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Land and politics in independent Ireland, 1923–48: the case for reappraisal

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 March 2016

Terence Dooley
Department of History, National University of Ireland, Maynooth
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The land question from the mid-Victorian period to around 1903 looms large in Irish historiography. This is hardly surprising given the fact that, while it was immensely important in its own right, it could not be disentangled from the wider political developments of the time that saw the land and national questions merge. However, with the exception of recent work by Professor David Seth Jones, the land question in post-independence Ireland has been largely overlooked. There seems, in fact, to be a general assumption among political, social and economic historians that there was no land question after 1922, that the land act of the following year defused all potential for future agrarian unrest by completing the transfer of ownership from landlords to tenants.

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Copyright © Irish Historical Studies Publications Ltd 2004

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1 Major works in which the land question plays the dominant role include Bew, Paul, Land and the national question in Ireland, 1858-82 (Dublin, 1978)Google Scholar; Bull, Philip, Land, politics and nationalism: a study of the Irish land question (Dublin, 1996)Google Scholar; Clark, Samuel, Social origins of the Irish land war (Princeton, 1979)Google Scholar; Donnelly, J.S. Jr, The land and the people of nineteenth-century Cork: the rural economy and the land question (London, 1975)Google Scholar; Geary, Laurence, The Plan of Campaign, 1886-91 (Cork, 1985)Google Scholar; Jones, David Seth, Graziers, land reform and political conflict in Ireland (Washington, D.C., 1995)Google Scholar; Jordan, D.E., Land and popular politics in Ireland: County Mayo from the plantation to the land war (Cambridge, 1994)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Moody, T.W., Dovitt and Irish revolution, 1846-82 (Oxford, 1981)Google Scholar; Solow, B.L., The land question and the Irish economy, 1870-1903 (Cambridge, Mass., 1971)Google Scholar; Vaughan, W.E., Landlords and tenants in mid-Victorian Ireland (Oxford, 1994)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Jones, David Seth, ‘Divisions within the Irish government over land distribution policy, 1940-70’ in Éire-Ireland, xxxvi (2001), pp 83109 Google Scholar.

3 See, for example, Lyons, F.S.L., Ireland since the Famine (London, 1971), p. 606 Google Scholar; Murphy, John A., Ireland in the twentieth century (Dublin, 1975), p. 65 Google Scholar; Fanning, Ronan, Independent Ireland (Dublin, 1983), p. 73 Google Scholar; Lee, J.J., Ireland 1912-1985: politics and society (Cambridge, 1989), p. 71 Google Scholar; Jackson, Alvin, Ireland 1798-1998: politics and war (Oxford, 1999), p. 283 Google Scholar; Fitzpatrick, David, The two Irelands, 1912—1939 (Oxford, 1998), p. 240 Google Scholar. See also Foster, R.F., Modern Ireland, 1600-1972 (London, 1988)Google Scholar; Keogh, Dermot, Twentieth-century Ireland: nation and state (Dublin, 1994)Google Scholar; Gráda, Cormac Ó, Ireland: a new economic history, 1780-1939 (Oxford, 1994)Google Scholar; idem, A rocky road: the Irish economy since the 1920s (Manchester, 1997)Google Scholar; Townshend, Charles, Ireland: the twentieth-century (London, 1999)Google Scholar; Cronin, Mike and Regan, J.M. (eds), Ireland: the politics of independence, 1922-49 (Basingstoke, 2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Lee, Ireland 1912-1985, p. 71.

5 Text of parliamentary question no. 84, ref. 4180/03, and reply from Minister for Agriculture, 13 Feb. 2003, forwarded to the present author by Ms Deirdre Fennell, private secretary to John Bruton, T.D.

6 An act to provide for the establishment of a body to be known as the National Archives and for other connected matters (11/1986) (18 May 1986).

7 J. M. Duff to — McGann, 18 July 1922 (N.A.I., DT S2981).

8 Dáil Éireann deb., ii, 592 (5 Jan. 1923).

9 Maurice Moore to the Minister for Defence, 9 May 1922 (Military Archives, Dublin (henceforth M.A.), A/3126).

10 [Patrick Hogan], ‘Seizures of land’ (copy memo), 22 Dec. 1922 (N.A.I., DT S1943).

11 Agricultural statistics of Ireland with detailed report for the year 1917 [Cmd 1316], H.C. 1921, xli, p. xiv.

12 Report of the proceedings of the Irish Convention [Cd 9019], H.C. 1918, x. 697; memorandum on land bill of 1920, n.d. (N.A.I., DT S1995A).

13 Historians remain at variance regarding the nature, role and extent of agrarianism during the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War. For various opinions see Bew, Paul, ‘Sinn Féin, agrarian radicalism and the War of Independence’ in Boyce, D.G. (ed.), The revolution in Ireland, 1879-1923 (Dublin, 1988), pp 217-35CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Townshend, Charles, Political violence in Ireland: government and resistance since 1848 (Oxford, 1983)Google Scholar; Augusteijn, Joost, From public defiance to guerrilla warfare: the experience of ordinary volunteers in the Irish War of Independence, 1916-21 (Dublin, 1996)Google Scholar; Regan, J.M., The Irish counter-revolution, 1921-36 (Dublin, 1999)Google Scholar; Hart, Peter, ‘Definition: defining the Irish revolution’ in Augusteijn, Joost (ed.), The Irish revolution, 1913-1923 (Basingstoke, 2002), pp 1733 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dooley, Terence, ‘I.R.A. veterans and land division in independent Ireland, 1923-48’ in McGarry, Fearghal (ed.), Republicanism in modern Ireland (Dublin, 2003), pp 86107 Google Scholar.

14 Memorandum by Patrick Hogan on land bill of 1920 (N.A.I., DT S1995); Dáil Éireann deb., iv, 1983-4 (8 Aug. 1923).

15 Patrick Hogan to W. T.Cosgrave, 7 Apr. 1923 (N.A.I., DT S3192).

16 [Patrick Hogan], ‘Seizures of land’ (copy memo), 22 Dec. 1922 (N.A.I., DT S1943); Department of Defence memorandum, 1 Feb. 1923 (M.A., A/7869).

17 See, for example, M.A., files A/8506, A/7869, A/613, detailing activities of the Special Infantry Corps, resistance to the same in certain areas, its success in quelling agrarianism, and so on.

18 Enforcement of Law (Occasional Powers) Act, 1923 (1923, no. 4) (1 Mar. 1923); District Justices (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923 (1923, no. 6) (27 Mar. 1923).

19 Higgins, Kevin O’, Minister for Home Affairs, Dáil Éireann deb., ii, 971 (19 Jan. 1923)Google Scholar.

20 Ibid., ii, 592 (5 Jan. 1923).

21 Ibid., iii, 1147-8 (28 May 1923).

22 Patrick Hogan, Report on the Land Purchase and Arrears Conference of 10-11 Apr. 1923, dated 17 Apr. 1923 (U.C.D.A., Blythe papers, P24/174).

23 Dáil Éireann deb., iii, 1161-2 (28 May 1923).

24 Ibid., cols 1147-8, 1153.

25 Ibid., i, 1983-5 (8 Aug. 1923).

26 An act to provide for the preservation of public safety and the protection of persons and property and for matters connected therewith or arising out of the present emergency (1923 no. 28) (1 Aug. 1923); An act to make provision for the immediate preservation of the public safety (1923 no. 29) (3 Aug. 1923).

27 See Darrell Figgis’s questioning of the legitimacy of the resolution, Dáil Eireann deb., iv, 1985-6 (8 Aug. 1923)Google Scholar.

28 Memorandum on 1923 land bill prepared by Patrick Hogan for W. T. Cosgrave, 18 Apr. 1923(N.A.L, DTS3192).

29 An act to amend the law relating to the occupation and ownership of land and for other purposes relating thereto (1923 no. 42) (9 Aug. 1923).

30 See, for example, Lyons, Ireland since the Famine, p. 606; Murphy, Ireland in the twentieth century, p. 65; Fanning, Independent Ireland, p. 73; Jackson, Ireland 1798-1998, p. 283.

31 Land Law (Commission) Act, 1923: an act to amend the law relating to the Irish Land Commission and to dissolve the Congested Districts Board for Ireland and transfer its functions to the Irish Land Commission and for other purposes connected therewith (1923 no. 27) (24 July 1923).

32 Report of the Estates Commissioners for the year from 1 April 1920 to 31 March 1921, p. vi.

33 Dáil Éireann deb., iii, 1147 (28 May 1923).

34 Ibid., x, 1544 (26 Mar. 1925).

35 Ibid.

36 I would like to acknowledge Professor Jones’s generosity in sharing his findings with me.

37 Dáil Éireann deb., iii, 1150-51 (28 May 1923).

38 Statistical abstract of Ireland, 1962 (Pr 6571), pp 68-9.

39 Census of population of Ireland, 1946 (1949, P 9225), i, 18; ii, 10, 154-9.

40 Reports of the Irish Land Commission, 1937-78; Sammon, P.J., In the Land Commission: a memoir, 1933-1978 (Dublin, 1997), pp 260-61Google Scholar.

41 Department of Lands memorandum for the government: ‘Review of Land Commission policy’, July 1957 (N.A.I., DT S16265).

42 One of P. J. Sammon’s very interesting statistical appendixes shows, for example, that 170 (former) landlords had almost 238,500 untenanted acres acquired between 1923 and 1936 alone (Sammon, In the Land Commission, pp 264-78).

43 Monahan, H.J., ‘Administration of land acts’ in King, F.C. (ed.), Public administration in Ireland (Dublin, 1945), p. 141 Google Scholar; see figures above regarding population and farm households at this time.

44 See Jones, David Seth, ‘Land reform legislation and security of tenure in Ireland after independence’ in Éire-Ireland, xxxii-xxxiii (1987-8), pp 116-43Google Scholar.

45 Dáil Éireann deb., cclvi, 509 (28 Oct. 1971).

46 Ibid., lxxvii, 938 (8 Nov. 1939).

47 Mayne, Rutherford [Waddell, S.J.], Bridge Head (Dublin, n.d.), p. v Google Scholar.

48 Ibid., p. 3.

49 Meath Chronicle, 27 Apr. 1935.

50 Dooley, Terence, ‘The land for the people’: the land question in independent Ireland (Dublin, 2004), pp 201-27Google Scholar.

51 Dáil Éireann deb., ix, 2591 (12 Dec. 1924).

52 Ibid., xix, 665-6 (18 Apr. 1929).

53 Ibid., lxiii, 1969 (24 July 1936).

54 Ibid., xcvi, 2456 (25 Apr. 1945).

55 Ibid., clxvi, 158 (24 Apr. 1957).

56 Sammon, In the Land Commission, p. 126.

57 Dáil Éireann deb., xxiii, 88 (18 Apr. 1928).

58 Ibid., viii, 2189 (24 July 1924).

59 Irish Press, 29 Oct. 1931.

60 Dunphy, Richard, The making of Fianna Fáil power in Ireland, 1923-1948 (Oxford, 1995), p. 83 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

61 Frank Aiken, for example, would later claim that One of the principal objects for which Fianna Fáil was founded was to establish on the land as many families as practicable. This was also one of the fundamental objects of the old Sinn Féin movement and of the First Dáil.’ See Dáil Éireann deb., xlviii, 2381 (13 July 1933); also corrected typescript copies of a speech by Frank Aiken introducing the 1933 land bill to Dáil Éireann, Aug. 1933 (U.C.D.A., Aiken papers, P104/3301).

62 Fianna Fáil: second annual ard-fheis, 1927: report of proceedings, p. 5 (U.C.D.A., P176/741).

63 Meath Chronicle, 16 Oct. 1937.

64 ‘Ard rúnaí” to Patrick Moroney, 25 Nov. 1946 (U.C.D.A., P176/62 (67)). According to the Fianna Fáil research office, Eamon de Valera held this position within the party at this time, and the letter was undoubtedly sent by him.

65 Dáil Éireann deb., xxii, 889 (7 Mar. 1927).

66 ‘A farm used for the convenience or advantage of the owner’s residence and in connection therewith and not merely as an ordinary farm for the purposes of profit’ (Land Act, 1923).

67 Dáil Éireann deb., x, 1544 (26 Mar. 1925).

68 Land Act, 1923.

69 MacCabe, F.F. and Healey, T.E., ‘Racing, steeplechasing and breeding in Ireland’ in Richardson, Charles (ed.), British steeplechasing (London, 1927), pp 294—6Google Scholar; Dooley, Terence, The decline of the big house in Ireland: a study of Irish landed families, 1860-1960 (Dublin, 2001), pp 267-8Google Scholar.

70 Land Act, 1923.

71 Ibid.

72 Ibid.

73 Extracted from Reports of the Irish Land Commission, 1923-48.

74 Dunphy, Rise of Fianna Fáil, p. 21.

75 Ibid., p. 204.

76 Delaney, Enda, Demography, state and society: Irish migration to Britain, 1921-1971 (Liverpool, 2000), p. 60 Google Scholar.

77 Fianna Fáil: seventh annual ard-fheis 1932: report of proceedings (U.C.D.A., P176/746).

78 Statistical information drawn from Walker, B.M. (ed.), Parliamentary election results in Ireland, 1918-92 (Dublin, 1992)Google Scholar.

79 An act to amend generally the law, finance and practice relating to land purchase, and in particular to make further and better provision for the execution of the functions of the judicial and lay commissioners of the Land Commission and to provide for the provisions of the purchase annuities and certain other annual payments and for the funding of arrears thereof, and to provide for other matters connected with the matters aforesaid (1933 no. 38) (13 Oct. 1933).

80 Dáil Éireann deb., xlviii, 2396 (13 July 1933).

81 Ibid., lx, 715 (3 Feb. 1936).

82 Commission of enquiry into banking, currency and credit: memoranda and minutes of evidence, ii (1938), p. 1164 Google Scholar.

83 See Cronin, Mike, ‘The socio-economic background and membership of the Blueshirt movement, 1932-1935’ in I.H.S., xxix, no. 114 (Nov. 1994), p. 239 Google Scholar; Bew, Paul, Hazelkorn, Ellen and Patterson, Henry, The dynamics of Irish politics (London, 1989), p. 52 Google Scholar.

84 Cronin, ‘Blueshirt movement’, pp 237-8.

85 Report of the Irish Land Commission, 1934-5, p. 5.

86 Dáil Éireann deb., xlix, 937 (1 Aug. 1933).

87 Cronin, ‘Blueshirt movement’, p. 239.

88 Report of the Irish Land Commission, 1981-2, pp 10-11.

89 Information extracted from Walker (ed.), Parliamentary election results, 1918-92, pp 154-61Google Scholar.

90 Ibid.

91 See, for example, Murphy, J.A., ‘The Irish party system, 1938-51’ in Nowlan, K.B. and Williams, T.D. (eds), Ireland in the war years and after, 1939-51 (Dublin, 1969), p. 158 Google Scholar; Townshend, Ireland: the twentieth century, p. 159.

92 Seán Moylan to de Valera, 1 Sept. 1943 (N.A.I., DT S12890); Moylan to Lemass, 5 May 1944, quoted in W. F. Nally to Pádraig Ó Cinnéide, 16 May 1944 (ibid.).

93 Dáil Éireann deb., cxi, 352-3 (3 June 1948).

94 Committee of enquiry on post-Emergency agricultural policy: reports on agricultural policy, 1945 (1945, P 7175), pp 84-5.

95 Moylan to Lemass, 5 May 1944, quoted in W. F. Nally to Pádraig Ó Cinnéide, 16 May 1944 (N.A.I., DT S12890).

96 For a fuller discussion see Dooley, ‘The land for the people’, pp 121-31.

97 Committee of enquiry on post-Emergency agricultural policy: reports on agricultural policy, 1945 (1945, P 7175), pp 84-5.

98 Department of Lands memorandum for the government on land division policy, Apr. 1947 (N.A.I. DT S6490B/1).

99 Ibid.

100 Department of Finance memorandum for the government on land division policy, 28 Nov. 1948 (ibid.).

101 Ibid.

102 Ibid.

103 See above, pp 175-6 and n. 3.

104 I should like to express my gratitude to the National University of Ireland for allowing me the opportunity as Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities to carry out the research on which this article is based.

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