Congested Districts Board

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Congested Districts Board

The Congested Districts Board was established under the Purchase of Land Act of 1891, and its powers were extended and consolidated under the Congested Districts Board Acts of 1893, 1894, 1899, and 1901. The purpose of the board was to combine unprofitable agricultural holdings and to aid migration and emigration, agriculture, and industry in areas of Ireland where population outstripped available resources. It was a product of developments in Conservative and Unionist policy characterized as "Constructive Unionism." This approach to Irish problems was identified in particular with A. J. Balfour, chief secretary for Ireland, but also was influenced by the more interventionist ideas of Joseph Chamberlain, whose Liberal Unionists formed part of the Unionist coalition that governed the United Kingdom for most of the period 1886 to 1905.

The board sought to improve transportation, especially roads and railways, to provide better facilities for local industries, and to purchase estates from landlords for resale to the tenant occupiers. Its membership included a component representative of the Irish nationalist and Roman Catholic majority, and through this a more effective partnership was established with those with whom the board needed to work. Several of its accomplishments were initiated by the nationalist MP William O'Brien, including the establishment of a reproductive-loan fund from which new boats and equipment could be provided for the fishermen of Murrisk, Co. Mayo; the construction of a road through Dhuloch Pass in County Mayo as a stimulus to tourist traffic; and the purchase of Clare Island, in Clew Bay, Co. Mayo, and its resale in 1894 to the occupying tenants. The successful transfer of Clare Island was a model for the use of purchase and resale as a solution to the intractable conflict over land tenure, providing evidence to the government of its effectiveness in reducing agrarian conflict and reassuring tenant farmers elsewhere of its efficacy for them. However, after passage of the Land Purchase Act of 1903 (Wyndham Act), which completed land purchase for most farmers, the board's work was increasingly complicated by the conflict between the rival claims of small-holders from the congested districts and local landless for redistributed land in noncongested areas. Under the Liberal government's Land Purchase Act of 1909 the board was reconstituted, making it even more susceptible to such popular pressures. The board was dissolved in 1923, by which time it had purchased over two million acres, to which it had made extensive improvements prior to resale.

SEE ALSO Agriculture: 1845 to 1921; Home Rule Movement and the Irish Parliamentary Party: 1891 to 1918; Land Purchase Acts of 1903 and 1909; Land Questions; Land War of 1879 to 1882; Plan of Campaign; Plunkett, Sir Horace Curzon; Rural Life: 1850 to 1921; United Irish League Campaigns


Curtis, L. P. Coercion and Conciliation in Ireland, 1880–1892: A Study in Conservative Unionism. 1963.

Micks, W. L. An Account of the Constitution, Administration, and Dissolution of the Congested Districts Board for Ireland from 1891 to 1923. 1925.

O'Brien, William. An Olive Branch in Ireland and Its History. 1910.

Philip Bull