The Rise and fall of the Country Gentleman.

By 1860s’, emigration had become a massive, relentless, and efficiently managed national enterprise.  From 1830 to 1914, almost 5 million went to the United States alone. In 1890 two of every five Irish-born people were living abroad.

Meanwhile the aristocracy according Newby found no difficulty in moving to and fro between the glittering social whirl and the more measured parochialism of rural life. At least once per year the aristocrat and his family would migrate to his country seat to settle the estate affairs, conduct a tour of inspection, keep the local populace up to scratch by a visible presence – and not least, indulge in sporting activity. Victorian type Gentlemanly Ethic spread to Ireland from England. Its origins lie in the medieval code of chivalry, initially a code of conduct for the knights of the Middle Ages, a warrior class which nevertheless sought high standards of personal behaviour to accompany the necessary barbarities of violent conflict. The chivalrous code according to Newby, of the ideal Knight was concerned with bravery, loyalty, fidelity, courteous behaviour, generosity and mercy, failure to accept such standards implied dishonour, to which death was preferable. By the nineteenth century, military prowess had been replaced by other attributes, a landed estate, a family tree, a certain degree of wealth, but most of all a set of rules concerning personal conduct and behaviour, of what was ‘done’ and ‘not done’. The gentlemanly ethic thus underpinned the principle of hereditary landownership which continued to shape the 1800s’ in Ireland. Some of the rental money of the tenants in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was spent in the most fashionable landscape designs. Detailed maps of these were often produced to match the picturesque views frequently commissioned from fashionable painters: John Rocque’s maps probably represent the most artistic achievements of a cartographer in eighteenth century Ireland. As far as possible these elaborate contrived landscapes were insulated with trees and enclosing walls from the utilitarian workday landscapes on the estate symbolizing a social charm in Irish society which endured until 1903 when the Wyndham Act was passed. Several thousand of these mansion house around Ireland were – and continue to be – important additions to the landscape, dramatic statements of power and example showy display in an era of gentry-privilege.   By doing so it was hoped that it would stabilize matters in the countryside which were quite often at boiling point, particularly since the famine. It also enabled the landowner to claim an unimpeachable moral superiority over other inhabitants in the rural world.  Consequently, it was hoped that he would be granted the legitimate right to rule, but would also accrue certain obligations and duties. While the Protestants in Ireland were only too willing to do, at least some Catholics would certainly have another view point. On the other hand the Gentleman of The Manor was always supported by the police. So consequently, the system did not exactly work as it did in England.

In Ireland according to Cullen, Agricultural investment also recovered in the 1850s’, even though rents did not rise very sharply. Prompter payment by tenants and Leaseholders allowed the Landlord to put in new farm buildings and drainage was often substantial. Tenant investment in dwellings and outhouse was also often in evidence too. Cullen goes on to say that ‘prosperity did not of course guarantee an end to agrarian conflict; in some cases it actually exacerbated the unrest. It encouraged the commercialization of agriculture. The introduction of the larger tenant farmer on estates traditionally occupied by pauperised smallholders, or the efforts by a landlord to replace smallholders by larger farmers, were bound to create a conflict of interest. For the struggling individual, his smallholding was his only hope of economic survival in the locality. For the landowner, on the other hand, the smallholder was a doubtful proposition. From the point of view of rent payments, the smallholder was often, unlike the larger farmer, heavily in arrears, a fact of which Landlords were painfully aware. From the point of view of rural improvement, the only hope of avoiding recurrence of a tragedy like the Famine seemed to lie in a reduction in the number of smallholdings and in their replacement by larger farms which offered a more secure livelihood to the tenant and more secure rent to the landlord. Often it proved, it was a landlord, enlightened and progressive in intent, who fell foul of the interest of the small tenantry. The previous century, for those landlords, who removed themselves from the local scene, by allowing their agents to divide and sub-divide farms in-order to get bigger rents it became particularly difficult. Landlords lived in explosive situations in counties such as Monaghan. The situation was relieved partly by the gradual departure of many of the more insolvent tenants. However, sources of conflict often remained.  The Earl of Leitrim, landlord of 90,000 acres in four counties of the North-west, assassinated in 1878, is a tragic instance of the consequences of such ambitions. The Earl on the evidence of his diaries, was obsessed by the fear of the Famine re-occurring; the rise in the number of holdings on his estates seemed to him to confirm his fears. From 1855 to 1869 the number of tenancies on the Co. Leitrim estate rose from 736 to 776; on the Co. Donegal estate from 1,572 to 1,664. His entire life was spent in the unceasing management of his estate, and his actions, though often arrogant or highhanded, were intended for the welfare of his tenantry. While the Earl of Leitrim obviously was a far seeing and concerned Landlord, the second Viscount Templetown who held almost thirteen thousand acres in Co. Monaghan as well as a large Estate in Co. Antrim, was not as far seeing. He was obviously patently unhappy with the economic performance of his Monaghan tenants in a communication with Lord Ross, 7th January 1847 (Proni, de Ros papers, (IC/573)

All my tenants with wonderful unanimity and firmness have decided on paying no rents. I would willingly subscribe £1000as a qualification to yourself, could your wishes be accomplished of the command of 200 gendarmes and a portable guillotine. You could not make a mistake in cutting off the head of any tenant on my Monaghan Estate, for I [am] sorry to say it is become my opinion (in which I trust I may be wrong) that no part of the surface of the earth is infected by a more ill-disposed, useless, idle, ungrateful, good for nothing set of vagabonds as Ireland is. I am sure I don’t know what is to be done. They won’t work, and those who can work won’t pay; and if my agent with greatest indulgence proposes to them to pay something they tell him go to hell, and that if he persists, they will take his life. Even though three years ago, my father most generously did for them more than the government measure provide now, and made them their drains gratis.

Note: Some five years later on 4th December 1851 his agent Thomas Douglas Bateson was bludgeoned to death by three of Viscount Templetown’s tenants.

Miller in Capitalism, and Ideology in Post-famine Ireland had the following in his writings:

Put simply, in the “New Ireland” of the post-famine period there were three dominant social institutions: first the strong-farmer type of rural family (the “stem family”), characterized by impartible inheritance, the dowry system, and postponed marriage; second, the Catholic Church of the “devotional revolution”; and third, Irish nationalism, especially in its constitutional or quasi legal forms. All three were innovative in structure and purpose, and all were associated with the embourgeoisement of Catholic society – adopted by or imposed on Catholic smallholders and labourers from models of “proper” social, religious, and political behaviour enjoined by middle-class farmers, clerics, and townsmen. All three …. challenged traditional “peasant” practices and outlooks – sometimes to people’s obvious disadvantage’. ……. With regard to those who were unlucky enough having to emigrate he writes: ‘Thus the most logical and prevalent recourse was to fall back on the oldest “explanation” of all, that emigration was “exile” forced by British oppression. That interpretation implied no criticism of “holy Ireland”, but postponed embarrassing social questions until after independence was won – and in the meantime, Catholic Ireland’s apologists hoped, it would deflect the emigrants’ “fierce rage and fury” against the British “misgovernment” which obliged emigration from “a land capable of supporting twice its present population”. Nor did that interpretation imply criticism of the emigrants themselves, for they were merely “victims”, whose assiduously-ciultivated love for their homeland and hatred of England would inspire their unceasing devotion and donations. …… To be sure, Irish socialist James Connolly and a few others voiced dissent from both the dominant ideology and its facile “explanations” of emigration, and many emigrants themselves were too realistic or alienated to conceptualise their departures in prescribed ways. Nevertheless, the flood of remittances and donations alone indicates that most Catholic emigrants adhered to the exile motif and remained emotionally or at least publicly to the society which had expelled them.


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