I recently cleaned up an old photograph of a late 1800’s tenant eviction.
This proved very timely because around the same time, a lovely old related poem came to light.
The poem (no ordinary poem, mind, but indeed a Prize Poem), was written by Mathew (an old local variant on ‘Matthew’) Carson, and originally appeared in the Ballymoney Free Press and Northern Counties Advertiser on the 19th February 1881. It was reprinted some years later, in the same newspaper, on the 12th November 1903.
Mathew Carson lived in the townland of Crosstagherty, near Ballymoney.
His poem is called Landlords’ Rights and Tenants’ Wrongs. It is sung to the Air of The Railway Porter. It vividly illustrates the issues of the day facing the tenant farmer and his family. Note in the image below, the kids have no shoes.
Of landlord’s rights I mean to sing,
And of the tenants wrongs, Sir,
Were I to sing of tenants’ rights,
It would not take me long, Sir;
The tenant has the right to pay
In rent the landlord’s pleasure;
This is a thing we want removed,
We want a better measure
CHORUS — Rack-rented here, evicted there,
Oppressed in every corner.
This is the way the law protects
The struggling Irish farmer.
Now, if the tenant trims a hedge,
His gates and doors keeps painted,
The landlord soon will hear of this,
A larger rent is wanted.
Or if his house is raining through,
The roof in want of patching,
Substantial slates he then puts on,
To do away with thatching.
His fields are small, he wants them lame,
Some fences are removed.
He clears the weeds and stones away,
His farm is much improved.
And there be toils and sweats away,
He works both late and early:
But soon he finds out his mistake;
It is the landlord’s clearly,
Or if the tenant cuts a tree.
The bailiff’s eyes are open,
The landlord says, I’ll let him see
His contract he has broken.
He’s summoned off right to the court,
The crime is very heinous,
A lesson then he’s sure to learn;
The bailiff is a genius.
The improving tenant is an ass,
I’ve heard a wise man say it,
Improving means increase of rent,
And then he’s bound to pay it.
A valuater is sent round,
The rent must be increased,
Perhaps he walks across the farm,
Perhaps he never sees it.
A neatly-laboured farm he spies,
With fences kept in order.
Alas, poor man, ’twere good for you
Things had been in disorder.
This man he is improving fast,
He must be growing wealthy,
His crops and cattle all look well,
And everything looks healthy.
He’s able well to pay a rent
Much larger than he’s doing;
His labour now he sees is lost,
For it he now stands screwing.
A better farm he comes across,
But poorly cultivated;
“I can’t increase the poor man’s rent,
He’s surely heavy rated.”
These are the rights the tenants have,
I think they want improving.
The farmers now are up like men,
And in the right road moving.
We want a voice in fixing rents,
Our tenure fixed securely,
With liberty our rights to sell,
And this is justice surely.
A bill the rulers promised have,
It’s now in contemplation.
I hope it will our wrongs redress,
And stop this agitation.
And when the bill is introduced,
We hope to see it supported
By two who at election times
The farmers’ votes have courted.
We hope to see them act like men,
Their promises fulfilling,
And into their constituents
Some confidence instilling.
For Coercion Bills we find them strong;
We hope to read their speeches
In favour of a good Land Bill;
Their words will surely reach us.