Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter V - Section 5

State of Tithe—its general amount

THE rates of tithe vary according to the disposition of the clergyman or his tithe-proctor, and are a tolerable barometer of the love or dislike of his parishioners; where they are higher than customary, you may be certain of finding a turbulent divine, who will have his rights, regardless whether he is liked or disliked, or, if he is a non-resident, his proctor is of the same way of thinking. If, on the contrary, they are moderately exacted, the love and respect of his neighbours follow of course. In the parishes of Inchiquin, Rath, and Kilkeedy the incumbent receives about one-fourth of what he might legally demand. In the corcasses half-a-guinea per acre has been this year demanded, and, considering that the produce is the bounty of nature, without any expenditure, is not unreasonable; nor is it considered so by the better sort of tenants for ground, that produces seven tons of hay per acre; but, if rated at only five tons, the tenth at a very moderate calculation would amount to a guinea an acre. In the neighbourhood of Newmarket the tithes are generally farmed out, which is a constant source of wrangling and discontent, and usually concludes with the vicar’s making an abatement of one-third of the proctor’s demand; surely this needs no comment.

In the parish of Kilnaboy, the tithe of wheat is generally 10s., oats 6s., bere, barley, and potatoes, 8s. per acre. In the mountains of Killaloe, tithe, if not set by valuation in the bulk, is 6s. or 7s. for oats, barley, and flax. Parish of Inchicronan generally by agreement; if by the acre, wheat 8s., oats, barley, meadow, and potatoes 4s.; flax not tithed. Flax and greencrops are not in general tithed, as in some other counties. Dr. Parker receives seventeen guineas for eel-weirs at Killaloe. In the parish of Fenlow two parts are impropriate, and one viearial; the first belong to the Earl of Egremont, and the last is in the gift of the Bishop of Killaloe. The rector of Tomgraney has tithes in the following parishes; Tomgraney, Kilballyhone, Moyferta, Kilkeedy, Kilfarboy, Inchicronan, Feacle, Tullagh, Killard, Killuran, Killokennedy, &c.; what a monstrous abuse of the institution is this? Some of these parishes are upwards of fifty miles asunder, and no kind of duty performed by him in any, except at Tomgraney. I understand, that singular industry and research amongst musty records have been used to discover these tithes; if half as much had been used to improve the morals, and support the poor, aged, and infirm, how much more meritorious? However, the living, if I am not misinformed, has by this means been raised from 80l. per annum to 2,000l.; it is in the gift of Mr. Brady of Raheens.

That the rates of tithe in this county are generally far below what the clergyman is legally entitled to, will not be denied; and that tithe-proctors have frequently exacted more than the customary dues, is also equally certain, but still below a tenth, and in some instances they do not receive a twentieth. It has been a fashion lately to treat the clergy, and of course tithe, with every degree of contempt; it is a common table-talk before servants, and even to labourers in the field; can we therefore wonder at the opposition it receives from the lower orders? It must be confessed, that too many of the clergy of every persuasion are a disgrace to their order, and give too much occasion for this contempt. The non-residence of the clergy is also another cause of much odium, and very justly; why should a clergyman receive any emolument from those, on whom he confers no benefit? He perhaps lives in England, or in a distant part of Ireland, and is never heard of, but when his proctor comes into the country to set his tithes, that revenue, which, after providing comfortably for the incumbent, was intended by the founders for the use of the poor.

I have often heard it asserted in this county, and elsewhere, that every sect should provide for their own clergy; this might answer in some parts of the North, where the majority are Dissenters of different denominations, but in a county like this, where the disproportion between Catholics and Protestants is so very great, it would be impossible. I feel, how inadequate I am to discuss this difficult subject, and, I dare say, have said more than some hot spirits will like; but the illiberal abuse I have heard poured out indiscriminately on the clergy convinces me, that a regard for religion did not, indeed could not, dictate those violent and inflammatory discourses. It would appear but reasonable, that those landed proprietors, who have received such an unexpected addition to their rent-roll, those extensive farmers, who have returned from every market with pockets full of money, or those monopolizing graziers, who lead a life of indolence, and whose greatest exertions in agriculture consist in planting an acre or two of potatoes, and impoverishing, like the poorest cottier, a few more by repeated corn crops, should refrain from such language; had it proceeded from one of their cottiers, who paid three or four guineas for an acre of bad ground, and a cabin that he built himself, four or five guineas for the grass of a cow, on the very worst part of his farm, and did not receive a rise in the price of his labour adequate to that of land, or of every necessary of life, we should not be surprised; but from men, who have so unexpectedly jumped into large fortunes, more liberal ideas might reasonably be expected.

The most objectionable part of the tithe system is the vast tracts of rich ground under cattle, that pay nothing:* if the tithe laws were modified, and the fattening and grazing ground made to pay, that on the cottiers potatoes and flax might well be abolished, for it is a well known fact, that the herd of a thousand acres pays more tithe than his employer. It is a common assertion, that twice the sum, under any other denomination, would be paid with pleasure; if it is not the amount, that is objectionable, I fear it must be imputed to an aversion for a church establishment, and that it comes from a quarter averse to all government: any of the lower orders, that I mentioned this to, declared their only objection was the oppressive mode, and not the sum. It is the opinion of many moderate clergymen, who wish to live with their flocks as they should do, and also of the best informed of the laity, that an acreable assessment, calculated from the average of the seven preceding years’ tithe, and abolishing tithes for potatoes, flax, and every thing under an acre of corn, would not only leave the clergyman at liberty to attend to the duties of his function, free from those perpetual bickerings with his parishioners, but would also take the farmers out of the hands of tithe-proctors, whom they have frequently sufficient cause to dread; and it would make those agricultural drones, the graziers, contribute their share, and not leave the burden on the shoulders of those, who earn their bread by active exertions. The money, collected for this purpose, might be paid into the hands of the county treasurer, and at every assizes handed over to the clergyman free of all expence; to make the income of the clergy keep pace with the value of produce, a septennial valuation by a jury, liable to the usual challenges, would easily fix the average; or it would probably be less objectionable for the incumbent to choose one arbitrator, and the farmer another, and, if these could not agree in their award, a third person might be called in.

Another mode has been suggested; that the tithes should be sold at a moderate valuation, and a fund established, which would not only provide amply for the clergy, but enable them to build glebe houses, and ease them of all anxiety about the things of this world; they could not then have any just cause for non-residence, and the bishop would likewise have no excuse for neglecting to enforce it. This non-residence is a most monstrous abuse of the establishment, and may well give cause for the sarcasms so often levelled at it; well may it be said, and justly, that it is merely the emolument they are anxious about; this applies equally to the dignitaries of the church as to those possessing small livings. If clergymen or their proctors acted impartially in valuing tithes, there would be much less cause for complaint; but it is a glaring fact, that, in many instances, the gentleman pays much less than the poor man; it is equally well known, that combinations have been formed by men of fortune, (not gentlemen,) to hamper the incumbent by giving notice to draw tithe, when they were certain he was unprepared.

The total abolition of tithes, without any provision in lieu of them, is a favourite topic with a certain class of men. Supposing this to be accomplished, it would not ease the tenant in the least, as those declaiming landlords would immediately demand an encrease of rent, probably much more than the amount of the tithe: every person must know, that lands tithe-free are always let higher than any other, and great care is taken in advertising such land to point this out.

The greatest grievance of all is the impropriation of tithes, and the grossest abuse of a fund, that was originally intended for the use of the church, and for charitable purposes. It is well known, that these tithes are always more rigidly exacted than those in the hands of the clergy. One lay proprietor alone has upwards of 1000l. per annum, and exacts a tenth of every thing. One clergyman thinks, "that no more eligible mode than "tithes can be devised for the maintenance of the clergy; they rise or fall in their value in proportion with the population of the country, and the encrease or diminution of the value of money. The clergy have by them a support depending neither on the will of an administration nor the caprice of the people, and to make any class of men useful, they must be maintained in a respectable manner. If the property of any one component part of the nation could be constitutionally infringed on, the abolition of tithes would be succeeded by a proportional rise in rents, which would defeat the purpose intended. The great grievance is the impropriation of tithes, which deprives the church of the subsistence of a alt="" of clergy sufficient to effect a salutary change in the opinions and principles of an immoral and irreligious peasantry."

I have thus endeavoured to collect the opinions of a few of the clergy on this subject, (the laity had but one,) but found it considered by some as an improper one for my enquires. The Rev. Mr. Whitty of Kilrush informed me, with a very sagacious shrug of his shoulders, "that he could answer the greater part of my queries, but did not choose to do so; he considered the interference of the Dublin Society in such affairs as exceedingly impertinent, not to say worse; what had they to do with tithes? what was it to them, whether the clergyman resided or not?" (there’s the rub,) and said much more, than I think proper to relate, against one of the most respectable and most useful societies in Europe, and concluded with asking me had I read Dr. Duigenan’s pamphlet? That, he said, would open my eyes; as I have never read the pamphlet, I cannot say what its effect might be; probably it might open my eyes, but I doubt if it would open my heart. I next applied to this gentleman’s son, who is rector of Tullagh; he was desired by a Bishop of Killaloe not to answer any of the queries, as Dr. Duigenan had said an improper use had been made of the information given to some of the gentleman appointed to make agricultural surveys. When I undertook the survey of this county, I was very sanguine in my expectations of information from so learned a alt="" of men, and who from their local knowledge are, or ought to be, well acquainted with those matters, for which I sought information, (and which are printed in the introduction to this volume,) as well as from their having a great portion of their time unoccupied; yet this, I lament to say, has been the result.

When I first circulated my queries, I had verbal promises from many, of receiving "every information in their power," but, for what reason is best known to themselves, they all, except three gentleman, declining giving me any written answers, and indeed very few verbal. At an early period I took the liberty of applying by letter to the Bishop of Killaloe, previous to a personal application, to request he would use his influence with his clergy to procure the necessary information; his Lordship in very polite terms declined interfering with them "at the instance of an individual." I next applied to Dr. Parker near Killaloe, to whom I was referred by several gentlemen, as one of the best informed men in the county, but he, alas! "was a perfect stranger to all my queries, and besides, it would not allow a person a moment to spare for his own private affairs, or to act in his function as a clergyman, to give you the answers you require." To the Rev. Mr. Martin of Killaloe I next made a personal application; (a written one, which he never acknowledged, I have previously made;) he informed me, (standing in the street with all due submission and reverence,) that really his own affairs (he was drawing home his turf) took up so much of his time, he could give me no information; I waited for him two days at a wretched Inn at Killaloe, and called on him at nine o’clock in the morning, but, as I understood the clergy of that part of the diocese were not much in the habit of seeing company, I luckily had breakfast, or I might have fasted till I reached Castle-Connel. In the year 1725 Dr. Nicholson, Bishop of Derry, sent circular letters to his clergy, for the purpose of obtaining a statistical account of the diocese, and received from the rector of Magilligan a full account of his parish, which is published in the Anthol. Hib. vol. 3, p. 116; but I suppose the good Bishop has other inducements, besides the request of an individual, and probably he would have thought, that the request of such a alt="" as the Dublin Society, expressed through that individual however humble in life, would have merited a better fate.

It has been suggested by some, that a liberal allowance in land, with a comfortable glebe-house and offices, is liable to fewer objections than any before proposed; if this mode was adopted, a restriction from breaking up more than a certain quantity annually, and sowing grass-seeds, would be necessary; this would put him on a par with his parishioners, as his income would rise and fall with the value of produce, and that of land; it would prevent that constant wrangling, which too much prevails in some parishes, and which has gone so far as to induce an agreement amongst the landholders to draw their tithe on the same day, not by an avowed combination, but by a hint, that was well understood.

Mr. Ledwich, in his Epitome of the Antiquities of Ireland, says, that in the reign of King John the clergy did not receive any tithes; the veneration for the church at that time was so great, that regulations were unnecessary; they were supported by oblations. The piety of modern times, I fear, would influence but very small collections. The whole ecclesiastical revenue to a late period was divided into four parts, one to the Bishop, one to the clergy, one to the poor, and one to support the church and other uses, and he says this mode exists at this day in the diocese of Clonfert.

To throw as much light on this subject as possible, I shall make a few extracts from Mr. Rawson’s admirable Survey of Kildare, lately published. In page 27 he mentions one tithe-dealer having exacted thirty shillings per acre for wheat;** "the dread of citation, and the loss of his straw, made the timorous ploughman yield to any terms." Again, page 31, "It must appear evident to every man, that the entire weight of the church establishment falls on the sweat from the brow of industry, whilst the feeder of one thousand bullocks does not pay as much as the herdsman for his garden. Can it be denied, but that the dread of tithe keeps much land in pasture, which would otherwise give bread to thousands, encrease population twenty-fold, do away all necessity of emigration, and make little Ireland not only a granary to England, but to the whole world." In page 33, and which deserves peculiar attention, "The assertors, that the titles to tithes and to estates are of equal strength, should consider that, if estates were to be let at undefined rents from year to year, and the landlord at each harvest to view the crops and exact some proportion in lieu of rent, would any occupier in such case be anxious to till or improve? Would not the kingdom soon become a dreary uninhabited waste? Yet exactly such is the conduct towards the tenth of the produce, the tithe. Let the land-holder be ascertained at what yearly rent he is to pay for one and the other, and all complaint is at an end." The scheme, which Mr. Rawson proposes to do away these hardships on the farmer, and I am sure on every christian clergyman, is as follows: "Let the average value of all livings, and lay impropriations, be ascertained by the tithe-books, &c. of the last seven years; when so ascertained, let the parishioners of every descriptions be convened in public vestry; let five intelligent men, but not of the parish, be chosen to state the value of each sub-denomination, and let the average value of the living be apportioned in a corn rent on each sub-denomination; as, suppose lot No. 1. is assessed 15l. in its proportion of 500l., (supposed the average value of the living,) and that the middle price of wheat in Dublin market, during the preceding month of February, was thirty shillings; lot No. 1. would then be assessed with the annual payment of ten barrels of sound fair marketable wheat, to be delivered to the rector, &c. &c. at his dwelling, on every 25th day of March in every year for ever; giving a discretionary power to the rector, &c. to decline (by one month’s previous notice) accepting of said ten barrels of wheat, but that he will receive in lieu thereof the sum of 22l. 15s.; 2l. 5s. 6d. having been the average middle price of wheat, during the previous month of February, in Dublin market; and in case of non-payment of said sum in the course of one month after such notice, that then the rector shall be at liberty to proceed by action at law for the speedy recovery of said sum with cost, &c. &c." Again, "Should the foregoing scheme not meet with the approbation of their Reverences, something must be done to quiet agitation, and allay all ferment; the newly adopted plan of charging by the barrel is what the farmer loudly complains of, and when ninety-nine out of an hundred feel severe pressure, it is high time for a legislature to interfere. What objection can there be to state by act of Parliament the following rates, by which the tithe-owner would be paid, and the landholder contented? viz.

.

s.

d.

"Wheat, per acre,

-

0

8

0

Bere and barley,

-

0

8

0

Oats,

-

0

6

0

Meadow,

-

0

5

0

Fleece,

-

0

4

0

Lamb,

-

0

4

0

And so in proportion for all titheable articles; in such case, the tithe-owner and farmer only need the survey of each crop." Had I not run this section to such a length already, I should have made many more extracts from this valuable publication. It has not, I believe, been generally adverted to, that in many cases the tithe is paid twice, for instance, the sheep and the hay they eat, &c. In an anonymous publication very lately printed, "An Enquiry into the History of Tithe," the author has gone very fully into the subject, and has proposed a scheme for the maintenance not only of the established church, but of the Protestant Dissenting and Roman Catholic clergymen. He advises, "that a return upon oath should be made by each Protestant clergyman of the produce of their tithes for the last three years; an average to be struck from each return: for this purpose a committee consisting of the archbishop or bishop residing in the county, custos rotulorum, representatives in Parliament, assistant barrister, magistrates, one member from every alt="" corporate, who shall have lands in said county, and every gentleman, who had ever served the office of high sheriff, or at any time of his life been a grand juror: these qualifications will embrace the greatest part of the property and respectability of each county, and will consequently embrace the persons most interested in such survey, and most likely to act with uprightness and impartiality. Such committee to be summoned by the sheriff to assemble at the grand jury room, eleven to constitute a quorum, the custos rotulorum or senior magistrate then present to be chairman, the clerk of the peace to act as secretary. Such committee and secretary to be sworn to execute the trust reposed in them to the best of their skill and judgement, and without favour, partiality, or affection. Such committee to have power to elect any persons not exceeding six in number, who, though not possessed of the qualifications aforesaid, may be deemed from other considerations useful members of the committee. The formation of such committee and the duties imposed upon it will necessarily force its members into the investigation and consideration of subjects, which, notwithstanding their vital importance, have been too much neglected by them; in fact our country gentlemen too universally give up their time before dinner to their stables, kennels, and the sports of the field, and after dinner, whilst the bottle circulates, the conversation is in general solely occupied with these topics, interspersed with anecdotes not much calculated to improve their morals or their understanding." He next states the necessity of a survey of the county little different from that adopted by the Dublin Society. He states that, according to his calculation, 700,000l. will be fully adequate for the support of the clergy of the three persuasions, and for compensating the lay improprietors, supposing the rental of Ireland to be 15,000,000l.; if so, a tax of eleven pence in the pound only will be necessary. Glebes are to be purchased, and glebe-houses built, the remainder of the income to be received in cash. Any clergyman, who shall be absent from his glebe-house for more than sixty-one days (taken collectively) during any year, to forfeit his living, unless compelled by ill health to visit a more genial climate. The necessity, the indispensable necessity of these or similar provisions, for re-establishing the reign of religion in Ireland, is too obvious to be insisted on. 

"For the support of the Roman Catholic clergy it is proposed to divide Ireland into 1050 districts; each Catholic priest would then have a range of about five miles in diameter committed to his charge; to be assisted in the more populous parts of Munster, Connaught, and Leinster with 300 curates; also that the habitations of the parochial clergy shall be built by presentment, and have twenty-five acres of ground attached to each of them. He proposes a change of titles from the present ones to that of Patriarch of Ireland, Exarch, Vice Provost, Provost, with a liberal allowance from 1600l. to 250l. according to their rank, all to be nominated by the crown, the parochial clergy also to be nominated by the crown, but the Exarch or Provost, in whose district the vacancy may occur, to have a power of returning the names of those or more clergymen, one of whom it shall be obligatory on the crown to nominate to such vacancy."

"For the support of the Presbyterian clergy, their incomes to be raised to 400l. the highest, and descending to 150l. the least, their colleagues to have 75l." The pamphlet, from which I have taken the above extracts, contains 116 pages, and is highly deserving of attention; I regret, that the limits of this work prevent a more copious extract from it on a subject of the utmost moment, and one, that has had its crisis hastened by avarice and pride.

* It is not generally known, that, in 1735, a vote passed in Parliament, that any lawyer, or any other person, who was concerned in the case of tithes for bullocks, should be declared an enemy to his country.

** I was informed lately, that one harpy attempted a few months ago to exact 26s. per acre in the disturbed part of the county of Mayo; I thought it much exaggerated at the time, and did not pay implicit confidence to it, but now I fear it is but too true.

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