Evictions in Ireland: 1880s

Alex Arbuckle shows some fascinating pictures of evictions in Ireland, in the 1880s.


By Stephen Kinsella

Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Limerick.

19 replies on “Evictions in Ireland: 1880s”

Illuminating … Ta for link.

… and not a bare male head to be seen … in any of them!

… and the vultures, in somewhat different form but identical nature, have returned … as have the evictions … and rack-rents

property … odious d€bt and bleed1n property …

Páirtí Cumannach na hÉireann anyone?

As a comparative thing, it’s interesting that wrecking properties is still a feature of many evictions in the US, but not so much in Ireland any more.

I was thinking about various institutions and businesses during the famine recently.

I don’t think the universities & their supporters come out very well.

Until last year I thought that the three Queen’s Colleges began around the same time as the famine, but now I understand that it was only the Government Act that was in 1845, and there were no students until 1850. And doesn’t that then mean that those beautiful cut-stone buildings, quadrangles, etc. were constructed during the famine?

While the poor (mostly native & catholic) suffered the middle classes were having nice university colleges built for them?

Also TCD was a major landowner (owning 1 or maybe 2% of the island of Ireland). I read McDowell and Webb’s great history a few years ago, “Trinity College Dublin 1592-1952”, and one serious gap is that there is no mention of the famine. Maybe it didn’t collide with their social backgrounds but it is strange given than McDowell was a great professional historian and Webb was a great professional botanist.
TCD apparently didn’t actively manage the land tenancies itself but had many agents (& I think there was a mention of the college getting a poor return).

I was wondering recently if there were many (or any) evictions from land owned by TCD?

Does anyone know? How could I find out? Thanks

These photographs are of high quality and well portray the grim economic system.

Dubliner Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, wrote when prime minister in 1830 on the regularity of famines in Ireland:

Now when this misfortune occurs, there is no relief or mitigation, excepting a recourse to public money. The proprietors of the country, those who ought to think for the people, to foresee this misfortune, and to provide beforehand a remedy for it, are amusing themselves in the Clubs in London, in Cheltenham, or Bath, or on the Continent, and the Government are made responsible for the evil, and they must find the remedy for it where they can — anywhere excepting in the pockets of Irish Gentlemen.

The Land Commission dates from 1881 and the Irish State to the present day still keeps the records secret from the start — Sweden passed its Freedom of the Press Act in 1766 and it has been operational continuously since 1809. A culture of transparency promotes good governance and the Web Foundation launched by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the pioneer of the World Wide Web, judged in 2015 that Ireland, Greece and Hungary had the least transparent governments of 33 in Europe. Putin’s Russia was ahead of Ireland!

The mainstream media is also a cheerleader of the conventional wisdom.

This is an Irish Times editorial in May 2013 defending the Government’s Pontius Pilate stance on facilitating tax avoidance including the argument that Ireland wasn’t engaged in tax haven activities because the OECD said so (neither were its members, Netherlands, Switzerland or Luxembourg).


In the early decades of independence, the Land Commission became a political patronage agency similar to the service provided by New York’s Tammany Hall to the Irish there.

It was typically farmers with land who got land in Meath, Kildare and Dublin and de Valera thought that establishing Gaeltacht ‘colonies” in Co. Meath would help revive the Irish language.

Prof Terence Dooley of Maynooth has extensively research the land issue and in the early years of the State he says land programmes were estimated to cost £30m, funded by a loan from the British government, but an estimate of the outturn was £58m — this was about 10 times the cost of the 1920s Shannon hydroelectric scheme.


Emer Ó Siochrú writes in a 2004 paper, ‘Land Value Tax : Unfinished business’ wrote:

It is astonishing to see just how much of the early State’s revenue — 5.4% in the early 1930s — was used to placate land hunger in rural areas to the relative neglect of pressing urban problems. This rural focus extended to providing subsidised housing for farm migrants from the West to the more fertile midlands and the rural labourer. Rural areas got more than ten times the social housing investment of urban areas. Local authority housing tenants moreover, were given the right to buy their house from the outset – a right only offered to urban flat tenants this year of 2004.


A reader may be tempted to dismiss the foregoing as history but during austerity and the recession, the Irish State was making ‘goodwill’ payments to farmers for not interfering with road-building and after 2001 the farmers got 23% of the national road-building budget — about double land acquisition costs elsewhere in Europe.

Land prices are the main drivers of rising housing costs in developed countries and today while well-meaning folk call for a minister to have sole charge of housing policy, the Irish land racket is ignored.

How crazy is it that Irish agricultural land prices are four times the level in France? Prof Alan Matthews last year said beef farmers should grow trees because absent subsidies they are in a loss-making business and wonder why farm numbers in the European Union plunged 27% in the period 2003-2013 according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency, and Ireland was the only EU28 member country that showed a rise in holdings — a country with a huge number of uneconomic holdings increased the number of farms!


Owning land near urban centres has for long been the easiest route to riches in Ireland.

The CSO gave up tracking agricultural land prices about a decade ago while there have never been official statistics on development land — US vulture funds gobbled up about 88% of NAMA sales, while London, Sydney and Vancouver, show how foreign investors can exclude the locals.

When County Dublin’s land prices rocketed 530% in 9 years


With vulture funds buying up distressed mortgages in Ireland with the blessing of the Politburo it will be back to the future. According to Forbes (www.forbes.ie/bilionaires) , Ireland has 6 billionaires and John Grayken of Lone Star is one of them. He buys up distressed assets with a view to flipping them on ASAP to get the best RoE

He is a wild mother%%er

Evictions are aggressive and it will be interesting to see the Joe Duffy reaction.

Ireland is the most anti-tenant country in the world. Irish democracy is rule of the landlords, by the landlords for the landlords.
Property services can be consumed in two ways,by owning a property or by renting a property. In all euro zone countries lease lengths for residential properties and commercial properties are “say” three to ten years,with renewal rights and rents are reviewed each year with reference to increases in the CPI/inflation. At the end of the lease term,the rent reverts to market rent.
France and the Benelux countries have 3/6/9 leases where the tenant signs a nine year lease,rents are reviewed annually by the CPI for the nine years and the tenant can break the lease at the end of year3,6 and 9. At year nine the rent reverts to market rent. The tenant has renewal rights.

If residential property prices in these countries become too high you have an option to rent,with renewal rights and some certainty about your future rent. Residential property lease law in all these countries is the same as commercial property lease law.

Ireland has the most anti-tenant property lease law in the world. We have very different commercial and residential property lease law–commercial property leases are very long say 25/35 years with ratchet rent reviews every five years and no break clauses and residential property leases are very short say one year with no rent controls and no renewal rights.
In Ireland the residential tenants and the commercial tenants are serfs to be exploited. The state actively colludes with these landlords.

Hello Stephen, or other moderator,
can you tell me if this will this get posted? is the delay because of the weekend, or another reason?

Hello again. I have posted a good few times in the past without a problem. Do you know why it is blocked now?

The labourer and family, outside the turf hut in Gweedore is a very poignant photo, as are the other photos. Thankfully, there appears a hint of defiance in the eyes of both mother and child. One wonders how temporary the hut was. Note the window on the gable of the turf hut.

The modern generation would do well to recall the evils of our history of property rights and landlordism, as exemplified in these photos.

I have gone walking walking with the dog around Ardfry near Oranmore recently and there is a fabulous abandoned mansion there that is a reminder of the fragility of economic systems.

I imagine it had a fabulous wine cellar.

It was funded by tenant farmer rent in an ultra laissez faire system of which evictions were a key part but elites always forget that economic power is subject to the consent of the people . Once the political weather changed the big house model was doomed.

Woodbrook by David Thomson is an interesting economic history covering the move from landlords to FF voters.

Almost equally striking photographs can be found on the web of the Highland Clearances. They are from another time.

Some reading for the weekend that is in it.


Page 7

“The introduction of the expenditure benchmark means that there is effectively a fixed amount of funding to be allocated between the various requirements of the State. The growth of this “fixed pot” is subject to a strict formula, and additional expenditure requirements must be funded by discretionary revenue increases (primarily tax increases) or expenditure cuts elsewhere. To operationalize compliance with the expenditure benchmark in our domestic budgetary process, the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 2013 put the Government Expenditure Ceiling and the previously administrative Ministerial Expenditure Ceilings on a statutory basis. The Government Expenditure Ceiling covers Voted expenditure authorized by the Dáil each year plus appropriationsin-aid and expenditure funded by the Social Insurance Fund and the National Training Fund. All of these elements are set out in the Expenditure Report and the Revised Estimates Volume each year. Annex 2 shows the transition from the level of general government expenditure that is permitted under the expenditure benchmark to the Government Expenditure Ceiling. Annex 5 contains the circular issued by the Department of Public Expenditure to govern the operation of the Ministerial Expenditure Ceilings.”

The existence of this “fixed pot” must be the best-kept secret in Ireland. The real political sea-change will have occurred when (i) its existence is recognised and (ii) there is a consensus that it would be in the country’s best interests if the formula was, in fact, improved at a national level i.e. acceptance that there should also be built in a fixed budgetary ceiling safety margin for unforeseen circumstances.

The curious matrix of political ineptitude being witnessed daily guarantees that such circumstances will arise.

Indeed yes, the photos are poignant and over a century later bear witness to individual suffering and despair in Irish rural society of the times that were in it. In a wider context, they are part of the portrait of a changing society, which determined the shape of modern Ireland for over a century.

The Land War of the late 1870s and 1880s was a critical juncture in Ireland’s modernisation. Its scenes of eviction, agrarian violence and mass emigration – which averaged more than 16% per annum throughout the decade, levels not seen again until the 1950s – took place against the backdrop of a general economic recession related to events such as the Franco-Prussian War in Europe, a slowdown in availability of what were rapidly becoming traditional emigration outlets, as well as the ongoing transformations in patterns of Irish agriculture

The Land War was a political success. It instigated land reform that would ultimately provide for the mass transfer of land ownership from landlord to tenant in Ireland within a few decades. It immediately provoked the Land Act of 1881, which granted the ‘Three Fs’ tenants’ demands for ‘fair rent, fixity of tenure and free sale’, latterly extended to include a review mechanism for judicial rents after three years in 1887. By this point, Irish tenants enjoyed greater security in their holdings than their counterparts in the rest of the UK. The balance of power in the landlord/tenant relationship had been irrevocably altered to the tenants’ advantage.

Hence, as well documented by our historians, the stage was set for a final settlement of Irish land reform. Arguably, settlement of this big issue, along with other institutional infrastructural reforms in education and local government, contributed to the smooth transition to Irish independence after 1921. That the pattern of land ownership thus established would contribute to subsequent economic stagnation and social rigidity of the newly independent State is also apparent. A further downside, when you think about it, is that there has never been any real debate in Ireland about whether settlement of the land reform issue in such terms was in the best interests of Irish society, or the Irish economy, over the long term. It was unquestionably accepted as a ‘good thing’ and wrapped up under the mantle of Irish nationalism, along with a lot of other things that might have borne a more critical examination.

Back to this engaging site, I like the story about the bees best of all. First time I’ve ever come across bees, so essential in every other aspect to our survival as a species, being used as a weapon of war. A great ‘buzz’ on a Saturday morning!

Spamming the comments on a piece on 19th century evictions with stuff on the Government Expenditure Ceiling may count towards DOCM’s targets with the ECB, but it won’t make a blind bit of difference otherwise.

Sorry! Wrong link. Please delete previous post.

This piece by Martin Sandbu on the issue of “fiscal space”, in which the outgoing MOF got hopelessly lost, is also of interest.


The IMF, seemingly, is the main culprit in opening up this gap through which politicians have attempted to charge en masse, evidently fully supported by willing electorates, it being impossible, however, to establish who is kidding whom.

P.S. In the re-jig of the site, it would be useful to have an author delete button. This is standard on most blogs.

Land Reform ended up with FF voters. Small minded conservatives with very little interest in progressive policies. But maybe that was inevitable. You can’t make a silk purse etc

@seafoid and Michael

Michael is a bit harsh. Another way of describing the work of the land commission is that it was by and large a very rare global example of the redistribution of wealth from rich to poor. (there was low level agrarian violence over who got what land) When you say that most land was redistributed in Meath etc, remember that most of that was to migrants up from the West and it gave them a chance of a decent living. (Many of whom are my neighbours- we live on a land commission road and I grew up in a land commission house).
However Seafoid raises the more pertinent point. Post-independence the Land Commission was effectively controlled by FF who used it for patronage. All those migrants never forgot who gave them the farm. Only in the last election did their grandchildren abandon FF for SF.

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