Lord Portarlington and his Tenants


Rental Agreements

An agent’s book in the National Archives of Ireland records rental details for the Earl of Portarlington between 1847 and 1856. The rental book preserves a record of dealings between the agent and tenants, including rental agreements, eviction notices and transfers of ownership. The following is an example of a rental agreement made with a tenant from Cappokeel:

“30th September 1856, Catherine Delaney of Cappokeel agreed to pay the Earl of Portarlington 5 shillings per year for her house and to keep said thatched…and to keep no lodgers & should she do so to pay the sum of one pound a year for said…”       
(National Archives: Ms. 6188.1)


The Famine Years and Beyond

In 1845, the year that marked the beginning of the Great Famine, Emo Court was put up for sale after the death of the 2nd Earl of Portarlington. It was not until 1852 that the late Earl’s nephew and successor, Henry Dawson-Damer, acquired the Emo estate and came to live there. In the intervening years, the house was managed by the Encumbered Estate’s Court, and John Sadleir, MP, appears to have acted as the agent, assisted by William Pigott.


The agent’s book for Emo, which covers the famine years, includes a number of orders demanding possession of houses from tenants at Emo who could not afford the rent. One entry, for example, reads: “Got the possession of the widow Bryan house and land in village of Emo the 14 day of May 1849 by ejectment.”  Yet the estate seems to have been well managed during this time, and in 1852, when Mr Sadleir gave up his post as agent, the tenants thanked him for his efforts during the famine to provide relief and employment for the poor.


The 3rd Earl, while not yet resident at Emo, was also involved in famine relief, donating ₤94 to the Portarlington soup kitchen in 1847, when the next highest donation was ₤20. When he visited Emo in 1848, he was well received by the tenantry.


In 1852, he finally took up residence at Emo Court and by all accounts was a good and benevolent landlord. The rent logs for 1852-56 show that many eviction orders were not followed through and when tenants were evicted they were often given monetary compensation or allowed the crops. Tenants who could not pay their rent often appear to have been issued a warning only: in many cases the word ‘refused’ is written next to demands for possession, yet no second demands or actual possessions are recorded.


Some 30 years later, in a speech to his tenants, the Earl spoke of the ‘harmony’ and ‘kindly spirit’ which had always existed between them:

          When I go about the estate, each farm reminds me of some old friend, some tenant…to whom the home is endeared the same as my home is to me. I like to gaze upon the estate, and see my tenants and their families secure and comfortable in their dwellings.” (Leinster Express May 1883)


These good relations were equally appreciated by the tenantry. In 1867, for example, amid fears of a Fenian Uprising in the Emo area, they voluntarily pledged their loyalty to the Earl, remarking upon the goodwill that had always existed between them. Years later, in 1907, in a speech to mark the homecoming of the 6th Earl, a spokesman for the former tenants remarked that there had never been an eviction on the estate. While this may have been an exaggeration, it was an expression nonetheless of the reputation of the Earls and their agents for fairness when dealing with tenants.