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The condition of the labourers in Ireland (1845)

In 1844 Sir Robert Peel had ordered an enquiry into conditions in Ireland, under the chairmanship of the Earl of Devon. The Report came too late to help the Irish population which was hard-hit by the potato blight of 1845. This is part of the original Report.

We must not omit to notice the system which prevails in a greater or less degree in every part of Ireland, of letting land for one or more crops, commonly known as the con-acre system. The land so let is in some few districts called quarter land or rood land.

Much has been said in condemnation of this system; but still we are convinced that some practice of this nature is essential to the comfort, almost the existence, of the Irish peasant. Under ordinary circumstances the wages of his labour alone will not enable him to purchase food and other necessaries, and to pay even the most moderate rent. It becomes therefore necessary that he should resort to some other means for procuring subsistence, and these can only be found in the occupation of a piece of ground which shall furnish a crop of potatoes for food. This he generally takes from some farmer in the neighbourhood, upon conditions which vary much according to the particular terms of agreement respecting the ploughing, the manure, the seed, &c.

Although the taker of con-acre ground may, in ordinary years, receive a good return for the rent which he assumes, yet, as the amount of such rent, although not unreasonable in respect of the farmer's expenditure upon the land, is always large with reference to the ordinary means of a labourer, a bad season, and a failure in the crops, leave the latter in a distressed condition, subject to a demand which he is wholly unable to meet.

Report of the Commissioners: Devonshire Commission, 1151-2

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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