Industrial Progress in Ireland

Patrick Weston Joyce

987. About this time the farmers all through the country, under the encouragement and guidance of Sir Horace Plunkett, began to form themselves into "Co-operative Societies" for the improvement of home industries, and especially of agriculture: one general association, founded by Sir H. Plunkett, being at the head of all—the "Irish Agricultural Organisation Society." These associations have effected great good by spreading enlightenment and introducing improved methods. Among other benefits many "Credit Banks" have been established, in which farmers and others can borrow small sums of money at a reasonable rate of interest, instead of having recourse to private money-lenders, who generally charged enormous and ruinous rates for their loans.

988. Another good result of this co-operative movement is the spread of "Creameries," which began to be formed in many districts about this time. Hitherto each farmer who kept cows had his butter made in his own home. But in most cases there were bad appliances, and many of the women were more or less unskilled in making butter; so that it was not as good as it might be, and brought low prices. Instead of following this plan, the farmers of a district combined together to form a company, each paying for a number of shares according to his means: or a company for the purpose was formed in some other way. They had a Creamery erected, where butter is made on a large scale by special machinery, and under the management of skilful persons. To this all the farmers around send their milk, for which they are paid a good price, and after the butter is made they get back the buttermilk, which they use chiefly in feeding calves. In the Creamery, the very best butter is made from the milk; the manager sells it at a high price; and the proceeds are divided among the members of the company according to the number of their several shares, giving a good profit. By these Creameries, moreover, the credit of Irish butter is kept up—a very important matter. The farmers find this plan of disposing of their milk and butter far more profitable than making the butter in their own homes: and accordingly Creameries are spreading more and more over the whole country.

989. In various parts of Ireland, especially in the west, certain districts have become greatly overcrowded or "Congested"—i.e., the people are clustered closely in particular spots, living in poor cabins, each family with a little bit of land quite insufficient for support. They pay the rents as best they can, partly by industries outside their farms, such as fishing, gathering sea-weed, &c.; and in a great many cases the able-bodied men go to England every autumn, where they get work, and return home with their earnings after the harvest. In all cases, the people of these congested districts are miserably poor, and live in a very wretched, comfortless way, hardly able to support life.

To help to remedy this state of things, the "Congested Districts Board" was established at the instance of the Chief Secretary, Mr. Arthur Balfour. The Board were empowered to adopt various means to carry out their good work, for which they were furnished with funds by the Government, the money being advanced as a loan at a small rate of interest. In great numbers of cases the Board purchased farms sufficiently large for the support of the several families, to which the cottiers removed, and for which they were to pay reasonable rents.

The Board also encourage local industries among the people, such as fishing, rearing poultry, pig-feeding, and the production of bacon tor home use and for exportation, cattle-breeding and such like; and it has made money grants to schools for Technical Instruction in certain Industries suitable to the districts. Most of their enterprises, or those undertaken under their auspices, have been attended with very satisfactory results, such, for instance, as the

Woollen Industry, established by the nuns at Foxford in the county Mayo. This gives employment to the cottagers, both young and old, in all that neighbourhood, so that the whole district has been altered: instead of half-idle, listless poverty, there is now to be seen everywhere cheerful work, life, and prosperity, Under this Board also, and aided by the generosity of the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, a fishery school was established at Baltimore, county Cork, by the parish priest, the Rev. Father Davis, which did, and continues to do, immense good. A year or so later on, the Board purchased the whole of Clare Island, outside Clew Bay in Mayo, which they divided among a number of people, each family having a good-sized comfortable farm at a moderate rent. These are only a few examples of the great good done by this Board; and they are still working on with great energy and success.

990. The "Light Railways Bill," which was passed at the instance of Mr. Balfour, in 1895, for constructing narrow-gauge and moderately cheap railways through remote districts, besides giving employment daring construction, is doing much service by opening up those places, so that the farmers are now able to send their produce to markets—a thing they could not do before for want of means of conveyance.

991. A great advance has been gradually making in recent times to improve the condition of the labouring class. Formerly nearly all the labourers in the country places lived in wretched cabins, which were often dirty, comfortless, and unhealthy, and hardly afforded shelter. In most cases, too, they paid as much rent as if the houses were good. Now the custom has grown up, under the provisions of the law, for the County Authorities to erect "Labourers' Cottages"—neat, comfortable little houses, built of brick and stone, with slated or tiled roofs, and having a sufficient number of apartments. Attached to each cottage is a small plot of land for a kitchen-garden. These cottages and garden plots are given to the labourers of the place at very low rents, barely sufficient to pay off in time the expenses of erecting the buildings. So, while the counties are at no loss, the labourers are great gainers, for they have clean, pretty cottages, and good gardens, generally at lower rents than they had to pay for their poor cabins. In some parts of the country, "Labourers' Cottages" are to be seen everywhere, and the old cabins have almost completely disappeared.

992. On one question which came under public notice about this time, all parties in the country were united in opinion—a very rare circumstance in Ireland. For some time past, a Commission appointed by the Government had been inquiring whether Ireland's contribution of taxes to the support of the empire was the proper amount; for many persons in Ireland had long maintained that the country paid too much. The Commission was composed of a number of Englishmen and Irishmen, specially selected on account of their skill in matters of that kind. After a long and most careful investigation, they issued their Report in 1896; and their verdict was that Ireland paid nearly £3,000,000 every year more than was just or right in proportion to her means. On this "Financial Relations Question," as it is called, meetings began to be held all over the country, which were attended by the most influential men of all parties and religions alike—men of the most extreme and opposite opinions joining in friendly union on the same platform, and making vigorous speeches, calling on the imperial parliament to relieve Ireland from this excessive taxation. Up to the present, however, nothing has been done; but many in Ireland are in hopes that parliament will deal with this important question in the near future.

993. Another Land Bill was passed this year (1896), by which many changes and improvements were made in former Acts, and which made it easier for tenants to purchase out their farms. One general effect of all the Land Acts is that, except where tenants have bought out their farms, the land belongs partly to the landlord and partly to the tenant, as already remarked (975). For the landlord has a right to rent, while, on the other hand, the tenant generally owns whatever improvements he has made, and cannot be disturbed so long as he pays his rent. This is what is called "Dual Ownership"; and it is on all hands considered an undesirable arrangement. Among other evils, it gives rise to many disputes and lawsuits between landlord and tenant. The Government are trying to put an end to this state of things, by encouraging the tenants to buy out their holdings if they can come to an agreement with the landlord as to terms. Many are doing so, as we have already seen, and year by year the numbers of "Peasant Proprietors," as they are called, are increasing. But many leading men, especially Mr. T. W. Russell, M.P., consider the process too slow, and are in favour of "Compulsory Purchase," i.e., that the landlords should be forced by law to sell, or the tenants to buy, in all cases at a fair valuation; while others again dislike compulsion, and prefer to let the voluntary system of purchase take its course.

994. There have been two Universities in Ireland for a considerable time past, namely, the Dublin University—or Trinity College, as it is commonly called—and the Royal University (which latter was established in place of the older Queen's University); but in neither of them is any provision for religious instruction for Catholic students: so that the Catholics have long demanded a University at which they can conscientiously attend. About twenty years before the time we have now arrived at, Mr. Gladstone attempted to remedy this grievance by bringing in a bill to have one University for all Ireland, which should include Trinity College, the three Queen's Colleges (of the Queen's University) and a new College, to be founded, in which there would be full opportunity for Catholic religious teaching: but the attempt failed, for the bill was thrown out by Parliament. This question continued to be agitated and discussed very earnestly, and most of the leading statesmen of both England and Ireland were in favour of establishing such a University, notably Mr. Arthur Balfour and Mr. John Morley; but up to the present (i.e. to 1905, when this was written) no practical steps have been taken in the matter.

995. The most important event for Ireland towards the close of the century was the passing of the Irish "Local Government Act," in 1898, which made a complete change in the home administration of the country. By this Act nearly all local affairs, such as the fixing, collecting, and expenditure of rates, poor law management, roads, bridges, labourers' cottages, sanitation, schools for Technical Education, and such matters, instead of being in the hands of persons directly appointed by Government, are now managed by several kinds of Councils, whose members are elected by the free votes of the people. The Act came into operation in 1899.

996. The Government also established a "Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction," with Mr. Horace Plunkett as Vice-President and chief manager. One of its functions is to provide for what is badly wanted, "Technical Education" for the instruction and improvement of workers in the various trades and industries, especially Agriculture. It also applies itself to the establishment of new industries, and to the revival of others that are either decaying or have died out altogether. Already this new Board has done a great deal of good, and there is every prospect that it will effect much more. It ought to be remarked here that the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland have greatly helped the cause of Technical and Industrial Education by issuing a new Programme encouraging managers and teachers of National Schools to teach the pupils various simple handicrafts suitable for children, so far as it can be done witnout interfering with the necessary literary education.

997. In 1900, the last year of the century, Her Majesty Queen Victoria—then in the eighty-first year of her age—visited Ireland after an absence from the country of nearly forty years. She received a most cordial an respectful

welcome by the immense crowds that thronged the streets of Dublin: and the whole city was decorated and illuminated in a manner that had no parallel within living memory. After a stay of three weeks Her Majesty returned, highly gratified with her reception.

998. Wyndham's Land Act.—We have seen the attempts made to settle the Irish Land Question down to 1896 (pp. 302, 303, 304, 305, 312, 313, 314). But by far the most important of all the Irish Land Acts was passed in 1908, at the instance of Mr. Wyndham, Chief Secretary, aided all through by skilled advice. Down to this year the great majority of the farms still remained unpurchased, for there was generally a gap between what the tenant was willing to give and what the landlord was willing to sell for. By this Act a free grant (or "Bonus," as it is usually called) of twelve millions was given by Government to enable the two parties to come to an agreement, so that when the tenant offered so much for his farm, a sum was added to it—a part of the twelve millions—that brought it high enough for the landlord to accept. A vast sum was also set apart for lending to tenants, to enable them to buy, which they are to pay back in instalments, as in the Ashbourne Acts (978). This Act is working very successfully. Great numbers of tenants are buying out their farms, so that in a few years most of the land of the country will belong to "Peasant Proprietors." Provision is also made to enable the landlords to keep their own homes and demesnes, and live in Ireland—a thing much to be desired. So far (i.e. to 1905, when this was written) nearly all the landlords who have sold out have elected to remain.

999. In 1908 an Irish University Bill was introduced by Mr. Birrell, Chief Secretary for Ireland, and passed through Parliament, after much discussion, but with little opposition. By this Act, Trinity College continues unchanged, remaining, as before, the University of Dublin. The Royal University is to be dissolved, and two new Universities have been created. One—which will be called The National University of Ireland—will be in Dublin, with three constituent Colleges—Queen's College Cork, Queen's College Galway, and a new College to be founded in Dublin. In Belfast the Queen's College has been constituted a University which will be known as the Queen's University of Ireland. The arrangements laid down for the new University in Dublin have met with the approval of the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical authorities, so that Catholic students are quite free to avail themselves of it: and thus Mr. Birrell's Irish Universities Act of 1908 has removed a long-standing and most serious Roman Catholic educational grievance (994).

1000. From this brief narrative of the events of the last forty years or so, it will be seen that much has been done to remedy the evil effects of the unjust and ruinous laws described at pages 226 to 233. But much remains to be done, both by the Government and by the people themselves. On the part of the people, what they need most of all is to avoid intemperance, and to help the cause of Temperance by every means in their power. Another most necessary thing is that those of all parties and religions, throughout the four provinces, should unite for the common good, and should pay more attention to the encouragement and development of industries, so as to give increased opportunities of employment to the working classes, and induce them to remain at home. This desirable state of things is slowly but surely coming about: matters are gradually improving year by year; and those who have the welfare of the country at heart entertain strong hopes that the time is not far off when the people of Ireland will at last be prosperous and contented.