> In the British army of the time, commissions, such as that of Lieutenant, > were acquired through purchase. The cheapest lieutenancy, in an infantry > regiment, cost seven hundred pounds. Access to that sort of money, roughly > equivalent to fifty-eight thousand pounds sterling today, places the > lieutenant in a social class unlikely to have had much contact with people > like our peasant ancestors. No wonder he was shocked. Across Europe, subsistence farmers have shared their accommodation with their animals as a matter of course, partly to benefit from the heat generated by the beasts in winter. In parts of France, where I live, earthen floors and wandering livestock are still to be found. Anyone passing by many farms anywhere today would notice defunct machinery rusting away in farmyard or behind apparently ramshackle buildings. Farming, other than of the massive-scale, highly mechanised industrial variety, tends to be a messy business. No doubt Tyrone then, as Tyrone today, had its share of ne'erdo wells, but it’s not easy to get up to mischief when you have just spent up to twelve hours planting the potatoes that you and your family will depend on through the winter, or cutting turf so you don’t die of cold. We should not view our ancestors through rose-tinted glasses, but it is worth bearing in mind that the good lieutenant had his own prism when looking at a people who shared neither his background, nor his religious beliefs, nor yet, in many cases, his first language. He would have been viewed as the representative of an army of occupation by many in the Catholic population. I hope this contributes usefully to the conversation around this account.
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