Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter V - Section 11

State of non-resident and resident proprietors

ALTHOUGH the number of non-resident proprietors is not very great, yet the greater part of the county belongs to them; the principal are,

Marquis of Thomond,

Lord Clive,

Marquis of Buckingham,

Lord Perry,

Lord Powerscourt,

Earl of Egremont,

Lord Milton,

Henry O’Brien, Esq.

Marquis of Headfort,

—Westby, Esq.

Lord Conynham,

George Stackpoole, Esq.

Lord Norbury,

Toby Butler, Esq.

— Walcot, Esq.

Micheal Blood, Esq.

Sir John Riggs Miller,

Richard Blood, Esq,

Sir Hugh Dillon Massey,

William Blood, Esq.

— Whitelock, Esq.

Sir John Blake.

— Synge, Esq.

No person can deny the right, which every man has to live where he likes best; but surely one of a feeling mind would find himself impelled to make some amends for the want of his cheering influence and example, and, in return for those large sums, which, totally lost to this country, enable him to live with splendour in another, to give every encouragement to an improving resident tenantry, not only by rewards for the best stock of husbandry, but by sending from England males of the best kinds of each species, and models of improved implements, to be kept by his agent, and under certain restrictions dispensed gratis to the most deserving of his tenant, but above all by the dispensing form the fountain-head that never-failing inducement to Irish industry, a certain tenure, and freeing them from the rack-rents imposed by that bane of Irish prosperity, an Irish middleman.* 

A person, who has traversed the county in every direction, as I have done frequently, must lament to see such vast regions of improvable ground, that a little industry and skill would clothe with smiling harvest, devoted to the rearing or rather starving of a few young cattle, and considered as of so little value as either to be thrown in, as of no sort of value, with a few acres of other land, or set in great masses without measurement by the bulk.

In that part of the county between Mount Callan and the Shannon, containing many miles square, I have seen thousands of acres of ground, highly improvable, set in this wretched mode, that with attention and skill could be made well worth two guineas an acre, and that now do not bring one shilling; and yet I dare say, if any man or company of skill and enterprize would propose to take any part of this dreary waste, he would be referred to an agent wholly ignorant of agricultural affairs, or perhaps be offered a twenty-one years’ lease at a high acreable rent with many vexatious clauses. It will scarcely be credited, that an agent to a great estate in the county of Mayo must have at least a year’s rent in hand as lease-money, whilst the indolent spendthrift landlord countenances the receipt of this monstrous bribe. When such things are permitted by landlords, how can Ireland make those advances in improvement, that her climate, population, and the sinews of her athletic peasantry would quickly enable her to do? If absentees could be once brought to determine to let their lands, already under cultivation, to none but occupying tenants, they would soon see and feel the beneficial effects of the practice, and I cannot conceive, why a tenant will not pay his rent as well to a resident agent, as to an indolent non-resident middleman. Mr. Young, who cannot be accused of partiality, speaks thus in his Tour in Ireland, vol.ii. part 2. page 21. "When therefore it is considered, that no advantage to the estate can arise from a non-resident tenant, and that a resident intermediate one improves no more than the poor occupiers, who are prevented by his oppressions, that the landlord often gains little of nothing in security for employing them, but that he suffers a prodigious deduction in his rental for mere expectations, which every hour’s experience proves to be delusive. When these facts are duly weighed, it is presumed, that the gentlemen in those parts of the kingdom, which yet groan under such a system of absurdity, folly, and oppression, will follow the example set by such a variety of intelligent landlords, and be deaf to the deceitful asseverations, with which their ears are assailed, to treat the anecodotes retailed of the cottier’s poverty with the contempt they deserve, when coming from the mouth of a jobber; when blood-suckers of the poor tenantry boast of their own improvements, to open their eyes and view the ruins, which are dignified by such a term, and finally determine, as friends to themselves, to their posterity, and their country, to let their estates to none but the occupying tenantry." 

I am also happy in having a coincidence of opinion from the enlightened author of the Kildare Survey; page 52, he says, (and I hope the absentees of Ireland will follow the example,) "The example of the late Marquis of Rockingham to improve his estate induced him to send large quantities to the most improved implements in agriculture, to be divided gratis amongst his Wicklow tenantry. To shew example to his English tenantry he established farms to be separately conducted, according to the most improved Norfolk and Kentish farming, in order that his tenantry might judge for themselves. In such acts as these true patriotism is placed; by such conduct the squire of 500l. a year, who starves in the purlieus of a court, would soon see a planted improved country about him, and his estate encreased four-fold. The absentee employs an Irish agent, too frequently an attorney, whose knowledge never exceeded the limits of the Four Courts, to receive his rents, set his estates, and divide &c. at his sovereign pleasure; the agent comes down at stated half-yearly periods; from failure of crop or market, some few are not punctual; the agent cannot spare time to look at the means of payment; he cannot be at the least trouble of coming a second time; he sends down ejectments, and runs up a bill of costs of twelve pounds for a few days want of punctuality. How can a tenantry flourish under such hands? How can an estate improve under such management? I would here counsel those characters, who cannot breathe the air of Ireland, to choose for their agents men acquainted with the value of land; men, who are resident on or near their estates; men, who will watch, superintend, and encourage the tenant, who will plant and improve; men, who will establish nurseries for the use of the tenantry, supply them with the best males for the improvement of their stock of every kind; in short, men, who will truly represent the absentee, and prefer the improvement of his estate to every other consideration."

I would by no means recommend to an absentee to enter into the detail of the improvement of waste land; but he certainly should make all the necessary drains, divide the land into fields of convenient size, build comfortable houses and offices, make roads, build lime-kilns, and thus induce industrious tenants to perfect the improvements he began; but, to make this either profitable to himself or instructive to the country he must employ scientific practical men to conduct it, and not leave it to an ignorant steward, or perhaps to Paddy or Jemmy, two cronies of the agent. If he has so much of his country’s bigotry as to think Irishmen incapable of conducting an improverment of this nature, let him send over an English, or Scotch, or any man, that will carry it into effect.

In many parts of this county there are middlemen, who possess large properties, either by this mode or by the industry of their ancestors, who have improved the ground immediately adjoining to their houses; but in general any ground at a distance is usually under as bad management as that of the poorest cottier; draining their ground is the last thing they think of. 

The resident proprietors of estates are not numerous, but the list of wealthy landholders is very long and highly respectable, many of them able to purchase the fee of the estates, on which they have made their money. 

* I beg it may be understood, that I discriminate between a wretch, who takes large tracts of ground, and relets at an enomous rent, without any lease, of at best a very one, without making the smallest improvement, and the monied man of skill, who takes a great extent of waste ground, and, after reclaiming it by a great expenditure of money and industry, relets if at a rent, that, though moderate, will amply repay him, and put it in the power of those, whose want of capital and skill prevented it, to provide comfortably for their families.

Back to Statistical Survey of the County of Clare - Chapter 5