Bold Tenant Farmer, The
DESCRIPTION: Singer, drinking in Ballinascorthy, overhears a landlord's son and a tenant farmer's wife. He threatens eviction. She says the National Land League protects the tenants and they are members. She praises Father O'Leary, John Dillon, and Davitt. He leaves.
EARLIEST DATE: 1951 (recording, Mickey Cronin)
KEYWORDS: drink farming political labor-movement
1879 - formation of the Irish Land League
FOUND IN: Ireland
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, "The Bold Tenant Farmer" (on IRClancyMakem02)
Mickey Cronin, "The Bold Tenant Farmer" [fragment] (on Lomax42, LomaxCD1742)
Joe Heaney, "The Wife of the Bold Tenant Farmer" (on Voice08)
cf. "The Moneygran Pig Hunt" (subject)
cf. "The Blackbird of Avondale (The Arrest of Parnell)" (subject of Charles Stewart Parnell)
cf. "The Land League's Advice to the Tenant Farmers of Ireland" (character of Parnell, plus the Land League)
cf. "We Won't Let Our Leader Run Down" (subject of Charles Stewart Parnell)
cf. "The Phoenix Park Tragedy" (subject of Charles Stewart Parnell)
cf. "Michael Davitt" (subject) and references there
cf. "The Devil and Bailiff McGlynn" (subject of problems during the Land War)
NOTES: Another eternal frustration from Lomax; he tells us that this is part of a "cocky and aggressive" Land League ballad, but gives not a clue of the subject matter.
Formed in 1879, the Irish tenant farmers' Land League fought evictions and spearheaded land reforms through Parliament. - PJS
IRClancyMakem02 has only four verses that mention the dispute and Land League but not the resolution. The Musica site has a thirteen verse version used as the basis for the description. - BS
The tenants' rights movements began in the 1840s (in Ulster of all places!), but did not become a major force until 1879. In that year, Michael Davitt (whose family had been thrust off its land when he was a child; see the notes to "Michael Davitt") came back to Ireland from America. He formed the Land League in his ancestral home in County Mayo. The new Gladstone government tried to make concessions in 1880, but was blocked by the House of Lords.
This was even though the landlords of Ireland were good for very little except brutality. They kept rents as high as possible, and discouraged land improvements. They were so widely despised that Belfast M.P. Joseph Biggar declared that he opposed shooting landlords on the grounds that the assailant often missed and might hit someone else (see Robert Kee, The Bold Fenian Men, being volume II of The Green Flag, p. 79).
The Land League reacted with strikes and demonstrations (the word "boycott" is believed to date from this event; Charles Boycott was a British officer charged with evicting tenants). Kee writes (p. 79) that by "1880 there were parts of Ireland where the queen's writ no longer ran." It *did* run on Boycott's land -- but it reportedly took 7000 British soldiers to guard the workers he had brought in from Ulster! (Kee, p. 81.)
Davitt (and Charles Stewart Parnell, another leader of the movement, who also was the de facto leader of the Irish representatives in the British parliament) opposed violence, but their followers were not so peaceful. The pressure was on the English parliament. Their first reaction was to tighten restrictions on the Irish, suppressing the Land League -- but the English people at last began to understand the plight of the Irish tenants.
One of Parnell's lines summarizes the whole idea of the "bold tenant farmer": "Parnell agreed to speak at the great land-meeting at Westport on 8 June, and there he gave a headline to the whole ensuing agitation: 'hold a firm grip on your homesteads and lands'" (see T. W. Moody, F. X. Martin, and Dermot Keough, with Patrick Kiely, The Course of Irish History, fifth edition, 2011 (page references are to the 2012 paperback edition), p. 249).
Gladstone eventually (1881) came up with laws to protect the tenants (it was these which, in effect, finalized the split between Ulster and the rest of Ireland; Ulster was satisfied, Catholic Ireland was not). But Parnell refused his whole-hearted support. He certainly favored the law, but he wanted Home Rule and he didn't want to offend the more radical Irish. The British, in an act of incredible stupidity, arrested him briefly (see "The Blackbird of Avondale (The Arrest of Parnell)." This further radicalized the Irish; even as Parnell was released, they took to assassinating British officials.
In 1882, the outlawed Land League was replaced by the Irish National League -- a true political party rather than an activist group. This group won nearly every Irish seat in Parliament in the next election. This allowed Parnell to gain land concessions from the minority Conservative government, and also meant that Parnell was the controlling element in the next Parliament -- whichever party he supported would govern. The Land League had, in effect, triumphed.
Unfortunately, Parnell simply couldn't work out a Home Rule compromise. Conditions in Ireland improved, but not enough. Ireland continued on its destructive road to eventual independence. - RBW
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