Encumbered Estates Act

A 1849 Act established the Encumbered Estates Court.  It authorised sale of lands of mortgaged and insolvent estates so that the purchaser obtained clear title.  In 1858 the jurisdiction was transferred to the Landed Estates Court and ultimately to the Chancery division of the High Court.

The court facilitated the sale of estates which were encumbered and subject to settlements, thereby impairing sales.  Many estates were in severe financial difficulty by being overburdened by family and extraneous mortgages and charges.  The conditions of the famine difficulties in agriculture had greatly exacerbated this position.

Deasy’s Act

The first major land reform passed at Westminster effectively consolidated existing law in favour of the landlord.  The landlord and tenant amendment Act Ireland, 1860, known as Deasy’s Act after the Irish Attorney General who put it thrrough Parliament.

It confirmed that the relationship of the landlord and tenant was based on contract.  The general principle remains in force, and the Act has in substance remained in force in the Republic of Ireland and the Act shall remain in force in substance.

However, in the agricultural tenancy circumstances, it effectively the favoured the landlord.  The theoretical freedom of the contract acted to the detriment of the enormous class of agricultural tenants who worked the land.

Tenants had little incentive to make improvements because their interests were so tenuous.  They could be evicted with relatively little notice.  The wholesale battle for land took place with land counted by auction to the highest bidder.

Background to Reform

Prior to 1870 almost the entire agricultural land in the country was vested in a few thousand landlords.  There were at least half a million agricultural tenants.

Most tenants were yearly tenants with little security.  At times in the 19th century wholesale clearances of estates occurred,  provoking disturbances and backlash.In Ulster, the Ulster tenant right custom gave a substantial measure of security.

In contrast, the position in England, where the landlord was largely responsible, all improvement of land, including erection of buildings, drainage and reclamation, was done by the tenant.  When he was evicted, received no compensation.  A tenant could be evicted for no reason whatsoever on giving six months’ notice.  Accordingly, if rents increased the tenant risk eviction.

Land values rose significantly in the mid to late 19th century largely due to remittances from America.  This led to competition amongst tenants for land. Very serious agrarian incidences broke out in response to eviction.

1870 Act

The late 1870s saw intense pressure for land reform with protest and action, combined with pressure from the Irish Parliament Party at Westminster.

The Land Act 1870 provided compensation for improvement and legalised the Ulster custom. It provided for payment of compensation for improvements and for disturbance at the end of the tenancy.

The Ulster custom, which was legalised had two principal aspects; one was the right of security of tenure for so long as the rent was paid, and the other was the right to sell the goodwill on holding on leaving.

Church Lands

The first state-mandated and assisted land purchase was provided in the Irish Church Act 1869 which disestablised the Church of Ireland. The Act created the Church Temporalities Commissioners.

They Commissioners had power to sell land to church tenants.  An advance of the purchase price payable over 32 years was available.  They covered about 7000 owners.

The 1870 legislation provided some extension of the powers of the sale to the landed estate courts with two-thirds of the price being funded by the board of works.  Loan was to be a 5 percent annuity over 35 years.

1881 Act

The Land Act 1881 created the Irish Land Commission and gave it powers, judicial and administrative.  It had power to fix the rent. The fair rent function of Land Commission continued until the Land Act 1923.

The Commissions sat through the country hearing landlords’ and tenants’ valuers and made decisions.  There was a right of appeal to the Land Commission in Dublin. Some functions of the Board of Works were transferred to the Irish Land Commission under the 1881 Act.

The 1881 Act introduced the so-called three Fs, fair rent, free sale, ixity of ternure.  It established the Irish Land Commission presided over by a High Court judge.

The Act granted tenants a judicial tenancy for a 15-year period renewable every 15 years with rent review at that time.  They were given the right of free sale.  The landowner was given the right to purchase out the holding and make objections.  The reasonableness of objections could be reviewed judicially.

Nearly three-quarters of tenants qualifying under the 1881 Act took advantage of it.  Rents reduced by 1/5.  They were reduced by a further 1/5th and then 10 percent on the subsequent 15 yearly adjustments. Nearly 380,000 cases were dealt with in the first readjustment, 144,000 on the second and 6000 on the third.

If a certain portion of the tenants on the estate were willing to buy the holdings, the Land Commission was given power to purchase the whole of the estate with power to sell it off in lots to tenants.  A relatively small number of tenants and holdings were sold under the Act.

Land Purchase

The first major revision was the Purchase of lreland Act 1885.  This advanced £5,000,000 pounds to assist purchase of land by agreement.  The commission advanced the whole purchase price.  The annuity periods were 49 years with interest charged at 4 percent. For the first time, provision was made for a vesting order by the Land Commission.

The Commission was empowered to buy estates through the Landed Estates Courts for the purpose of reselling them to tenants.

The Purchase of Land Act 1891 and 1896 provided for payment of land in guaranteed loan stock instead of cash stock.
The landlords did not readily accept the stock which varied in the secondary market.  Tenants equally were unhappy with the variable payments which brought uncertainty in terms of their commitment.

The repayment of annuities was provided for.  There was provision for variation of the interest.  Further capital sums were voted by Parliament to assist.The  payment period was later increased to 73 years and reductions of the annuity were provided.

Wyndham’s Land Act

The Land Act 1903 provided that future sales were to be carried out by estates as well as sale of holdings.  The whole estate was to be sold under the supervision of the estate commissioners who were supervised by the Land Commission.

The landlord was to be given monies in cash in place of the stock issue system.  Stock had fallen in value and landlords were not incentivised to sell.A payment of 12 percent of the bonus on the purchase price was provided for.

The tenant’s annuity was reduced by the 1903 Act to 3.25 percent and landowners and tenants were facilitated in making sales.

Tenants were to agree the terms of sale with landlords and lodge them with the Commission.  If  it  was satisfied with title and the agreements, the Land Commission could vest the holdings in the various tenants subject to the annuities.

If the tenancies had fair rents under the Land Acts, the annuities were calculated on the basis of reductions of between 20 percent and 40 percent on the events versus 10 percent to 30 percent on the second fix.  In other cases the price agreed was subject to approval by the estate commissioner.

Almost quarter of a million holdings were sold under the 1903 Act. The Estate Commissioners were given responsibility for implementing the legislation.  Within five years over £80,000,000 pounds of sales had taken place.


Acceleration and Compulsory Acquisition

The Evicted Tenants (Ireland) Act 1907 had allowed compulsory acquisition for reinstatement of evicted tenants. The 1909 Act provided wider compulsory powers of acquisition.  The Estate Commissioners had powers in relation to both congested estates and untenanted land within their jurisdiction.  The affected party could appeal to the judicial commissioner with a further appeal on a point of law.

The Congested Districts Act had been  passed in 1891 to deal with special problems concerning uneconomic holdings along the congested West Coast.  The Board’s role concerned land but also stimulation of local industry, improvement of transport and other Activities. The 1909 Act confirmed the congested districts to be the whole of Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway and Kerry, parts of Cork and Clare.

The 1909 Act reintroduced payment of 3 percent stock with tenants’ annuities at 3.5 percent with a reduced repayment period of 65 percent.  A new bonus was introduced for landlords to incentivise.

The Land Act 1909 transferred the loss on the flotation of the stock from the ratepayers to the exchequer.  Future sales were met by 3 percent stock, with the tenant’s annuity varied to 3.25 percent to 3.5 percent stock to back it.  A bonus averaging approximately 10 percent in inverse ratio to the arrears purchased was provided for in lieu of the 12 percent bonus under the previous legislation.

Over 900,000 acres of untenanted land had been acquired by the Board by the eve of independence, either by agreement or compulsorily and had been disposed off to over 46,000 individuals by enlargement of uneconomic holdings or creation of new holdings.


By the eve of the foundation of the Irish Free State over 316,000 holdings comprising over 11,000,000 acres had been purchased under the various schemes for .


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