In Ireland we are very much aware of the importance of ‘the land’. Who owned the land? Who rented the land? How did the system work ? These are just some of the questions that my colleague Jim Ryan of Flyleaf Press and Ancestor Network has answered in his definitive article on Irish land records or Rentals in his recent blog.
Jim has kindly given me permission to reproduce his blog in sections. I will publish these over the next few weeks, finishing with a list of surviving Kerry land records and where to access them as in my book Finding Your Ancestors in Kerry.
Future Posts from this series:
- Rental Documents,
- Where can they be accessed
- Encumbered Estates Courts
- Kerry Rental records
Agents. The practical day-to-day management of estates was usually the work of land agents, also known as estate agents. These could be hired by large estates as members of staff, or contracted as external estate managers. There were several large land or estate management companies that could be hired to perform this role. Some of these external companies managed hundreds of small estates on behalf of their owners. Agents provided the estate owners with regular rental reports detailing rental income due and received. These reports were particularly important for ‘absentee landlords’ who did not reside in Ireland. These were entirely reliant on their agent to manage their estate business and to keep them informed of issues that might affect their income. Land stewards, sometimes referred to in documents, were staff who worked under land agents.
Agents were generally reviled by tenants. A popular contemporary quote was that ‘Landlords were sometimes decent men, but agents were devils one and all’. This is not entirely fair as there were many agents who were respected by their tenants, but a larger proportion performed their function through coercion and threat of eviction. In their defence, the historical evidence suggests that most were not provided with the funding or authority which might have allowed them to assist their tenants to improve their farming methods or land, or to facilitate access to markets etc. Further background to the complex roles and circumstances of the land agent can be found in 2 books: Landlords, tenants, famine: the business of an Irish land agency in the 1840s. Desmond Norton. UCD Press 2006. ISBN 978-1-904558-55-2; and The Irish Land Agent 1830-60: the case of Kings County. Ciaran Reilly, Four Courts Press 2014. ISBN 978-1-84682-510-1
Observations. Most rentals have an ‘observations’ column which is variable in its use. Some rentals contain no observations, others are used by the agent or landlord for their own accounting notes, while others are used by agents to provide information to their landlord on the circumstances of a particular tenant. These include brief comments such as ‘good tenant’, ‘lazy tenant’, ‘promises to pay’, ‘pauper‘ etc, but may also contain more valuable family history information such as ‘died in August‘, ‘emigrated in December‘, ‘a son of Luke Murphy of Ballinamore’ etc. An 18th century Farnham estate rental in one of our blogs summarises all of the lease details in its observation column. Some further examples are below:
Tenancies: During the 18th century, tenants (especially Catholic tenants) had few rights. Most were ‘tenants at will’, i.e. they could be ejected at the whim of the landlord. Even where landlords were prepared to offer leases to Catholics, until 1778 their leases could not be for longer than 30 years due to the provisions of the Penal Laws. In practice most landlords did not evict tenants without significant cause. These anti-Catholic laws gradually changed over the 18th century and by 1823 the final anti-Catholic laws had been abolished. Longer-term tenancies encouraged tenants to maintain and improve their properties, and were favoured by progressive landlords. They were also relevant for landlords with political ambitions as tenants with certain types of leases could vote.
The length of tenancies could be defined in years (usually 30), or in terms of ‘lives’, i.e. for as long as three specified persons survived. Combinations of both were also used. Figure 3 shows some of the lease options used on one estate. Some rentals will provide the details of these lives, which are often of family members of tenants. An example of a lease for lives from a Crosbie Estate rental (NLI Ms. 5033) in Kerry is: Darby McCarthy for part of Abbeydorney, lease dated 20 March 1796 (for) lives of lessee, Wm. McCarthy son of John McCarthy of Ballyhenry, and Eugene McCarthy natural brother to lessee. This lease provides several potential family connections and locations. However, leases for lives were problematic for landlords. If one of the persons specified in the lease was to emigrate, it was difficult to establish if they were still alive. Figure 8 below shows a typical statement of 3 lives, but also in the observation column it shows the kinds of problems created for the landlord, who is uncertain as to the status of the other ‘lives’.
Although the lease terms found in rentals generally focus only on the rent to be paid, a minority of estates took a more active role in ensuring that their tenants developed their properties. An example is the Farnham estate in Cavan. A series of lease conditions on properties rented in the period 1717-1785 (NLI Ms. 11, 491) impose the following conditions on their tenants: … Building within 4 years a good farm-house 80 ft. long 16 ft. wide and 10 ft. high; Orchard 1 acre, penalty £2 added rent; Ditching within 7 years 200 perches 5 ft deep and 6 ft. wide, penalty £2 added rent; not to alien (i.e. sub-let) more than 15 acres under penalty £10 added rent. Bound to mills, penalty 5s. a Barrel. Not to commit or suffer to be committed any waste in woods under penalty of £10 for every time waste is so committed. Power for landlord to examine buildings and to repair them if not repaired within 6 months after notice. Tenant to have half of the trees they plant.
Partnerships: It was not uncommon for groups of tenants to jointly rent a large holding, which was then divided among them by their own arrangement. This differed from the ‘Middleman’ system (see below) in that the nominal tenant was also a local farmer and perhaps a relative of the tenant group. Figure 9 is a list of tenants in part of a Tipperary estate in 1815 and shows 9 partnerships among a total of 19 tenants. Several of these partnerships are among brothers. Figure 4 also shows an example of a partnership. Partnerships were, in some periods, preferred by some landlords as they reduced the need for collecting rent from many small-holders, and were also favoured by tenants as they allowed communities or family groups to stay together and to help each other out where required. However, they also allowed very small holdings, which reduced the viability of the overall estate.
One system by which the land was divided by tenants is termed a Rundale system under which the land was divided into small portions according to its productive capacity, and tenants drew lots for the portions. This system ensured that each partner had an equitable mix of good and bad land. Partnership rentals can often disclose useful family information in the detail of the accounts. For instance, Figure 4 above shows that there is a wider group involved than is indicated by the nominal tenants. In addition to the nominal tenants, small payments of rent are also made by Patrick Cleary and by Widow Gleeson.
Payment procedures. The payment dates, known as ‘Gale Days’, were generally half-yearly on Michaelmas ( 29 September) and Lady Day (25th March). See Figure 10 below. A full rent-payment was commonly known as a ‘gale of rent’. Payment practices would appear to have varied between estates. In some estates tenants would present themselves to an agent’s office on Gale days and make their payments. In others the agent travelled around the estate collecting rents. The latter gave rise to the rent-books which contain details of the partial payments made on their tours of properties.
Evictions. As today, the ultimate threat for tenants is eviction. Unlike today, tenants had few rights and evictions could be, and were, undertaken on many estates, including large-scale evictions of all tenants from estates. This mainly occurred in the 19th century when the Famine and other economic difficulties reduced the capacity of tenants to pay their rent, and later in the century when estate owners in economic difficulty sought to convert their estates from rented small-holdings to more intensive agriculture such as grassland directly managed by the estate. Some rentals include ‘observations’ from agents relating to advice on evicting tenants, and also instructions from estate owners to do so, or in some case more benign instructions not to do so.
Workers as tenants: Some tenants worked for estates as labourers or in other capacities and received their holdings in lieu of wages. Their rent is often declared in terms of days of labour provided. Figure 5 is an example, but whether Michael Masterson was regarded as tenant or a worker in this arrangement is unclear.
Payments in kind. Rent was also often paid ‘in-kind’ by labour or through produce of various kinds; oats, turf and animals being common commodities of payment. Figure 4 shows payment in cattle, for instance. Payment in the form of chickens or geese at Christmas time was a rental payment on some estates.
Middle-men. Especially in the 18th century some estates preferred to rent large parcels of land to individuals, who would then sub-let this land in smaller lots to the tenants who actually worked the land. This had advantages for large landlords, especially ‘absentee’ landlords, as they could thereby avoid the administrative burden of dealing with individual small-holders, and of the associated risks from absconding or bankrupt tenants. However, these so-called middle-men were often ruthless with their sub-tenants and charged rapacious rents over which the landlord had no control. It is widely regarded that they were responsible for the progressive sub-division of land into lots which were non-viable as farms, but allowed small-holders to survive by growing potatoes. Thus small-holders became totally dependent on potatoes with all of the disastrous consequences which resulted during the Great Famine. Many ‘improving’ landlords sought to eliminate middle-men so that they could have direct dealings with the tenants who actually worked the land, and thereby undertake initiatives to ensure that each had a viable holding. These initiatives included drainage, improving road access to markets, and new farming techniques. Our blog on the Cloncurry Estate in Limerick discussed this issue. The middle-man system therefore gradually disappeared.
Source: by kind permission of Jim Ryan, Ancestor Network, Full Article
Thank you for sharing this valuable research.
The History of the Fitzgerald’s of Cappaclogh on the Dingle Peninsula
In County Kerry on the north side of the Dingle peninsula is Tralee Bay. On the middle shore of the Bay is the townland of Cappaclogh which is a townland approximately one mile away from the larger town of Camp. It was here in Cappaclogh that Fitzgerald descendant Edward Fitzgerald (Sr.) had a long term family lease with an owner on a dairy farm in the late 18th century and the first half of the 19th century.
Edward Fitzgerald (Sr.) ran this farm in Cappaclough in the late 18th century and early 19th century with the help of five sons and his wife, Elizabeth O’Sullivan Fitzgerald. It is not known by this writer if he had any daughters. Unfortunately, this author has been unable to trace the family before Edward Sr.’s family left Ireland. This was caused primarily by the decrees of the Protestant King of England prohibiting Catholic births to be recorded in official records for 200 years prior to 1820. Possibly there may be a record somewhere, but at the date of this book it had not been found. His date of birth in the 18th century in Ireland has not been found by this writer, but the dates of birth of his five Roman Catholic sons in Ireland in the 19th century became available from the U.S. tombstones of these five sons, all of whom emigrated to and died in the United States.
The Imigration of the Five Fitzgerald Brothers to the United States
Around 1835-45, the five Fitzgerald brothers decided to immigrate to the United States. Their cattle had been slaughtered by the British army or neighbor Protestants and the persecution of their family by non-Catholics in County Kerry had became intolerable during the 18th century. Their parents apparently died around 1840. The first to leave may have been Patrick,, born in 1818 the second son, He emigrated to New Orleans having been told that employment was readably available building levees in the City. There had been continuous floods from rains and the overflow from the Mississippi River. He would eventually get caught in the Yellow Fever epidemic in New Orleans and would be forbidden to leave. He managed somehow however to leave New Orleans.
The other four brothers left Ireland for Boston shortly thereafter. Their parents had apparently died during the period of the The oldest brother Edward, born 1816, arrived in Boston in 1836 at age 20 with his brother Maurice, ;age 15 born 1821 and his brother William, age 16, having been born in 1820. They soon moved from Boston to Concord, New Hampshire. William would spend the rest of his live in Concord, New Hampshire. After ten years in Concord, Edward and Maurice moved to Hartford, Wisconsin. Hartford is a small town 30 miles northwest of Milwaukee. It characterizes itself as founded the year the brothers arrived and as being aligned with early New England culture which probably also means that it had a lot of Boston Irish there. It is quite near Lake Michigan and is also known as a tourist location attracting people from Chicago—probably Irish.
Brother William’s home in New Hamplshire became a temporary initial stop upon the arrival of all relatives from Ireland. Michael, born 1823, the youngest brother arrived around 1845 at age 22 and shorthly thereafter took a job in upstate New York working either on the railroad or the Erie Canal. Michael had been working in upstate New York when he enlisted in the U.S. Army (1847-1848). He may have been working on the railroad or the Erie Canal there as many immigrant Irish were doing at that time. A book found by this author on the travels of Irish from Ireland to New York City and upstate New York State in 1850 contained letters describing traveling on the Erie Canal in that year. One or more days was required by the large river boats from New York City to Albany. But then sometimes up to eight days by very small canal boats on the canal drawn by slow work horses from Albany to Buffalo. On the boat on the canal, their diet was occasionally limited to just potatoes and apples, but sometimes included beer and gin—ambrosia to the Irish from Ireland!!!
He subsequently in upstate New York enlisted in the U.S. Army as war with Mexico was declared. He saw a considerable amount of action, but all reports on that war remark on the terrible sicknesses the soldiers encounted because of the conditions in Mexico including contagious diseases, insects, heat, etc. Such conditions far exceeded casualties from any fighting the Mexicans. A summary of his Army experiences follows below in small type. He lost a leg which had to be amputated.
In 1856, after ten years in the Milwaukee area, Maurice and his brothers Edward and Patrick moved to Ludlow Township in Allamakee County, Iowa) (Northeast Iowa). They moved to Iowa because their brother Michael had fought with the U.S. Army in the Mexican War, lost a leg, and, as a result, secured a U.S. Army land warrant for a large section of acres of land in Iowa. Michael did not apparently want to farm, but he went with his other brothers to Iowa to claim rights to the land. He continued to live in Iowa for awhile after he got married, but ultimately he moved back to New England to settle in Massachusetts.
It will be the history in County Kerry of Edward Molumby and his wife Elizabeth which could tell more of the history of this family. That history might be available to other descendants of the five sons, one of whom, Edward Molumby is the eldest son. He settled in and lived in Howard County near Cresco in Northeast Iowa. Edward Sr. had a grandson who was consecrated as an auxiliary bishop of Dubuque, Iowa and later became the Archbishop of Winona, Minnesota. Dubuque is a very short distance from Waukon, Iowa the birthplace of the author’s mother, Mary Molumby Preece. She was to marry and live with her husband in Waterloo, Iowa the latter being the birthplace of this author. Possibly the Bishop’s Cathedral Diocese Libraries in those Winona, Minnesota and Dubuque, Iowa cities may have a more detailed history of him, and possibly his entire Fitzgerald family ancestors. The Catholic Church in Dubuque, Iowa has been reported to have details of some of its Bishop’s ancestries. Edward Molumby was the b
I am seeking information on who their landlord was and any other information on their address and hiistory of their lease in County Kerry. I will be happy to pay for the expense of the research.
Thank you for sharing this information. So informative and interesting! Do you know if the Leslie Estate or Collis Estate in County Kerry has or had records like this?
I will be publishing a blog on the rental records available on Kerry estates as part of the series, in the next few weeks. Just reseaching & getting list together at the moment.
I would love to find distant Irish relatives of mine before I pass on into my next lifetime. My surname is Savage. I was told that I could be a distant cousin of JFK. Here are the other surnames i am related to.
One weird coincidence regarding Savage is that, my grandfathers name was the Benjamin Franklin Savage Jr.
Thank you for sharing.
My great grandfather emigrated to Chicago around 1891 but returned in 1899 with a wife and 3 girls. He is listed in 1901 census as a labourer – but in 1911 as a “process server”. Do you have any information on this occupation?
A ‘Process Server’ is someone who is tasked with ‘serving’ legal papers on behalf of the courts or of lawyers. In 1911 it is more than likely that it would have been on behalf of the courts, or of decisions made by the courts. The ‘serving’ means that the the legal papers are handed personally to the person who is being prosecuted. While it was probably a good job from an economic point of view it would have been seen as dangerous and not admired by the rest of the population as a number of the ‘processes’ would be for evictions or other actions that most of the population would not support. There was not a great respect for authority by the majority of the people for very good reasons.
The information you have provided is really interesting and useful. I’m trying to delve into the details of my gt gt grandfather John Hanlon and lived in one of the properties of Wilson Gun his landlord for his rented acreages.
There is a quote in the Landed Estates.NUIGalway.ie ‘Wilson Gun was leasing a property to John Hanlon at the time of Griffith’s Valuation, when it was valued a£8 10s. This may be the building shown on the Ordnance Survey map adjacent to the area known as The Paddock and not far from the farmyard. Buildings are still extant at these locations.’
The first part of the statement is intriguing for me and I would love to work out the relationship of John and Wilson Gun at that time. They lived (and or worked) in close proximity at that time. I’ve read the notes above and recognise there were a range of landlord/tenant relationships. I wonder if you could suggest you or your colleagues views on what this might have been and any further researches I could take to find further information?
I believe Gun was one of the more helpful landlords in the area. I found a letter report I think I posted to you previously and wondered if you still have it in your records?
Great to see this information,
Ken, I will be back to you on this. I am consulting a local person – just one thing, we in Kerry would not consider Wilson Gun as ‘one of the more helpful landlords’!