Following on from yesterday’s post on John Feehan’s talk in UCD in 2005, I just came across a mention of Irish Yeomen which dates from 1766. It’s quoted in Michael Beames’ book Peasants and Power: The Whiteboy Movements and Their Control in Pre-Famine Ireland (Sussex: Harvester Press, 1983).
I’ll just quote the whole thing. Beames is talking about the effect of the cattle industry on Irish rural life in the 18th century.
The influence of the forces of the external market are particularly apparent in the origins of the first Whiteboy disturbances. The early and middle decades of the eighteenth century witnessed a movement in Irish agriculture towards increasing pasture at the expense of tillage. There were a number of reasons for this. The exclusion of Catholics from durable and profitable tenures under the Penal Laws encouraged them to undertake pastoral agriculture which required little effort or capital. From 1735 onwards, following a resolution in the Irish House of Commons, tithes were not charged on pasture land. But most important were the increasingly favourable marketing conditions - continental demand increased after the peace treaty of 1713 , and was further enhanced by a cattle murrain in Europe. Then, in 1758 and 1759, the Cattle Acts were suspended and the British market opened to Irish cattle, beef and butter. In response to these changes in the market, landlords increasingly let their lands to graziers who cleared them of small farmers and turned the land over to pasture. One effect of this process seems to have been the destruction of a large number of village communities. Viscount Taaffe wrote in 1766:
… keeping the lands uncultivated had the further consequences of expelling that most useful body of people called yeomanry in England, and Sculoags in Ireland - communities of industrious housekeepers who in my time herded together in large villages and cultivated their lands everywhere, till as leases expired some rich grazier negotiating privately with a sum of ready money took the lands over their heads… The Sculoag race, that great nursery of labourers and manufacturers, has been broken and dispersed in every quarter, and we have nothing in lieu but those miserable wretches on earth, the cottagers.
By 1760-61, the pressure for new pasture was strong enough in the province of Munster to tempt graziers into enclosing lands previously understood to be commons. It was these enclosures which sparked off the earliest Whiteboy disturbances: ‘the law indeed, is open to redress them; but they do not know the laws or how to proceed; or if they did know them they are not equal to the expense of a suit against a rich tyrant. Besides the greatest part of these tenures are by verbal agreement, not written compact.’ In such circumstances, the only option left apart from quiet submission was some form of violent protest.
Where grazing in the 18th century ties into NAMA and the current bank crisis is in the development of the Irish Catholic Middle Class - the graziers and middlemen - who consolidated their power in the 1920s; who were able to resist native industrialisation as it would have been against their ‘free-trade’ export business interests to England; who insisted on the Irish currency being tied to sterling, crippling financial growth; who agreed to the transplanting of fully-formed foreign industry on Irish soil as a kind of ‘third-way’ compromise between the need for growth and their own economic needs, creating a native non-agricultural-based capitalism which is centred around construction, finance and real estate (the interface businesses between foreign investment and the Irish State); that by the late 1990s construction, finance and real estate have such a hold on the Irish economy that almost everything is focused on facilitating their needs; and when the banks and speculators start to fold in late 2008 they are in a position to close ranks and use the entire resources of the State to protect themselves and fuck everyone else.
Anyway. Here’s the Smiths.