By the early 18th century landholding was generally consolidated in about 2000 estates of between 2,000 and 4,000 acres. Many comprised parcels of land in different counties. Others were consolidated. Some were administered by resident landlords. Larger estates were usually administered through agents. Absenteeism was endemic. Perpetual leases granted to absentees represented a drain from the local economy.
Much of the land had been forfeited from the rebellions in the 17th century. Many such lands were subject to crown rents an quit rents payable to the Crown as part of the Crown’s revenue.
Land was commonly sub-leased for long terms at a nominal rent. Leases in perpetuity were granted subject to long rents by which the lessee was de facto owner.
Leases for Lives
Leases for lives as well as freeholds could only be held by members of the established church.
Leases for lives spanned several generations. There was commonly a term of years added. The courts recognised rights of renewal with the result that leases for lives became equivalent to aa freehold estate.
The courts allowed for renewal of the leases on payment of fees even when the lives ended. When the House of Lords surprisingly found against this type of holding, legislation was immediately passed by the Irish Parliament to rectify the position, albeit with a small majority.
The 18th Century saw the growth of absentee landlords and middlemen. There was little attraction for large landowners who had been conferred with Irish lands, in Ireland. The hostile environment, a rigid, somewhat corrupt political system and a hostile native culture in terms of religion and race, lead to a significant degree of absentee landlordism.
Under the arrangement, the absentee might lease his land to an intermediate tenant for a period who himself sublet the land and paid a rent to the head landlord. The intermediate landlord might himself become an absentee in many cases, subletting his land for a higher rent. In some cases, there were three to four or five layers of persons between the landlord and the person farming the land.
The tenants became cottiers with no permanent interest in the land. The landlord did nothing in terms of land improvements. Tenants built primitive, improvised, wood hovels. They remained extremely vulnerable to eviction. The land remained the principal source of resources and there was accordingly intense competition in rents for those who wish to retain it.
The absence of a class of resident landlords and the short supply of capital meant that there were little opportunities in employment, even as agricultural labourers. Accordingly, the mass of population became cottiers. The restriction on landholdings by Catholics obviated the possibility of mortgages for investment and improvement.