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the tenant was 21. a year. This is a fair specimen of the cabins, holdings and rent of the islanders of Achill. Some of the hovels are a little better and some a little worse. The most comfortable cabin I saw in the principal villages of the island-Keem and Dooega-had a bedroom off the kitchen or living room. The kitchen had a
glazed window and an unchoked chimney, through which the smoke fairly made its way. The interior was, to my unaccustomed eyes, but dimly lighted by the window and doorway, and, on a candle being lighted for my benefit, I saw that the furniture consisted of the indispensable iron pot, which hung over the fire at the time boiling potatoes for the family dinner; a small deal "dresser," containing about half a dogen mugs, some plates and saucers, a rough table and a few chairs. The only pictures to be seen on the walls of the cabins of Achill are highly colored oleographs of the Blessed Virgin and St. Patrick-the two most popular saints in the Irish hagiology-and a book or a newspaper is of course very rarely found in these primitive parts of Ireland, where Irish is still almost universally spoken.
Mud-wall cabins of the type common in Achill may also be frequently seen in other parts of Mayo, in Galway, in Donegal-in fact in those remote and sterile portions of the country known as "the congested districts;" but they are fast disappearing from Leinster, Munster and the northeastern portion of Ulster. The cabins in these provinces come, as a rule, within the category of third-class houses in the Census returns-that is, habitations with from two to four rooms and windows. In 1841 there were 533,297 of these houses in Ireland; in 1891 the number was 312,587, showing a falling off of 220,710; but remembering that the population during practically the same period has as I have already pointed
out-decreased by one-half, these figures also show that a decided improvement has taken place in the habitations of the peasantry since the famine. The Agricultural Laborers (Ireland) Act of 1883, under which Boards of Guardians are empowered to borrow money from the State on the security of the rates for the erection of laborers' cottages, with half-acre or acre gardens attached, has done much to remove the old mud-wall cabins from Munster and Leinster-the two provinces in which the benefits of the Act have been availed of most. About 16,000 of these cottages and allotments have been provided at an expenditure of 1,900,000l.
A few years ago, as I was walking in the county of Kilkenny, I got the opportunity, for which I had been on the look out, of a long and free chat with an agricultural laborer, with a view of obtaining some idea of the thoughts, feelings and impressions of his class as to their lot in life. I came across a laborer's cottage erected by the Board of Guardians of the district under the Laborers Act, and its occupier, a man apparently between sixty and seventy years, sitting outside on a stone bench sucking at a short black pipe with the bowl right under his nose, evidently taking rest and recreation after the week's work in the harvest field.
Pat is still, as he always has been, an inveterate smoker; but I have not noticed of recent years the pipe so often in the mouth of Bridget. When I was a boy, smoking was very common among the women in my part of the country. Many and many a time have I seen the vanithees, or "women of the house," driving their asses and carts into Limerick on market days, their dudheens between their teeth; but now "herself” -as the husband calls her-rarely indulges in a shock of the pipe.
The sight of the old laborer resting outside his cottage door that summer
evening also brought to my mind the revolution which has taken place in the character and style of the Irish peasant's dress. There was no distinctive national trait in the attire of this Irish agricultural laborer to distinguish him from an English town worker. The good old national costume of frieze swallow-tail coat, knee breeches of corduroy, long knitted hose, shoes and buckles and tall hat, has almost entirely disappeared. It is to be seen only in the remote parts of Ireland, and very rarely even there. The dress of the women has also changed for the worse, from the picturesque point of view. The long, ample, dark-blue cloak with its graceful hood, and the large white muslin cap with its crimped frilled border, fastened on the head by a broad red or blue ribbon-the garb of the old women in my young dayshave been discarded. Touched by the latter-day passion for cheapness, which naturally appeals to people of small and precarious incomes, both men and women of the Irish rural laboring classes have taken to wearing shoddy or second-hand English clothes, sold by itinerant dealers at the local fairs and markets; and, as a result, the pleasant, soothing whir of the once common spinning wheel, or hand loom, on which industrious housewives spun the wool into yarn and tweeds and woollens for the stockings, coats and petticoats of the family-dyeing the material with colors obtained from bog plants-is, alas! silent in the cabins of Ireland.
After saluting the laborer with the conventional "Good afternoon," which was responded to, on his part, by the kindly greeting, "God save you, sir," I straight away interviewed Tom Delany, for that was the old man's name. "The country must have changed considerably in your time," I remarked.
"Ah then, it has, sir, a grate dale en
tirely," the old man replied, with a sort of sigh. "Every wan seems to be goin' away to foreign parts crowds of fine sthrappin' young boys and girls are lavin' every month; only the ould wans like meself are left behind, and the country is becomin' most lonesome like."
"Well," said I, "the emigration must at least have greatly improved the chances of employment for those who remain."
"I don't know about that," he said. "I find things that way much the same. "Twas niver aisy to get work-constant work, I mane. If the min to do the work has decrased, so has the work too. The farmers don't be wantin' so many min now, for it's nearly all dairyin' and stock-feedin' wid thim; no oats or whate, and little hay and little tillage. Look round and you'll see."
I looked around, and as far as the eye could see there was nothing but grass lands with cattle grazing, save a few meadow fields, the hay of which was in process of being cut and saved, and, close to two farmhouses within the prospect, some few acres of tillage growing potatoes, cabbage and turnips. Though Ireland is an agricultural country, pure and simple, the number of agricultural laborers there is comparatively small, owing to the scarcity of employment consequent on the vast extent to which, in the past thirty years, the growing of crops has been given up by the farmers and the land devoted to the raising of cattle, and also to the practice common amongst all the small farmers of having the necessary field labor performed by the members of their own families.
"Yes," continued Tom Delany, in reply to further questions, "the wages are better now than they used to be. I'm gettin' 158. a week now, and before it was only 108. I do be employed regularly for seven months. What do I do during the winther? The best I
can, faith. I do get an odd job at 18. 6d. a day repairing roads or stone breaking, and I have my own halfacre at the back of the cottage there, which keeps me in pyaties and a little cabbage."
"Have you got a pig?" I asked.
"Bedad, I have, and a fine wan, too," said Tom in delight, as if very proud of his possession. "Come and see her." He brought me through a little gateway in the low wall which bordered his half-acre allotment (a term, by the way, of which he did not know the meaning when I mentioned it) into a well-kept little garden growing cabbages and potatoes. In a piggery in the garden I saw the pig-" a fine fat wan, indade"-grunting contentedly as she lay in her litter of straw.
"Will you kill her and eat her yourself?" I asked.
"Oh, faith, no," he said laughingly. "She'll go to the market at Killmacthomas this day week, plase God, and I hope to get five or six pound for her, which will pay me rint and help to bring me over the winter."
Of course, if I were an English tourist, I would have expected to find the pig taking his ease in the cosiest corner by the kitchen fire, "enjoyin"," as a peasant once said, "all the inconveniences that an animal can aspire to." The pig is known as "the gintleman that pays the rint"-it was, by the way, William Carleton who first gave expression to the saying in one of his stories-and while the statement is not true as regards Irish agriculturists generally, for it is horned cattle, sheep, and horses that pay most of the rents in Ireland, the pig has always played a very important part in the social economy of the small farmer and the agricultural laborer. Even their proverbs make that clear. "You're on the pig's back" means prosperity. "The pig is on your back" indicates misfortune.
Then let us not blame the peasantry
if, wanting piggeries, they allowed the pig to share the comforts, or perhaps I should say the discomforts, of their cabins. Often, too, the pig was only a little thing. The animal was once metaphorically flung in the face of a peasant who pleaded his poverty in court as the reason why he had not paid the debt for which he was processed. "By the vartue of me oath," said he indignantly, "the pig is that thin, yer honner, that I had to tie a knot to her tail to prevent the crature from escapin' through the chinks in the wall of me cabin."
Tom Delany also invited me into his cottage. Built of stone and slated, it looked substantial and comfortable externally. The kitchen and living room, in which I found myself on entering the door, was about 12 feet by 13 feet, with a concrete floor and open to the roof-that is, not ceiled-and off this apartment were two bedrooms, over which was a loft which might also be used for sleeping accommodation, though, as there was no ceiling it would probably be very cold in winter. I ascertained that there were about a dozen of these cottages erected in the union by the Board of Guardians and that the rent was 18. 3d. per week. The cottages are certainly great improvements on the old mud cabins; and, with the half acre or acre of garden, are an immense boon to the agricultural laborers. Those who possess them are, indeed, "on the pig's back." My old friend was a widower with a son and daughter, aged respectively twenty-two and nineteen years. The son who was also an agricultural laborer, was away in a contiguous village. The daughter, as we entered the cottage told her father that his "tay" was ready, and she gave him, out of a tin teapot which had been lying on the hob, a cup of that beverage. Tom, with characteristic Irish hospitality, invited me to join him in the repast,
much to my satisfaction, for I was glad of the opportunity of testing by personal experience the strong tea, the frequent consumption of which, according to recent reports of the inspectors of lunatic asylums, is largely accountable for the alarming increase of lunacy and idiocy among the poorer classes in Ireland. In 1871 there were 16,505 lunatics and idiots in Ireland; in 1891 the number had increased to 21,118.
It was a strong, thick, black fluid, as if the tea had been stewing in the pot for a considerable time, and it had a bitter, unpalatable taste. After drinking half the cup I felt a sensation of dizziness in my head, and thought it best to indulge in no more of the beverage. Tom however, seemed to highly relish it.
"If I do but get the cup o' tay," said he, "I'm contint. It rises the heart in me when I'm poorly."
"Do you drink much of it?" I asked. "I do be at it mornin', noon and night, to tell you the truth," he said. "Oh, it's mighty refreshin'!" he exclaimed, as he smacked his lips after drinking the second cup.
The daughter told me that the tea was sold at 28. a pound-the cheapest figure at which she could obtain it-in the village, and that she usually purchased a quarter of a pound at a time. It seemed to me to be good tea, infinitely better than the commodity commonly bought by the laboring classes in London at 18. the pound. Indeed, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer stated during the debate on the Budget last year that the best tea went to Ireland; and I believe it is largely bought by the peasantry. But the art of brewing it is unfortunately unknown in the rural districts of Ireland. The ordinary custom is to put a large quantity of tea in the teapot, pour in the water-whether boiling or not is of no consequence-then boil the
tea in the pot, or leave the decoction stewing for hours by the fire. Tea and tobacco were, Tom Delany told me, the luxuries of his existence. Potatoes formed the chief article of his food, for they were eaten at dinner and supper with an occasional dried herring as a savory; and, on days few and far between, boiled bacon and cabbagethe former American cured, very fat and very hard, a specimen of which I saw hanging up in the kitchen.
A standard of living, far higher than that of fifty years ago, now prevails in the cabins of Ireland. The peasantry have not to rely so often as formerly upon their vivid imagination or their memory for a meal. There was once a meal called "potatoes and point." The potatoes before being eaten at breakfast, dinner and supper, were pointed at a herring hanging up, or placed in the centre of the table, to serve as an imaginary relish to the simple fare, but too precious to be consumed except on some festive day such as Sunday. That quaint gastronomical pretence or subterfuge is said to have been common at one time in the cabins of Ireland. I doubt if it is practised in these days. Of course the Irish peasantry meet with ups and downs, experience fat years and lean years, like other people. One of them, with a turn for rhetoric, said of his class, "Sometimes we drink from the cup of fulness, and sometimes we ate off the empty plate." I know from personal knowledge that in portions of Clare, where milk is scarce, the people concoct a substitute composed of water whitened with flour, which they call "bull's milk." As a rule, however, the food of the peasantry is now more substantial and more varied than it was in times past, though in some respects it may not be, perhaps, so wholesome. The potato is still what it has been for a century and a half-the peasant's staple article of food, but there are more appetizing
adjuncts to it than formerly, such as or combination; never knew of wan
butter, eggs and American bacon. Tea, as I have said, is drunk universally in every cabin, no matter how humble, and in most cases is partaken of three or four times a day. Baker's bread has been largely substituted for the home-made "griddle cake," except in districts remote from bakeries. Indian meal porridge, or "stirabout" (as the people usually call it) is now only eaten in the poorest cabins. It was, indeed, never popular with the peasantry. They resort to it only under the compulsion of poverty, as it is cheap. bears the stigma of pauperism. was first introduced into Ireland, during the famine of 1847, by the Government, as an inexpensive and wholesome food for the starving people, and it has been widely distributed as a form of relief during the many periods of distress through which Ireland has passed since then. The "yellow male," as it is called, therefore came to be associated in the minds of the people with times of poverty and misfortune; and I know that even the poorest families feel a sort of shame in eating it, as if it meant unutterable social degradation. This feeling is, of course, to be deeply deplored. Stewed tea and inferior baker's bread-the latter-day luxuries of the cabins of Ireland-are not so strengthening and sustaining as the old homely stirabout and milk; and must in time have a sadly deteriorating effect on the physical and mental capacities of the people.
"What are your hours of work?" I asked, while Tom Delany was "risin' the heart in him" with copious draughts of "tay."
"In the summer I work from six in the mornin' to six in the evenin', with an hour off for breakfast an' for dinner; and at other times it is from daylight to dark. Oh, yis, I git on very well with Mr. Clarke, the farmer that employs me. No, I'm not in any Union
about here, though I heard tell of a Labor Lague, or the 'Knights of the Plough,' in Kildare; but I don't think it amounts to much."
"Not much amusement, I suppose, in the village," I said.
"Between you and me I think all the keoal [fun] is gone out of the country," he replied. "I remember when we used to have a dance at the cross-roads below every Sunday evenin', and all the boys and girls of the whole countryside would be there with the ould piper and the ould fiddler. But thim days is gone entirely. I do believe the boys and girls now do have a dance off and on in the ould barn beyant; but the life that was is not in thim. Concerts? Singin', you mane? There does be nothin' of that kind at the village; no, nor play-actin' ayther. You must go to Kilkenny town for that; but wance in two or three years a circus comes along this way. Yes, you're right enough, sir; if there isn't the fun we used to have of ould, things we want to ate and to cover us are chaper."
The impression which I think moved me most, in the years of my connection with the Irish Press, when I travelled about Ireland a great deal, was the monotony and dreariness of village life. What an amount of work in the way of improving the social surroundings of the villagers and imparting some color and variety to their lives awaits the Parish Councils of the future that is if Ireland ever has such local authorities, and if, as is doubtful, they will undertake this beneficent work! As it is, I did not notice in any of the hundred villages I have visited the influence of even my Lady Bounti ful or the Squire, such as is visible in humble life in rural England. Nothing is seen in Ireland but dismal evidence of the neglect by the gentry of the axiom that property has its duties as