before the famine was performed. Under conacre, which was somewhat similar
to sharecropping, an agricultural laborer was essentially allowed a
license to grow subsistence provisions for himself on a particular piece
of the landlord's land in exchange for his labor in producing cash crops.
Rents were also paid "either in casual labor which could be supplemented
through seasonal migration, or through the sale of a pig,"29
but it should be noted that agricultural laborers still directly grew
their subsistence through the potato. Furthermore, the pig was used
in a crude effort to "save" the potato from spoilage. Pigs were fed
part of the crop, and were later either slaughtered when the potato
harvest was consumed, or, more commonly, were used as a means of paying
rent on the land being farmed.
There is considerable evidence to suggest that advocates of Irish modernization
desired a reform of the land system. When the Irish Poor Law Extension
Act (discussed above) passed through parliament in 1847, it contained
the "Gregory clause," which stipulated that anyone who owned more than
a quarter-acre of land was ineligible for relief. Of course, to an Irish
farmer who depended upon the potato both as his source of subsistence
and of income, owning more than a quarter-acre of land was meaningless
in the context of the famine. Also, since their source of both rent
and expendable income-the pig-had been decimated by two seasons of famine,
most farmers had little left to do but accept eviction from their land.
The result was mass evictions and demolition. Kinealy estimates that
around 500,000 people were evicted in this way over the course of the
famine.30 This, in turn, seems to have been a way for
Irish landlords to escape their chronic indebtedness as well as achieve
mass consolidation of land.31 Further, the famine destroyed
the system of baile and rundale as community bonds deteriorated and
communal leases became impossible to maintain.