Irish Land Commission [203]

The Irish Land Commission was a financial organization established by the 1870 Landlord and Tenant Act, as amended,  to expedite the orderly breakup of the large English estates in Ireland and sell the land to tenants or others to farm. This was a revolutionary idea of making the government an arbitrator or a party to land sales which had previously between private parties. Very little of this is of philatelic interest with the exception of official mail to the commission and the tax stamps involved.

The need for the commission was driven by two factors; the repetitive cycle of famines, emigration and revolts in Ireland, and the need and desire for English nobility to liquidate their inherited holdings that were, in many cases, negative fiscal assets. The potential buyers were tenant farmers living on the land. Sales had been handled by intermediaries who sought to obtain the highest possible price, which was often inflated. Evictions of tenant farmers were commonplace, which led to increased hatred of the English. In many cases, these were caused by crop price manipulation, thus artificially lower crop prices. Figure 1 show a typical forceful eviction.

The Land Commission, having access to government tax records, was in a position to determine a fair price. Land would be sold to the Land Commission which paid the seller, which receiving payment from the purchaser.  Since the Act required a 30% down payment, the Commission held the mortgage on the land, and as such, paid taxes to be passed through to the buyer.  At this point, taxing authorities created a series of revenue stamps, ranging from in value from two pence to ten pounds   Inscribed Irish land Commission, these stamps, listed in Barefoot British Commonwealth Revenues, ran in seventeen series from 1881 to 1980. They are normally found with ornate perfin cancels. (Figure 2).   

The main philatelic interest is the mail to the Land Commission. Since this was mail on official business from a citizen to a governmental agency, it qualified as official mail. It was supposed to have the government name in the top center of the cover.(Figure 3).  Since it was internal to Ireland, this was seldom enforced.  The mail is cancelled with a post office canceller in black ink indicating complete payment of postage.

The letters contained the annual mortgage payment, and were normally posted in the fall, after a farmer had sold his crops or cattle.  As with Irish cancels after the 1900’s, most are in Gaelic, and often from small hamlets or towns.  They are usually on the brown paper covers, and the overall appearance is drab and uninteresting.  What is not obvious is that these covers are evidence of a peaceful revolution which transformed the Irish farmer from a medieval serf to a landowner with control of his destiny.  

The program continued from 1880 to 1970 with a 30 year repayment cycle.  It was closed to new entries in 1970.  In 1987, the remnants were combined into the Department of Land, Fisheries and Forestry.  It was finally closed as a successful operation in 1999.  Today, as one attempts to study Irish postal history, the post offices servicing the covers are often long closed.  Many smaller offices were closed prior to 1970, and even a larger amount in the early 1980’s. Older copies of Eolai an Phoist (The Post Office Guide (which was eliminated in 1983)) are useful in identifying locations.  Figure 4 shows mail from the office of Dromohair, Co. Louth closed between 1970 and 1980. Note the absence of the required government name on the top center.  A much more difficult one to find is where not only the post office in a small hamlet was closed, but the hamlet itself disappeared, absorbed in a relatively larger town. (Figure 5).  Today the hamlet of Corlough, Co. Cavan, is now part of Templemore. To identify these locations, it is necessary to refer to the listing of Towns and Villages in the Republic or the Irish Place Names web sites.

The program was successful in calming the countryside and insuring an adequate food supply.  It also eliminated the abuses of the absentee landlord system. It raises the question if the program had begun fifty years earlier, would the 1916 Post Office Rebellion and the subsequent 1922 War of Independence have occurred? And subsequent events??


Barefoot, J., British Commonwealth Revenues, 1996.
Moody, W.T. & Martin, F.X., The Course of Irish History, 2002.
Wikipedia; Irish Land Commission, Irish Famine.
Irish Place Names:
List of Towns and Villages in the Republic of Ireland: https://