The Hon. T. P. O'Connor, M.P., lectured in the Union last night on "The Passing of the Old Ireland." He outlined the history of the land problem in Ireland and pictured the present state of affairs in that country.
The speaker began by describing the old Irish squire who was often of English descent, but was thoroughly Irish in other ways. He stood against the measure to abolish the Irish Parliament which was passed only by the worst kind of bribery. The abolition of the Parliament injured the landlord by sending him to London, where he tried to live up to the scale set by the English aristocracy, and in a few years ran into debt beyond recovery. The tenant supplied all the capital while the landlord merely held the position of rent-taker and did nothing in return. Because of this system there arose an insane competition to get land. The tenant offered more than he could pay and in a few years was bankrupt and evicted. In this way the price of the land increased out of all proportion to its value, and all produce except the potato went to the payment of the rent. Thus the potato was made the staple food on the peasant.
This was the state of affairs in 1845. Then came the blight upon the potato and millions found themselves face to face with starvation, and families died along the roadside by thousands. The famine was followed by the plague, and then came almost the worst calamity of the three. The landlord himself was almost starving and had grown poor, consequently he raised the rent and evicted those who could not pay. Hundreds of thousands of people were turned from their farms.
Again, in 1879, there was a threatened repetition of these horrors. There was a partial blight and many evictions followed. It was then that the Land League was formed by the peasants to try and better conditions. The next year Mr. Gladstone turned his attention to the land troubles and secured temporary relief, by the passage of a bill, until in 1885 the great Land Purchase Act was passed. This measure provided that after the landlord and tenant had agreed upon a fair price for the land they should jointly apply to the state which gave the purchase money to the landlord, who from that time had no hold upon the land. The tenant payed rent to the state for a stipulated length of time, at the expiration of which he became sole owner of his property.
After the passage of the land acts, the condition and the attitude of the peasant were greatly changed. He was no longer servile but stood up for his rights. In a few years there will be half a million land owners in Ireland who will represent 250 millions of population. The last thing that Ireland has to win is self-government based upon American principles, and for this, the struggle is now going on.