Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835
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Clare County Library

Parish Kildysart. Barony Clonderalaw.


IN sickness there exists no certain source from whence the poor can draw any assistance, farther than that afforded in the shape of medicine at the dispensary. The sick man, his wife and family are often plunged in the most extreme destitution, and find but an uncertain support from the charity of their poor neighbours. There is no loan fund, by contributing to which, during health, the labourer or cottier could secure to himself any relief in the day of need. The poor invariably show much kindness to those of their own condition who labour under disease ; and though they are to a certain degree impressed with a salutary dread of infectious diseases, it never has happened that they have refused to attend their own relations under such circumstances. Some charitable person is generally found willing to take charge of the children until the health of the parents is re-established, or else in some cases, the sick person is removed to an out-house, where he is attended by some one member of his family, while the rest are retained without the sphere of contagion ; sometimes, however, neither of these things are done, and the worst consequences ensue from the want of due separation.

“I got a sick call last week,” said Mr. Sheehy, “and on arriving, I found a family of five persons lying down in fever, who had successively taken the infection. They were huddled together on some straw opposite the door of a hovel not eight feet square, and the only person to attend them was the grandmother, a woman of 90 years of age. Of these five, two are since dead.”

A collection of about 9s. was made at the chapel for this poor family, and it is for such cases that appeals are generally made to roman catholic congregations. It seldom occurs that the children of the sick person resort to begging during his sickness ; what little he wants, and that is chiefly meal and milk to make gruel and whey, is freely brought to his house. The points on which his wretchedness is most strikingly apparent, are, want of sufficient space and of bedding, and of sufficient ventilation. His children, as before mentioned, are often taken care of by the benevolent. “Last spring,” said Hurley, “when Curry was in gaol, his wife fell sick and died ; but his five children found a home in the cabin of a poor labouring man, who kept them for three months, and who could ill-afford it with his own large family.” Mr. O’Grady observed, that acts like that were of daily occurrence, and that they were looked upon as matters of course, and as not deserving of any particular degree of approbation ; people expect that the same would be done for them in their turn.

Though the holder of two or three acres may possibly be able to save something for sickness, the mere day labourer certainly cannot, “and in point of fact,” said Dr. Geary, “sickness almost always finds each of them without any funds at all, and leaves them less able than ever to acquire any. What they chiefly want is a better house to lie in, and not money to buy any thing ; and that is only to be had by erecting hospitals in various parts of the country. As matters are, many a man has died before he could be conveyed to Ennis.” There are no benefit societies of any kind in the neighbourhood.

Major Ross Lewin observed, that besides the physical and often permanent evils accruing to the poor man from the inefficient aid given to him during and after his sickness, there are moral evils, which are hardly less pernicious in their effect. The rent of con-acre is chiefly paid by labour in this district ; and when the sick man is unable to devote his time at the period when it is required of him, he commences the accumulation of arrears and of debt, that breaks down his spirit of industry, until by degrees he is rendered reckless and careless of the means of discharging them. He thus falls into a condition in which society is a greater loser, by his diminished usefulness than it would have been by having at first supplied him with what would have contributed to his speedy recovery. It is also to be remembered, that improvidence would not have been encouraged, since we have supposed him to have been unable to have saved any thing for himself.

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