And here I will take the opportunity of remarking that the legislature were guilty of strange oversight, or deliberate injustice, in the passing of the Incumbered Estates Act. Taking advantage of an overwhelming national calamity, they forced numbers of gentlemen into a ruinous sale of their patrimonial estates, in order that men of capital might get possession of them. But they made no provision whatever for the protection of the tenants, or of the property which those tenants had created on these estates. Many of those were tenants at will, who built and planted in perfect and well-grounded reliance on the honour and integrity of their old landlords. But in the advertisements for the sale of property under the Landed Estates Court, it was regularly mentioned as an inducement to purchasers of the Scully type that the tenants had no leases. The result of this combination of circumstances bearing against the cultivators of the soil—the chief producers of national wealth—is a deep, resentful sense of injustice pervading this class, and having for its immediate objects the landlords and their agents. The tenants don’t speak out their feelings, because they dare not. They fear that to offend the office in word or deed is to expose themselves and their children to the infliction of a fine in the shape of increased rent, perhaps at the rate of five or ten shillings an acre in perpetuity.
One unfortunate effect of the distrust thus generated, is that when enlightened landlords, full of the spirit of improvement, like Lord Dufferin and Lord Lurgan, endeavour, from the most unselfish and patriotic motives, to make changes in the tenures and customs on their estates, they have to encounter an adverse current of popular opinion and feeling, which is really too strong to be effectually resisted. For example: In order to correct the evils resulting from the undue competition for land among the tenants, they limit the amount per acre which the outgoing tenant is permitted to receive; but the limitation is futile, because the tenants understand one another, and do what they believe to be right behind the landlord’s back. The market price is, say, 20 l. an acre. The landlord allows 10 l.; the balance finds its way secretly into the pocket of the outgoing tenant before he gives up possession. As a gentleman expressed it to me emphatically, ‘The outgoing tenant must be satisfied, and he is satisfied.’ Public opinion in his own class demands it; and on no other terms would it be considered lucky to take possession of the vacant farm.
TENANT-RIGHT IN ANTRIM.