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


MR. HYNES estimated the number of persons destitute and infirm through age at about 40 ; that is, about one in every 82 of the entire population. Two of these old persons are the only beggars resident in the parish ; two-thirds of the remainder live with their relations, while the other third, consisting in a great part of strangers who have taken up their abode there from time to time, and of widows whose children have gone elsewhere, are supported in an uncertain manner (not having in the morning what food their daily necessities require) by their immediate neighbours, and are thus one step above mendicancy in character, but far below it in positive comfort.

The heads of families feel a right to be supported by their children in their old age, and look forward to it with certainty. It is the general practice with them to divide their land into portions, which are given to their children as they get married. The last married frequently gets his father’s cabin along with his portion of ground, and there his parents like to stop, from a feeling of attachment to the place where they have spent their lives.- (Salmon.)

The younger branches always acknowledge the claim upon them, and perform what they consider their duty, at least for some time ; but it too frequently happens (some of the witnesses said), and it is becoming more frequent every day, that quarrels and misunderstandings arise on the part of the daughters-in-law, which make the condition of the aged truly miserable. Mr. Hynes observes that children formerly supported their parents much more generally and more cheerfully than at present, and he was disposed to attribute the change in this respect to the increase of poverty and the daily diminishing size of holdings and farms, which barely suffice to maintain the families of those who are occupied in their cultivation. He also adds, that parents are too apt to remain exclusively with one child, and that they never relieve him by going to a second, until disagreements have arisen which produce a bad impression on the other members of the family, and make them unwilling to receive him. No degree of relationship beyond that of father and mother is considered to give any claim to support. The situation of old people amongst the poor is almost always wretched : and on entering a cabin one may always distinguish an aged and dependant parent, by the squalid rags with which he is partially covered : for though his son may feed him, he is quite unable to clothe him. Even some of those who reside in their children’s houses do not partake of their scanty meal, but are obliged to collect privately from their friends what is sufficient for their own support.

The young labouring men never subscribe for the aged who happen to be without relations to support them. There is hardly any emigration from this quarter, and remittances have never been received from those abroad.

There are no resident gentry in the neighbourhood, and the absentee landlords in no way contribute to the support of the poor. M’Dermott, the farmer, observes, that not a single farthing of what goes out of the parish either in rent or tithes ever comes back again in any shape.

At the catholic chapel here, as elsewhere, the collections which are occasionally made are devoted to the relief of specific cases of distress produced by sickness or other calamities. There is no protestant church in the parish, nor any protestant congregation. There is, however, a church about seven miles off, the only one in the barony of Burren ; and the Rev. Mr. Westroff stated that the collections made in it were chiefly composed of the contributions of the coast guard and the police, and amounted on an average to 16s. a year. There are no almshouses here ; and it was positively asserted that no one who was unable to work obtained more than the bare necessaries of life, except Beattie, the man who begged.

The rest were often deficient in food, and always in clothes and firing. If a man has no ground, his wages of 7d. a day, potatoes being seldom lower than 1½d. a stone, would barely give him a sufficiency of food for a family of four, and he would therefore never be able to provide against the wants of age. The propriety of a provision for the aged and infirm is generally recognized ; the objection is not to the principle, but to the way in which it is feared the funds for the purpose would be administered. It was thought that if the administration of them was controlled by the Government, and not left in the hands of the local or country authorities, there would be infinitely less danger of peculation. Mr. Hynes and others observed, that the people have too much reason to fear jobbing in everything.

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