More Instances of Success on the Land

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XII (4) start of chapter

The next morning I had a long and interesting conversation with an American gentleman largely connected with property in the locality. The conversation happening to turn upon the point respecting which I was ever on the look-out, if not for information, at least for confirmation of my own conviction,—that the right place for the Irish peasant was the land,—the American said: 'It has often surprised me how it is that an essentially agricultural people like the Irish will not invariably turn to the same pursuit in this country, where they can have all they desire—land cheap and abundant, with an undisputed title, and no one to trouble or disturb them. However, we have a good many of your countrymen employed in what I regard as their legitimate and natural avocation, and I am glad to tell you they are all doing well. I know Irishmen who have been doing nothing, or worse than nothing, in the town, and who became altogether different men when they went into the country. I remember one of them'—and he mentioned the name of the well-known farmer I had visited the day before—'and so long as he remained in the town he was doing very little good; in fact, he was falling into vicious habits, and was losing himself day by day. Fortunately for himself, he had the good sense to see that that kind of thing wouldn't do much longer, and so he resolved to change his mode of life. He left the town—cut it altogether—shook its dust from his sandals; he got a small bit of land, worked at it like a man, —I know how hard he worked,—and soon increased his farm, until, ere very long, it became a large one. And not long since he purchased a considerable property in addition; and, what is more, he has paid nearly every dollar of the purchase-money. I was asked by a gentleman of this place whether this property was sold, and I said it was—that Mr. So and So had bought it. "What!" said he, "did you trust him? Why, when I remember him, he was an idle do-nothing loafer, whom nobody would trust with the price of a bushel of apples. I am amazed at your having any business dealings with a person of his class."

"My dear sir," I said, "you are altogether mistaken in the character of the man: he may have been what you say he was when you knew him—that was many years ago; but I tell you there is not a more worthy or respectable man in the country than he is. And not only have I sold the property to him, but I got half the purchase-money the day of the sale, and there is little left to pay, and that little I can have at any moment—to-morrow, if I please." "Well," said the gentleman, "I am glad to hear it; I spoke from my remembrance when I used to see him in the town, and I knew him to be rather a loose fish, and generally in some kind of row or other. Though I can't have the property, I rejoice it is in good hands." Now, sir, you see how quitting the town and going on the land has saved him, as it has many other Irishmen, to my personal knowledge.'

It may be mentioned that the Irishman who was the subject of this conversation found in his young and growing family one of the surest sources of his prosperity. They sprang up about him, strong and vigorous as oaks, accustomed to out-door work, which imparted health alike to mind and body. Nor did he neglect their education —it must be a worthless Irish father who will do so; and in their industry, intelligence, and vigorous health, to say nothing of his own respectability and the quiet happiness of his wife, who had her troubles in the outset—he finds the best reward of his moral courage and perseverance. He might have remained all his life a mere drudge in the town; now he is the absolute owner of 500 acres of land, and is the founder of a prosperous family.

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