Causes of Emigration
         General Historical Information prior to 1900

As a result of natural and historical conditions, the industrial
activity of Ireland is largely confined to agriculture. Few countries have
so large a percentage of area adaptable for cultivation. Most of the
wastelands are in the mountains of Western and Southern Ireland. The lowland
region is naturally of a high degree of fertility. The climate is warm and
humid, and consequently favorable to the growth of most plants, though the
humidity is too great in some regions to allow wheat to ripen properly.
While the country is favored by nature, the Irish system of agriculture
does not result in the general welfare of the people, as may be understood
in a study of Irish history. One of the features of the English subjugation
of Ireland was the confiscation of the greater portion of the land, and the
granting of it in large dimensions to English citizens. These in many
instances were non-residents, and even when residents they did not always
succeed in establishing cordial relations with the tenantry, who were not
forgetful of the manner in which the landlord ( as a class) came to his
possession. During the eighteenth century Ireland was placed under the ban
of English commercial and colonial policy, and Irish agricultural products
were excluded from the English markets. Later these restrictions were
removed, and the high prices of the Napoleonic war period gave a decided
impetus to agriculture. During the first part of the nineteenth century
there was a general movement toward the division of the farms into small
holdings---the result largely of the landlords desire to secure greater
political strength through the increase in the number of ballots, and of the
extensive practice of subletting indulged in by the middlemen.
The potato blight of 1845 precipitated a crisis, and important changes
date from this event. In great measure it marked the beginning of the end of
the small holding, and the change from tillage to pasturage.

The English law confounded all Irish tenantry with the Fuidhir class,
reducing them thus to a servile status.The lands were increasingly held by
absentee landlords, who endeavored
to obtain the highest possible rents. The large number of middlemen who held
land under the lords and acted as their agents made the condition of the
peasantry still worse. The need of reformation was seen by all classes, but
was not fully realized by English statesmen until the report of Lord Devon's
commission, which was appointed in 1843 and sat for two years. This report,
backed by the famine of 1846, showed conclusively that the cause of the
poverty and suffering in Ireland was not due, as was generally supposed in
England, to the shiftlessness of the Irish people, nor yet to their
religion, but to the disastrous relations that existed between landlord and
tenant. It recommended that the tenant receive from the landlord
compensation for the improvement of his holding."

The repeal of the Corn Laws aided in the relief of the Irish, but later
so diminished the value of Irish cereals in the English markets that the
landholders in the lowland regions evicted their tenants and turned the
lands into pasture-fields. The evicted tenants had to seek a location in the
less desirable regions. In Ulster the tenant fared somewhat better; for
there custom had long recognized a sort of tenant right, which operated to
restrict the privileges of the landlord. The great diminution of the
population through emigration had the effect of providing more labor for
those who remained, though too often the location of the laborer was remote
from the labor. On the whole the condition of the peasantry improved. But
the fact that tenant and landlord were of different race and religion still
prevented the development of sympathetic and harmonious relations between
the two, and the prevalence of tenantry at will resulted in an aggravating
uncertainty of tenure, and prevented the discouraged tenant from making such
effort to improve his holding as his interests demanded. Accordingly the
land question persisted and became more serious. Relief was sought through
the legislative act of 1870, granting compensation for improvements and for
the disturbance occasioned by removal, and through the act of 1881, which
provided for a fair rent, fixity of tenure, and free sale.

Until after the middle of the eighteenth century the population grew but
slowly, being not infrequently checked by the ravages of famine. But toward
the end of that century different causes conspired to bring about a rapid
increase in the population. Chief of these was probably the universal
adaptation of the potato as the main staple of food, the plant giving more
returns for the amount of area and labor devoted to it than other plants and
being well suited to the needs of the people. Connected with this was the
increased impetus given to industry in general during the wars with France,
and also the decided tendency which developed at this time toward the
division of the land into leaseholds, making the acquisition of a holding
easy. Under these influences marriages were entered into early and families
were large. Whereas, in 1785 estimates place the population at less than
3,000,000, in 1821 the first official census records the population at
6,800,000, and the census of 1841 showed a population of 8,196,000.
Considering that the population was almost wholly rural in composition, it
was much in excess of that which a healthy economic and social status would permit.
The sequel was precipitated by the potato blight in 1845. This resulted
in a large number of deaths from starvation and disease, but its greatest
significance was the starting of the tide of emigration which has continued
to depopulate the island to the present time. Prior to the Revolution in the
American colonies, the Scotch-Irish element of Northern Ireland had found
its way to the colonies in large numbers, but not until the time of the
famine did the movement affect the Celtic element. It is estimated that in
round numbers there were two million Irish emigrants between 1840 and 1860,
and one million in each of the following twenty-year periods, most of whom
went to the United States. During the year 1900 the emigrants leaving
Ireland numbered 45,300.
While the density of population is no longer excessive, even for a
country largely agricultural, a large number are scarcely able to secure a
livelihood. Certain regions are known as "congested districts," and a
special board has been created to aid the people and improve the conditions
in such districts. The explanation lies in the fact that the tenants have
been evicted from the more fertile regions (see Agriculture) and have
segregated in the less fertile broken regions, especially in the western
Province of Connaught, where the small holding of the peasant does not
afford sufficient livelihood for the family, and large numbers are annually
obliged to leave their homes during the harvest months and supplement their
income by labor in the harvest fields of Scotland and England.

The Imperial British system of finance is applied to Ireland in
practically the same way as it is to the other parts of the Kingdom. In the
union with Great Britain, Ireland became burdened with a share of the
responsibility for a large national debt, which it had had no hand in
making. The Irish generally maintain, and many financiers admit that the
burden which the Imperial revenue inflicts upon the country is out of
proportion to its wealth, and this claim constitutes one of the most serious
grievances of the Irish Nationalists.

The history of Ireland since the Union is the story of a continuous
struggle for civic and religious freeedom, and for separation from Great
From 1845 to 1847 rent-racked Ireland suffered from a terrible famine,
due to the failure of the potato crop. Vast numbers emigrated, especially to
America, whither they carried with them the hatred toward England, and
continued to give effective support to the Irish cause. Many also died, and
it is said that in all one and a half million of people had disappeared by 1848.

Source:   The New International Encyclopaedia
Publisher: Dodd, Mead and Company-New York
Copyright:  1902       Total of 21 volumes.

Researched and Transcribed by Miriam Medina