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Famine Commemoration Land

Understand how the relationship between landlords and tenants was at the heart of the Great Irish Famine.

Nineteenth century Ireland was a country of landlords and small tenant farmers. The Irish system of sub-dividing a farm between family members created small farms which were barely able to sustain a single family. For the family historian this tendency for families to cluster together in small areas is a boon. The practice of subsistence farming and the reliance of landlords on rents rather than large scale farming contributed to the devastating impact of the famine.

Newspaper reports of the day and analysis by historians both give the unequal relationship between tenants and landlords a central role in prolonging and exacerbating the famine.

Tenants in nineteenth century Ireland had few rights and many were evicted during the course of the famine.

Landlords already struggling to make a profit from renting out dozens of small pockets of land began the process of consolidating their farms to make them more financially viable. Eviction and land clearances, to make way for tenants who would farm the land for a profit rather than subsistence, made thousands homeless. Forcible eviction was often accompanied by the house being torn down to prevent anyone living in the abandoned property, accounts of people living amid the ruins are not unusual.

There are two sources of famine period land records on findmypast, Griffith's Valuation and the Landed Estate Court Rentals. Both sources provide a wealth of information about tenants and landlords during this crucial period of transition in the relationship them.

When using these sources It is worth keeping in mind that tenant farmers could rent from more than one landlord, and that a tenant's plots could be scattered throughout a single landlord’s estate. Tenant farmers with larger plots could also sublet parts of their farms or houses on their farms to smaller cottagers who paid rent to and often worked for their larger tenant farmer. Tenants sub-letting from other tenants can be identified in Griffith's Evaluation by the letters b, c, d etc., the main tenant is identified with the letter a.

Measured in Acres (A), Roods (R) and Perches (P) the information in Griffith's give a good indication of the small size of some of the farms involved. A rood is one-quarter of an acre, and there are 10 perches in a rood. Tenants could request a re-evaluation based on the properties being amalgamated or houses being torn down.

The Landed Estates Court Rentals are a similarly rich source for the famine period, documenting over 8,000 estates and their half million tenants. In the famine and post famine years landlords of large estates struggled to meet their financial obligations.

Property prices had slumped but legally the properties could not be sold as the land and income was entailed (legally belonged to the next generation). A new law allowed these properties to be sold. The records are sale catalogues with maps.

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Eviction of a family showing the roof being removed from the cottage
Eviction of a family showing the roof being removed from the cottage