amount of building done. All the farmers I saw were well and comfortable housed—better, in fact, than the average of English farmers. The land is good.. The rents are double Griffiths’ valuation. Sir Richard Griffiths valued the land of Ireland for taxation purposes in 1850. After the valuation was finished he wrote a letter, commonly known as “ Sir Richard Griffiths’ letter,” stating that for renting purposes the valuation should be in every case 25 per cent, higher than that given in his list, as he had purposely undervalued the land to that amount. Of the remaining 75 per cent, still left to he accounted for, 49 per cent, represents the interest on the landowner’s outlay of L 30,000 upon improvements, and the rest represents the rise of prices which has occurred. It does not, however, by any means represent it fully, as that rise has been 73 per cent. It is to be added that Griffiths’ valuation is particularly low far the county of Kerry. All the farms we visited were well kept, and bore every sign of prosperity. One man owned twenty-six milch cows, another forty-six In the summer the latter send a firkin of butter to market every day, and even at the abnormally low price caused by the Cork “ ring,” (it is worth mentioning that the Cork batter merchants have probably damaged themselves by their sharp practices, and that a strong movement is on foot for consigning the butter direct to London) ; the firkin brings in L 3 10s. The signs of the times are very quickly discerned on this estate, and wheat is being universally for oats, green crops, and pasture. It is as butter and meat producers that these farmers really prosper. I went up to see the largest of them, a man holding 260 acres of land, for which he pays L4OO rent. His land is hold on a twenty-one years’ lease at revisable rents, the rent being raised or lowered every three years, according to the state of the Cork butter market, I asked him what he thought of the recent agitation. His reply was that such a thing as agitation against “ landlordism” did not exist in his part of the country and among the men of bis class, and he did not think it existed among the smaller men either. As for lC the gentleman who has been conducting the agitation, sure, sir, I think he is either a rogue or a madman. What he wanted was “fixity of tenure at fair rents,” and that he thought the people must and would have. As to " fair rents,” which is a vague phraserhe presently substituted for it the much more practical phrase of “ revisable rents.” He strongly urged that this principle should be allowed throughout the estate and throughout the country. Mr A, to whom I afterwards referred this matter, said that he quite accepted the principle, and said that he would apply it to all his grazing farms, where there was some definite standard, such as the price of butter, whereby to readjust the rents. The farmer showed me over his holding, pointing out the excellent hay barns, &c., of concrete, which have been built for him, and the private road which Mr A ie making for him from his farmstead to the highway. He was not discontented by any means, hut he bad two One was to see the extension of that principle of revisability of rent' to which I have already referred ; the other was a very ruling passion indeed. “ Why should not Mr A make bis lease for sixty-one years lease instead of twenty-one years? He knew he was all right if he did not outlive Mr A. But what if Mr A died and was succeeded by a spendthrift heir, and that heir sold the property to one of these such men, of whom we farmers have such a horror ?” when is landlord to whom I referred the question answered it by simply turning the Tables. “I am very well pleased with a tenant as is the man you have been speaking to. But what if,
having such a lease, he were to die shortly, and leave his leasehold to a son who turned out badly, or to some stranger who did likewise f It is of course possible that ray heir might turn out badly, and if so the tenants would not benefit from the application of capital to the land as they have done under my regime. But as for any danger of such a tenant being evicted it is a chimera, and he knows so himself. Landlords are not bigger fools than other people, and no landlord would evict a man who paid his rent punctually and did his best for the land, without first going out of his mind.”
Before leaving the subject of these large farms, I should mention that Mr A absolutely forbids tenant-right in the Ulster sense, and will recognise no shadow or phantom of it. He has the greatest objection to it from the point of view alike of the landlord (who spends all his capital in land), of the tenant (who spends all his capita! in buying the goodwill ; and of the land which thereby necessarily suffers. Meanwhile I will add that on this estate compensation has been given for all real improvements for the last thirty years, and that the whole estate shows what can be done by a landlord who gives devoted care, full knowledge, and large capital to the land. It also shows that high rents do not necessarily mean miserable tenantry, because when the rents are high much has been done for the farmers. There are landlords in this part of the country whose rents are low, and who take no trouble whatever about their land ; and I do not find their tenants the best, but the worst off. In truth, the position of an Irish landlord is one of enormous responsibility, and when the people have neither the magic of property” to stimulate them nor the help and encouragement of a wise landlord to bolster them up and teach them their business, they always sink low. _ A man might as well be a careless enginedriver as a careless Irish landlord. On the same afternoon on which I visited these large farms I paid a visit to the commons, on which live nearly a hundred peasant proprietors. In origin these men are simply squatters, whose fathers or grandfathersquietly appropriated slices of the common land with no claim or title whatsoever. Most of the properties are miserably small. Plots of one acre, half an acre, and even less are common. Of course such a bit of land cannot support a family, and such proprietors are always on the brink of destitution, and in hard times like the present there is pretty sure to be a beggar in every household. I went into one of the wretched hovels built on one of these plots. One had to stoop double to get in at the door. There was no window, and what light there was came in at the hole in the roof, which did duty for a chimney. The one room was about the size of a pantry in an ordinary middle-class English house, and here lived five people. The beds were rigged one above the other like berths in a ship, and furniture there was none. Here was a discouraging specimen of peasant proprietorship ; and if I had contented myself with seeing this single house, or others like it on the commons, I might have gone away, as others have gone away, with the impression that the whole thing was a miserable failure, and that the Irish peasant is quite unsuited for property. But the agent, Mr B, who was driving me about the place, knew of a man who held a much larger plot than any of these, and to this man’s farm we accordingly proceeded. The settlers are in most cases men with no turn for agriculture whatever. The plots are too small to support a family, and consequently a man has no inducement to work hard to better his condition. When we came up to Patrick Sheehan’s farm, the largest proprietor on the place, quite a different state of things presented itself. The owner was in, and we accordingly had an opportunity of talking with him. A middle-sized, squarely-built man, with a blue eye, firm mouth, and a good though rather worn expression, as of one always looking ahead to face possible dangers and difficulties, came out to meet us. The intelligence, frankness, and straight-forward self-respecting manner of the man were very remarkable. He was very ready to talk, and told us a good deal about his circumstances. He has fifteen acres of his own, and pays rent for another nine. The house, though low, was long and roomy and there seemed to be no want of outbuildings. His princinal business is with butter, which he sends to the Cork merchants, and he anxiously discussed with Mr B the possibility of sending it direct to London, and thereby avoiding the extortions of the middlemen. His father had owned the land and he before him, himself had sought to increase his property by purchase from a neighbor. He had offered LSO an acre for the land, but the owner had refused to sell. He was much assisted by being able to graze his cattle on the piece of common which still remained unannexed, was grateful to Mr A for his care in seeing that the public rights were no farther encroached upon. But for him there would be a hundred more on the land this very day. He read all Professor C. Baldwin’s books
(Professor Baldwin, the well-known writer on agriculture, is a household work in Ireland), and, indeed, he thought he knew them by heart. He carried out their principles, moreover, and on his land the regular rotation of crops was strictly observed. He had two sons at Glasnevia (the great agricultural school of Ireland), who were both doing well. With good seasons again, he was not afraid of American competition.
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