England and Ireland’s common ground?

An article by George Monbiot of the Guardian remarks on the historical irony in Britain’s National Trust renting out 1000 allotments for people to grow vegetables (a very peculiar recession mania this).

The National Trust is notable for representing England’s Great Houses and Gardens in a sanitised and Laura-Ashleyised state. Monbiot refers to one such famous example, Stowe in Buckinghamshire.

But the Trust’s narrative seldom says anything about the tens of thousands of poor farmers and labourers who were evicted and cleared off the land in the 17th and 18th centuries to make way for these grand landscapes. Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774) wrote about this in his long poem The Deserted Village: ‘… The man of wealth and pride/ Takes up a space that many poor supplied;/ Space for his lake, his park’s extended bounds/ Space for his horses, equipage and hounds/ …His seat, where solitary sports are seen,/ Indignant spurns the cottage from the green/… While scourged by famine from the smiling land,/ The mournful peasant leads his humble band;/ And while he sinks, without one arm to save,/ The country blooms – a garden and a grave….’

Was Goldsmith writing about his home county of Longford?

Monbiot is interesting in reciting the miseries inflicted on the poor rural peasantry of England. We in Ireland tend to think we have a monopoly on oppression by landlords in the past – an Irish disease called ‘exceptionalism’.



  1. AA Gill of the Sunday Times says about George Monbiot:
    ‘Dont for a moment imagine that the bicycle-riding, organic-hedgerow-grazing, self-denying, 40-watt miserablists are in fact selfless crusaders for the common good. Never underestimate the sustaining pleasure of a hair shirt. Just look at George Monbiot, and witness a man who couldn’t be happier about the imminent demise of life as we know it. It has given him purpose, prestige and celebrity: without global warming he’d be a geography teacher’


  2. I also like the comment noted by the great socialist songwriter Dick Gaughan on his website, when he notes that the first victims of British colonialism were the British themsleves. The rural poor get ‘cleared’ no matter what country they live in.


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