TALES FROM THE FIELDS: Rural meeting demands need for land reform

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A meeting of the tenant-farmers of the barony of Loughinshollin was held in the Market Square in Magherafelt for the purpose of expressing their views on the question of tenant-right.

The News Letter’s correspondent noted: “Notwithstanding the fact that circulars had been extensively issued throughout the entire barony, requesting the tenant farmers to attend, the meeting turned out to be a wretched failure. At no time during the proceedings were there upwards of 500 persons in attendance, the great majority of whom consisted of farm servants, plough-boys or inhabitants of the town. On the gable of the Market House immediately above the platform large placards were posted bearing mottoes ‘Tenant-right’ and ‘Live and let live’ and from the chimney at the end of the building a Union Jack floated.”

Amongst those present on the platform were Mr Hugh Walker, JP, the Reverend R Torrens, the Reverend R H Carson, the Reverend Hugh Fitzpatrick, Dr Auterson, Dr Beckett, Dr Murdock, Messrs J Glover, J Carey, J Harbinson, J Robson, J Wilson, J Donaghy, J Graham, J O’Hagan, R Whittaker, J Morton and R McGuckian.

Addressing the meeting Mr John Glover said tenant-right was the most important question that had “ever been settled or ever would have to be settled again” given that it would determine the relationship between landlords and their tenants.

He said: “It is a question of life and death to every man in the country, because we are not circumstanced as in England or Scotland. We have no manufacturing people but are living on the fruits of our soil and of our labour.”

Mr Glover continued: “It is a question two hundred years old and it is a question for two generations to come – yea, ten generations – will either stand against or foster the prosperity of this country.”

In conclusion Mr Glover appealed to those who attended the meeting that day to make their wishes known to the English and Scottish members of parliament, “from whom them alone can we expect beneficial legislation on the matter”, he said. He concluded by moving the all the resolutions.

These read as follows: “1st – That the custom of tenant-right (commonly known as the tenant-right custom of Ulster) existing in this county for 200 years and upwards, is founded upon the fact that the tenants, out of their own capital, have reclaimed the lands, and made all the improvements thereon in building, fencing, draining, subsoiling and roads without any expenditure of capital by the landlords, except in very rare instances, and that, under this custom, the original tenants and their successors have, since the establishment of the custom, had the continuous and uninterrupted occupation and enjoyment of their farms, so reclaimed and improved by them, with the right to sell their interest therein to a tenant of whom the landlord should approve, but subject practically to such rents as the landlords might impose.

“2nd – That, owing to the frequent violations of the tenants, rights under this custom, and more especially to the arbitrary and often excessive increase of rents imposed on tenants’ own improvements, a very strong and general feeling of insecurity has existed in this county for many years, which requires the immediate interference of the legislature.

“3rd – That no settlement of the land question in this county will be just or satisfactory which does not legalise the right of tenants to continuous occupation and enjoyment of their farms, and a right to sell to solvent tenants, so long as they pay their rents, and do not sub-let or sub-divide the farm.

“4th – That, inasmuch as the arbitrary and excessive of rents by the landlords have to a large extent absorbed the interests of the tenants in their farms, we declare that no settlement of the land question will be just or satisfactory which does not provide a cheap and convenient tribunal (such as Quarter Sessions) for the adjustment of the landlords’ rents, which should be ascertained every 21 or 31 years without taking into account the tenants’ improvements.”

“5th – That it is our firm conviction that the establishment of a class of peasant proprietors by government loans would mightily conduce to the peace and prosperity of the nation; and we are of the opinion that nowhere else in Ireland could the experiment be so fairly or justly made – or on so large a scale – as in this county, where so much of the land is glebes, and in the possession of the London companies.”