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NULTY Thomas
Back to the land
Edited: 201412271246
The Most Reverend Dr. Thomas Nulty or Thomas McNulty (1818-1898) was born to a farming family in Fennor, Oldcastle, Co. Meath,[1][2] on July 7, 1818 and died in office as the Irish Roman Catholic Bishop of Meath[3] on Christmas Eve, 1898. Nulty was educated at Gilson School, Oldcastle, County Meath, St. Finians, Navan Seminary and Maynooth College. He was ordained in 1846. Nulty was a cleric during the Irish Potato Famine. During the course of his first pastoral appointment, he officiated at an average 11 funerals of famine victims (most children or the aged) a day, and in 1848 he described a large-scale eviction of 700 tenants in the diocese.[4]

Nulty rose to become the Most Reverend Bishop of Meath and was known as a fierce defender of the tenant rights of Irish tenant farmers throughout the 34 years that he served in that office from 1864 to 1898.[5][6] Thomas Nulty is famed for his 1881 tract Back to the Land, wherein he makes the case for land reform of the Irish land tenure system.[7] Nulty was a friend and supporter of the Irish nationalist Charles Stewart Parnell until Parnell's divorce crisis in 1889.[8][9]

Dr. Thomas Nulty, who had attended the First Vatican Council in 1870, said his last mass on December 21, 1898.

To the Clergy and Laity of the Diocese of Meath:

Dearly Beloved Brethren,-

I venture to take the liberty of dedicating the following Essay to you, as a mark of my respect and affection. In this Essay I do not, of course, address myself to you as your Bishop, for I have no divine commission to enlighten you on your civil rights, or to instruct you in the principles of Land Tenure or Political Economy. I feel, however, a deep concern even in your temporal interests — deeper, indeed, than in my own; for what temporal interests can I have save those I must always feel in your welfare? It is, then, because the Land Question is one not merely of vital importance, but one of life and death to you, as well as to the majority of my countrymen, that I have ventured to write on it at all.

With a due sense of my responsibility, I have examined this great question with all the care and consideration I had time to bestow on it. A subject so abstruse and so difficult could not, by any possibility, be made attractive and interesting. My only great regret, then, is that my numerous duties in nearly every part of the Diocese for the last month have not left me sufficient time to put my views before you with the perspicuity, the order and the persuasiveness that I should desire. However, even in the crude, unfinished form in which this Essay is now submitted to you, I hope it will prove of some use in assisting you to form a correct estimate of the real value and merit of Mr. Gladstone’s coming Bill.

For my own part, I confess I am not very sanguine in my expectations of this Bill — at any rate, when it shall have passed the Lords. The hereditary legislators will, I fear, never surrender the monopoly in the land which they have usurped for centuries past; at least till it has become quite plain to them that they have lost the power of holding it any longer. It is, however, now quite manifest to all the world — except, perhaps, to themselves — that they hold that power no longer.

We, however, can afford calmly to wait. While we are, therefore, prepared to receive with gratitude any settlement of the question which will substantially secure to us our just rights, we will never be satisfied with less. Nothing short of a full and comprehensive measure of justice will ever satisfy the tenant farmers of Ireland, or put an end to the Land League agitation.

The people of Ireland are now keenly alive to the important fact that if they are loyal and true to themselves, and that they set their faces against every form of violence and crime, they have the power to compel the landlords to surrender all their just rights in their entirety.

If the tenant farmers refuse to pay more than a just rent for their farms, and no one takes a farm from which a tenant has been evicted for the non-payment of an unjust or exorbitant rent, then our cause is practically gained. The landlords may, no doubt, wreak their vengeance on a few, whom they may regard as the leaders of the movement; but the patriotism and generosity of their countrymen will compensate these abundantly for their losses, and superabundantly reward them for the essential and important services they have rendered to their country at the critical period of its history.

You know but too well, and perhaps to your cost, that there are bad landlords in Meath, and worse still in Westmeath, and perhaps also in the other Counties of this Diocese. We are, unfortunately, too familiar with all forms of extermination, from the eviction of a Parish Priest, who was willing to pay his rent, to the wholesale clearance of the honest, industrious people of an entire district. But we have, thank God, a few good landlords, too. Some of these, like the Earl of Fingal, belong to our own faith; some, like the late Lord Athlumny, are Protestants; and some among the very best are Tories of the highest type of conservatism.

You have always cherished feelings of the deepest gratitude and affection for every landlord, irrespective of his politics or his creed, who treated you with justice, consideration and kindness. I have always heartily commended you for these feelings.

For my own part, I can assure you, I entertain no unfriendly feelings for any landlord living, and in this Essay I write of them not as individuals, but as a class, and further, I freely admit that there are individual landlords who are highly honourable exceptions to the class to which they belong. But that I heartily dislike the existing system of Land Tenure, and the frightful extent to which it has been abused, by the vast majority of landlords, will be evident to anyone who reads this Essay through.

I remain, Dearly Beloved Brethren, respectfully yours,
+THOMAS NULTY.

BACK TO THE LAND
Our Land System Not justified by its General Acceptance.

Anyone who ventures to question the justice or the policy of maintaining the present system of Irish Land Tenure will be met at once by a pretty general feeling which will warn him emphatically that its venerable antiquity entitles it, if not to reverence and respect, at least to tenderness and forbearance.

I freely admit that feeling to be most natural and perhaps very general also; but I altogether deny its reasonableness. It proves too much. Any existing social institution is undoubtedly entitled to justice and fair play; but no institution, no matter what may have been its standing or its popularity, is entitled to exceptional tenderness and forbearance if it can be shown that it is intrinsically unjust and cruel. Worse institutions by far than any system of Land Tenure can and have had a long and prosperous career, till their true character became generally known and then they were suffered to exist no longer.

Human Slavery Once Generally Accepted.

Slavery is found to have existed, as a social institution, in almost all nations, civilised as well as barbarous, and in every age of the world, up almost to our own times. We hardly ever find it in the state of a merely passing phenomenon, or as a purely temporary result of conquest or of war, but always as a settled, established and recognised state of social existence, in which generation followed generation in unbroken succession, and in which thousands upon thousands of human beings lived and died. Hardly anyone had the public spirit to question its character or to denounce its excesses; it had no struggle to make for its existence, and the degradation in which it held its unhappy victims was universally regarded as nothing worse than a mere sentimental grievance.

On the other hand, the justice of the right of property which a master claimed in his slaves was universally accepted in the light of a first principle of morality. His slaves were either born on his estate, and he had to submit to the labour and the cost of rearing and maintaining them to manhood, or he acquired them by inheritance or by free gift, or, failing these, he acquired them by the right of purchase — having paid in exchange for them what, according to the usages of society and the common estimation of his countrymen, was regarded as their full pecuniary value. Property, therefore, in slaves was regarded as sacred, and as inviolable as any other species of property.

Even Christians Recognised Slavery.

So deeply rooted and so universally received was this conviction that the Christian religion itself, though it recognised no distinction between Jew and Gentile, between slave or freeman, cautiously abstained from denouncing slavery itself as an injustice or a wrong. It prudently tolerated this crying evil, because in the state of public feeling then existing, and at the low standard of enlightenment and intelligence then prevailing, it was simply impossible to remedy it.

Thus then had slavery come down almost to our own time as an established social institution, carrying with it the practical sanction and approval of ages and nations, and surrounded with a prestige of standing and general acceptance well calculated to recommend it to men’s feelings and sympathies. And yet it was the embodiment of the most odious and cruel injustice that ever afflicted humanity. To claim a right of property in man was to lower a rational creature to the level of the beast of the field; it was a revolting and an unnatural degradation of the nobility of human nature itself. (etc, see link)

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