The Value of a 'Lot'

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER I (6) start of chapter

In Halifax, as throughout America, the Irish necessarily form the large proportion of the working population; and when these men landed on the wharf, they had nothing save the implements of their craft, or the capacity and willingness for labour. But whether skilled mechanics, or mere day-labourers, their condition is, on the whole, admirable; and the best proof of their good conduct is the possession by a considerable number of them of that which, throughout the British Provinces and the States, is the first step in advance —'a lot'—meaning thereby a piece of ground on which a house is or is to be erected.

There is a kind of magic influence in the possession of this first bit of 'real estate.' An evidence of frugality and self-denial, it is an incentive to the continued practice of the same virtues. It is the commencement, and yet something more than the commencement; it may be called 'half the battle,' for the rest depends on perseverance in the same course. The house may be rude in construction, mean in appearance, miserable in accommodation, but it is a house, in which the owner and his family can live rent-free, for it is their property—'their own.' With sufficient front and sufficient depth, what is there to prevent the owner, in time, from covering the space with a fine brick house, with its attractive shop, and as many stories as he pleases to raise? Once possess the 'lot' in the town, and the rest is comparatively easy. Every year adds to its value; and if the owner cannot build a good house on it, some one else may, and the owner receives in either case an ample return for his investment. But in thousands of instances throughout America, the Irish, even of the very humblest class, possess lots on which they have erected dwelling-houses which they themselves occupy; and in every city one may daily behold a happy transformation in the character of the dwelling, wherever industry is combined with thrift and frugality. The structure of timber is replaced by a building of brick; and so the family, it may be of the mechanic, it may be of the labourer, move up in the social scale; and the superior education which their children receive enables them to improve the position their father had acquired by his good conduct and good sense. That 'lot' is a wonderful friend to the Irish in America, and this the wise of them know full well.

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