'An Irish tenant would not know how to farm his land'

Bence Jones

'An Irish tenant would not know how to farm this land' said William Bence Jones in relation to a particular holding in his Lisselane estate which is the subject of our second 'incident' to illustrate his attitude to Irish farmers and to the Irish as a race and his low regard for their abilities and intelligence.
Concerning a controversy surrounding a farm of over 300 acres at Desertserges, which Bence Jones bought in 1895, and which was the subject of court proceedings concerning the rent in 1882, the landlord, in that year, produced an 'explanation' of his side of the argument to the readers of the 'Skibbereen Eagle.'
The land, when he bought it, says Bence Jones, was very poor but if manured, it would be very valuable to his children!
'An Irish tenant,' he writes, 'would not know how to farm it' so he bought it, only to farm it himself, 'if he could not get and English tenant.' Jones did get an English tenant, a Joseph Nicholson, who came in 1860 and 'who knew much more about bad land than I did, having plenty of capital, being a man fifty years old.'


Ironically, for Bence Jones, his 'love affair' with Englishmen as 'superior farmers' came unstuck over twenty years later when the Land Bill of 1881 acted to the benefit of tenant Joseph Nicholson, much to the great chagrin of the landlord. This Land Bill instituted a system of compensation to tenants for improvements and as a result, and without going into too much detail, Nicholson had his rent reduced from 115 per year to 80 per year.
This angered Bence Jones so much that he protested in a letter to the 'Skibbereen Eagle' and resultant on which Nicholson replied with a very long rejoinder contesting the landlord's account of the improvements done.
His address, for the record, was given as Kilrush House, Desertserges.
'Only for the 'Land Bill,' says Nicholson, I would have gone away without a penny even thought it was proved in court that the land was worth 22 an acre more than when I got it.' Without the Land Bill, he added 'I would have had to go away with nothing, having left both capital and labour in the soil, and 'if I stayed, I should have to pay a considerable rise of rent on the ground of my own investment and improvement.'
The court, obviously, had agreed with the tenant, and it had also appointed and 'independent valuator' and his evidence was taken together with that of a Mr. Law, steward of the landlord.
Passing from the details of rent and improvements, Nicholson did not let Bence Jones go without 'taking him on for his racist remarks and allegations as to the worth of Irish farmers.


'Mr. Jones believe that no Irishman could farm this land,' stated Nicholson, 'and while this might seem a high compliment to pass to me, it is too expensive a one to accept. Has it not the tendency of making an impression on English people's mind that there are no good farmers in Ireland?'
'Now, sir,' continued Nicholson, 'there are Irishmen who are well able to farm their land and make as much money as any man and there is no necessity to bring over either Englishmen or Scotsmen to show the Irishman how to farm.'
The suggestion that because he was English, Nicholson was a superior farmer, this tenant also rejects because as he states, 'I never say a plant on Irish land until I came over' and now he continues, and because they are in dispute, Bence Jones alleges that 'I am a man of fifty years old and giving the public the idea that I am nigh worn out and useless.' This, he stated 'is another error, because I was ten years younger.'
Bence Jones, in his letter, had also appealed to Englishmen for moral support but, states Nicholson, 'I have the honour to be and Englishman and may appeal to them too.'


Concluding, Nicholson states that the new Land Bill will allow tenants rest easier in their beds 'with less fear of a writ or notice of eviction.' 'I myself,' says Nicholson, 'did not ask for any reduction, originally,' but a 'little time to pay my rent.' He needed to sell stock but would not be given the time, 'only threats and abusive language.' 'I was like a drowning man, catching at anything to save my life, but, all in vain, I should pay or be a bankrupt.'
Some treatment for a 'superior English farmer' from a 'model Irish landlord' (as the English press called him) and what a rebuff for William Bence Jones, the 'landlord who tried to do his duty.'!