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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

The Remedy for Irish Distress
(S358ae: 1883)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on page 1 of the 7 March 1883 issue of the London newspaper The Echo. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S358AE.htm

To the Editor of The Echo.

     Sir,--The recent discussions in Parliament on the admitted facts as to the misery, destitution, and impending famine in the West of Ireland have not shown the slightest attempt to grapple with the source of the evil, or elicited proposals which offer any prospect of a permanent solution of the problem.

     It is admitted by all that over large areas the holdings are so small as to be quite inadequate to support a family even at the best of times; when, from any cause, times are bad, starvation is inevitable. The suggestions put forth are, apparently, two only--charity in some form to remedy the immediate distress, leaving the evil untouched, or emigration from some of these small holdings, without any hint of measures to ensure that the land thus vacated will be added to adjoining holdings, the probability being that the landlords would either let the land to large farmers or to new small tenants, in either case leaving the holdings of all who did not emigrate as small and inadequate as before, and necessarily perpetuating the existing distress.

     Yet a real and permanent remedy can be easily found, if our legislators will but carry a little further that interference with the absolute power of landlords which they have already recognised as a principle in the Land Act. An examination of the literature of the Irish Land Question will, I think, show that, as a rule, wherever the holdings are of adequate size, and the rent not exorbitant, the Irish peasant, far from being a half-starved pauper, is comparatively well off, and able to save money. The Land Act ensures that future rents shall be fair; it is only necessary to ensure that holdings shall be adequate, and the problem will be solved. For this purpose local authorities must have power to take any land from which the people have been cleared since the great famine, or suitable portions of mountain-land or large grazing farms in any district, to be let at fair rents and in such quantities as may be desired. Not only are enormous areas in the central parts of Ireland occupied in grazing farms of many square miles each, but even in the poverty-stricken West there is probably ample land to double the size of the present holdings. In Mr. Tuke's article in the Contemporary Review of April last, he gives the number of holdings in the five distressed counties of Donegal, Mayo, Galway, Clare, and Kerry as 158,400; and the cultivated areas as 940,500, being an average of almost exactly six acres per holding. But in "Johnston's General Gazeteer," published in 1871, I find the cultivated land of these five counties given as 3,667,000 acres, or nearly four times as much as Mr. Tuke gives, while the total area is nearly double this, or 6,141,000 acres; and it is well known that a portion of mountain land added to a holding will often make all the difference between comfort and starvation. If the land of Ireland is thus thrown freely open to the peasants of Ireland, to be held at fair rents, on a secure tenure, and in adequate quantities, no more will be heard of perennial destitution. This is the only way to right the wrongs of long years of oppression, and an unbroken succession of evictions and confiscations; and, till this is done, no remedy will be found for distress and famine in Ireland.

Alfred R. Wallace.

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