A Politician' s Mission
“Give a man an acre who will use that acre to produce food sufficient for his family with a little over to sell so that in time he has the means to increase the amount of land he works. That is my recipe for prosperity. Give a man an acre and he shares it with the families of cousins, and the land will be quickly made barren. Those cousins, occupying the land without license, and the man who permits it, must be removed. That was and remains the purpose of my policy of eviction. To clear the land of the idle and indolent, of thieves and beggars. The presence of such people, in ever increasing numbers, was destroying the land long before the pestilence destroyed the potato.”
Crofton is on his hobby horse in the witness box. The same superficially persuasive arguments he used in his evidence to Mr Scrope's committee.
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Once Coffee had agreed to provide the evidence I needed, I pondered long over the proper response to the result of his assessment. Would I feel relief were he to discover that my suspicions about certain landlords and their agents were unfounded? These men were for the most part men of the same class and background as myself; men who shared the same Christian values of charity and compassion as well as industry and thrift. But, if my suspicions were unfounded, how to explain the presence of so many mendicants crowding the streets of Kilrush and seeking relief from the Union?
If, on the other hand, Coffee's evidence proved me right in my suspicions, how would I face those responsible? How react to their hypocrisy, their lack of compassion? What if some of the most prestigious and influential of land owners were implicated. Men like the Marquis of Conyngham and Colonel George Wyndham?
Wyndham, in particular, gave me pause for thought. A man whose reputation for good works was well known throughout the county. His model farms and schools were widely praised for their excellence and his tenants prospered as a consequence. Unlike many other absentee landlords of large holdings, he regularly gave donations to local charities and municipal projects. Could this same man be responsible for the eviction of large numbers of the poorest of those who sought to sustain themselves on his lands? And yet, how else could he achieve the consolidation and modernisation that he deemed desirable and without which there could be no hope of the county, or indeed, the Island, being lifted from poverty?
And what of the Commission and the Parliamentarians who, with their insistence upon making the land owners of Ireland meet the cost of relief, provided the motive for landlords to reduce the number of occupied holdings on their land so as to reduce the rates due? Over-riding all of this was the terrible contradiction that, by removing cottiers from their land in order to reduce the burden of rates, the landlords were increasing the number of individuals dependent upon the relief the very rate supported.
I began to consider what I would do with the evidence once gathered. What institution, which individual, would be most likely to act upon the facts, bringing the culprits to book?
I ruled out any notion of involving any of the many religious bodies that made it their business to interfere in Ireland's suffering. They all had agendas of their own. Whether the insistence upon the power of prayer, the need to abandon traditional patterns of worship in favour of novel liturgies, or the pursuit of charitable works, none was, I judged, likely to support a campaign to end the brutal practice of eviction and the systematic demolition of homes. I needed someone with influence in government. Even in that regard the choice of a suitable person was limited. So many members of Parliament were themselves the owners of large estates, especially those who purported to represent the people of Ireland. In truth they represented only the landed, the inevitable consequence of the fact that only those who owned land were able to vote.
There were, or so I judged from reading such extracts from their speeches as appeared in the presses, a few who might be relied upon to look with sympathy upon the plight of poor Irish folk. But their reputation was such that their words went unheeded. I feared that, in their hands, my evidence wou...