Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835
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Parish Abbey and Oughtmanagh. Barony Burren.


IT would be extremely difficult to ascertain the number of bastards at present in the parish ; but it is thought that not more than two illegitimate births take place there in the course of the year. As there is no court of petty sessions, there are no applications for wages for the maintenance of illegitimate children ; and Mr. Haynes observes that public attention is not in general drawn to the occurrence of bastardy cases. There has not been a case of desertion for the last eight years, and he did not recollect a case of infanticide at any period. Scanlan said, that in the greater number of instances the father evades contributing to the maintenance of his offspring, which is then thrown entirely on the hands of the mother, who, if she happen to be in service, is sure to be turned out of doors ; and after having found shelter in the cabin of some one nearly as destitute as herself, and endeavouring for some time, in vain, to support herself and her child, is at last compelled to have recourse to occasional begging, and perhaps to prostitution ; in which latter case she generally leaves the parish.

There are not more than half a dozen individuals in both parishes above the condition of small farmers, and not one who could be classed in the rank of the gentry. Considerable difficulty was experienced, therefore, in procuring accurate information upon the question of persons being influenced to marry these women by the interference of the gentry. A failure in chastity on the part of the woman is never absolutely forgotten ; but if she conduct herself well in other respects, she is not refused, upon that account, the small amount of employment which is open to females. She will, however, find it nearly impossible to procure a husband other than the father of her child, and will not experience at any time that kindly feeling which is displayed towards widows with young children. A bastard always labours under a stain, which is sure to be refreshed in case of a quarrel ; and it is curious that the only two brothers remaining unmarried in the parish, at an advanced period of life, are of illegitimate origin. Women have rarely brought actions against the reputed fathers of their bastards ; and it was thought that the distance of the petty sessions at Corofin (16 miles) operated as an impediment to their doing so. The refusal of the father to maintain the child has not often led to any acts of violence, except where the woman has had children by more than one father ; but if the father of the second child refuse to assist her, she has in some instances perseveringly annoyed him, and even threatened violence ; while, however, she has but one child, she is apt to remain quiet in the hope of being made “an honest woman of,” and still has some remnant of modesty left. - (Hynes.) - The penury in which the mothers of illegitimate children often live, is not only injurious to their own health, but also to that of their offspring. Kate Hayes, a wretched old creature, who lived in a dark hovel of sods and straw not more than six feet square, said that her daughter, a poor drivelling idiot, whom she exposed at her door in a state approaching to nudity, though nearly 20 years of age, was a healthy child until she herself, on having a second bastard, was driven out of house and home in winter, and obliged to sleep under walls in the open air, when she had hardly clothes to cover her.

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