Newspaper article published by The Irish World (NY., USA edition) on 5 September 1903
Daniel Desmond Sheehan
The changing of rack-rented farmers into peasant proprietors
After years of struggle and sacrifice and increasing strife, the Irish cause has emerged at length triumphantly from the contest, and Ireland is on the highroad to nationhood and independence. Stupendous obstacles had to surmounted, centuries of prejudice had to dissipated, the power of a tyrannical and domineering oligarchy, accustomed to an unquestioned ascendancy, had to be shattered ere the Irish people were in a position to assert their will and to bring the English government to recognize the justice of their claims.
Landlordism is dead in Ireland ! With what meaning that sentence is pregnant ! What memories does it not conjure up? Landlordism is dead in Ireland–that fell system which is responsible for centuries of ruin, rapine, bloodshed, famine and miseries unfathomable in their callous inhumanity and their awful infamy–landlordism, which defaced and depopulated the country and which has left scars on the breast of the nation which will not be healed in generations, is dead. This is news that will send a thrill to the hearts of Irishmen wherever their lot be cast; this is news which the brave efforts of a united people and a devoted Parliamentary party have made it possible to tell. And many a weary exile in the vast continent beyond the seas, his day’s toil being done, will think with pride and satisfaction of the fact that the tyranny which forced him from his native shores is crushed and trampled on forever.
The League made the Government and landlords knuckle under
Never in the history of the past hundred years was nobler work done for Ireland than that accomplished by the Irish party during the past session of Parliament. After five years of almost superhuman effort, after five years of mighty wrestling with the British Government, an organized and disciplined people brought things to such a pass that they made a satisfactory land bill a necessity – a thing to be desired both by the landlords and by the ruling powers. Last year the Irish Chief Secretary introduced a land bill of a sort. The Irish party would have none of it. It was a party measure, they said, in effect, and they wanted no further peddling with the agrarian difficulty. In face of this attitude of outspoken hostility it was useless for the government to proceed. During the winter the United Irish League waged a war of such unrelenting vigour that the landlords and the Government both saw they must knuckle down. They bethought them it was better to make a show of graceful surrender rather than fight the matter out and be beaten, and so they suggested a compromise. Why not a conference of representatives from both camps? The Irish leaders saw no reason why a conference should not be held. It could do no harm and might result in much good. It did result in much good. The history of those famous negotiations is well known to your readers. I do not propose to dwell on them other than to say that the recommendations which emanated from the conference formed the groundwork upon which the superstructure of the land bill was raised. And now the bill is an act and a good one. That is a fact universally acclaimed by all sections in Ireland. It comes into operation in changing track-rented farmers into peasant proprietors.
The grievances of the Irish Labourers will have to be settled
One class, however, is sorely discontented and with good reason – the Irish labourer. They had hoped that their claims would have received generous recognition in the land bill. To say that they were grievously disappointed would be to state it mildly. In its subtitle the land bill professed to amend the labourers’ acts. It did not make the faintest attempt to do so.
At the tail end of the bill three clauses were inserted which purported to make concessions to the labourers. They were of the most worthless description; in fact they were nothing more or less than a sham. The Irish party, seeing this, put down a number of amendments for the committee stage, which, if they were embodied in the bill, would have made it really useful from the workers’ standpoint. When these were reached, however, Mr. Wyndham declined to entertain them, remarking that if they were pressed they would endanger the passage of the bill. Mr. Redmond and his followers still urged the labourers’ claims so persistently that the Chief Secretary was obliged to suggest a compromise. He pledged himself to introduce as a Government measure a labourers’ bill early in the next session of Parliament. Since under the circumstances the Irish party could not exact better terms they accepted this compromise. The labourers are, as I write, showing themselves to be very alive to the importance of Mr. Wyndham’s pledge. At a very representative convention of the Irish Land and Labour Association held in Mallow they opened the winter campaign, which will have for its object the bringing forcibly under the Chief Secretary’s notice of their numerous grievances and the matter of redress they seek for them.
The Labourers the mainstay of the Irish National Movement
In their endeavours to secure a good bill next year the labourers will have the whole-hearted and earnest support of the Irish party and the Irish people. They have earned it by sacrifice ungrudgingly made all through the agrarian struggle, when it may be truly said they were the mainstay of the national movement. There is, besides, a clear field for the consideration of their demands, and it would be the blackest ingratitude to neglect their demands when a golden opportunity presents itself for effecting a sensible amelioration of their lot. Furthermore, statistics clearly demonstrate that the vast majority of Irish emigrants are drawn from the ranks of the agricultural labourers. Those of us who know rural Ireland well have this conviction forced upon us that something must be done—and done at once—if we are to save the remnants of our labouring population to the country. And so it is we are anxious to have a comprehensive and statesmanlike labourers’ bill next year—a bill which will devise ways for settling the labourer on the soil, for giving them a home and a living in the land of their fathers.
The chief demands of the Irish Labourers
Your readers may be interested to know what are the chief demand of the labourers. I will briefly enumerate them. The amendment of the labourers’ acts stands first in the category of their claims. These acts have been in operation for twenty years and in all Ireland only 15,000 cottages, with plots of lands attached, have been erected under them. The administration of the acts has been instructed to the local authorities, and it is only since popular representation on public boards was established by the Local Government Act of 1898 that anything like proper advantage was taken of them. But the acts are faulty to a degree. They are cumbersome and complex in their machinery and exceedingly costly in their application. As an instance of the manner in which they are bound round with red-tapeism I may mention that it usually take from five to six years to build a dwelling under them. The labourers seek to remove all hampering restrictions, to simplify procedure, and to have operations so hastened that the 100,000 labourers who live in wretched, squalid hovels at present may be decently housed with as little delay as possible. The next demand, and perhaps the most important, since it aims at keeping the young labourers in Ireland, is that out of the untenanted lands and the large grazing ranches small holdings should be parcelled out in allotments of reasonable size, say five acres, on which the landless should be settled. At present a young labourer has no inducement whatsoever to stay in his native land. He cannot get a house and an acre of land under the labourers’ acts unless he has someone depending on him, and however wishful he may be to get married and settle down at home the chances are all against him. Hence the claim for allotments, a claim which has the warm support of Mr. William O’Brien and the Irish party. The labourers say, and with justice, that they have an inherent right to the soil, inasmuch as they are in most cases the lineal representatives of the evicted tenants of the past.
The Irish Labourers must be rooted in the soil
“Back to the land” is a principle to which the Irish hierarchy have given their adhesion, as they rightly believe that Ireland can never be prosperous until the land is restored to the industry of the Irish peasantry, and emigration can never be successfully checked until legislation approves some such scheme as I have outlined. Indeed the proposal of Mr. William O’Brien at the last convention was that the labourers should be dealt with in the same manner as the small holders in Connacht and treated as if they lived in congested districts. If this principle is embodied in Mr. Wyndham’s labourers’ bill it will go far to satisfy the requirements of the workers, it will re-people the derelict land, dot the country over with happy homesteads, multiply the thinned-out population, build up a contented and industrious peasantry, and be an effectual check on emigration. These claims for easy access to the land, and for comfortable, sanitary abodes the labourers mean to press with persistence and vigor during the next five or six months. They will be earnestly sustained in their campaign by the Irish party and the United Irish League. It is recognized on all hands that no settlement of the land question, however acceptable to landlords and tenants, could be either final or satisfactory which did not root the labourers in the soil, and give them the means of a sufficient livelihood on it.
The fight for Home Rule to be pushed
While this agitation on behalf of the workingmen is in progress it must not for a moment be imagined that the great and paramount object for which Irishmen must ever band themselves, in strength and unity, together until it is attained—the legislative independence of Ireland—is being kept in the background. On the contrary, everything points to the fact that the Home Rule movement will shortly be launched forth and pushed forward with a vim and earnestness never previously surpassed.
Mr. William O’Brien is returning from the south of Europe where he has been resting after his arduous labours in connection with the land bill to once more show the way to Nationalist Ireland. In September Mr. John Redmond and the members of Cork City will address a monster demonstration in the capital of the South and we may take it that the future policy of the Irish party will be stated on the occasion
Mr. Davitt, too, it is surmised, will once again take that place in the forefront of the fight to which his sacrifices, his ability and his lifelong and incalculable services to the Irish cause entitled him. There is no living man more rightly respected nor esteemed by Irishmen the world over than the Father of the Land league and the indomitable champion of human liberty in all lands, and it is the earnest wish of all nationalists that he may once again come prominently forward to inspire his fellow countrymen by his eloquence and patriotism.
The air is filled with rumours of a general election. Whenever it does come it will find the Irish people prepared. It will be the aim of the Irish party to so level up the Tories and the Liberals in Great Britain as to leave the balance of power with the Irish members, who could then dictate their own terms. Such is the Irish political situation. It is bright with hope and promise for Ireland. We are marching rapidly toward the consummation of our most cherished aspirations. If we are but true to ourselves, true to our cause, true to those sanctified principles that have been handed down to us by the patriots of the past, the day of our emancipation is at hand and the glory of a struggle nobly fought and won will be ours.