The distribution of land
After previous changes in the 16th century through successive confiscations, Jacobite and Cromwellian plantations, there were new developments after the victory of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne (1690) which ensured the continued English and Protestant domination of land ownership (doc. A).
Absentee Landlords: “The Devouring Drain”
Among the Anglo-Irish land-owning class, many are famous for spending the proceeds of their agricultural estates in Ireland on a luxurious life in England : about 25 % of Irish revenue was thus exported during the 18th century, depriving Ireland of capital and investment.
In 1729, a list of landowners (doc. B, p. 72-73, p. 79) was drawn up, comprising three categories: the fully-absentee landlords, those who spent a month or two on their estate, and those who resided in Ireland but were absent temporarily for “reasons of health, leisure, or business”. This list estimates the amount of cash and capital which left the country, (which led to the coin minting scandal denounced by SWIFT) thereby slowing down the entire commercial activity in Ireland: “a great stagnation in business for want of money” (doc. B, p. 79).
Suggestions were made by members of the Anglo-Irish elite such as Francis SEYMOUR (Seymour was given an Irish Peerage in 1712 as Baron Conway, served as Governor of Carrickfergus from 1728 to 1732 and member of the Irish Privy Council) to improve agricultural and industrial productivity (doc. C, p. 1-7), such as the building of a canal to facilitate the transportation of coal from Drumglass (Co. Tyrone) to Dublin so as to limit imports and give jobs “to the poor and beggars who flee the country” (doc. C, p. 7).
Absentee landlords received monetary rents through leases contracted with tenants, who would themselves sublet and subdivide land. Hence the low productivity of land which hardly supplied enough food for the Irish population. According to Thomas PRIOR (founder of the Dublin Society, 1731), it was also the cause of deforestation in Ireland, the trees being reserved for landowners’ trading activities: “I cannot but observe that our Law, and the usual Clauses in Leases, which reserve all Trees to the Landlord, are in Effect, the Cause why neither Landlord nor Tenant have any Trees at all”.
Arthur YOUNG (1741-1820), an English agronomist, toured Ireland in 1775-77 (doc. D, p. 34-35). In his writings, he explains the multiple negative consequences of this excessive subdivision of land and draws a very stereotyped portrait of the Irish subject to excessive idleness and drunkenness.