Follow the farm

The Macra na Feirme publication “Land Mobility and Succession in Ireland” (a good bedtime read, available here) reports that in 2011 a mere 0.3% of agricultural land in Ireland was put on the open market. It is an extraordinary figure. In effect, there is no buying or selling of farms in this country. Elsewhere in the developed world, most agricultural land is part of the normal stock of capitalism: invest capital to produce food to make a return on capital. Not in Ireland.

macraThe historic reason lies in the colossal transfer of ownership from landlords to tenants that happened over the century from 1870. The biggest single change came in 1903, with the Wyndham Land Act, which made land transfer very attractive for both sides. The government paid the difference between the landlord’s asking price and the tenant’s offer and then lent the purchase price to the tenant. The new loan repayments were so close to the old annual rent that, for little or no difference in outlay, you went from being a tenant to being an owner. It was an offer almost no-one could refuse.

After generations of tenancy, the sweetness of that ownership created a ferocious attachment to the land, making it unthinkable that it could ever be simply sold off. Nearly all transfers had to take place within the extended family.

Which makes it possible to trace extended families in rural Ireland by following their property.

The Valuation Office records all changes to the holdings first surveyed by Griffith in the mid-nineteenth century and they remained the basis for local property taxes (“The Rates”) until abolition in 1977.

Anyone in occupation then (and now) is overwhelmingly likely to be related to the original purchaser. Second or third cousins twice removed, perhaps, but related. The revision books and maps for the twenty-six counties are open to the public at the Office premises in the Irish Life Centre in Dublin, with excellent guidance provided by the staff. The books for the six counties of Northern Ireland are free online at the wonderful Public Record Office of Northern Ireland site.

5 thoughts on “Follow the farm”

  1. Very good comments on Irish land ownership and our love of the land!!! I can see that idea coming around again!!!

  2. Hey John, this and your other sites are nice, wish you had a bit more on SLIGO as that is where my GF and GGF were from, been there many times and research it constantly, and as noted, wish you had a bit more (As both Sligo and Mayo seem to get left out alot, but I have and host much of what I have found over the years, as I grab/scan/copy what I can within fair use and pass it along).

    If you need another idea — info on “Sligo Murphy Sept” as I question if it ever existed — if it did, what exists on them ? All I find is touristy tripe for the visitor sales on these so-called three Murphy Septs in Ireland — not stuff that someone who knows NW Ireland intimately and been researching for over a decade is interested in)!

    1. I tried but still can’t find anything.
      Area on census say Elphing, the web says it’s county Roscommon.
      Name that I’m looking for is Olivia Smith, widow in 1851 England census. She was born in 1804, had 5 children in Elphin and at some time after the last birth in 1842 moved to Bedford, England. The only other information I have is that Olivia was listed as a “Lady”, that might mean her husband was a “Lord”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.