George Hill's Movements and Success

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter IV

"I stand alone, without fear, in the midst of thousands, though the valiant be distant far."—Ossian.

Now, reader, summon your forces, collect your strength, and see if you are prepared to meet such a formidable host and go forth to battle. There was one in the face and eyes of all the foregoing graphic facts, stood up single-handed; and, like the shepherd son of Jesse, went forth and boldly challenged this gigantic Goliah. Yes! Lord George Hill is not a George Washington, his work was a mightier one—his was a grapple with mind, with untutored mind, gathering strength for ages, till it seemed to defy all attempts of reform; and, like the bold cliffs which hung over their wild coast, stood up in their pride and said, " Dash on, we heed you not." Washington had carnal battles to fight, and with carnal weapons, in the hands of gallant soldiers, he scattered the foe. But mark! He that by moral power grapples with the worst passions of men, and lays them harmless at his feet, has done more than he who has conquered whole armies by the sword. This, Lord George Hill has done. In 1838 this indefatigable man purchased small holdings, adding to them, till the whole amounted to upward of 23,000 acres. 3,000 people then inhabited the land, and but 700 paid rent.

What did he do? Did he take a body of policemen, and arm himself with a pike and pistol, and go forth, demanding submission or death? He had an efficient agent; and "temporary apartments were fitted up on the spot." He then went himself into every hut on his estate: and, understanding Irish, he soon gained access to their hearts: they said, "he could not be a lord because he spoke Irish."

His first work was to check the illicit distillation of their grain; and he built a corn store, 87 feet long and 22 wide, with three lofts, and a kiln; then a quay was formed in front of the store, admitting vessels of 200 tons, having 14 feet of water at the height of the tide. A market was established, where the same price was paid for grain as at Letterkenny, 26 miles distant. The difficulties of building this store were great indeed—no masons or carpenters in the vicinity—and the site must be excavated by blasting a solid rock. But what will not, and what did not perseverance do? It was done, and next a wheelwright was employed; timber and iron brought from Derry; until the calls multiplied, the store was stocked with the common necessaries of life, and at last it was increased double in size. The inhabitants, for the first time, began to eat bread; and, can you believe it? savage as they were, they loved it. The next difficult work was to place each tenant on his own farm; and to do this every landholder was served with notice "to quit." A surveyor had drawn maps, the tenants were assembled, and, the new allotments made according to his rent, all previous bargains were adjusted to mutual satisfaction. But the final allotments of land took three years to settle: they must look over their new farms, all in one piece, and cast lots for them.

The Rundale system, when disturbed, brought new difficulties to these people; it broke up their clusters of huts, and the facilities of assembling nights, to tell and hear long stories; and they must tumble down their cabins, which were of loose stones; and the owner of the cabin hired a fiddler, which no sooner known, than the joyous Irish are on the spot: each takes a stone or stones upon his or her back, (for women and children are there,)—they dance at intervals—the fiddler animates them on while the day light lasts, and then the night is finished by dancing. When the houses were set up anew upon the farms, Lord George thought it advisable to have a few ten acre farms, fenced in on the waste land. This was instantly opposed, for they did not want these divisions occupied, as by so doing it would thin out the crowds and break up the clanship too much. They would not be hired to make the ditches; and a "fearless wanderer" could only do the work; though sods of turf were hurled at him he kept on, but the contest was so sharp that it was settled at last by two policemen, at night, who frightened away the assailants, who had assembled to "settle" the ditch. Peace was concluded, ditches were made, premiums were offered for the best specimens of clean cottages, which now had chimneys and windows, whitewashed walls, suitable beds and bedsteads, crockery and chairs, and the manure heap at a respectable distance, and all bearing the appearance of comfort. These premiums extended to growing green crops, draining farms, good calves, pigs, colts, &c., and for webs of cloth, best knit stockings, firkins of butter, &c., &c.

The premium day was the wonder of wonders; for they were told that the noble-hearted Lord George was to dine with them, which the poor people could not believe, and were afraid to go in, till the surveyor assured them that it was true. This was the crowning of the whole, and puts forever at rest any doubts of the good sense of this well-balanced mind, which knew how to lay the foundation, set up the walls, and put on his seal to the topmost stone. Our Savior explained this principle emphatically, when rebuked for eating with publicans and sinners: "I came not to call the righteous," &c. Lord George Hill knew well the secret avenue to the hearts of these people; he knew they were men, and though circumstances had made them degraded ones, yet if the smothered embers of that Image in which they were created could be stirred, living sparks would be emitted. Did this "familiarity breed contempt?" Did they take undue advantage, and say, "We will not have this man to rule over us;" and was God offended? Come and see the fruits of his decision and condescension—they both stand out in as bold relief as the old mountain Arrigle which nods its cloud-capped head over this district.