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An "Irish Agent" Describes the Classes of Tenant Farmers

The following excerpts are from Valentine M'Clutchy, the Irish Agent (1845), a melodramatic novel by Irish writer William Carleton. Himself the son of a farmer whose family was evicted from their land, Carleton here offers a sympathetic description of several classes of Irish tenant farmers, from the relatively well-off, who were able to make ends meet but still beholden to their English or Anglo-Irish landlords, to the desperately poor, who often fell victim to eviction and famine.

Here, too, as in every other department of life, all the various grades of poverty and dependence fall into their respective classes. In one place, for instance, might be seen together those more comfortable framers who were able to meet their engagements, but who labored under the galling conviction, that, however hard and severely industry might put forth its exertions, there was no ultimate expectation of independence no cheering reflection, that they resided under a landlord who would feel gratified and proud at their progressive prosperity. Alas! it is wonderful how much happiness a bad landlord destroys!

In another place were grouped together men who were still worse off than the former men, we mean, who were able to meet their engagements, but at the expense of all, or mostly all, that constitutes domestic comfort who had bad beds, bad food and indifferent clothes. These persons were far more humble in their bearing than the former, took a less prominent situation in the crowd, and seemed to have deeper care and much more personal feeling to repress or combat. 

There were other groups farther down in the scale of distress, where embarrassment and struggle told as yet a more painful tale; those who came up with their rent, in full to be sure, but literally racked up from their own private destitution who were obliged to sell the meal, or oats, or wheat at a ruinous loss, in order to meet the inexorable demands of a merciless and tyrannical agent. Here were all the external evidence of their condition legible by a single look at their persons; they had all herded together, ill clad, fed, timid, broken down, heartless. All these, however, had their rents had them full and complete in amount. 

Source | William Carleton, Valentine M'Clutchy, the Irish Agent (Dublin: James Duffy, 1845) 337-338.
Creator | William Carleton
Item Type | Book (excerpt)
Cite This document | William Carleton, “An "Irish Agent" Describes the Classes of Tenant Farmers,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 28, 2023,

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