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Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation and unusual spelling in the original document has been preserved. A number of obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the bottom of this document.
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BEING THE LETTERS WRITTEN DURING THE WINTER OF 1880-81.
BY BERNARD H. BECKER, SPECIAL COMMISSIONER OF THE "DAILY NEWS."
WITH ROUTE MAPS.
London: MACMILLAN AND CO. 1881.
LONDON: R. CLAY, SONS, AND TAYLOR, BREAD STREET HILL.
Having been most cordially granted permission to republish these letters in a collected form, it is my duty to mention that my mission from the Daily News was absolutely unfettered, either by instructions or introductions. It was thought that an independent and impartial account of the present condition of the disturbed districts of Ireland would be best secured by sending thither a writer without either Irish politics or Irish friends—in short, one who might occupy the stand-point of the too-often-quoted "intelligent foreigner." Hence my little book is purely descriptive of the stirring scenes and deeply interesting people I have met with on my way through the counties of Mayo, Galway, Clare, Limerick, Cork, and Kerry. It is neither a political treatise, nor a dissertation on the tenure of land, but a plain record of my experience of a strange phase of national life. I have simply endeavoured to reflect as accurately as might be the salient features of a social and economic upheaval, soon I fervently hope, to pass into the domain of history; and in offering my work to the public must ask indulgence for the errors of omission and commission so difficult to avoid while travelling and writing rapidly in a country which, even to its own people, is a complex problem.
ARTS' CLUB, January 6th, 1881.
PAGE I. AT LOUGH MASK 1
II. AN AGRARIAN DIFFICULTY 18
III. LAND MEETINGS 26
IV. MISS GARDINER AND HER TENANTS 52
V. FROM MAYO TO CONNEMARA 70
VI. THE RELIEF OF MR. BOYCOTT 120
VII. MR. RICHARD STACPOOLE 153
VIII. PATRIOTS 160
IX. ON THE FERGUS 166
X. PALLAS AND THE PALLADIANS 191
XI. GOMBEEN 207
XII. THE RETAINER 215
XIII. CROPPED 225
XIV. IN KERRY 232
XV. THE "BOYCOTTING" OF MR. BENCE JONES 262
XVI. A CRUISE IN A GROWLER 279
XVII. "BOYCOTTED" AT CHRISTMASTIDE 307
XVIII. CHRISTMAS IN COUNTY CLARE 328
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AT LOUGH MASK.
WESTPORT, CO. MAYO, Oct. 24.
The result of several days' incessant travelling in county Mayo is a very considerable modification of the opinion formed at the first glance at this, the most disaffected part of Ireland. On reaching Claremorris, in the heart of the most disturbed district, I certainly felt, and not for the first time, that as one approaches a spot in which law and order are supposed to be suspended the sense of alarm and insecurity diminishes, to put it mathematically, "as the square of the distances." Even after a rapid survey of this part of the West I cannot help contrasting the state of public opinion here with that prevailing in Dublin. In the capital—outside of "the Castle," where moderate counsels prevail—the alarmists appear to have it all their own way. I was told gravely that there was no longer any security for life or property in the West; that county Mayo was like Tipperary in the old time, "only more so;" and that if I would go lurking about Lough Mask and Lough Corrib it was impossible to prevent me; but that the chances of return were, to say the least, remote. It was in vain that I pointed out that every stone wall did not hide an assassin, and that strangers and others not connected either directly or indirectly with the land were probably as safe, if not safer, on a high road in Mayo than in Sackville-street, Dublin. It was admitted that, theoretically, I was quite in the right; but that like many other theorists I might find my theory break down in practice. I was entertained with a full account of the way in which assassinations are conducted in the livelier counties of Ireland, and great stress was laid upon the fact that the assassins were always well primed with "the wine of the country," that is to say whisky, of similar quality to that known in New York as "fighting rum," "Jersey lightning," or "torchlight procession." It was then impressed upon me that half-drunken assassins, specially imported from a distant part of the county to shoot a landlord or agent, might easily mistake a stranger for the obnoxious person and shoot him accordingly, just as the unlucky driver was hit in Kerry the other day instead of the land agent. Furthermore, I was taken to a gunsmith's in Dawson-street, where I was assured that the sale of firearms had been and was remarkably brisk, the chief demand being for full-sized revolvers and double-barrelled carbines. The weapon chiefly recommended was one of the latter, with a large smooth bore for carrying buck-shot and spreading the charge so much as to make the hitting of a man at thirty yards almost certain. The barrels were very short, in order that the gun might be convenient to carry in carriage or car. This formidable weapon was to be carried in the hand so as to be ready when opportunity served; a little ostentation as to one's habit of going armed being vigorously insisted on as a powerful deterrent.
To any person unacquainted with the humorous side of the Irish character a morning spent in such converse as I have endeavoured to indicate might have proved disquieting enough; but those who know Irishmen and their ways at once enter into the spirit of the thing, and enjoy it as much as the untamable jokers themselves. Nothing is more amazing to serious people than the light and easy manner in which everybody takes everything on this side of the Irish Sea. This is perfectly exemplified by the tone in which the Kerry murder is discussed. I have heard it talked over by every class of person, from a landholding peer to a not very sober car-driver, and the view taken is always the same. No horror is expressed at the commission of such a crime, or at the state of society which makes it possible. Nothing of the kind. A little sympathy is expressed for the poor man who was shot by mistake, and then the humour of the situation overrules every other consideration. That poor people resenting what they imagine to be tyranny should shoot one of their own class instead of the hated agent is a fact so irresistibly comic as to provoke a quantity of hilarious comment. As laughter dies away, however, another expression of feeling takes place, and the slackness of the master in not being ready with his pistol, and his want of presence of mind to pursue the murderer and avenge his servant's death, are spoken of with the fiercest indignation. But nobody appears to care about the general and social aspect of the case.
Beneath all this humour and a curious tendency to exaggerate the condition of the West, there undeniably lurked very considerable uneasiness. It was known that "the Castle" was hard at work, and that, before proceeding to coercive measures, Mr. Forster was getting together all the trustworthy evidence that could be obtained as to the state of the country. As an instance of the absurd rumours flying about, I may mention that I was in the presence of two Irish peers solemnly assured that a "rising in the West" was imminent, and not only imminent, but fixed for the 31st October. Now, who has not heard at any time within the memory of man of this expected "rising in the West"? It is the spectre rouge, or, to be more accurate as to local colour, the spectre vert of the Irish alarmist, and a poor, ragged, out-at-elbows spectre it is, altogether very much the worse for wear. Flesh and blood could not bear the mention of this shabby, worn-out old ghost with calmness, and I conveyed to the gentlemen who volunteered the information my opinion that the spectre vert was, in American language, "played out." Will it be believed that I was the only person present who ridiculed the "poor ghost"? I soon perceived that my scornful remarks were not at all in accordance with the feeling of the company, who did not see anything impossible in a "rising in the West," and refused to laugh at the Saxon's remark that things did not "rise," but "set" in that direction. County Mayo and parts of county Galway were beyond the law, and could only be cured by the means successfully employed in Westmeath a few years ago—coercion. It was of no avail to say that very few people had been shot in the disaffected counties during the last ten years. The answer was always the same. The minds of the people were poisoned by agitators, and they would pay nobody either rent or any other just debt except on compulsion.
Beyond Athlone the tone of public opinion improved very rapidly, and in Roscommon, once a disturbed county, I found plenty of people ready to laugh with me at the spectre vert. There was nothing the matter in that county. A fair price had been obtained for sheep and cattle, the harvest had been good, everything was going on as well as possible. There was some talk, it was true, about disturbances in Mayo, but there was a great deal of imagination and exaggeration, and the trouble was confined to certain districts of the county, the centre of disturbance being somewhere about Claremorris, a market town, on the railway to Westport, and not very far from Knock, the last new place of pilgrimage. At Claremorris I accordingly halted to look about me, and was surprised at the extraordinary activity of the little place. Travellers in agricultural England, either Wessex or East Anglia, often wonder who drinks all the beer for the distribution of which such ample facilities are afforded. A church, a public-house, and a blacksmith's shop constitute an English village; but there is nobody on the spot either to go to church or drink the beer. At Claremorris a similar effect is produced on the visitor's mind. The main street is full of shops, corn-dealers, drapers, butchers, bakers, and general dealers in everything, from a horse to a hayseed; but out of the main track there are no houses—only hovels as wretched as any in Connaught. It is quite evident that the poor people who inhabit them cannot buy much of anything. Men, women, and children, dogs, ducks, and a donkey, are frequently crowded together in these miserable cabins, the like of which on any English estate would bring down a torrent of indignation on the landlord. They are all of one pattern, wretchedly thatched, but with stout stone walls, and are, when a big peat fire is burning, hot almost to suffocation. When it is possible to distinguish the pattern of the bed-curtains through the dirt, they are seen to be of the familiar blue and white checked pattern made familiar to London playgoers by Susan's cottage as displayed at the St. James's Theatre. The chest of drawers is nearly always covered with tea-things and other crockery, generally of the cheapest and commonest kind, but in great plenty. House accommodation in Claremorris is of the humblest character. At the best inn, called ambitiously Hughes's Hotel, I found that I was considered fortunate in getting any sort of bedroom to myself. The apartment was very small, with a lean-to roof, but then I reigned over it in solitary grandeur, while a dozen commercial travellers were packed into the three or four other bedrooms in the house. As these gentlemen arrived at odd hours of the night and were put into the rooms and beds occupied by their friends, sleep at Claremorris was not a function easily performed, and it was some foreknowledge of what actually occurred that induced me to sit up as late as possible in the eating, dining, reading, and commercial room, the only apartment of any size in the house, but full of occupants, most of whom were very communicative concerning their business. Here were the eagles indeed, but where was the carcass? To my amazement I found that Mike this and Tim that, whose shops are very small, had been giving large orders, and that the credit of Claremorris was in a very healthy condition. Equally curious was it to find that the gathering of "commercials" was not an unusual occurrence, but that the queer townlet was a genuine centre of business activity. We sat up as late as the stench of paraffin from the lamps—for there is no gas—would allow us. Lizzie, literally a maid of all work, but dressed in a gown tied violently back, brought up armful after armful of peat, and built and rebuilt the fire over and over again. There was in the corner of the room a huge receptacle, like half a hogshead, fastened to the wall for holding peat—or "turf," as it is called here—but it never occurred apparently to anybody to fill this bin and save the trouble of eternal journeys up and down stairs. It may be also mentioned, not out of any squeamishness, but purely as a matter of fact, that in the intervals of bringing in "arrumfuls" of "torrf" Lizzie folded tablecloths for newcomers so as to hide the coffee-stains as much as possible, and then proceeded to set their tea for them, after which she went back to building the fire again. In the work of waiting she was at uncertain intervals assisted by Joe, a shock-headed, black-haired Celt, who, when a Sybarite asked at breakfast for toast, repeated "Toast!" in a tone that set the table in a roar. It was not said impudently or rudely. Far from it. Joe's tone simply expressed honest amazement, as if one had asked for a broiled crocodile or any other impossible viand.
There are, of course, people who would like separate servants to build up peat fires and to cut their bread and butter; but this kind of person should not come to county Mayo. To the less fastidious all other shortcomings are made up for by the absolutely delightful manner of the people, whose kindness, civility, good humour, and, I may add, honesty, are remarkable. At Hughes's Hotel the politeness of everybody was perfect; and I may add that the proprietor saved me both time and money by giving up a long posting job, to his own obvious loss. But if a visitor to Mayo wants anything done at once, then and there, he had better do it himself. I ventured to remark to Joe that he was a civil-spoken boy, but not very prompt in carrying out instructions, and asked whether everybody in Connaught conducted himself in the same way. He at once admitted that everybody did so. "Divil the bad answer ye'll iver get, Sorr," said he. "We just say, 'I will, Sorr,' and thin go away, and another gintleman says something, and ye're forgotten. Dy'e see, now?" And away he went, and forgot everything. Being at Claremorris, I tried to see a "lister," that is, a landowner and agent on the "black list." I was obliged to make inquiries concerning his whereabouts, and this investigation soon convinced me that there was something wrong in Mayo after all; not the spectre vert exactly, but yet an unpleasant impalpability. All was well at Claremorris. Trade was good "presently now," potatoes were good and cheap, poverty was not advancing arm-in-arm with winter. It was cold, for snow was already on the Nephin; but turf had been stored during the long, fine, warm summer, and nobody was afraid of the frost. But the instant I mentioned the name of the gentleman I wanted to find not a soul knew anything about him. Farming several hundred acres of land on his own account, a resident on Lough Mask for seven years, and agent to Lord Erne, he seemed to be a man concerning whose movements the country side would probably be well informed. But nobody knew anything at all about him. He might be at the Curragh, or he might be in Dublin, and then would, one informant thought, slip over to England and get out of the trouble, if he were wise. In one of the larger stores I saw that the mention of his name drew every eye upon me, and that the bystanders were greatly exercised as to my identity and my business. In this part of the country everybody knows everybody, and a stranger asking for a proscribed man excited native curiosity to a maddening pitch. Presently I was taken aside, led round a corner, and there told that most assuredly the man I sought had not come home from Dublin via Claremorris. Having a map of the county with me, I naturally suggested that he might have reached Lough Mask by way of Tuam, and, moreover, that, having a shrewd notion he would be shot at when occasion served, he would most likely try to get home by an unusual route on which he would hardly be looked for. "Is it alone ye think he'd be going, Sorr?" asked my informant in astonishment. "Divil a fut does he stir widout an escort." This was news indeed. "He came here, sure, Sorr, wid two constables on the kyar and two mounted men following him." I was also recommended to hold my tongue, for that Mr. Boycott's friends would certainly not tell whether he was at home or not, and his enemies would probably be kept in ignorance or led astray altogether. But it was necessary for me to find out his whereabouts. To go and see whether he was at Lough Mask involved a ride of forty miles, enlivened by the probability of being mistaken for him, slipping quietly home, and cheered by the risk of hearing at his house that he had gone to England. Telegraphing to him appeared useless, as communications were said to be cut off on the five Irish miles between Ballinrobe, the telegraph station, and Lough Mask House. As time wore on, I learned that he had had cattle at Tuam Fair, but that he had not come home that way for certain. In despair I came on to this place, where information reached me yesterday morning that, contrary to all expectations, he had gone on the other line of railway to Galway, and taken the steamboat on Lough Corrib to Cong, after having telegraphed to his escort to meet him there.
From Westport to Lough Mask is a long but picturesque drive. I was lucky enough to secure an intelligent driver and an excellent horse and car. Thirty Irish miles is not in this part of the country considered an extravagant distance to drive a horse. I believe, indeed, that under other circumstances the unfortunate animal would have been compelled to carry me the entire distance; but I remarked that when I suggested a change of horses at Ballinrobe I was not only accommodated with a fresh horse, but with a fresh car and a fresh driver, who declared that the road to Lough Mask was about the safest and best that he had ever heard of. Now from Westport to Ballinrobe we had met nobody but a very few people going into town either riding on an ass or driving one laden with a pair of panniers or "cleaves" of turf, for which some fourpence or fivepence would be paid. All seemed thinly clad, despite the fearfully cold wind sweeping down from the Nephin, the Hest, and other snow-clad mountains. Crossing the long dreary peat-moss known as Mun-a-lun, we found the cold intense; but on approaching Lough Carra came into bright broad sunshine. At Ballinrobe the sun was still hotter, and as I approached Lough Mask the heat was almost oppressive. I was not, however, allowed to inspect Lough Mask House and the ruins of the adjacent castle in the first place. I had but just passed a magnificent field of mangolds, many of which weighed from a stone to a stone and a half, when I came upon a sight which could not be paralleled in any other civilised country at the present moment.
Beyond a turn in the road was a flock of sheep, in front of which stood a shepherdess heading them back, while a shepherd, clad in a leather shooting-jacket and aided by a bull terrier, was driving them through a gate into an adjacent field. Despite her white woollen shawl and the work she was engaged upon, it was quite evident, from her voice and manner, that the shepherdess was of the educated class, and the shepherd, albeit dressed in a leather jacket, carried himself with the true military air. Both were obviously amateurs at sheep-driving, and the smart, intelligent bull terrier was as much an amateur as either of them, for shepherd, shepherdess and dog were only doing what a good collie would achieve alone and unaided. Behind the shepherd were two tall members of the Royal Irish Constabulary in full uniform and with carbines loaded. As the shepherd entered the field the constables followed him everywhere at a distance of a few yards. All his backings and fillings, turnings and doublings, were followed by the armed policemen. This combination of the most proverbially peaceful of pursuits with carbines and buckshot was irresistibly striking, and the effect of the picture was not diminished by the remarks of Mr. and Mrs. Boycott, for the shepherd and shepherdess were no other than these. The condition of Mr. Boycott and his family has undergone not the slightest amelioration since he last week wrote a statement of his case to a daily contemporary. In fact, he is in many respects worse off. It will be recollected that about a month ago a process-server and his escort retreated on Lough Mask House, followed by a mob, and that on the following day all the farm servants were ordered to leave Mr. Boycott's employment. I may mention that Mr. Boycott is a Norfolk man, the son of a clergyman, and was formerly an officer in the 39th Regiment. On his marriage he settled on the Island of Achill, near here, and farmed there until he was offered some land agencies, which occupied so much of his time, that he, after some twenty years' residence in Achill, elected to take a farm on the mainland. For seven years he has farmed at Lough Mask, acting also as Lord Erne's agent. He has on his own account had a few difficulties with his workpeople; but these were tided over by concessions on his part, and all went smoothly till the serving of notices upon Lord Erne's tenants. All the weight of the tenants' vengeance has fallen upon the unfortunate agent, whom the irritated people declare they will "hunt out of the country." The position is an extraordinary one. During his period of occupation Mr. Boycott has laid out a great deal of money on his farm, has improved the roads, and made turnips and other root crops to grow where none grew before. But the country side has struck against him, and he is now actually in a state of siege. Personally attended by an armed escort everywhere, he has a garrison of ten constables on his premises, some established in a hut, and the rest in that part of Lough Mask House adjacent to the old castle. Garrisoned at home and escorted abroad, Mr. Boycott and his family are now reduced to one female domestic. Everybody else has gone away, protesting sorrow, but alleging that the power brought to bear upon them was greater than they could resist. Farm labourers, workmen, herds-men, stablemen, all went long ago, leaving the corn standing, the horses in the stable, the sheep in the field, the turnips, swedes, carrots, and potatoes in the ground, where I saw them yesterday. Last Tuesday the laundress refused to wash for the family any longer; the baker at Ballinrobe is afraid to supply them with bread, and the butcher fears to send them meat. The state of siege is perfect.
When the strike first began Mr. Boycott went bravely to work with his family, setting the young ladies to reaping and binding, and looking after the beasts and sheep himself. But the struggle is nearly at an end now. Mr. Boycott has sold some of his stock; but he can neither sell his crop to anybody else, nor, as they say in the North of England, "win" it for himself. There remains in the ground at least five hundred pounds worth of potatoes and other root crops, and the owner has no possible means of doing anything with them. Nor, I am assured on trustworthy authority, would any human being buy them at any price; nor, if any such person were found, would he be able to find any labourer to touch any manner of work on the spot under the ban. By an impalpable and invisible power it is decreed that Mr. Boycott shall be "hunted out," and it is more than doubtful whether he will, under existing circumstances, be able to stand against it. He is unquestionably a brave and resolute man, but there is too much reason to believe that without his garrison and escort his life would not be worth an hour's purchase.
There are few fairer prospects than that from the steps of Lough Mask House, a moderately comfortable and unpretending edifice, not quite so good as a large farmer's homestead in England. But the potatoes will rot in the ground, and the cattle will go astray, for not a soul in the Ballinrobe country dare touch a spade for Mr. Boycott. Personally he is protected, but no woman in Ballinrobe would dream of washing him a cravat or making him a loaf. All the people have to say is that they are sorry, but that they "dare not." Hence either Mr. Boycott, with an escort armed to the teeth, or his wife without an escort—for the people would not harm her—must go to Ballinrobe after putting a horse in the shafts themselves, buy what they can, and bring it home. Everybody advises them to leave the country; but the answer of the besieged agent is simply this: "I can hardly desert Lord Erne, and, moreover, my own property is sunk in this place." It is very much like asking a man to give up work and go abroad for the benefit of his health. He cannot sacrifice his occupation and his property.
There is very little doubt that this unfortunate gentleman has been selected as a victim whose fate may strike terror into others. Judging from what I hear, there is a sort of general determination to frighten the landlords. Only a few nights ago a man went into a store at Longford and said openly, "My landlord has processed me for the last four or five years; but he hasn't processed me this year, and the divil thank him for that same."
AN AGRARIAN DIFFICULTY.
WESTPORT, CO. MAYO, Oct. 25th.
"Tiernaur, Sorr, is on the way to Claggan Mountain, where they shot at Smith last year, and—if I don't disremember—is just where they shot Hunter last August eleven years. Ye'll mind the cross-roads before ye come to the chapel. It was there they shot him from behind a sod-bank." This was the reply I received in answer to my question as to the whereabouts of a public meeting to be held yesterday morning, with the patriotic object of striking terror into the hearts of landlords and agents. It was delivered without appearance of excitement or emotion of any kind, the demeanour of the speaker being quite as simple as that of Wessex Hodge when he recommends one to go straight on past the Craven Arms, and then bear round by the Dog and Duck till the great house comes in sight. Tiernaur, I gathered, was about fifteen miles to the north-west along Clew Bay towards Ballycroy. It is called Newfield Chapel on the Ordnance map, but is always spoken of here by its native name. It is invested with more than the mere transient interest attaching to the place of an open-air meeting, for it is the centre of a district subject to chronic disturbance, and is just now the scene of serious trouble, or what would appear serious trouble in any less turbulent part of the country. It is necessary to be exact in describing what occurs here, as a phrase may easily be construed to imply much more than is intended. When it is said that the country between Westport and Ballycroy is disturbed, and that law and order are set at defiance, it must not be imagined that the roads are unsafe for travellers, or that any ordinary person is liable to be shot at, beaten, robbed, or insulted. I have no hesitation in stating that a stranger may go anywhere in the county, at any hour of the day or night, alone and unarmed, and that even in country inns he need take no precautions against robbery. Mayo people do not steal, and if they shot a stranger, it would only be by mistake for a Scotch farmer or an English agent. And I am sure that the accident would be sincerely deplored by the warm-hearted natives. I have thought it well to master all the details of the Tiernaur difficulty, because it is a perfect type of the agrarian troubles which agitate the West. In the first place the reader will clearly understand that English and Scotch landlords, agents, and farmers, are as a rule abhorred by the Irish population. It is perhaps hardly my province to decide who is to blame. Difference of manner may go for a great deal, but beyond and below the resentment caused by a prompt, decisive, and perhaps imperious tone, lies a deeply-rooted sense of wrong—logically or illogically arrived at. The evictions of the last third of a century and the depopulation of large tracts of country have filled the hearts of the people with revenge, and, rightly or wrongly, they not only blame the landlord but the occupier of the land. If, they argue, there had been no Englishmen and Scotchmen to take large farms, the small holders would not have been swept away, and "driven like a wild goose on the mountain" to make room for them. Without for the present discussing the reasonableness of this plea, I merely record the simple fact that an English or Scotch farmer is unpopular from the beginning. Here and there such a one as Mr. Simpson may manage to live the prejudice down; but that he will have to encounter it on his arrival is absolutely certain.
This being the case, it is not to be wondered at that when the late Mr. Hunter, a Scotchman, took a large grazing farm at Tiernaur, his arrival was at once regarded in a hostile spirit. The land he occupied was let to him by two adjoining proprietors, Mr. Gibbings, of Trinity College, Dublin, and Mr. Stoney, of Rossturk Castle, near at hand. There was a convenient dwelling-house on the part of the farm looking over Clew Bay towards Clare Island, and all was apparently smooth and pleasant. No sooner, however, was Mr. Hunter established there than a difficulty arose. The inhabitants of the surrounding country had been in the habit of cutting turf and pulling sedge on parts of the mountain and bog included within the limits of Mr. Hunter's farm. It is only fair to the memory of the deceased gentleman to state that such rights are frequently paid for, and that he had not taken the farm subject to any "turbary" rights or local customs. Accordingly he demanded payment from the people, who objected that they had always cut turf and pulled sedge on the mountain; that they could not live without turf for fuel and sedge to serve first as winter bedding for their cattle and afterwards as manure; that except on Mr. Hunter's mountain neither turf nor sedge could be got within any reasonable distance; and, finally, that they had always enjoyed such right. And so forth. As this was, as already intimated, not in the bond, Mr. Hunter, not very unnaturally, insisted that if the people would not pay him his landlord must, and asked Mr. Gibbings to allow him ten pounds a year off his rent. The latter offered him, as I am informed, five pounds. The matter was referred to an umpire, who awarded Mr. Hunter twelve pounds, an assessment which Mr. Gibbings declined to take into consideration at all. After some further discussion Mr. Hunter warned the people off his farm and declared their supposed "turbary" rights at an end. It is of course difficult to arrive at any conclusion on the merits of the case. All that is certain is, that the people had long enjoyed privileges which Mr. Gibbings declared to be simple trespass. Finally he told Mr. Hunter he had his bond and must enforce it himself. The unfortunate farmer, thus placed, as it were, between the upper and nether millstone, endeavoured to enforce his supposed rights. It is almost needless to remark that the people went on cutting turf just as if nothing had happened. In an evil hour Mr. Hunter determined to see what the law could do to protect him in the enjoyment of his farm, and he sued the trespassers accordingly. I will not attempt to explain the intricacies of an Irish lawsuit farther than to note that, owing to some deficiency in their pleas, the trespassers underwent a nonsuit, or some analogous doom, and went gloomily away without having even the satisfaction of a fair fight in court. At the instance of Mr. Hunter, execution for damages and costs was issued against the most solvent of the trespassers, one John O'Neill, of Knockmanus—his next-door neighbour, so to speak. On Friday the execution was put in, and, on its being found impossible to find anybody to act as bailiff, Mr. Hunter himself asked the sub-sheriff to put in his name, and he would see himself that the crops were not removed. This was done, and on the following Sunday Mr. Hunter went with his family to attend Divine service at Newport. Leaving Newport in the evening, he had gone not half-way to Tiernaur when his horse's shoe came off. This circumstance, ominous enough in the disturbed districts of Ireland, was not heeded by Mr. Hunter, who put back to Newport and had his horse shod. As he set out for the second time, the evening was closing in, and as he reached the road turning off from the main track towards his own dwelling he was shot from the opposite angle. The assassin must have been a good marksman, for there were four persons in the dog-cart—Mr. Hunter, his wife, his son, and a servant lad. The doomed man was picked out and shot dead. It is obviously unnecessary to add that the assassin escaped, and has not been discovered unto this day.
Immediately on the commission of the crime the widow of the murdered man was afforded "protection," as it is called, in the manner usual during Irish disturbances—that is, four men and a sergeant of the constabulary were stationed at her house. In course of time, however, Mrs. Hunter felt comparatively safe, and the constables removed to a hut about two miles on the Newport road, opposite to some very good grouse-shooting. There the five men dwell in their little iron-clad house, pierced with loopholes in case of attack—a very improbable event. At the moment of writing, four constables are also stationed at Mr. Stoney's residence, Rossturk Castle, although it is not quite certain what the owner has done to provoke the anger of the people. This being the situation, a very short time since Mrs. Hunter elected to give up the farm and leave this part of the country. The property is therefore on the hands of the landlord, and is "to let." How bright the prospect of getting a tenant is may be estimated by the remark made to me by a very well-instructed person living close by—"If the landlord were to give me that farm for nothing, stock it for me, and give me a cash balance to go on with, I would gratefully but firmly decline the generous gift. No consideration on earth would induce me to occupy Hunter's farm." In the present condition of affairs it would certainly require either great courage or profound ignorance on the part of a would-be tenant to impel him to occupy any land under ban. A rational being would almost as soon think of going to help Mr. Boycott to get in his potatoes. For the people of Tiernaur are now face to face—only at a safe distance for him—with Mr. Gibbings. The cause of the new difficulty is as follows: Mrs. Hunter having given up the farm, it was applied for by some of the neighbours, who offered a similar rent to that paid by her. Either because the landlord did not want the applicants as tenants, or because he thought the land improved, he demanded a higher rent. This is the one unpardonable crime—an attempt to raise the rent. For his own reasons the landlord does not choose to let what is called Hunter's farm to the Tiernaur people on the old terms, and the stranger who should venture upon it would need be girt with robur et aes triplex.
Within the last few days this proprietary deadlock has been enlivened by an act which has caused much conversation in this part of Ireland. A house on Glendahurk Mountain has been burned down, and the cattle of the neighbouring farmers have been turned on to the mountain to pasture at the expense of Mr. Gibbings. Moreover the bailiff has been warned not to interfere, or attempt to scare the cattle and drive them off. Thus the tenant farmers are grazing their cattle for nothing, and, what is more, no man dare meddle with them. The sole remedy open to Mr. Gibbings is civil process for trespass. Should he adopt this course he will probably be safe enough in Dublin, but I am assured that the life of his bailiff will not be worth a day's purchase.
A LAND MEETING.
WESTPORT, CO. MAYO, Oct. 27th.
The way from this place to Tiernaur is through a country, as a Mayo man said to me, "eminently adapted to tourists." Not very far off lies Croagh Patrick, the sacred mountain from which St. Patrick cursed the snakes and other venomous creatures and drove them from Ireland. I was assured by the car-driver that the noxious animals vanished into the earth at the touch of the Saint's bell. "He just," said this veracious informant, "shlung his bell at 'um, and the bell cum back right into his hand. And the mountain is full of holes. And the snakes went into 'um and ye can hear 'um hissing on clear still days." Be this as it may, the line of country towards Newport is delightfully picturesque. The great brown cone of Croagh Patrick soars above all, and to right and left rise the snow-covered Nephin and Hest. Evidences of careful cultivation are frequent on every side. Fairly large potato-fields occur at short intervals, and mangolds and turnips are grown for feeding stock. Cabbages also are grown for winter feed, and the character of the country is infinitely more cheerful than on the opposite side of Westport. Inquiring of my driver as to the safety of the country, I received the following extraordinary reply, "Ye might lie down and sleep anywhere, and divil a soul would molest ye, barring the lizards in summer time; and they are dreadful, are lizards. They don't bite ye like snakes, or spit at ye like toads; but if ye sleep wid ye'r mouth open, they crawl, just crawl down ye'r throat into ye'r stommick and kill ye. For they've schales on their bodies, and can't get back; and they just scratch, and bite, and claw at your innards till ye die." There was nothing to be done with these terrible lizards but to drink an unmentionable potion, which, I am assured, is strong enough to rout the most determined lizard of them all, and bring him to nought. It is, however, noteworthy that stories of persons being killed by lizards crawling down their throats are widely distributed. There is one of a young Hampshire lady who, the day before she was married, went to sleep in her father's garden, and was killed by a lizard crawling down her throat. And, my informant said, the lizard is carved on her tomb—a fact which makes it appear likely that the story was made for the armorial bearings of the lady in question.
By a pleasant road lined with cabbage gardens we came on to Newport—a port which, like this, is not one of the "has beens," but one of the "would have beens." There is the semblance of a port without ships, and warehouses without goods, and quays overgrown with grass. Beyond Newport the country grows wilder. There is less cultivation, and behind every little shanty rises the great brown shoulder of the neighbouring mountain covered with rough, bent grass—or sedge, as it is called here. Grey plover and curlew scud across the road, a sign of hard weather, and near the rarer homesteads towers the hawk, looking for his prey. Now and again come glimpses of the bay, of the great island of Innisturk, of Clare Island, and of Innisboffin. Wilder and wilder grows the scenery as we approach Grace O'Malley's Castle, a small tenement for a Queen of Connaught. It is a lone tower like a border "peel," but on the very edge of the sea. The country folk show the window through which passed the cable of a mighty war ship to be tied round Grace O'Malley's bedpost, whom one concludes to have been, in a small way, a kind of pirate queen. As we approach Tiernaur the road becomes lively with country folk going to and from chapel, and stopping to exchange a jest—always in the tongue of the country—by the way. In this part of the wild road the Saxon feels himself, indeed, a stranger—in race, in creed, and in language. Now and then he sees the Irishman of the stage, clad in the short swallow-tailed coat with pocket-flaps, the corduroy breeches, the blue worsted stockings and misshapen caubeen, made familiar by a thousand novels and plays. These articles of attire are becoming day by day as rare as the red petticoats formerly worn by the peasant women. On the latter, however, may still be seen, now and then, the great blue cloth cloaks which once formed a distinctive article of costume, and a very necessary one in this severe climate. Presently jog by a few men on horseback, very ill-mounted on sorry beasts, and riding in unison with the quality of their animals. Men, women and children are in their Sunday best, and to all outward appearance scrupulously clean. I am constrained to believe that among the very lowest class—that which comes under prison regulations—the preliminary washing is counted as the severest part of the punishment; but the evidence of my own eyesight is in favour of the strict personal cleanliness of Sunday folk in this part of the country. Near Tiernaur I find bands of men marching to the gathering, which is a purely local affair, not regularly organized by the Land League. But the men themselves appear to be very strictly organized, to march well, and to obey their bugler promptly. They are all in Sunday clothes, wear green scarves, and carry green banners. The latter are inscribed with various mottoes proper to the occasion. On the Kilmeena banner appears, "No prison cell nor tyrant's claim Can keep us from our glorious aim." The Glendahurk men proclaim on another green banner, bearing the harp without the crown, that "Those who toil Must own the soil;" and the Mulrawny contingent call upon the people to "Hold the Mountain," to cry "Down with the Land Grabbers," and "God save Ireland." The musical arrangements are of the humblest kind, and not a single man is armed, at least outwardly, and not one in twenty carries a stick. All is quiet and orderly, and the same tranquil demeanour obtains at Tiernaur, or rather at Newfield Chapel, appointed as the trysting-place after morning service. In accordance with recent regulations there is no ostentatious display of police, but everybody knows that a strong detachment is posted in Mrs. Hunter's house, and that on any sign of disturbance they will promptly put in an appearance. On the side of the Government, as on that of the people, there is an obvious desire to avoid any semblance of an appeal to force.
The scene at Newfield Chapel is both interesting and beautiful. Tiernaur lies between the brown mountains and a sapphire sea, studded with islands rising precipitously from its level. In front lies the lofty eminence of Clare Island, below which appears to nestle the picturesque castle of Rossturk. The bay—which is said to hold as many islands as there are days in a year and one over—presents a series of magnificent views. One might be assisting at one of the meetings of the Covenanters held amid the seas and mountains of Galloway, but with the difference that the faith of the meeting is that of the Church of Rome, and that the scenery is far grander than that of Wigton and Kirkcudbright. It is a natural amphitheatre of sea and mountain, perfect in its beauty, but for one dark spot, just visible—the place where Hunter was shot. The chapel, modest and unpretending, is a simple, whitewashed edifice, surrounded by a white wall, over which gleam, in the already declining sun, the red and black plaid shawls of the peasant women who have remained after mass to witness the proceedings. Not a dozen bonnets are present, and hardly as many hats, for nearly all the women and girls wear the shawl pulled over their heads, Lancashire fashion. In appearance the people contrast favourably with those of the inland towns of county Mayo. The men look active and wiry, and the women are well grown and in many cases have an air of distinction foreign to the heavy-browed, black-haired Celt of the interior. Altogether the picture is well worthy of a master of colour, with its masses of black and green, relieved by patches of bright red, standing boldly out against the background of brown moor and azure sea.
The proceedings are hardly in consonance with the dignity of the surroundings. Many marchings to and fro occur before the various deputations are duly ushered to their place near the temporary hustings erected in front of the chapel. When the meeting—of some two thousand people at most—has gathered, there is an unlucky fall of rain, advantage of which is taken by a local "omadhaun," or "softy" as they call him in Northern England, to mount the stage and make a speech, which elicits loud shouts of laughter. Taking little heed of the pelting shower the "omadhaun," who wears a red bandanna like a shawl, and waves a formidable shillelagh, makes a harangue which, so far as I can understand it, has neither head nor tail. Delivered with much violent gesticulation, the speech is evidently to the taste of the audience, who cheer and applaud more or less ironically. At last the rain is over, and the serious business of the day commences. The chair is taken by the parish priest of Tiernaur, whose initial oration is peculiar in its character. The tone and manner of speaking are excellent, but alack for the matter! A more wandering, blundering piece of dreary repetition never bemused an audience. In fairness to the priest, however, it must be admitted that a Government reporter is on the platform, and that the presence of that official may perhaps exercise a blighting influence on the budding flowers of rhetoric. All that the speaker—a handsome man, with a very fine voice—said, amounted to a statement, repeated over and over again with slight variations, that the people of Tiernaur were placed by the Almighty on the spot intended for them to live upon; that they were between the mountains and the sea; that all that the landlords could take from them they had taken; "the wonder was they had not taken the salt sea itself." This was all the speaker had to say, and he said it over and over again. He was succeeded by his curate, who insisted with like iteration on the duty of supporting the people imposed upon the land. Out of the fatness thereof they should, would, and must be maintained. Other sources of profit there were, according to this rev. gentleman, absolutely none. The land belonged to the people "on payment of a just rent" to the landlords. "Down wid 'em!" yelled an enthusiast, who was instantly suppressed. And the people had a right to live, not like the beasts of the field, but like decent people. And da capo.
Now among many and beautiful and picturesque things Ireland possesses some others altogether detestable. The car of the country, for instance, is the most abominable of all civilised vehicles. Why the numskull who invented the crab-like machine turned it round sidewise is as absolutely inconceivable as that since dog-carts have been introduced into the West the car should survive. But it does survive to the discomfort and fatigue of everybody, and the especial disgust of the writer. There is another thing in Connaught which I love not to look upon. That is the plate of a diner at a table d'hote, on which he has piled a quantity of roast goose with a liberal supply of stuffing, together with about a pound of hot boiled beef, and cabbage, carrots, turnips, and parsnips in profusion—the honour of a separate plate being accorded to the national vegetable alone. It is not agreeable to witness the demolition of this "Benjamin's mess" against time; and when the feat is being performed by several persons the effect thereof is the reverse of appetising. But I would rather be driven seventy miles—Irish miles—on a car, and compelled to sit down to roast goose commingled with boiled beef and "trimmings," than I would listen to a political speech from the curate of Tiernaur. By degrees I felt an utter weariness and loathing of life creeping over me, and I turned my face towards the sun, setting in golden glory behind Clare Island, and lighting up the rich ruddy brown of the mountain, behind which lay the invaded pastures of Knockdahurk. By the way this invasion of what are elsewhere deemed the rights of property was barely alluded to by the reverend speakers, the latter of whom, after making all kinds of blunders, finally broke down as he was appealing to the "immortal and immutable laws of—of—of"—and here some wicked prompter suggested "Nature," a suggestion adopted by the unhappy speaker before he had time to recollect himself. After this lame and impotent conclusion, a gentleman in a green cap and sash, richly adorned with the harp without the crown, infused some vitality into the proceedings by declaring that the only creature on God's earth worse than a landlord was the despicable wretch who presumed to take a farm at an advanced rent. This remark was distinctly to the point, and was applauded accordingly. It was indeed a significant, but in this part of the country quite unnecessary, intimation that safer, if not better, holdings might be found than "Hunter's Farm." As most of the persons present had come from a long distance, some as much as fifteen or twenty Irish miles, the subsequent proceedings, such as the passing of resolutions concerning fixity of tenure and so forth, were got through rapidly, and the meeting dispersed as quietly as it assembled. The organized bodies marched off the ground in good order, without the slightest sign of riot or even of enthusiasm. Men and women, the latter especially, were almost sad and gloomy—for Irish people. I certainly heard one merry laugh as I was making for my car, and it was at my own expense. A raw-boned, black-haired woman, "tall, as Joan of France or English Moll," insisted that I should buy some singularly ill-favoured apples of her. As I declined for the last time she fired a parting shot, "An' why won't ye buy me apples? Sure they're big and round and plump like yerself, aghra"—a sally vastly to the taste of the bystanders. It struck me, however, that the people generally seemed rather tired than excited by the proceedings of the day—the most contented man of all being, I take it, Mike Gibbons, who had been driving a brisk trade at his "shebeen," the only house of business or entertainment for miles around.
As I drove homewards on what had suddenly become a hideously raw evening, my driver entertained me with many heartrending and more or less truthful stories of evictions. He showed me a vast tract of land belonging to the Marquis of Sligo, from which the original inhabitants had, according to his story, been driven to make way for one tenant who paid less rent for all than they did for a part. One hears of course a great deal of this kind of thing from the poorer folk,—car-drivers, whose eloquence is proverbial, not excepted. My driver had assuredly not been corrupted by reading inflammatory articles in newspapers, for, although he speaks English as well as Irish, "letter or line knows he never a one" of either, any more than did stout William of Deloraine. His statements, however, are strictly of that class of travellers' tales told by car-drivers, and must be taken with more than the proverbial grain of seasoning. I find him as a rule very quiet until I have administered to him a dose of "the wine of the country," and then he mourns over the desolation of the land and the ravages of the so-called "crowbar brigade" as if they were things of yesterday. Whether the local Press reflects the opinion of the peasants of Mayo, or the peasants only echo the opinion of the Press as reproduced to them by native orators, I am at present hardly prepared to decide. One thing, however, is certain. Not only that professional "deludher," the car-driver, but tradesmen, farmers, and all the less wealthy part of the community still speak sorely of the evictions of thirty and forty years ago, and point out the graveyards which alone mark the sites of thickly populated hamlets abolished by the crowbar. All over this part of the country people complain bitterly of loneliness. According to their view, their friends have been swept away and the country reduced to a desert in order that it might be let in blocks of several square miles each to Englishmen and Scotchmen, who employ the land for grazing purposes only, and perhaps a score or two of people where once a thousand lived—after a fashion. It is of no avail to point out to them that the wretchedly small holdings common enough even now in Connaught cannot be made to support the farmer, or rather labourer, and his family decently, even in the best of years, and that any failure of crop must signify ruin and starvation. Any observation of this kind is ill received by the people, who cling to their inhospitable mountains as a woman clings to a deformed or idiot child. And in this astonishing perversion of patriotism they are supported in unreasoning fashion by their pastors, who seem to imagine that because a person is born on any particular spot he must remain there and insist on its maintaining him and his.
Now, it is not inconceivable that a landlord should take a very different view of the situation. Whether his estate is encumbered or not, he expects to get something out of it for himself. It was therefore not unnatural that advantage should have been taken of the famine and the Encumbered Estates Act to get the land into such condition that it would return some ascertainable sum. The best way of effecting this was thought to be the removal of the inhabitants who paid rent or not as it suited them, and in place of a few hundred of these to secure one responsible tenant, even if he paid much less per acre than the native peasant. I draw particular attention to the latter fact, as one of the popular grievances sorely and lengthily dwelt upon is that the oppressor not only took the land from the people, evicted them, and demolished their cabins with crowbars, but that he let his property to the hated foreigner for less than the natives had paid and were willing to pay, or promised to pay, him. He let land by thousands of acres to Englishmen and Scotchmen at a pound an acre, whereas he had received twenty-five and thirty shillings from the starving peasants of Connaught. This was deliberate cruelty, framed to drive the people away who were willing to stay and pay their high rents as of old. But the fact unfortunately was that Lord Lucan, Lord Sligo, and other great landowners in county Mayo had found it so difficult to get rent out of their tenants that they determined to let their land to large farmers only, at such a price as they could get, but with the certainty that the rent, whatever it was, would be well and duly paid, and there would be an end to the matter. This, I hear, is the true history of the eviction of the old tenants and the letting of great tracts of land to tenants like Mr. Simpson on favourable terms. The landlord knew that he would get his rent, and he has got it, that is, hitherto.
The story of the great farm, colossal for this part of the country, leased by Mr. Simpson from Lord Lucan, and now on that nobleman's hands, is a curious one as revealing the real capacity of the soil when properly handled. Twenty-two hundred Irish acres at as many pounds sterling per annum represent in Mayo an immense transaction. The tenant came to his work with capital and ripe experience, farmed well, and, I am assured on the best authority, fared well, getting a handsome return for his capital. So satisfied was he with his bargain, that he offered to renew his agreement with Lord Lucan if he were allowed a deduction for the false measurement of the acreage of the farm, which had been corrected by a subsequent survey. As I am instructed, there were not 2,200 acres, but the tenant was quite willing to pay a pound per acre for what was there. Now, an Irish acre is so much bigger than an English acre that thirty acres Irish measurement make forty-nine English. Lord Lucan consequently thought the farm cheaply let, and hesitated to make any allowance. This negotiation began last spring, but soon became hopeless. The country about Hollymount and Ballinrobe grew disturbed. Proprietors, agents, and large farmers required "protection" from the constabulary, and there was no longer anything to attract capital to the neighbourhood in the face of a deterrent population. Hence one of the largest and most popular farmers in Mayo has retired from the field with his capital, and has left his landlord to farm the land himself. Apparently Lord Lucan can do no better; for it would be difficult to find a stranger of sufficient substance to rent and farm twenty-two hundred acres of land, endowed with sufficient hardihood to bring his money and his life hither under the existing condition of affairs.
The incident just narrated, moreover, appears to prove that one object at least of the party of agitation has been achieved. To politico-economists it will appear a Pyrrhic victory. Capital is effectually scared from this part of Ireland, and those who have invested money on mortgage and found themselves at last compelled to "take the beast for the debt" are bitterly regretting their ill-judged promptitude. A large farm between this and Achill, or near Ballina on the north, or in the country extending from the spot where Lord Mountmorres was shot, towards Ballinrobe, Hollymount, Claremorris, or Castlebar, could hardly be let now at any price, even where the neighbours have not actually taken possession, as at Knockdahurk. Landlords have apparently the three proverbial courses open to them. They cannot sell their land, it is true; but they can let it lie waste, they can farm it themselves "if," as a trustworthy informant said to me just now, "they dare," or they can let it directly, as of old, to small tenants, who will come in at once and perhaps pay what they consider a fair rent in good years. It is folly to expect them to pay at all when crops are bad. And then there is the inevitable delay and uncertainty at all times which has led to the system of "middlemen" of which so much has been said and written. The middleman is that handy person, to the landlord, who assures him of a certain income from his property by buying certain rents at a deduction of 30 or 40 per cent., and collecting them as best he can. To the landlord he is a most useful man of business, thanks to whom he can count upon a certain amount of ready money. To the peasant he appears as a fiendish oppressor.
Touching this word "peasant," a great deal of misconception concerning the condition of the people of the West and their attitude towards their landlords will be got rid of by substituting it for the word "farmer." It is absurd to compare the tenant of a small holding in Mayo with an English farmer—properly so called. The latter is a man engaged in a large business, and must possess, or, as I regret to be obliged to write, have been possessed of capital. The misuse of the word farmer and its application to the little peasant cultivators here can only lead to confusion. The proper standard of comparison with the so-called Mayo farmer is the English farmer's labourer. In education, in knowledge of his trade, in the command of the comforts of life, a Mayo cultivator of six, eight or ten acres is the analogue of the English labourer at fourteen shillings per week. The latter has nearly always a better cottage than the Mayo man, and, taking the whole year round, is about as well off as the Irishman. The future of neither is very bright. The Wessex hind may jog on into old age and the workhouse; the Irishman may be ruined and reduced to a similar condition at once by a failure of his harvest. Neither has any capital, yet the Irishman obtains an amount of credit which would strike Hodge dumb with amazement. He is allowed to owe, frequently one year's, sometimes two years' rent. Indeed, I know of one particularly tough customer who at this moment owes three years' rent—to wit, 24l.—and will neither pay anything nor go. Now for an English labourer to obtain credit for a five-pound note would be a remarkable experience. His cottage and his potato patch cost him from one to two shillings per week; but who ever heard of his owing six months', let alone three years', rent? But this is the country of credit; and, so far as I have seen, nobody is in a violent hurry either to pay or to be paid, bating those who have lent money on mortgage. And even they are not in a hurry to foreclose just now.
CASTLEBAR, Oct. 28.
The marked—I had almost written ostentatious—absence of weapons at the meetings of the last two Sundays has attracted great attention. From perfectly trustworthy information I gather that appearances are in this matter more than usually deceitful. It is impossible to doubt that the large population of this country is armed to the teeth. Since the expiration of the Peace Preservation Act the purchase of firearms has been incessant. At the stores in Westport, where carbines are sold, more have been disposed of in the last five months than in the ten previous years, and revolvers are also in great demand. The favourite weapon of the peasantry, on account of its low price and other good qualities, is the old Enfield rifle bought out of the Government stores, shortened and rebored to get rid of the rifling. The work of refashioning the superannuated rifles and adapting them for slugs and buckshot has, I hear, been performed for the most part in America, whence the guns have been re-imported into this country in large quantities. It is believed that the suppression of arms on the occasion of large gatherings is due to the judgment of popular leaders, who are naturally averse to any display which would afford the Government a pretext for disarming the inhabitants. There is, however, no doubt that the people of this district are more completely armed than at any previous period of Irish history. A ten-shilling gun license enables any idle person to walk about anywhere with a gun on his shoulder, but this privilege is rarely exercised. Two mornings ago four men passed in front of the Railway Hotel at Westport with guns on their shoulders, but such occurrences are very rare, the only individuals who carry weapons ostentatiously being landlords, agents, and the Royal Irish Constabulary affording them "protection." This protection is always granted when asked for, but many landlords have an almost invincible repugnance to go everywhere attended by armed police. Lord Ardilaun, I hear, has organised a little bodyguard of his own people, in preference to being followed about by the tall dark figures now frequent everywhere in county Mayo from Achill to Newport, from Ballina to Ballinrobe, and from Claremorris to Westport. Still, anything like a "rising in the West" is regarded here as chimerical; and the arming of the people as aimed only at the terrifying of landlords. No apprehension of any immediate outbreak or collision with the authorities is entertained in the very centre of disturbance. It may be added that, owing to the firm yet gentle grip of the Resident Magistrate, Major A.G. Wyse, late of the 48th Regiment, a veteran of the Crimea and of the war of the Indian Mutiny, the Government has this district well in hand, and is kept perfectly informed as to every occurrence of the slightest importance. Meanwhile, the possibility of armed resistance to the serving of civil-bill and other processes is averted by the presence of an overwhelming body of armed constabulary. Fifty men and a couple of sub-inspectors attended the serving of some civil-bill processes towards Newport only a few days ago, and a similar body attended to witness an abortive attempt at eviction on Miss Gardiner's property near Ballina.
From all that I can ascertain, the position of the Lord-Lieutenant of the country is by no means enviable. Having succeeded in losing his chief tenant and been compelled, in order to farm his own land in safety, to ask for "protection," he is now embroiled with a portion at least of the Castlebar people, who think, rightly or wrongly, that the lord of the soil and collector of tolls and dues has something to do with providing the town with a market-place. Into the merits of the question it is hardly necessary to enter. Suffice it to say that the local Press has taken advantage of the occasion to renew the popular outcry against "this old exterminator." Perhaps it does not hurt anybody very much to be called an "exterminator," especially when the extermination referred to occurred thirty years ago. The instance is merely worth citing as showing the undying hatred felt in this part of the country towards those who, acting wisely or unwisely, after the famine, determined to get rid of a population which the soil had shown itself unequal to support. There is no doubt that Lord Lucan brought "a conscience to his work" and made a solitude around Castlebar. "On the ruins of many a once happy homestead," continues the local scribe, "do the lambs frisk and play, a fleecy tribe that has, through landlord tyranny, superseded the once happy peasant." It is also urged as an additional grievance that the sheep, cattle, and pigs raised by "the old exterminator" are sent from the railway station "to appease the appetite of John Bull." Thus Lord Lucan and in a minor degree John Bull are shown up as the destroyers of the Irish peasant and devourers of that produce which should have gone to support him in that happiness and plenty which he enjoyed—at some probably apocryphal period. Be this, however, as it may, the personal hatred of the "exterminator" is a fact to be taken into account in any attempt to reflect the public opinion of this part of Ireland.
Those able to look more impartially on the matter than is possible to the children of the soil can perceive that the decay only too visible in many parts of Mayo is due in great measure to causes far beyond the control of exterminators, or even of the arch-devourer John Bull himself. In the old time, before the famine and before railroads and imported grain, this far western corner of Ireland had a trade of its own. I am not prepared to believe that the enormous warehouses of Westport were ever filled to overflowing with merchandise, being inclined rather to assign their vast size to that tendency towards overbuilding which is a permanent characteristic of a generous and hopeful people. Perhaps the trade of Westport might have expanded to the dimensions of the gaunt warehouses which now look emptily on the sea, but for adverse influences. At the period of the old French war Westport was undoubtedly a great emporium for grain, especially oats, for beef, pork, and military stores, which were shipped thence to our army in the Peninsula. But other sources of supply and improved means of communication have left the little seaport on the Atlantic, as it were, on one side, and such vitality as exists in the coasting trade of this part of the country is rather visible at Ballina than at Westport. It is quite possible that under the old condition of affairs the peasant whose oats were in brisk demand for cavalry stores fared better than his son who fell on the evil days of the famine; but there can be no doubt that the decline of Mayo as an exporting county can hardly be laid to the charge of the depopulators of the land. So far as can be descried through the cloud of prejudice which involves the entire question, the land was no longer able to feed its inhabitants, much less afford any surplus for sale or export.
The Marquis of Sligo, whose agent, Mr. Smith, was shot at—and missed—last year, is almost as unpopular as Lord Lucan, for not only have most of the people been swept from his country, but the rent was raised on the remainder no longer ago than 1876. It is probably this nobleman who was in the mind of the humourist who pointed out that the shooting of an agent was hardly likely to intimidate that "distant Trojan," the landlord. The Lucan and Sligo lands in Mayo have, therefore, been managed on nearly parallel lines, and it is curious to contrast with them the management of Sir Robert Blosse's estate. This is another very large property, and has been conducted on the exactly opposite principle to that pursued by Lords Sligo and Lucan. The people have been let alone; they retain the holdings their fathers tilled, and they have tided over bad times so well that their April rents have, to my certain knowledge, been all paid. What will occur in November it is unnecessary to predict, but it may be remarked, by the way, that the Irish landlord, whose rents do not overlap each other, is in an exceptionally fortunate position.
When I was at Ballinrobe the other day I was much struck with the unanimity with which everybody had agreed to leave that unfortunate gentleman, Mr. Boycott, in the lurch. That his servants should revolt, that his labourers should go away, that strangers should be bribed or frightened away from taking their place, are things by no means unparalleled even in the most manufacturing town in England. But that his butcher and baker should strike against their customer was a new experience hardly to be explained on any ready-made theory. I confess that I was so much astonished that I preferred waiting for facts before committing myself to any explanation. At this moment I have no hesitation in stating that the tradespeople of the smaller towns in the west are neither strong enough to resist the pressure put upon them by the popular party nor very much disposed to defend their right to buy and sell as they please. On the same principle apparently that a great nobleman of the Scottish Lowlands has, since the last election, made his sovereign displeasure known to his tenants, have the party of agitation made "taboo" any tradesmen who have dared to run counter to the current of present opinion. When a baker is told he must not do a certain thing he obeys at once, and, with a certain quickness and suppleness of intellect, casts about to see how he can best represent himself as a martyr. "Pay rint, Sorr," said a well-to-do shopkeeper to me two days ago; "and how are thim poor divils to pay rint that cannot pay me? And how am I to pay any one when I can't get a shillin' ov a soul?"
This little incident will explain how the opportunity of shirking responsibility is seized upon by many. To begin with, the advantage is with the assailant, for the custom of any one farmer or agent is a small matter compared with that of the country side. It is therefore manifestly to the interest of the little shopkeeper to curry favour with the populace rather than with those set in authority over them. Again, the petty trader would fain, after the example laid down by Panurge, pray to God for the success of the peasant in order that he might "de terre d'aultruy remplir son fosse"—that the till might be filled if the agent's book remained empty. As I have previously explained, everybody owes to somebody, or is owed by somebody, in this island of weeping skies and smiling faces. The peasant owes his landlord, who owes the mortgagee or the agent. And the peasant has another creditor—the little trader who works on the credit extended to him from Dublin or Belfast. Beyond a certain limit the little shopkeeper cannot go. So he likes to be threatened, to be made "taboo," to be a martyr, and then presses the tenants who have paid no rent to the landlord to pay him "as they can afford to, begorra, if they hould the harvest." This advice of Mr. Parnell's is keenly relished by many, and has gained him, from a poet, whose Hibernian extraction speaks in his every line, the incomprehensible title of "Young Lion of the Fold."
Young Lion of the Fold, Says the Shan Van Vocht, Young Lion of the Fold, Says the Shan Van Vocht; Young Lion of the Fold, Bade us the harvest hold— We'll do as he has told, Says the Shan Van Vocht.
We'll pay no more Rackrents, Says the Shan Van Vocht, We'll pay no more Rackrents, Says the Shan Van Vocht; We'll pay no more Rackrents, To upstart shoneen gents, Whose hearts are hard as flints, Says the Shan Van Vocht.
Then glory to Parnell, Says the Shan Van Vocht, Then glory to Parnell, Says the Shan Van Vocht, Oh, all glory to Parnell, Whom the people love so well, And his foes may go to ——, Says the Shan Van Vocht.
There is an American humourist who once said that "if the lion ever did lie down with the lamb it would be with the lamb inside of him." Mayhap this is what the indigenous "pote" dimly shadows forth from the mistland of verse. Or has he mixed up the lion with the eagle in a dovecot?
MISS GARDINER AND HER TENANTS.
WESTPORT, CO. MAYO, Nov. 1st.
A trip into the northern part of this county, which has occupied me for the last three days, has hardly reassured me as to the condition of the country around Ballina and Killala. The last-named place is famous for its round tower and that invasion of the French in '98, which led to "Castlebar Races." Ballina is a town of about six thousand inhabitants, situate on the river Moy—an excellent salmon stream which debouches into Killala Bay, the most important inlet of the sea between Westport and Sligo. Perhaps Ballina is the principal town in county Mayo; certainly it seems to be the most improving one. It is, however, a considerable distance from the sea. Just now it is the seat of a species of internecine war between landlord and tenant, waged under conditions which lend it extraordinary interest. Exacting "landlordism" and recalcitrant "tenantism" seem here to have said their last word. Between a considerable landholder and her tenants a fight is being fought out which throws a lurid light on the present land agitation in Ireland.
The landholder referred to is the Miss Gardiner whose name is familiar in connection with more or less successful attempts at eviction. This lady, who many years ago inherited a large property from her father, the late Captain Gardiner, has become a by no means persona grata to "the Castle," the sub-sheriff, the Royal Irish Constabulary, and her tenants. She is doubtless a resolute and determined woman, and possessed by a vigorous idea of the rights of property. If not descended from the celebrated Grace O'Malley, Queen of Connaught, she has at least equally autocratic ideas with that celebrated ruler of the West. For years past Miss Gardiner has been famous as a raiser of stock, equine and bovine, but unfortunately she has been most frequently before the public as the strong assertor of territorial rights. She dwells far beyond Killala, near the village of Kilcun, at a house called Farmhill. From Westport to Farmhill the country is as picturesque as any in the West of Ireland. The snow-clad hills of Nephin and Nephin Beg are in sight all the way from Manulla Junction—the chief railway centre hereabouts, and the line past Loughs Cullen and Conn to Ballina, and the car-drive beyond Ballina, reveal a series of magnificent views. There is, however, something very "uncanny" to the Saxon eye about Farmhill. The first object which comes in sight is a police barrack, with a high wall surrounding a sort of "compound," the whole being obviously constructed with a view to resisting a possible attack. This stiff staring assertion of the power of the law stands out gaunt and grim in the midst of a landscape of great beauty. Autumn hues gild the trees, the wide pastures are of brilliant green, and on the rough land the reddening bent-grass glows richly in the declining sun, which throws its glory alike over snowy hills and rosy clouds. The only blot, if a white edifice can be thus designated, is the stern, angular police barrack. In the front inclosure the sergeant is drilling his men; and those not under drill are watching the domain immediately opposite, to the end that no unauthorised person may approach it. Like most of the dwellings in a country otherwise sparsely supplied with trees, Farmhill is nestled in a grove. But the surroundings of the house are not those associated in the ordinary mind with a home. The outer gate is locked hard and fast, and the little sulky-looking porter's lodge is untenanted. Its windows are barred, and all communication with the house itself is cut off, except to adventurous persons prepared to climb a stone wall. From the lodge onward the private road passes through a poor kind of park, and subsides every now and then into a quagmire. It is vile walking in this park of Farmhill, and as the house is approached there is a barking of dogs. Oxen are seen grazing, and peacocks as well as turkeys heave in sight. The house itself is barred and barricaded in a remarkable manner. The front door is so strongly fastened that it is said not to have been opened for years. Massive bars of iron protect the windows, and the solitary servant visible is a species of shepherd or odd man, who comes slinking round the corner. No stranger gentlewoman's dwelling could be found in the three kingdoms. The spot reeks with a dungeon-like atmosphere. It is, according to the present state of life in Mayo, simply a "strong place," duly fortified and garrisoned against the enemy.
It must be confessed that the proprietress who has a police detachment opposite to her gate, and lives in a house defended by iron bars and chains, has some reason for her precautions against surprise. She was shot at through the window of her own house not very long ago. Now this experience of being shot at acts variously on different minds. Mr. Smith, the Marquis of Sligo's agent, whose son returned fire and killed the intending assassin, took the matter as an incident of business in the West, and is not a whit less cheery and happy than before the attack at Claggan Mountain. It is also true that Miss Gardiner is not an atom less personally brave than Mr. Smith. It is said that she carries a revolver in the pocket of her shooting-jacket, and only asks for an escort of armed constabulary when she goes into Ballina. But she, nevertheless, thinks it well to convert her home into a fortress—perhaps the only one of the kind now extant in Europe. Here she dwells with a lady-companion, Miss Pringle, far out of range of such social life as remains in the county, occupied nearly exclusively with the management of her estate; a matter which, far from concerning herself alone, entails great vexation, embarrassment, and expense upon others. The sending of bodies of constabulary half a hundred strong to protect the officers of the law serving writs on Miss Gardiner's tenantry is a troublesome and costly business, and has the effect of stirring up strife and exciting public opinion to no small degree. As her property is widely scattered over Northern Mayo, there is generally something going on in her behalf. One day there is an ejectment at Ballycastle; the next an abortive attempt to evict at Cloontakilla. In the opinion of the poorer peasantry this eccentric lady is a malevolent fiend, an "extherminathor," a tyrant striving to make the lives of the poor so wretched as to drive them off her estate. "A sthrange lady is she, Sorr," cried one of her tenants to me. "Och, she's a divil of a woman, entoirely. All she wants is to hunt the poor off the face of the wor-r-rold." There are, however, to this question, as to every Irish question, two sides—if not more. If Miss Gardiner "hunts" her tenants off her estate, Lord Erne's people are just now trying their best to perform the same operation upon Captain Boycott.
It is not all at once that Farmhill has become a sort of dreary edition of Castle Rackrent, oppressing the mind with almost inexpressible gloom. The owner's feud with her tenants began long before the Land League was known. It is said in Northern Mayo that her father was the first of the "exterminators," justly or unjustly so called, and that the traditions of the family have been heartily carried out by his heiress. There is perhaps very little doubt that Miss Gardiner, like Lord Lucan and the Marquis of Sligo, prefers large farmers as tenants to a crowd of miserable peasants striving to extract a living for an entire family from a paltry patch of five acres of poor land; but whatever her wish may be she has undoubtedly a large number of small tenants on her estate at the present moment. It is therefore probable that she is somewhat less of an exterminatrix than the exasperated people represent her to be. In their eyes, however, she is guilty of the unpardonable crime of insisting upon her rent being paid. Her formula is simple, "Give me my rent, or give me my land." In England and in some other countries such a demand would be looked upon as perfectly reasonable; but "pay or go" is in this part of Ireland looked upon as the option of an exterminator. Miss Gardiner merely asks for her own, and judged by an English standard would appear to be a strange kind of Lady Bountiful if she allowed her tenants to go on quietly living on her property without making any show of payment. But this is very much what landlords are expected to do in county Mayo, except in very good seasons. The majority of the people in the islands of Clew Bay have given up the idea of paying rent as a bad job altogether, and these advanced spirits have many imitators on the mainland. To the request, "Give me my rent, or give me my land," is made one eternal answer, "And how can I pay the rent when the corn is washed away and the pitaties rot in the ground? And if I give ye the land, hwhere am I to go, and my wife and my eight childher?" This answer, long used as an argumentum ad misericordiam, is now defended by popular orators. No longer ago than yesterday I heard it averred that the failure of the crop by the visitation of God absolved the tenant from the payment of rent. The assumption of the speaker was that landlord and tenant were in a manner partners, and that if the joint business venture produced nothing the working partner could pay over no share of profit to the sleeping partner. Such doctrine is naturally acceptable to the tenant. It signifies that in bad years the landlord gets nothing; in good years, what the tenant pleases to give him, after buying manure and paying up arrears of debt all round. It is, however, hardly surprising that the landlords see the question through a differently tinted medium. They entertain an idea that the land is their property, and, like any other commodity, should be let or sold to a person who can pay for it. Strict and downright "landlordism," as it is called, as if it were a disease like "Daltonism," does not see things through a medium charged with the national colour, and Miss Gardiner is a true type of downright landlordism such as would not be complained of in England, but in Ireland is viewed with absolute abhorrence.
As a proof how utterly an exacting landlord puts himself, if not outside of the law, yet beyond any claim to public sympathy, I may cite the conduct of Mr. James C. MacDonnell, the sub-sheriff of this county. I have the story from an intimate friend of that gentleman, on whose veracity I can implicitly rely. I say this because I did not in the first place pay much attention to the story, but have since been enabled to verify it in every particular. Last spring Mr. MacDonnell, in his capacity as sub-sheriff, was required by Miss Gardiner to serve notices of ejectment against about a score of her tenants who had not paid up. There was great excitement when it became known that twenty families would be evicted from their holdings, and a breach of the peace appeared very probable. In England the public voice would possibly be in favour of executing the law at all hazards. Some of the tenants owed two years' rent. The patience of the landlord was exhausted. The tenants would neither pay nor take themselves off. There was no option but to evict them; the sub-sheriff must do his duty, backed by as large a body of constabulary as might be necessary. Law and order must be enforced. This would be the view taken in any other place but this, but in Ireland the matter appeared in a totally different light. To begin with, the idea of blood being shed in order that Miss Gardiner might get in her rents appeared utterly preposterous. Secondly, the two past crops had completely failed in Mayo. Thirdly, the bad crops of 1878 and 1879 in England had prevented the Mayo men from earning the English harvest money on which they entirely depend for their rent, and much more than their rent. Finally, the sub-sheriff himself, who, despite his being at once a proprietor, a middleman, and an officer of the law, has won popularity by sheer weight of character, felt a natural reluctance to enforce his authority. Compelled to execute the law, he determined to make a personal appeal to the tenants before evicting them. Accordingly, he adjured them to get together a little money to show that they really meant to act well and honestly, and that he would then help them himself. The matter ended in his advancing them about 140l. out of his own pocket, on their notes of hand, and paying Miss Gardiner, who observed that "he had done well for her tenants, but not so well for her." To the credit of the tenants helped by Mr. MacDonnell it must be added that all have met their notes save two or three, who among them owe but 15l. This little story is entirely typical of the kindliness and honesty of Mayo men, and of their peculiar ideas of right and justice. Miss Gardiner's tenants would not pay her a shilling; they were prepared to resist eviction by force, and would have been backed by the whole country side, but they paid the sub-sheriff with the first money they got. He had stood their friend, and they could not act meanly towards him.
As a contrast to this pleasant picture I am compelled to draw one not altogether so agreeable. I mentioned in a previous letter a particularly "tough customer" who, owing L24 for three years' rent, would part neither with a single shilling nor with the land. I thought this champion of the irreconcilables must be worth a visit, and foregoing the diversion of a call on Tom Molloy, a noted character in the Ballina district, I drove out in the direction of Cloontakilla. On the way to that dismal spot by a diabolical road I passed a homestead, so neat and trim, standing on the hillside clear of trees, that I at once asked if it were not owned by a Scotchman, and was answered that Mr. Petrie was indeed a Scot and a considerable tenant farmer. On one side of his farm was a knot of dismantled houses, telling their story plainly and pathetically enough, and on the further side stood a row of hovels, only one of which was uninhabited. The locked-up cabin had a brace of bullet-holes in the door, those which caused a great deal of trouble some time since. A Mr. Joynt it seems, in a wild freak, fired his gun through the door of the cabin occupied by Mistress Murphy, who with her children is now about to join her husband in America. Instead of being frightened the courageous matron opened the door, issued therefrom armed with a fire-shovel and administered to the delinquent "the greatest batin' begorra" my informant had ever heard of. Afterwards the law was invoked against Mr. Joynt, who was esteemed very lucky in escaping punishment on account of his ill-health. A little further on, still to the right of the road, branched off suddenly a narrow bridle-path, or "boreen," as it is called in this part of the country. It was my car-driver, a teetotaller, opined on this "boreen," that the irreconcilable tenant, one Thomas Browne, dwelt. There were doubts in his mind; but, nevertheless, we turned on to the wretched track, and tried to get the car over the stones and mud-lakes which formed it. It could not be strictly called a road of any kind, but was rather a space left between two deep ditches of black peat-oozings from the bog. Finding progress almost impossible, we at last forsook the car. I can quite imagine an impatient reader asking why we did not get out and walk at first; but the option was hardly a simple one. By walking the horse and letting the car swing and jolt along one experienced the combined agonies of sea-sickness and rheumatism, with the additional chance of being shot headlong into the inky ditch on either side. By taking to what the driver called "our own hind legs," we accepted an ankle-deep plod through filth indescribable and treacherous boulders, which turned over when trust and sixteen stone were reposed on them. It was at this part of the journey that I saw for the first time the Mountain Sylph. Some women and children, who looked very frightened, cleared away towards their wretched dwellings, and the place would presently have been deserted had not my driver roared at the top of his voice, "Hullo, the gyurl!" Presently, out of the crowd of frightened people sprang a "colleen" of about twelve years, as thinly and scantily clad as is consistent with that decency and modesty for which Irishwomen of the poorer classes are so justly celebrated. Her legs and feet were bare, as a matter of course; a faded red petticoat, or rather kilt, and a "body" of some indescribable hue, in which dirt largely predominated, formed all her visible raiment and adornment, except a mass of fair hair, which fluttered wildly in the cutting wind. Skipping from stone to stone she neared us swiftly, and stood still at last perched on a huge boulder—an artist's study of native grace and beauty—with every rag instinct with "wild civility." An inquiry whether "Misther Browne" was at home was met by the polite answer that he was from home "just thin," almost instantly supplemented by "Oi know hwhere he is, and will fetch him to ye, sorr." And away went the Sylph dancing from spot to spot like the will-o'-the-wisp of her native bog. She had also indicated the dwelling of Thomas Browne, and I pushed on in that direction through a maze of mud. At last I came to a turning into a path several degrees worse in quality than the "boreen," and concluded that, as it was nearly impassable, it must lead to the home of the Irreconcilable. As a change it was pleasant to step from deep slippery mud and slime on to stones placed with their acutest angles upwards, but a final encounter with these landed me literally at Mr. Browne's homestead.
It has been my lot at various times to witness the institution known as "home" in a state of denudation, as my scientific friends would call it. It is not necessary to go far from the site of Whitechapel Church to find dwellings unutterably wretched. Two years ago I saw people reduced to one "family" pair of boots in Sheffield, and without food, or fire to cook it with if they had had it; and I have seen a Cornish woman making turnip pie. But for general misery I think the home of the Browne family at Cloontakilla equals, and more than equals anything I have seen during a long experience of painful sights. The road to it as already described, is a quagmire, and the dwelling, when arrived at, exceeds the wildest of nightmares. Part of the stone wall has fallen in, and the two rooms which remain have the ground for a carpet and miserable starved-looking thatch for a roof. The horses and cattle of every gentleman in England, and especially Mr. Tankerville Chamberlayne's Berkshire pigs, are a thousand times better lodged than the family of the irreconcilable Browne. The chimney, if ever there were one, has long since "caved in" and vanished, and the smoke from a few lumps of turf burning on the hearth finds its way through the sore places in the thatch. In a bed in the corner of the room lies a sick woman, coughing badly; near her sits another woman, huddled over the fire. Now, I have been quite long enough in the world to be suspicious, and had it been possible for these poor people to have known of my coming I should certainly have been inclined to suspect a prepared scene. But this was impossible, for even my car-driver did not know where he was going till he started. And as we could not find the house without the Mountain Sylph, the inference must be in favour of all being genuine. There are no indications of cooking going on, and, bating an iron pot, a three-legged stool, a bench, half a dozen willow-pattern dishes, and a few ropes of straw suspended from the roof with the evident object of supporting something which is not there, no signs of property are visible. And this is the outcome of a farm of five acres—Irish acres, be it well understood. There is nothing at all to feed man, wife, sister-in-law, son, and daughter during the winter, and the snow is already lying deep on Nephin.
While my inspection of the Browne domicile has been going on, the Mountain Sylph has vanished, never more to be seen. Whether she disappeared in the peat-smoke or sank gracefully into the parent bog it is impossible to decide; but it is quite certain that she has faded out of sight. Poor Mountain Sylph! When she grows older, and goes out to earn money as a work-girl in Ballina, she will no longer appear picturesque, but ridiculous. She will wear a cheap gown, but of the latest fashion, and a knowing-looking hat flung on at a killing angle; and she will don smart boots while she is in Ballina, and will take them off before she is far on her way to Cloontakilla, and trudge along the road as barefooted as of old. But she will never more be a Mountain Sylph—only a young woman proudly wearing a bonnet and mantle at which Whitechapel would turn up its nose in disdain. But the Sylph has gone, and in her place stands the Irreconcilable himself—a grey-haired man with bent shoulders and well-cut features, which account for the good looks of the Sylph. He is a sorrowful man; but, like all Irishmen, especially when in trouble, is not wanting in loquacity. He shows me his "far-r-rum," as he calls it, and it is a poor place. He has had a good harvest enough; but what does it all amount to? An acre (English) of oats, mayhap a couple of acres of potatoes and cabbages, and the rest pasture, except a little patch on which, he tells me, he grew vetches in summer for sale as green feed for cattle. Of beasts he has none, except dogs of some breed unknown either to dog-fanciers or naturalists, and an ass—the unfortunate creature who is made to drink the dregs of any sorrow falling upon Western Ireland. Put to work when not more than a year old, the poor animal becomes a stunted, withered phantasm of the curled darlings of the London costermongers which excited the kindly feelings of Lord Shaftesbury and the Baroness Burdett-Coutts.
A Mayo donkey is a wretched creature, and Mr. Browne has a very poor specimen of an under-fed, overworked race. But there is a cow browsing in the field, and the tenant hastens to explain that she is not his own, but the absolute property of his sister-in-law. I must confess that I cool somewhat after this—inwardly that is—towards the Irreconcilable in battered corduroys who amuses me with a string of stories more or less veracious. I am required to believe that "bating the ass," no living beast on the five-acre farm belongs to the tenant. The turkeys belong to a neighbour, as do the geese, and there is neither hen nor egg left on the premises. "And where is everything?" I naturally ask.
"And the neighbours is good to me, sorr, and they reaped my oats for me in a day, and carried 'um in a night. And my pitaties they dug for me, and carried all clane away before the sheriff could come. And when Mr. MacDonnell did come my wife was sick in bed, and the house was full of people, and all he could do was to consult the doctor and go away."
Now, as the basis for a burlesque or Christmas pantomime, in which the Good Fairy warns the tenant to remove his crops lest the Demon Landlord should seize upon them—the tenant being of course transmuted into Harlequin and the landlord into Clown—this would be funny enough; but it is difficult to see how the everyday business of life could be carried on under such conditions. The case of Miss Gardiner against Thomas Browne is one purely of hide and seek. When he owed two years' rent he begged for time on account of two bad crops. When he was threatened with eviction he begged time to get in his crop. It was given to him. It is quite easy to understand that a tenant who has been thirty years on a little holding thinks himself entitled to great lenity, especially if his rent has been raised during that period, and, as this man asserts, his "turbary" rights restricted, and every kind of privilege reduced. But it has been said by a great literary and social authority that there are such things as limits. Now this man, Browne, feeling that he had an execution hanging over him, contrived to temporise until his grain and potatoes were secured, and then, aided by the accident of a sick wife, defied the law. The house was full of people, a doctor said that the woman could not be removed, and the sub-sheriff, backed by fifty policemen, could make nothing of the business without incurring the odium of tearing a sick woman from her bed. He offered the irreconcilable Browne the offer of accepting the ejectment and remaining in the house as "caretaker," but the tenant was staunch and would make no terms. The consequence is that when Miss Gardiner again attempts to evict him she must incur the considerable cost of a new writ. The condition of affairs now is that a tenant owing three years' rent, and not having paid a shilling on account, simply defies the landlord and remains in his wretched holding, having possibly—for the Irish are an intelligent as well as good-humoured people—the proceeds of his miserable little harvest to live upon through the winter months. Mr. Browne is, I doubt me, not very rigid as to his duties, and takes but an imperfect view of financial obligations; but he is horribly poor, nevertheless, and is as much a type of his class as Miss Gardiner of hers.