Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835
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Clare County Library

Parish Kilfarboy, including town of Miltown Malbay. Barony Ibrickane.


Rev. Mr. M’Guane declared himself unable to ascertain the entire number of bastards in the parish, for that as they arrive at an adult age they merge in the population, and the stigma of their birth is almost forgotten. He could, however, speak more positively as to the absolute number of legitimate births, as compared with others. He found 1,000 births in his parochial books since the census of 1831, and out of that there were not more than 20 illegitimate ; that is, in the proportion of 1 to 50. The parish never undertakes the support of bastards, unless they be deserted ; and there have been but three instances of that crime during the last 10 years, in each of which the children were supported by contributions collected by the roman-catholic clergymen. During the 30 years that Mr. Davoren had been acting as a magistrate at Miltown there had not occurred even a suspected case of infanticide. The majority of bastard cases occur between farm servants, male and female, who, from frequent opportunity, are more exposed to temptation. Under these circumstances the father is generally poor, and shows much reluctance to assist in the maintenance of his offspring. Those of a better class are not, however, found so willing to do so. When there is not any disparity in the condition of the parties, the parents of the girl often make up a sum of money as a portion, and thereby succeed in effecting a marriage between them ; “but,” said Mr. M’Guane, “this effort is frequently not necessary, when a feeling of honour induces the man to marry his victim, as the only reparation in his power ; where there is great inequality between them, however, I do not press this reparation, as it is not likely that the girl herself could have expected it when yielding to solicitation.”

The mother has no direct mode of procuring assistance from the father unless he gives it voluntarily, except by applying to the magistrates for an award of wages, for expenses incurred and work performed in nursing the child.

The system of granting wages for the maintenance of illegitimate children has been in operation for such a length of time, that it is difficult to compare the present state of the parish, as to bastardy, with what it might have been previously. Both Mr. M’Guane and Mr. Davoren, who knew the parish previous to its introduction, did not think that it produced any alteration. There are a few women who have had children by different fathers, but they are, for the most part, women whose characters would render it exceedingly difficult to substantiate a statement of a promise made to them by any individual ; and in point of fact, there is but one of them who has endeavoured to derive any advantage from her intrigues, by an appeal to the laws for wages, and she was unable to prove her case. - (Morony.) - Mr. M’Guane had met only with one instance where it had appeared that a woman was anxious to have a child, in order to benefit by the wages to be received in this manner ; and he stated as follows : - “I was holding a station (a place appointed for hearing confessions in the country) at the mountain foot, and amongst others a boy of about 18 came to me, and I asked him, of course, whether he had anything to do with the other sex, and he said no, but that it was not for the want of offers, for that a girl had asked him to do what he liked with her, and said that she would swear the child, if she had one, to another man.”

Kenny, Clancy and Molony agreed that the sum awarded for wages never operated as an inducement to any young man to marry the girl in the receipt of it. Any young woman who has had an illegitimate child always finds considerable difficulty in procuring a husband ; but there are cases known where this general repugnance has been overcome by the offer, on the part of individuals of the upper classes, of certain advantages to be received by the man who would consent to take as a wife the woman who had cohabited with them. Mr. Maguane observed upon this point, that he perceived with regret that a female, who has been seduced by a gentleman, is not looked upon as being altogether so impure as one who has been led into error by one in her own station ; and he added that this leniency of opinion arose from the probability that she had weighty reasons for her yielding. The eagerness to procure land is so great, in consequence of its being the only source of support to the peasantry, that nothing is so likely to procure a partner for such a girl as the temptation of a small farm ; and he knew of instances where such temptation had not been resisted.

The magistrates have no power to punish the reputed father if he refuse to pay the sum awarded against him ; they can issue a warrant of distraint against his goods ; but that proceeding has hardly ever been found necessary, as obedience has almost always been yielded to their decree. The father is ordered to pay the sum at once, but in general the period of payment is a matter for arrangement between the parties, though the time nominally given by the bench is 10 days.

The charge of a single child unsupported by wages, drawn from its father, does not necessarily drive any woman to beggary. She may sometimes be turned out of doors by her father, but she will be sure to get something underhand from her mother or other relations ; she may even gain a partial subsistence by occasional work ; but if she have more than one child she can hardly escape mendicancy, and she will not pursue it in her own parish but at a distance. Mr. Maguane observed, that there was more than one woman at that time in Miltown supporting herself and several bastards by begging, but they have all come from other places, though some of them have increased their families since their arrival. It is not unlikely that natives of the place, who have left their home after their seduction, are following the same mode of life elsewhere ; and Molony said he has actually seen one woman doing so in the town of Kilrush.

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