Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835
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Clare County Library

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


THERE appeared to be about 63 old persons in the parish, who, might be regarded as destitute ; all these were past the age of 58 or 60 ; such being the period of life at which the powers of the labouring man usually so far fail, that he becomes unfit for a good day’s work. “I know,” said Maloney, “that weavers and brogue-makers do not last even so long as that, they break down at 45 or 50, and they are more often dead at 60 ; confinement in a smoky cabin is the death of them.”

Parents look forward to being supported by their children when they shall have passed their labour, and in a majority of cases they are not disappointed ; this support, however, must not be looked upon as wholly gratuitous, for the father resigns successive portions of his land to his offspring as they get married, and continues to occupy his own house until they are all settled. His children acknowledge his claim upon them, and he resides in the end either with whichever of them is best off, or, as frequently happens, with the favourite child. Sometimes it happens, that after a time the son-in-law, or especially the daughter-in-law, “wearies,” as Murrough expressed it, “of maintaining what is not her own blood, and will not put up with the odd ways of the old person, who she finds in her way at every hand’s turn ;” and then there commences a series of domestic quarrels and petty annoyances, which embitter the life of the old parent, who, after undergoing them in the houses of two or more of his children, is forced at first to look abroad for what potatoes will supply his wants, and at length, yielding to circumstances, many quit their children and resign themselves to mendicancy at the end of their days.

It has been mentioned that about 12 persons of this class were supported by their equals, that is to say, that they went about to the houses of those with whom they had been intimate, or on friendly terms, and received about as much potatoes as sufficed for their daily wants ; of these, some reside in the houses of their relations, while others do not. Next to those who openly and avowedly beg, these latter are the best off. - (Murrough, Keane, Clancy.) - No assistance is afforded to the aged by subscriptions among the young unmarried labourers. There are many, however, of the class of farm servants, who spare something out of their 1l. 5s. a quarter for their parents. Clancy said, he had a farm servant, whose wages were only four guineas a year, who contrived nevertheless to send his mother, who had young children to support, 5s. a quarter ; this young man had to clothe himself out of the remainder, and he never observed that he was worse off than others of his situation, who kept all their hire for themselves.

Many of these statements were exemplified in the account which Andrew Crowe gave of himself, and the persons present agreed that his history was that of several others. “I am,” said he, “a native of Kilfarboy, and held a crag farm of 50 acres, for which I paid a lump rent of 5l. to Mr. Creagh, of Cahirnavar. By degrees I cleared some parts of it ; and when my wife died it was worth a good 50l. a year ; that was about seven years ago ; and I gave up the land to my two sons, because I could no longer keep a house without a woman to live in it. I was then 84 years of age ; I am now 91. After a time, however, I was obliged to beg ; and that happened in this way : When I gave up all I had, I kept one acre for the grass of a cow, and one for tillage, and continued to live with my youngest child. In about a fortnight, I found his wife beginning to be always disputing with him about me ; he told her however, that he would keep me in spite of her, and make the children behave themselves to me also. I did not like to listen to all this, and after bearing it for eight months, I got the bottom of a wheat sack, and my share of the bed clothes, and went my own way. Whilst I was with them they gave me what they had themselves, potatoes and buttermilk, and I have never wanted the same any day since, and moreover I sometimes make out a few halfpence.” He expressed himself as quite contented with his lot, as compared with his previous state ; and Murrough said that his younger son often wanted him to live in his house, but he could not prevail on the father to relinquish the advantages of mendicancy.

The Assistant Commissioners asked Crowe if he would be willing to avail himself of the shelter of a poorhouse, and he said “he would, as he was alone in the world and had no wife to be separated from, and it was nearly time for him to stop travelling ; he could not long stand the cold and the battering.”

As to support from the gentry of the neighbourhood, Murrough said, “that the resident gentry of that and the neighbouring parish could be counted twice over on the fingers ; and what can be expected from them, when the great landlords who spend their time abroad contribute nothing ?” It appeared, however, that the few gentlemen who did inhabit the parish, and who have only a secondary interest in the land, do assist some of the paupers of whom they have a knowledge, but they by no means do this in a regular or systematic manner, by subscription or otherwise, so as to enable any old person of this class to dispense with mendicancy. On the contrary, the Reverend Mr. Davoran, when enumerating the aged persons who subsisted by charity, expressed an opinion that one of them, Timothy Rahan, deserved the character of a most independent man, because he preferred supporting himself by begging to living with his relations, who were willing to maintain him.

The amount collected from the congregation of the established church has never exceeded 5l. in the year. In the bathing season, as much as 7s. has been received at that place on one Sunday ; but in winter it has occurred that the collections have not exceeded 6d. - (Rev. Mr. Davoran.) - These sums are distributed among 13 or 14 persons, who are all destitute, but many of them not old, and who have been recommended to the rector by the parish priest, or some other gentleman. Some will get 3s. or 4s. yearly, others 1s. Those who participate in this fund are all beggars, and trifling as it is, much anxiety is shown to be placed upon the list for it, not from its amount, or any idea of respectability attached to it, but because it assumes the shape of money, a kind of relief they hardly ever get in any other quarter. It is never the practice to purchase food with this collection. - (Rev. Mr. Davoran.) - At the catholic place of worship, the usual Sunday subscription is applied to defraying the expenses of the building and of divine service. About every third Sunday, however, a collection is made, which is for the specific relief of some one family or person, whom death or sickness has rendered an object of pity ; no part of it ever goes to the regular mendicant, or indeed to any one but the one for whom it was intended. There are no almshouses in the parish, nor was there even a dispensary until about two years ago.

The farmers there contemplated a system of relief to which the entire labouring population should have free access ; but when it was assumed that merely the aged and infirm would be entitled to support by the community, their reluctance diminished, and Murrough, Keane and others said, that they would be quite satisfied to maintain those who deserved it, if they were not to be burthened with strangers, who had no claim on them. Mr. Davoran and Mr. Morony both, however, expressed themselves unable to see the necessity of any further provision for the poor ; they thought they were abundantly supplied at present by the charity of the poor themselves.

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