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


THE sick poor of these parishes are totally unprovided for. From their landlords they do not even obtain the questionable assistance of a dispensary to supply them with medicine.

Any other relief in that quarter is not even looked for, from the experience they have had of late years. Mr. Hynes said, that a collection of 30s. was made last harvest among the farmers for the relief of the sick, and those who had been the greatest sufferers by cholera ; these 30s. were the only sums spent upon the poor since the receipt of the subscriptions from England in the year 1822. When a case of particular distress occurs, the roman catholic clergyman makes it the subject of an appeal at the chapel, and in this manner he sometimes gets 4s. but never more than 9s., which he gives to the family at intervals. This, however, will not support a family which is deprived of the exertions of its head, and in many cases the members of it have no alternative but temporary mendicancy in order to avoid starvation. Hehir observed, that the neighbours may send as much milk and perhaps meal to these poor people as will make a drink for the sick man, but never enough for his family, who are obliged to shift for themselves. There is no loan fund of any kind in that parish. As to the feelings of the poor upon the subject of infection, it was stated, that though they are not devoid of fear with respect to contagious diseases, yet those who have relations are never left altogether without attendance ; strangers, however, such as farm servants, who are often the children of mendicants, when attacked with fever, have nothing to expect but to be placed in a hovel built of sods for the purpose with water within their reach, but with no friend to help them to it. - (Hynes)

The annual amount of wages which a man earns (6d. a day for five or six months in the year) would not, even if paid in money, which is rarely the case, enable him to save anything to meet the chance of illness. The assistant commissioners entered, without selection, a house, in which a woman was lying sick ; she was alone in her cabin, and though evidently labouring under the effects of an unfavourable confinement, was endeavouring to nurse her child. She said that her husband not being able to get any con-acre, could not provide more than food for the day ; and that when her labour approached, she had nothing but 5s., which he had borrowed among her friends ; 2s. 6d. of that was gone to the priest for churching her, and the remainder to the midwife who attended her. All the time that she was sick, she had nothing but potatoes to eat and water to drink, and her child has a rupture from its birth, and no doctor has ever seen either her or it. There was only a broken door without hinges to the hut in which this woman lay, and her husband had plaited a mat of rushes, which he had suspended from the roof by her bed-side, to intercept the keen blast. It was the opinion of Mr. Hynes, who was perfectly qualified to judge, from the success of his own judicious operations in agriculture, that no man under the system of tillage at present pursued by the poor, could save for sickness or any other contingency, if he held less than 10 acres of ground ; and that even such a man must be near the sea-shore for the advantage of sea-manure ; the holders of less than that are but a step above the labourers.

This parish is not only without a dispensary, but is not even included in the district of a dispensary. The nearest institution of the kind is Kilfinora, 16 miles distant. The witnesses all thought that it would be most desirable that some relief in food and fuel should be extended to the sick poor ; but as there was no surgeon nor any person of leisure in the parish to superintend the distribution of such assistance, they were unable to suggest how it could be done, without danger of deceit and encouragement to idleness.

With regard to the effects of a short illness upon the comforts of the labourer, thereby rendering him reckless, it was observed by Mr. Hynes, that sickness at all times adds more or less permanently to the misery of the lower and labouring classes ; but that here, where there is employment merely during part of the year, the season in which there is generally most disease, unfortunately coincides with that in which there is the greatest chance of finding work, viz. autumn and until potato digging has terminated in November. The consequence was, that many see their only chance of earning a few shillings pass by without being able to take advantage of it, and after having recovered slowly, they are rendered reckless and dispirited, finding their situation so much more destitute than it had been. Mr. Hynes remarked, that a very small outlay, as much in many cases as would render unnecessary the premature sale of the poor man’s pig to provide for the pressing wants of illness, would prevent that worst of changes in a man depending on his labour ; namely, from cheerful industry to hopeless indifference, and that at the same time there would be no danger of encouraging improvidence, because here he has no means of saving whilst in health.

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