Irish Land Question

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Irish Land Question

Irish Land Question, name given in the 19th cent. to the problem of land ownership and agrarian distress in Ireland under British rule. The long-term result of conquest, confiscation, and colonization was the creation of a class of English and Scottish landlords and of an impoverished Irish peasantry with attenuated tenant rights.

In the 18th cent., under the Penal Laws, Roman Catholics—the vast majority of the Irish population—were prevented from acquiring land. Tenants' improvements were discouraged because they led to higher rents. Eviction on short notice was also a problem. The securing (1829) of Catholic Emancipation brought into the British Parliament Irish Catholics who sympathized with the miserable tenantry, and the terrible Irish famine of the 1840s focused attention on the land question. In 1849, Parliament passed the Encumbered Estates Act, which provided for the sale of mortgaged estates. However, its liberal purpose was defeated by speculative purchasers who made the rents even more extortionate from the tenants' point of view.

The Irish Tenant Right League, established in 1850, demanded the “three F's”—fair rent, fixity of tenure, and freedom of sale. The violence of the Fenian movement, the extension of the franchise by the Reform Act of 1867, the movement for Home Rule, and assistance from the Liberal party, headed by William Gladstone, furthered the cause of the tenant. Gladstone's Land Act of 1870 protected the tenant from arbitrary eviction and provided some compensation for improvements.

A major agricultural depression beginning in the 1870s brought a new crisis. The National Land League, founded under the leadership of Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell, conducted a campaign of boycott and violence that influenced the passage of the Land Act of 1881, called the “Magna Carta” of the Irish farmer. It recognized the three F's and provided a land commission to fix a “fair rent.” Thereafter land purchase by the tenant became the predominant issue. The Ashbourne Act of 1885 and supplementary acts of 1887 and 1891 provided a loan fund of many millions of pounds for tenants who wished to purchase their lands.

Difficulties remained because the Anglo-Irish magistracy, which favored the landlords, did not satisfactorily implement the new laws. The Irish National League, an outgrowth of the suppressed National Land League, advocated withholding of rents from extortionate landlords. Its activities, too, were suppressed. The Irish Agricultural Organization Society, fostered (1894) by Sir Horace Plunkett, began to encourage agricultural cooperation and improved farming methods; this led to the establishment (1899) of the Irish Dept. of Agriculture.

The agitation of the United Irish League, under William O'Brien, demanding compulsory sales by landlords, led to the Wyndham Act of 1903 and the Amended Land Purchase Act of 1909. The Wyndham Act, which provided loans to tenants at reduced interest for the purchase of land and gave bonuses to landlords who sold, proved, in effect, a solution to the Irish Land Question. In 1907 the Evicted Tenants Act provided for the compulsory sale of land needed for evicted tenants. By 1921 two thirds of the land in Ireland had become the property of Irish tenants, and a compulsory law transferred the remaining portions soon after the establishment (1922) of the Irish Free State.


See J. E. Pomfret, The Struggle for Land in Ireland, 1800–1923 (1930, repr. 1969); N. D. Palmer, The Irish Land League Crisis (1940); P. Bew, Land and the National Question in Ireland, 1858–82 (1979).

Irish language

Irish language, also called Irish Gaelic and Erse, member of the Goidelic group of the Celtic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Celtic languages). The history of Irish as a literary language falls into three periods: Old Irish (7th–9th cent. A.D.), Middle Irish (10th–16th cent.), and Modern Irish (since the 16th cent.). In the medieval period a great Irish literature flourished. Grammatically, there are still four cases for the noun (nominative, genitive, vocative, and, in some dialects, dative). In pronunciation the stress is on the first syllable. An acute accent is placed over a vowel to denote length, and a dot is placed over a consonant to indicate aspiration. The alphabet employed today for Irish can be called a variant or a derivative of the Roman alphabet that took shape about the 8th cent. A.D. It has 18 letters: 13 consonants and 5 vowels. The oldest extant Irish texts are inscriptions written in the ogham script (see ogham). These texts date back to the 5th cent. A.D. or perhaps earlier and differ as much from the early literary Irish that follows them as Latin does from Old French. Native speakers of Irish are now concentrated in the western counties of Ireland. The government of Ireland is trying, thus far unsuccessfully, to revive Irish as the primary language of the country; it is an official language, and the study of Irish is required in preparatory schools. See also Gaelic literature.


See H. Wagner, Linguistic Atlas and Survey of Irish Dialects (4 vol., 1958–69); R. P. M. and W. P. Lehman, An Introduction to Old Irish (1975).

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References in periodicals archive ?
His principal source is the press, but he also draws from pictorial and graphic images, ballads, poems, novels, estate papers government records, and commentary on the Irish land question. Among his topics are dispossession and Irish land laws, the famine evictions, the first (1879-1883) and second (1886-1890) land wars, resistance, Falcarragh: The Olphert Estate 1888-1890, and the third land war 1900-1910.
O'Hara's panoramic overview distills this wealth of new scholarship on Davitt by Carla King and on the Irish land question by Laurence Geary, Donald Jordan, and W.
It systematically details its origins and parliamentary career, and assesses the impact of one of the most important pieces of social legislation passed for Ireland since the Act of Union, thereby offering a new dimension to the scholarly debate on the Irish land question. It draws on an extensive and varied range of primary sources.
The thesis begins by investigating what the Irish land question actually was in the first decade of the twentieth century.
The Wyndham Act was hailed by contemporary supporters as the final solution to the Irish land question, but it did not in fact solve the question.
"A Bombay Civilian," the anonymous functionary of the Raj and author of a tract on "The land question in Ireland, viewed from an Indian standpoint" (1870), justifies his venture with the assertion that Irish woes were best solved by "men deeply interested in the Irish land question who are acquainted with the details and actual working of the Indian settlements" (4).
Two years later he concludes too that the Irish "are passionately attached to the soil; the recollection of another order of things survives" ("The Irish Land Question").
"The Irish Land Question." Westminster Review (American Edition) Vol XCIII (January-April 1870): 42-55.
Perhaps the omission is due to the fact that the closest disciplinary ties of the most historians who have studied the Irish land question have been to economics and sociology.
Building upon his micro-analysis of the workings of tenant right on particular estates, Dowling offers a brilliantly reconceprualized sketch of the Irish land question in a final chapter entitled "The End of Tenant Right." We see the ideas of nineteenth-century intellectual giants--Ricardo, Marx, Mill--mediated by the likes of Deasy, Sharman Crawford and Gladstone to create two colossal failures: the attempt to abolish customary tenures altogether in 1860 legislation and the attempt to legalize them in 1870 legislation.
After publication of Progress and Poverty George moved to New York, where he wrote The Irish Land Question (1881).
Others of his best - known works include Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform (1859), Representative Government (1861), Utilitarianism (1863), Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy (1865), The Irish Land Question (1870), and his Autobiography (1873).

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