A Justice of the Peace

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER II (5) start of chapter

'Come,' said my companion, 'let us look in upon a friend of mine, who by the way is from your part of the country. He is a justice of the peace too.'

Passing through a spacious enclosure we arrived at the house, a well-built, comfortable-looking dwelling, where we found the wife of its owner, a comely kindly matron, with all the natural courtesy of her country. To the enquiry 'Where was himself?' she replied that he was 'out with the boys, getting in the potatoes.' We proceeded in search of the master of the house, and had not gone far when we saw a sturdy strong-built man of middle age leading a strong horse with a cart-load of potatoes, full-sized and of healthy purple hue. He was one of the many thousands of his countrymen who landed on the shores of America without a pound in their possession. Like them, his capital consisted in his strength, his intelligence, and his capacity for labour; and so successfully had he employed his capital that, as he was leading his horse into his spacious farm-yard that day, he was an independent man, not owing a shilling in the world, and having a round sum in the bank. Rubbing his clay-covered hands in a little straw, and giving them a final touch on the sleeve of his working coat, he favoured me with a vigorous grasp, such as would have crippled the fingers of a fine gentleman; then, after having offered us a hearty welcome, and a cordial invitation to partake of his hospitality, he fondly enquired after the dear old country. He was greatly 'put out' when he learned that we could not stop—that we had to return to Charlottetown before night set in. 'Not stop! Oh, that's too bad entirely! Not take pot luck! not even wet your mouth '. Oh my! oh my! that's hard! Well now, I'm ashamed of you to treat a man so.' But go we should; not, however, before the brief story of his early struggles and their crowning success was had from his own lips.

What a contrast did his air and manner offer to that of the Irish farmer in one particular—in its manly independence of bearing. At home, the tenant is not—at least in too many instances is not—certain of his tenure, of his possession or occupancy of the land which he cultivates, and for which he pays a rent that is absolutely incredible to the farmer of Prince Edward Island—indeed of America throughout; and manly bearing and independence of spirit are scarcely to be expected in his case: possibly any special manifestation of their existence might not be prudent or beneficial. Quite otherwise with his countryman in this little colony, who cannot be disturbed in his possession of his farm so long as he pays the rent—about tenpence per British acre; or who has bought it out, and feels that he stands upon his own property, of which he is the undisputed owner: therefore, while clad in his homely working suit, with the red soil sticking to his strong shoes, and his hands rough with honest toil, he looks at you, and speaks to you, as a man should address his fellow-man, with modest dignity and self-respect.

Strange that in this, one of the smallest of British colonies, very grave and important problems, involving the most cherished of the so-called 'rights of property,' should be practically solved in a manner not only in accordance with the universal public sentiment, but with the sanction of the representatives alike of the people and the Crown.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America