The State of the (Irish) Peasantry

By Thomas Davis

IN a climate soft as a mother's smile, on a soil fruitful as God's love, the Irish peasant mourns.

He is not unconsoled. Faith in the joys of another world, heightened by his woe in this, give him hours when he serenely looks down on the torments that encircle him — the moon on a troubled sky. Domestic love, almost morbid from external suffering, prevents him from becoming a fanatic or a misanthrope, and reconciles him to life. Sometimes he forgets all, and springs into a desperate glee or a scathing anger; and latterly another feeling — the hope of better days — and another exertion — the effort for redress — have shared his soul with religion, love, mirth, and vengeance.

His consolations are those of a spirit — his misery includes all physical sufferings, and many that strike the soul, not the senses.

Consider his griefs! They begin in the cradle — they end in the grave.

Suckled by a breast that is supplied from unwholesome or insufficient food, and that is fevered with anxiety — reeking with the smoke of an almost chimneyless cabin — assailed by wind and rain when the weather rages — breathing, when it is calm, the exhalations of a rotten roof, of clay walls, and of manure, which gives his only chance of food — he is apt to perish in his infancy.

Or he survives all this (happy if he have escaped from gnawing scrofula or familiar fever), and in the same cabin, with rags instead of his mother's breast, and lumpers instead of his mother's milk, he spends his childhood.

Advancing youth brings him labour, and manhood increases it; but youth and manhood leave his roof rotten, his chimney one hole, his window another, his clothes rags (at best muffled by a holiday cotamore) — his furniture a pot, a table, a few hay chairs and rickety stools — his food lumpers and water — his bedding straw and a coverlet — his enemies the landlord, the tax-gatherer, and the law — his consolation the priest and his wife — his hope on earth, agitation — his hope hereafter, the Lord God!

For such an existence his toil is hard — and so much the better — it calms and occupies his mind; but bitter is his feeling that the toil which gains for him this nauseous and scanty livelihood, heaps dainties and gay wines on the table of his distant landlord, clothes his children or his harem in satin, lodges them in marble halls, and brings all the arts of luxury to solicit their senses — bitter to him to feel that this green land, which he loves and his landlord scorns, is ravished by him of her fruits to pamper that landlord; twice bitter for him to see his wife, with weariness in her breast of love, to see half his little brood torn by the claws of want to undeserved graves, and to know that to those who survive him he can only leave the inheritance to which he was heir; and thrice bitter to him that even his hovel has not the security of the wild beast's den — that Squalidness, and Hunger, and Disease are insufficient guardians of his home — and that the puff of the landlord's or the agent's breath may blow him off the land where he has lived, and send him and his to a dyke, or to prolong wretchedness in some desperate kennel in the next town, till the strong wings of Death — unopposed lord of such suburb — bear them away.

Aristocracy of Ireland, will ye do nothing? — will ye do nothing for fear? The body who best know Ireland — the body that keep Ireland within the law — the Repeal Committee — declare that unless some great change take place an agrarian war may ensue! Do ye know what that is, and how it would come? The rapid multiplication of outrages, increased violence by magistrates, collisions between the people and the police, coercive laws and military force, the violation of houses, the suspension of industry — the conflux of discontent, pillage, massacre, war — the gentry shattered, the peasantry conquered and decimated, or victorious and ruined (for who could rule them?) — there is an agrarian insurrection! May Heaven guard us from it! — may the fear be vain!

We set aside the fear! Forget it! Think of the long, long patience of the people — their toils supporting you — their virtues shaming you — their huts, their hunger, their disease.

To whomsoever God hath given a heart less cold than stone, these truths must cry day and night. Oh! how they cross us like Banshees when we would range free on the mountain — how, as we walk in the evening light amid flowers, they startle us from rest of mind! Ye nobles! whose houses are as gorgeous as the mote's (who dwelleth in the sunbeam) — ye strong and haughty squires — ye dames exuberant with tingling blood — ye maidens, whom not splendour has yet spoiled, will ye not think of the poor? — will ye not shudder in your couches to think how rain, wind, and smoke dwell with the blanketless peasant? — will ye not turn from the sumptuous board to look at those hard-won meals of black and slimy roots on which man, woman, and child feed year after year? — will ye never try to banish wringing hunger and ghastly disease from the home of such piety and love? — will ye not give back its dance to the village — its mountain play to boyhood — its serene hopes to manhood?

Will ye do nothing for pity — nothing for love? Will ye leave a foreign Parliament to mitigate — will ye leave a native Parliament, gained in your despite, to redress these miseries — will ye for ever abdicate the duty and the joy of making the poor comfortable, and the peasant attached and happy? Do — if so you prefer; but know that if you do, you are a doomed race. Once more, Aristocracy of Ireland, we warn and entreat you to consider the State of the Peasantry, and to save them with your own hands.