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Establishment of the National Land League of Mayo

Establishment of the National Land League of Mayo

16 August 1879

The Land League of Mayo was the precursor of the Irish National Land League established in Dublin in October 1879 with Charles Stewart Parnell as its president. The Mayo League grew out of a series of successful land demonstrations held in the west of Ireland in the summer of 1879 in response to a sharply deteriorating economic situation caused by bad weather, poor crops, and falling agricultural prices. Michael Davitt and other Fenians were instrumental in founding the Mayo League and its successor, the National Land League.

SEE ALSO Davitt, Michael; Land Acts of 1870 and 1881; Land War of 1879 to 1882; Parnell, Charles Stewart

A meeting in connexion with the land agitation in Mayo . . . took place at Castlebar today in Daly's Hotel and was attended by representative delegates from all parts of the county. . . . Mr Michael Davitt read a document embodying the rules and objects of the proposed association.

This body shall be known as the National Land League of Mayo and shall consist of farmers and others who will agree to labour for the objects here set forth, and subscribe to the conditions of membership, principles, and rules specified below.

Objects: The objects for which this body is organised are—

  1. To watch over the interests of the people it represents and protect the same, as far as may be in its power to do so, from an unjust or capricious exercise of power or privilege on the part of landlords or any other class in the community.
  2. To resort to every means compatible with justice, morality, and right reason, which shall not clash defiantly with the constitution upheld by the power of the British empire in this country, for the abolition of the present land laws of Ireland and the substitution in their place of such a system as shall be in accord with the social rights and necessities of our people, the traditions and moral sentiments of our race, and which the contentment and prosperity of our country imperatively demand.
  3. Pending a final and satisfactory settlement of the land question, the duty of this body will be to expose the injustice, wrong, or injury which may be inflicted upon any farmer in Mayo, either by rack-renting, eviction, or other arbitrary exercise of power which the existing laws enable the landlords to exercise over their tenantry, by giving all such arbitrary acts the widest possible publicity and meeting their perpetration with all the opposition which the laws for the preservation of the peace will permit of. In furthernance of which, the following plan will be adopted:—a. Returns to be obtained, printed, and circulated, of the number of landlords in this county; the amount of acreage in possession of same, and the means by which such land was obtained; farms let by each, with the conditions under which they are held by their tenants and excess of rent paid by same over the government valuation. b. To publish by placard, or otherwise, notice of contemplated evictions for non-payment of exorbitant rent or other unjust cause, and the convening of a public meeting, if deemed necessary or expedient, as near the scene of such evictions as circumstances will allow, and on the day fixed upon for the same. c. The publication of a list of evictions carried out, together with cases of rack-renting, giving full particulars of same, names of landlords, agents, etc., concerned, and number people evicted by such acts. d. The publication of the names of all persons who shall rent or occupy land or farms from which others have been dispossessed for non-payment of exorbitant rents, or who shall offer a higher rent for land or farms than that paid by the previous occupier. The publication of reductions of rent and acts of justice or kindness performed by landlords in the county.
  4. This body to undertake the defence of such of its members, or those of local clubs affiliated with it, who may be required to resist by law the actions of landlords or their agents who may purpose doing them injury, wrong, or injustice in connexion with their land or farms.
  5. To render assistance when possible to such farmer-members as may be evicted or otherwise wronged by landlords or their agents.
  6. To undertake the organising of local clubs or defence associations in the baronies, towns, and parishes of this county, the holding of public meetings and demonstrations on the land question, and the printing of pamphlets on that and other subjects for the information of the farming classes.
  7. And finally, to act as a vigilance committee in Mayo, note the conduct of its grand jury, poor law guardians, town commissioners, and members of parliament, and pronounce on the manner in which their respective functions are performed, wherever the interests, social or political, of the people represented by this club renders it expedient to do so.

Conditions of membership: 1. To be a member or any local club or defence association in the county, and be selected by such club or association to represent the same on the central or county association. . . . 3. To pay any sum not under five shillings a year towards the carrying out of the foregoing objects and the end for which this body is created—the obtaining of the soil of Ireland for the people of Ireland who cultivate it.

Declaration of principles. The land of Ireland belongs to the people of Ireland, to be held and cultivated for the sustenance of those whom God decreed to be the inhabitants thereof. Land being created to supply the necessities of existence, those who cultivate it to that end have a higher claim to its absolute possession than those who make it an article of barter to be used or disposed of for purposes of profit or pleasure. The end for which the land of a country is created requires an equitable distribution of the same among the people who are to live upon such distribution of the same among the people who are to live upon the fruits of their labour in its cultivation. Any restriction, therefore, upon such a distribution by a feudal land system embodying the laws of primogeniture and entail, the amassing of large estates, the claiming of proprietorship under penal obligations from occupiers, and preventing the same from developing the full resources of the land, must necessarily be opposed to the divine purpose for which it was created, and to the social rights, security, and happiness of the people.

"Before the conquest the Irish people knew nothing of absolute property in land. The land virtually belonged to the entire sept; the chief was little more than managing member of the association. The feudal idea, which views all rights as emanating from a head landlord, came in with the conquest, was associated with foreign dominion, and has never to this day been recognised by the moral sentiments of the people. Originally the offspring not of industry but of spoliation, the right has not been allowed to purify itself by protracted possession, but has passed from the original spoliators to others by a series of fresh spoliations, so as to be always connected with the latest and most odious oppression of foreign invaders. In the moral feelings of the Irish people, the right to hold the land goes, as it did in the beginning, with the right to till it." These were the words of John Stuart Mill, the English political economist. . . .

The area of Ireland and the natural wealth of its soil is capable of supporting from twelve to twenty millions of inhabitants if restrictive land laws did not operate against the full development of the country's resources and the unfettered cultivation of the land. Yet a population of 8,000,000 previous to the year 1847 was reduced by death, starvation, and exile, consequent upon an artificial famine and continued impoverishment, to little over 5,000,000 at the present day. Decreased population with its concomitant absorption of small-holdings into large estates has produced no beneficial changes in the condition of the existent farming classes, who are compelled by the coercion of necessity in the absence of manufacturing industry to the acceptance of a non-alternative bargain in the shape of exorbitant rent in order to obtain the use of the soil. The dread of eviction or rack-renting must necessarily operate against the expenditure of labour and enterprise in the cultivation of the land and improvement of farm dwellings and premises which follow in every country where the fruits of the people's industry is [sic] protected by the state; hence the soil of Ireland is worse and less cultivated, and the living and habitations of its agricultural classes [are] more wretched, than in any country in the civilised world. Over 6,000,000 acres of Irish land is owned by less than 300 individuals, twelve of whom are in possession of 1,297,888 acres between them, while 5,000,000 of the Irish people own not a solitary acre. For the protection of the proprietorial rights of the few thousand landlords in the country, a standing army of semi-military police is maintained which landless millions have to support, while the conduct of the landocracy in the exercise of its legal privileges occasions almost all the evils under which our people suffer.

Thus the rights of the soil cultivators, their security from arbitrary disturbance and incentives to social advancement, together with the general well-being, peace, and prosperity of the people at large, are sacrificed for the benefit of a class insignificant in numbers and of least account in all that goes towards the maintenance of a country, but which by the aid of existing land laws extracts some twenty million pounds annually from the soil of Ireland without conferring any single benefit in return on the same or [on] the people by whose industry it is produced.

If the land in the possession of 744 landlords in this country were divided into 20-acre farms, it would support in ease and comparative independence over two millions and a half of our people.

To substitute for such an unjust and anomalous system as the present land code—one that would show an equal protection and solicitude for the social rights and well-being of the labouring millions as that shown for those of the wealthy but non-operative few—is the principle upon which enlightened statesmanship aims at following in modern times to meet the growing necessities of that popular intelligence and awakening civilisation which demands the sweeping away of those feudal laws opposed to the social progress and ideas of the age. Sacrificing the interests of the few to the welfare of the many by the abolition of feudal land codes has laid the foundation of solid governments and secured the contentment of peoples in most European countries. The interests of the landlords of Ireland are pecuniary and can be compensated, but the interests of the people of Ireland, dependant upon the produce of the soil, is [sic] their very existence. In denouncing the existing land laws and demanding in their place such a system as will recognise and establish the cultivator of the said soil as its proprietor, we neither purpose nor demand the confiscation of the interest which the landlords now hold in the land, but ask that compensation be given them for loss of said rights when the state, for the peace, benefit, and happiness of the people, shall decree the abolition of the present system.

We appeal to the farmers of Ireland to be up and doing at once and organise themselves forthwith in order that their full strength may be put forth in behalf of themselves and their country in efforts to obtain what has brought security and comparative plenty to the farming classes of continental countries. Without an evidence of earnestness and practical determination being shown now by the farmers of Ireland and their friends in a demand for a small proprietary which alone can fully satisfy the Irish people or finally settle the great land question of the country, the tribunal of public opinion will neither credit the urgent necessity for such a change nor lend its influence in ameliorating the condition or redressing the social and political wrongs of which we complain. Let us remember, in the words of one of Ireland's greatest sons [John Mitchel], that "the land is the fund whence we all ultimately draw; and if the terms on which the land is cultivated be unfair—if the agricultural system of a country be unsound, then the entire structure is rotten and will inevitably come down. Let us never forget that mere appeals to the public to encourage native industry in other departments must be utterly futile so long as the great and paramount native industry of the farmer is neglected. In vain shall we try to rouse national spirit if the very men who make the nation sink into paupers before our face. Paupers have no country, no rights, no duties; and, in short, if we permit the small farmers to be reduced to pauperism—if we see them compelled to give up their land and throw themselves on public relief, there is an end of Ireland."

The manifesto was unanimously adopted.

Freeman's Journal, 18 August 1879.

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