Arguing The Agricultural
From Our Own Correspondent.
All last week the society entitled Muinntir na Tire was in session at Ardmore Irish college, on a lovely bay in Waterford County. 1 have given some account of the opening by the Bishop of Waterford.
Next day, President de Valera arrived. He spent the week in the college, lodging in a little room like a cell, taking meals at the common table, and sitting through all the discussions, although silently; for he was on holiday, and reminded one of the advice which the aged priest gave to another who entered on his first cure of a parish" Be all eyes and ears, but no mouth." There was one evening of song, music and dancing before the President left. He danced with the company, as merry as any.
Next day he went to Mount Melleray, where the Cistercians tamed a mountain side, and was welcomed by the Lord Abbot. Here he broke his silence and thanked the community, speaking in Irish. Then he went back to work, after this scant holiday. He was looking in good health, and his spirits were excellent.
Fr. Hayes's Speeches Seeing that there were about ten papers and a dozen discussions, I cannot attempt a summary of the deliberations and must confine my notes to a few outstanding points. Father J. M. Hayes spoke at every meeting, striving to infuse his zeal for active Catholic social reform into his hearers and the newspaper-reading public.
I think it was on the first day that he talked of reality in education, ridiculed the academic system which teaches young people everything save what they need to serve God and do their part in life, and ended by reading the whole of Canon Jackman's recent article in the Catholic Herald on cookery as a solid basis of practical train
ing. 1 wish we had Canon Jackman here," he cried, " but we'll make him speak to us from print "—and the gathering applauded Canon Jackman's robust demands for sense, not sentiment.
Rural marriage was a main subject of debate. The President and Dr. Ryan, Minister for Agriculture, were present when, on Father Hayes's proposal, it was decided to lay before the Government a proposal that every farmer's son, on being married, should be given a house by the State.
I must say that I thought this line of argument all wrong. The notion that lack of houses is the .cause of the stoppage in rural marriages is palpably false, for this reason—the :building of houses has gone on with increasing speed ever since the Free State was set up, and today the amount of new housing is a prodigy. The decline in marriage has gone on in a parallel ratio. People married when houses were scarce. They do not marry now that houses are more plentiful than at any time in living memory.
Present young couples with houses by all means, but do not suppose that a material cure will heal a mental or spiritual wrong. The chairman, the Rev. P. Murphy, from County Wexford, aptly pointed out that the well-to-do farmers; who had no housing difficulty, do not marry.
What is Wrong?
Father Lambe, from County Cork, said that in his very big parish, there had been only one marriage in a year. That proves that housing shortage is not remotely the reason for the social decay. Rev, E. Cahill, S.J., the famous writer on social topics, described his native parish in County Limerick. It used to have over 7,000 families. It now has 600, and the parish priest has reported that two-thirds of the land is owned by persons who have no heirs to succeed to it. Thus, a once prosperous parish, in an exceptionally fertile place, is going towards human extinction.
What is wrong? The answer is spiritual and intellectual. I hold that the girl factories are one of the main diseases which
are sapping the social spirit. This issue was not faced in the discussions, There was a paper on economic holdings, read by the secretary of the organisation, Mr. J. J. Bergin. It was purely defeatist. Mr. Bergin produced figures to prove that every small farmer must be losing money hand over fist, and he explained the flight from the land on this score. No one could live on 20-acre farms, by his account. What was wanted was bigger farms, holidays for farmers and town amusements for their sons—in other words, the modernism which Muinntir na Tire originally set out to combat.
The Irish Times applauds Mr. Bergin, and says that he has shown the fallacy in President de Valera's rural plans. It is odd to note that the Irish Times, formerly a champion of peasant farming, hereby scraps its own principles.
Land Secretary's Defeatism
One of the best-known leaders of Catholic Action in Ireland, Mr. J. B. Hamill, State Solicitor. answered Mr. Bergin by saying that it was fantastic for the secretary of the organisation, devoted to keeping people on the land, to read a paper proving that they could not live on it. As for the argument that people cannot live on 20acre farms, the fact is that they do, and that they thrive, and that it is the small farmers alone who do thrive, while it is the big farmers and ranchers who echo Mr. Bergin's complaint that the land won't pay.
Mr. Hamill cited examples from Cooley —a famous small-holding, high tillage district—where men in recent years bought
land with money borrowed from the bank and cleared their indebtedness in three to four years. Let Muinntir na Tire cease to meet in grazing places, let it come to districts where the small, hard-working tillage farmers carry on. their work in the old Irish manner, and there would he no more of this defeatist talk. Mr. Bergin's figures were theoretic, Mr. Hamill's were quoted from actual cases in which he conveyed the land to men who thus bought it out triumphantly.
Farmers Were Absent
Here I should add that the discussions suffered by absence of farmers who could answer Mr. Bergin; for all farmers who are working farmers are at work in these weeks saving the harvest. There were ranchers present, like one lady who cried to the Minister of Agriculture, " Give us back our markets" (as if he had markets in his pocket), and these were on Mr. Bergin's side.
Mr. Hamill pointed out that the whole society must fail it it did not get back to Catholic Action. That meant that it must put the spiritual first. There were many speakers on the defeatist side who seemed never to have heard of the encyclicals. After the spiritual. the intellectual and social activities would come and the society would be infused with the Church's thought and culture in these matters, instead of
with materialism and modernism. The material work will proceed from the spiritual, intellectual and social, where these are properly established.
Attack on National Language
A Protestant woman read a paper on the education of girls, and made a general attack on the Irish language; that is, on the very basis of the culture, national and Catholic, which is being built. How this speaker came to be chosen to contribute to a Catholic Action Society's proceedings, I cannot say. No one denies her right to her opinions, but they clashed with all that the Society originally set out to do, and cause dissension where unity is being sought.
Woman and Agriculture
A fine paper was read by Miss McGeehin, of Donegal, who spoke of women's part in rural development. She described the homes of Donegal, where every woman can lake a turn at carpentering in the home. That is the type of the resourceful stock that flourishes, not on 20-acre farms, but even on 10 and 6-acre holdings of rough land. That is the stock which produces, not merely splendid physique, but happiness and intellectual leadership. .It is in that kind of country that the Ranafast Irish College is producing today writer after writer of distinction, so that if all Gaeldom beside were to die, the tradition could be renewed from that well-spring. You do not hear defeatist language from the people who have defeated rocks.
The Bishop-elect of Kilmore, Mgr. Lyons, president of the Society, sent his greetings and invited the Society to form guilds in his diocese. It is greatly to be hoped that the next gathering will be in Kilmore diocese; that is, in the college at Cavan, the chief town, since there the secretary and committee would have the opportunity to see old Irish farming as it is practised in the counties on both sides of the Ulster border. The wasting away of the agricultural population which Father Cahill described from Limerick, Mr. Bergin from Kildare, and ranchers from Cork. is not suffered in anything like the same degree in the Border counties.
For this there is an historic reason. Ulster held its independence longest and so carried into modern times the Gaelic security of tenure which is called " the Ulster Custom in agrarian literature. The Ulster landlords were obliged to give their tenants security, and so a small holding population held its ground and preserved those habits of indomitable industry which Mr. Hamill described. The Border Catholic has the old Irish habits and customs to serve as a model for that rural revival which Muinntir na Tire desires.