It is five years since I discovered a letter that gave an insight into Church of Ireland life in the 1950s. The weak state of the Irish economy and poor farm incomes were causing substantial shifts of population away from rural areas and the Church of Ireland was concerned about its future presence in many rural communities. The Irish Land Finance Company had been created in 1913, before the Great War. In 1956, it was felt necessary to remind parish clergy of the existence of the company and advise them of the help it might provide:
CHURCH OF IRELAND
THE IRISH LAND FINANCE COMPANY LTD
33 KILDARE STREET
It has been thought advisable to draw the attention of the clergy to one method whereby some check may be applied to the continuing decrease in Church population, this being a very serious matter in many parishes, and one which, at Diocesan level, gives rise to grave concern for the future well-being of our Church.
The Irish Land Finance Company is in a position to lend sums of money to approved applicants with the object of establishing them on their own farms. Sons of farmers may thus be enabled to marry at an earller age than is often possible, and may remain working on the land instead of going abroad. Advances are also made for other purposes at the discretion of the Directors.
Repayment of capital by borrowers is expected within 10 years and the rate of interest charged is governed by current interest. The Board of Directors meets once a month and is composed of twelve gentlemen of large experience from different parts of the country, and includes seven Directors nominated by the Representative Church Body. They give their services free of all fees or expenses.
The clergy are requested to bear in mind that the Company is most anxious to assist any suitable parishioner, now or in the future; and to make a note of the address given.
The company was Dublin-based in the 1950s, but was of particular interest five years ago because I had just become Rector of Mountrath in Co Laois and a Google search for the company had revealed that in 1926, the address of the company’s registered office had been:
The Irish Land Finance Company, Limited.
The Rectory, Mountrath, Queen’s Co.
There were parishioners who remembered that there had been loans available, but searching for further records had proved fruitless.
Discussing the Irish Land Finance Company today, a parishioner recalled it and added, “the Representative Church Body gave grants for people to go to the colonies, as well. As long as they stayed away for two years.”
It seemed odd, that the church would assist the passage of emigrants, but no perhaps no more odd than the church giving loans to buy farms. Was it really the source of the finance or was it a conduit for funds from governments? And why assist emigration when it was at the same time trying to assist people to settle on farms? And what was meant by the “colonies”? Were Australia, Canada and New Zealand still thought of as British colonies in the 1950s? Surely, not? Did it mean sending people to places like Kenya and Tanganyika?
A new search begins.