Carlow History

Arrears of Rent Act, 1882 in Carlow

Arrears of Rent Act, 1882 in Carlow

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien



This article tells of the background and of the Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act, 1882 which Act benefited seventy-eight County Carlow landlords who would have been financially under pressure without as would their distressed tenants. For much of the nineteenth century the poverty and insecurity of the Irish tenant farmer was an explosive issue underlying Irish life. In difficult times the rise in evictions due to the non-payment of rent led to a corresponding increase in agrarian violence. After the horrors and difficulty of the Great Famine, conditions seemed to have improved for most people up to the 1870s. By 1875 increased competition from America caused a decline in agricultural prices in Ireland and Britain. This led to a double whammy for many families with declining farm prices and less money sent home from migrant workers in England. Many tenant farmers, even those on moderate rents, fell into rent arrears and the number of annual evictions increased.

To add to these difficulties a number of years of bad weather reduced yields and particularly the yield of the potato crop. In 1876 there was more than four million tons of potatoes produced but this fell by 1879 to just over one million tons. Scenes of actual starvation, not witnessed since the days of the Great Famine, were seen across Ireland and especially in the West.[1]

The Irish Land League was formed in 1879 by Michael Davitt to demand justice for the tenant farmer. Although the League campaigned by peaceful means agrarian violence quickly formed part of the mix that was developing. In 1880 there were 2,590 agrarian outrages. The government felt the pressure to restore order and introduced two Coercion Bills to control the violence. With these sticks the government introduced a carrot to control the violence and in 1881 passed the Land Act. This Act introduced fair rents, fixity of tenure and free sale along with a provision for tenants to buy their holdings. But the Act excluded from its operation 130,000 tenants who were in rent arrears.[2]

The Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act, 1882

To help these people the government passed on 18th August 1882 the Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act, 1882 (also referred to as 45 & 46 Vict., Cap. 47). The Act was a supplement to the Land Act (Ireland), 1881. The Arrears of Rent Act was to be a short, sharp correction to the landlord-tenant relationship. The application time was very short and more especially in the case of evicted tenants. The Act also didn’t apply to every holding in the country as outlined in Section 1, sub-section 1; “In the case of any holding to which the Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1881, applies and which is valued under the Acts relating to the valuation of rateable property in Ireland at not more than thirty pounds a-year”.[3]

If a tenant held two or more holdings the total valuation was taken into account to determine if the tenant was over the thirty pound valuation.[4] In Griffith’s Valuation (c.1852) Anne Nolan held two holdings in the townland of Ballintrane in the parish of Templepeter valued at £25 5s and £10. If she had rent arrears for one of these holdings she could have got relief under the Arrears of Rent Act but because the combined value of the holdings was over £30 (total value £35 5s) she would not qualify for relief.[5]

Sometime a number of tenants would occupy one large parcel of land valued as one holding. In such case the rent of each tenant would be divided into the total value of the holding to get the value of each tenant’s proportion. Thus an individual tenant, with rent arrears, could qualify for relief under the thirty pounds rule.[6]

The three main conditions of the Act were:

  • That the rent payable in respect of the year of the tenancy expiring on the last gale day of the tenancy in the year 1881 has been satisfied on or before the 13th day November 1882.
  • That antecedent arrears of rent are due to the landlord
  • That the tenant is unable to discharge such antecedent arrears, without loss of his holding, or deprivation of the means necessary for the cultivation thereof.



The gale day

The gale day was the day on which the rent on a holding was due and it usually fell twice a year – March and September; May and November. But a tenant had to be careful when they paid their rent. If a tenant had 1st May and 1st November as the gale days he had to pay on those days and not before. If a tenant paid the rent before 1st May 1881 it would be offset against old arrears as the rent for 1881 was not legally due until 1st May. If a tenant paid a half year rent after 1st May 1881 it may be on account of old arrears but the Land Commission would take the payment as on the 1881 rent. In such circumstances a tenant may not be judged to have paid the 1881 rent and so not subject to relief under the Arrears of Rent Act.

The hanging gale

The antecedent arrears referred to those which accrued for 1880 and before. But this was not so simple in practice. During the passage of the Act a number of M.P.’s asked “What is to be done about the hanging gale? The hanging gale was a practice where the rent due was not paid until after the next gale day. This caused problems in some cases as the rent for 1881 had to be accrued due and not pre-paid but still paid before 13th November 1882. If the rent was legally due on 1st May but usually not paid until 1st December then no rent for 1881 would be accrued due until 1st December. If money was paid between 1st May and 1st December it would be judged as towards the payment of old rent and so the 1881 rent would be still unpaid.[7]

It gets more complicated if a tenant owed two or three years rent. If the gale days were 25th March and 29th September 1881 any payments paid between those dates would be on the earliest rent due. A half year rent paid on 25th April 1881 would be for the rent due on 29th September 1879. Under the operation of the Act a tenant in such circumstances would still owe the 1881 rent and may even have some or all of the 1880 rent still due and not extinguished by the Irish Land Commission.

If a landlord accredited the payment to the 1881 rent rather than to the 1879 rent, then the tenant could claim a clean bill of health as the Land Commission extinguished all previous arrears and the landlord got one year’s rent in full.

Applying under the Act

The landlord and tenant, or either of them, of any holding under the Act could apply to the Irish Land Commission for judgement. The 30th April 1883 was the last day for people to apply for relief under the Act. The landlord or tenant had to give the tenant or landlord ten days’ notice before applying to the Land Commission.

The Irish Land Commission was to implement and operate the Act. The Irish Land Commission was established under the 1881 Land Act to fix fair rents between landlords and tenants and did much good work in this area in the succeeding thirty years. As the nineteenth century moved on the work of the Commission was more devoted to assisting tenants to buy their holdings. By 1914 twelve of the seventeen departments of the Commission worked on land purchase. The work of the Commission was so valued that it survived independence and continued in operation until recent times.[8]

The Land Commission was to pay the landlord of any holding under the Act a sum “equal to one-half of such antecedent arrears, subject to the limitation that the sum so paid shall not exceed the yearly rent payable in respect of the holding”.[9] Under this rule William R. Garrett was paid £16 10s for one holding where the antecedent arrears was £33, and where the annual rental was £16 10s.[10]

William Raymond Garrett was a member of the Garrett family of Janeville, also called Kilgarron, near Fennagh, Co. Carlow. He was born on 11th August 1840 as the eldest son of Rev. James Perkins Garrett of Janeville by his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Hugh Moore of Elgantine House, Co. Down. On 24th January 1867 William Garrett married Anna, daughter of William Elliot of Radipole, Weymouth. The couple had three sons; James (born 1867), John (born 1869) and Arthur (born 1875).[11] In 1875 his father, Rev. James Garett owned 874 acres and valued at £739.[12]

On the payment by the Land Commission to the landlord, the antecedent arrears was to be extinguished and any court judgement made on the holding in respect of such arrears was to be vacated. But the extinguished arrears only applied to the antecedent arrears up to the gale day of 1880. Any subsequent arrears of rent fell outside the Act.


Janeville House – home of the Garrett family

Extended life of the Act

Although the Arrears of Rent Act was concerned in the main with antecedent arrears of rent up to the last gale day of 1880 the life of the Act could be extended for up to seven years. The Land Commission were instructed to pay the landlord of the holding but establishing who actually the landlord was, could take some time. On the face of it, people like Sir Robert Paul and Philip C. Newton were the landlords of their respected holdings but Irish estates were so subject to family settlements, mortgage securities and long term leases that a number of people could claim to be the actual landlord and not necessary the landlord who collected the rent. The Encumbered Estates Court was introduced after the Great Famine because many bankrupt estates could not be sold because the actual owner could not be established.

Remitted rent

During the Land War many tenants protested at the high rents they had to pay in poor economic circumstances. A number of landlords remitted part of the rent due after protests by the tenants. But when it came to seeking relief under the Arrears of Rent Act such a happy tenant with his remitted rent would be in trouble qualifying under the Act. If a tenant normally paid £36 and paid money for the 180 rent but the landlord had remitted 25% then the landlord only received £27 but to satisfy Sub-section 4 of Section 1 of the Arrears Act, the tenant would have to pay the £9 difference to cover the 1881 rent.[13]

One could say that landlords, who formed a large majority in Parliament, wrote parts of the Arrears Act in such a manner to get the most money out of the tenant when that tenant was to benefit from the extinguish of rent arrears.

Evicted tenants

The agricultural depression of 1877-1880 caused many tenants to fall behind in their rent so much that eviction was the end result. In 1877 there were 463 evictions but with the worsening conditions this had increased by 1880 to over 2,000 evictions.[14] These landless people were provided for with some relief in the Arrears of Rent Act.

If a tenant was already evicted for non-payment of rent, before the Arrears of Rent Act came into law, that tenant could apply for relief. But the landlord had to first reinstate the evicted tenant before any relief from arrears could be obtained. If the landlord didn’t agree to reinstate an evicted tenant, the tenant could still apply to the Land Commission for relief if they came within section 71 of the Landlord and Tenant Law Amendment Act (Ireland), 1860. Yet to come under section 71 the tenant had to pay the courts all rent, arrears and costs due before he could be considered as a reinstated tenant. But in all cases an evicted tenant had to apply for relief within six months of the eviction. As the Arrears Act came into operation on 18th August 1882 nobody evicted before 18th February 1882 could seek relief.[15]

Purchased tenants

The long term aim of the Land War was for the tenants to become owners of the land that they farmed. The 1870 Land Act had a small provision to aid tenants to buy their holding. This was the “John Bright Clauses”, which allowed tenants to borrow from the government two-thirds of the cost of buying their holding, at 5% interest repayable over 35 years, provided the landlord was willing to sell but there was no compulsory powers for the landlord to sell.[16] A few holdings were purchased under the Act but the number was very small.

In 1881 Land Act increased the amount of money advanced by the state from two thirds to three quarters of the purchase price, to be repaid over 35 years. Yet this financial assistance was too small for most tenants and only a few hundred holdings were bought under the Act.

Yet the Arrears of Rent Act, 1882 acknowledged these tenants who had purchased their holding. Under Section 17 a person who owned their holding and would have qualified for the extinguishing of any arrears of rents, could have remittance of a year on any public taxes due. These public taxes included tithe rent-charge, income tax and quit-rent amount other taxes. If a person had already paid these public taxes they could have such amounts deducted from future taxes.[17] Landlords could also qualify under this Section if they received no rent on a holding for a number of years.


Some sheep in the Carlow landscape 

Carlow landlords

A report exists among the British Parliamentary Papers on what landlords received money under the Arrears of Rent Act and how much each received. Under the Act seventy-eight Carlow landlords received payments, totalling £4,580 7s 4d, from the Land Commission to satisfy antecedent rent arrears of £9,802 1s 8d up to the last gale day of 1880. There were 529 holdings in Carlow involved with an annual rental of £7,488 2s 7d.[18] Arthur Kavanagh had by far the largest number of holdings subject to the Act with 123 holdings (annual rent of just over £10 per each). His arrears amounted to £1,859 10s 11d and he was paid £852 19s to clear the debt.[19]

Having 123 holdings in arrears seems excessive when compared to the other Carlow landlords and suggests that the tenants on the Kavanagh estate were withholding the payment of their rents in an effort to force Arthur Kavanagh to reduce the overall rents on the estate. The Land War, which started in 1879, had the reduction of rents as one of its chief aims. Tenants would also try to delay evictions for non-payment of rents by legal and physical force methods along with preventing the replacement of evicted tenants. With such methods the landlord system was severely curtailed. The Land Act of 1881 and the Arrears of Rent Act of 1882 took the steam out of the anti-landlord campaign.[20]

Arthur Kavanagh was the fourth son of Thomas Kavanagh of Borris House and was born without any limbs yet had a full and active life. When he inherited the Borris estate in 1853 it was in a very run down state. Arthur Kavanagh built a saw mill, erected new cottages and encourage Borris lace as a cottage industry. In 1868 he was elected M.P. for Co. Carlow but lost his seat in 1880 as the county elected two Home Rule candidates. Arthur Kavanagh was bitter at the defeat as he perceived himself to be a good landlord but the days of all landlords, good and bad, was numbered from the 1880s onwards. Arthur Kavanagh died on Christmas morning 1889.[21]

The holding with the lowest rent was that owned by B.F. Bagenal at £3 3s and arrears of £1 11s. He received 15s 9d to clear this debt.[22] In 1875 Beauchamp F. Bagenal, with an address at Bennekerry, Co. Carlow, owned 1,309 acres 3roots and 23perches (worth £1,210 15s) in County Carlow.[23] Beauchamp Frederick Bagenal (born 1846) was the second son of Walter Philip Bagenal of Bennekerry House by his wife Georgina, second daughter of Hon. George Jocelyn, who was son of the 1st Earl of Roden.[24]

The holding with the highest rent was owned by William Duckett at £50 9s 3d with arrears of £50 9s 3d for which he received £25 4s 7d.[25] A holding with a rent of over £50 possibly had a valuation over £30 and so shouldn’t be part of the Arrears Act but a provision allowed redress for holdings over the £30 and under £50 valuation. In such case the tenant pays the 1881 rent, the Land Commission paid the landlord another year’s rent and the balance of the arrears became a rent-charge of £3 per year over 35 years.[26]

The aforementioned William Duckett, of Duckett’s Grove, owned in 1875 over 3,441 acres 1root and 11perches (worth £2,687 5s) in County Carlow.[27] In the mid nineteenth century the Duckett estate extended across six counties and covered almost 12,000 acres with an annual income of about £10,000. William Duckett was born in 1822 as the son of John Dawson Duckett and Sarah Summers, daughter of William Hutchinson of Co. Tipperary. William Duckett was twice married but left no heir at the time of his death in 1908.[28]

Assisted emigration

Although the title of the 1882 Act – Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act, 1882 – may lead one to assume that it just dealt with landlord-tenant relationships this would be a false assumption. Section 18 of the Act allowed board of Guardians of any Poor Law Union to borrow money for the purpose of draying or assisting the dray of expenses connected with the emigration of poor people within their union.

Under Section 20 the Commissioners of Public Work could grant to any union money for emigration purposes up to £100,000 and the maximum payable to each individual was £5 per person. This grant only applied to unions located in Counties Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Leitrim, Clare, Kerry and the West Riding of County Cork. In 1882 the unions of Belmullet, Newport, Swinford, Clifden and Oughterard qualified for the grant and the Lord Lieutenant could add other unions within the prescribed counties on the recommendation of the Local Government Board.[29]


As said above, the Land Act of 1881 and the Arrears of Rent Act, 1882 took the steam out of the anti-landlord campaign of the Land War but only the steam. Over the next four decades successive Land Acts facilitated the tenants to buy out the landlords and allow those who worked the land to own the land. Landlordism in urban areas was ignored in these Land Acts and continued into modern times – a story for another day.




End of post



[1] F.S.L. Lyons, Ireland since the Famine (Fontana Press, London, 1973), pp. 164, 165

[2] F.S.L. Lyons, Ireland since the Famine, pp. 165, 170, 171, 172

[3] W.H. Kisbey (ed.), The Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act, 1882 (Hodges, Figgis & Co. Dublin, 1882), pp. 1, 2

[4] W.H. Kisbey (ed.), The Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act, 1882, p. 21

[5] Griffith’s Valuation, Ballintrane, Templepeter parish, Forth barony, Co. Carlow

[6] W.H. Kisbey (ed.), The Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act, 1882, p. 22

[7] W.H. Kisbey (ed.), The Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act, 1882, p. 7

[8] F.S.L. Lyons, Ireland since the Famine, p. 80

[9] W.H. Kisbey (ed.), The Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act, 1882, p. 2


[11] Bernard Burke, A genealogical & heraldic history of the landed gentry of Great Britain & Ireland, 1906, p. 623


[13] W.H. Kisbey (ed.), The Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act, 1882, p. 11

[14] F.S.L. Lyons, Ireland since the Famine, p. 168

[15] W.H. Kisbey (ed.), The Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act, 1882, pp. 11, 12


[17] W.H. Kisbey (ed.), The Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act, 1882, pp. 31, 32



[20] Richard Vincent Comerford, ‘Land War’, in S.J. Connolly (ed.), The Oxford companion to Irish history (Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 300, 301

[21] Jimmy O’Toole, The Carlow gentry: What Will the Neighbours Say! (Carlow, 1993), pp. 134, 135



[24] Edward Walford, County families of the United Kingdom (London, 1860), pp. 24, 25


[26] W.H. Kisbey (ed.), The Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act, 1882, pp. 26-30


[28] Jimmy O’Toole, The Carlow gentry, pp. 94, 95; Edward Walford, County families of the United Kingdom, p. 191

[29] W.H. Kisbey (ed.), The Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act, 1882, pp. 33, 35


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