The Irish Land Agent, 1830-1860

Ciarán Reilly


Land agents have been stereotypically represented in Irish history as alien, capricious and in general the tormentors of the tenantry. However, to date, no definitive examination exists of the social background, education and training of land agents as a group. With the exception of a mere handful of men, such as William Steuart Trench, Charles Boycott and Samuel Hussey, land agents remain both a taboo and unknown within Irish historiography. But how accurate are such representations? How qualified or equipped were agents to deal with the challenges that the mid-19th century, and the Famine in particular, brought? Having identified over 100 men who acted as land agents during the period 1830 to 1860, this study examines the role and function of the agency during a time when their skills and qualifications were truly tested.


'With the possible exception of Oliver Cromwell, no more hated figure stalks Irish history and folklore than the land agent. Ciarán Reilly’s study of land agents in King’s County (modern Offaly) addresses this and is a fascinating read ... Reilly's book is an academic study but it is very readable and easily accessible to the general reader. It is well organised, the scholarship is lightly worn and the writing is clear and well presented. The book says something new and important, and Reilly has a good eye for a telling quotation or a revealing statistic ... the main strength of Reilly's book is that it deals not in stereotypes but in hard reality', John Kirkaldy, Books Ireland (January/February 2015).

‘Ciarán Reilly presents a detailed analysis of the role of the much maligned and stereotyped Land Agent in his home county of Offaly during the turbulent middle years of the nineteenth century … This detailed study may be of most interest to students of the Irish land question and to the history of County Offaly. It is well researched with very detailed appendices and bibliography. Its conclusions certainly challenge the historical stereotype of the mid-nineteenth-century land-agent’, John Leogue, The Furrow (January 2015).  

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