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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Founding of the Tenant Right League

The Tenant Right League, an organisation which aims to secure reforms in the Irish land system, is founded in Dublin on August 9, 1850, at a meeting attended by representatives of the Tenant Protection Societies. Formed by Charles Gavan Duffy and Frederick Lucas, the League unites for a time Protestant and Catholic tenants, Duffy calling his movement The League of North and South.

The political background to the movement is the Encumbered Estates Act and the resultant change in land ownership at landlord level. In the North of Ireland, Protestant and Presbyterian ministers fear that the new landlords will destroy the “Ulster custom” of tenancy, which compensates tenants for any improvement undertaken. Concurrently, in the South of Ireland politically minded young Catholic priests are agitating for the adoption there of the Ulster custom as a measure of reform.

Support for the League initially comes from the Ulster Tenant Right Association led by William Sharman Crawford. The support is short-lived because of the involvement of Catholic clergymen from the south. As a constitutional movement, the League seeks to secure the adoption and enforcement of the Three Fs, namely fair rent, fixity of tenure, and free sale. All of these would aid Irish tenant farms, all of whom lack them.

For the larger tenant farmers fixity of tenure is the priority. On the other hand the league never has the support of smaller tenants, whose prime concern is fair rents. The founders strive to establish a parliamentary party of Irish members who will oppose any government not prepared to grant “Tenant-right” also known as the Ulster Custom.

The Tenant Right League meets with considerable success under its national organiser, John Martin. It has the support of the surviving members of the Repeal Association in the British House of Commons as well as a number of English Radicals. It is agreed, all around, that a Land Act embodying the three F’s would be a real gain. In the 1852 general election, some fifty Tenant Right candidates, including Gavan Duffy, Lucas and John Sadleir, are returned to parliament, where they sit as the Independent Irish Party.

The League’s success is short lived and is ultimately destroyed and weakened when a number of prominent members break away and established the Catholic Defence Association. Supporters of the league are also intimidated by hostile landlords. The most serious blows to its success come when Lucas decides to take his complaint about the Archbishop of Dublin Paul Cullen to Rome, which alienates clerical support. Lucas dies in October 1855 shortly after the failure of his mission, a month later Gavan Duffy emigrates to Australia.

The League finally dissolves in 1859, and the Independent Irish Party disappears by 1860. The demand for tenants rights is however continued by Bishop Thomas Nulty of County Meath and taken up again as a popular cause by the Irish National Land League in 1879, when the “Three Fs” are anchored in the Land Law (Ireland) Act 1881, previously pursued rigorously by Michael Davitt.


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Birth of Charles Gavin Duffy in County Monaghan

charles-gavin-duffyCharles Gavan Duffy, Irish nationalist, journalist, poet, and Australian politician, is born on April 12, 1816 in Dublin Street, Monaghan Town, County Monaghan. Duffy is the 8th Premier of Victoria and one of the most colourful figures in Victorian political history.

Both of his parents die while he is still a child and his uncle, Fr. James Duffy, who is the Catholic Parish Priest of Castleblayney, becomes his guardian for a number of years. He is educated at St. Malachy’s College in Belfast and is admitted to the Irish Bar in 1845. Duffy becomes a leading figure in Irish literary circles.

Duffy, along with Thomas Osborne Davis and John Blake Dillon, founds The Nation and becomes its first editor. Davis and Dillon later become Young Irelanders. All three are members of Daniel O’Connell‘s Repeal Association. This paper, under Duffy, transforms from a literary voice into a “rebellious organisation.”

In August 1850, Duffy forms the Tenant Right League to bring about reforms in the Irish land system and protect tenants’ rights, and in 1852 is elected to the House of Commons for New Ross. By 1855, the cause of Irish tenants seems more hopeless than ever. Broken in health and spirit, Duffy publishes a farewell address to his constituency, declaring that he has resolved to retire from parliament, as it is no longer possible to accomplish the task for which he has solicited their votes.

In 1856, emigrates with his family to Australia, settling in the newly formed Colony of Victoria. A public appeal is held to enable him to buy the freehold property necessary to stand for the colonial Parliament. He is immediately elected to the Legislative Assembly for Villiers and Heytesbury in the Western District in 1856. He later represented Dalhousie and then North Gippsland. With the collapse of the Victorian Government‘s Haines Ministry during 1857, another Irish Catholic, John O’Shanassy, unexpectedly becomes Premier with Duffy his second-in-charge.

In 1871, Duffy leads the opposition to Premier Sir James McCulloch‘s plan to introduce a land tax, on the grounds that it unfairly penalised small farmers. When McCulloch’s government is defeated on this issue, Duffy becomes Premier and Chief Secretary.  The majority of the colony is Protestant, and Duffy is accused of favouring Catholics in government appointments. In June 1872, his government is defeated in the Assembly on a confidence motion allegedly motivated by sectarianism.

When Graham Berry becomes Premier in 1877, he makes Duffy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, a post he holds without much enthusiasm until 1880, when he quits politics and retires to the south of France. Duffy remains interested in both the politics of his adoptive country and of Ireland. He is knighted in 1873 and is made KCMG in 1877. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy dies in Nice, France, at the age of 86 in 1903.