Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835
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Clare County Library

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


WHEN a poor man falls sick there is no source whence he can derive any assistance, except the dispensary ; there, however, he will only get medicine, but when his disease or his convalescence is protracted, when his credit is exhausted, because he can no longer pay by the labour of his hands, for what he would desire to borrow, then his wretchedness and destitution are extreme ; and Mr. Davoren considered such to be the period fullest of misery to the labourer. His neighbours certainly evince a deal of kind feeling towards him, and frequently send small contributions of milk and meal, but not sufficient for the wants of his family, who depend for their subsistence upon his daily exertions. The consequence is, that they are frequently compelled to have recourse to begging, and whilst the sick man suffers from the loss of their care and attention, while seeking for alms, it has more than once occurred, that those who have taken up mendicancy, under such circumstances, have been but too willing to recur to it afterwards without experiencing similar necessity. There is no loan fund of any kind in the parish, nor have the upper classes adopted any systematic mode of raising the poor from the state of distress into which disease so often plunges them. - (Dr. Costelloe.) - It seldom, if ever, happens, that an individual labouring under an infectious distemper, is left without the attendance of at least some member of his own family, “and it was much to be desired,” said the doctor, “that a greater degree of apprehension should exist among the lower orders in such cases ; it is difficult to prevent them intruding into the very room where fever is,” and he has known the disease to be disseminated in this manner.

The county infirmary at Ennis, a distance of 17 miles, is but little assistance in checking infection, and some patients would expire before they could be carried so far. Sometimes there is sufficient precaution taken to remove the children of a diseased parent to an out-house or barn, and sometimes their friends will undertake the care of them, until the patient is somewhat recovered, but such things are not to be expected in the hovels of the extremely poor, and in these, the Assistant Commissioners themselves saw three persons in typhus fever, lying on the same litter of damp and decomposing straw, without bed-clothes or any other covering than their ordinary ragged body clothes. Mr. Kenny observed on this subject, that it was out of the question that a mere labourer could lay by any thing, out of his wages, on which he could expect to depend when labouring under an infirmity. When a high rent for a house and for con-acre, is chiefly paid in labour, whatever money passes through his hands in the course of a year, is not more than enough to purchase clothes, and a few other necessaries. Of late years, even the holder of a small farm, has been equally incapable of saving ; for under the bad system of tillage, they look to con-acre alone, as the means of paying their rents, and consider themselves fortunate if they can effect that object, without ever expecting to lay by any thing. - (Clancy and Mr. Maguire.)

Admitting the incapacity of the working classes to save any thing against the day of need, Mr. Kenny and several others observed, that improvidence of course could not be encouraged, by giving them food and fuel when sick ; they have reason, however, to think that idleness might, and from what they observed in the year 1822, when meal was sent in large quantities from England to relieve the urgent distress then existing, they would fear much more from attempts at imposition by those who were not in circumstances requiring gratuitous aid ; but still they would not hesitate to rely on the prudence and vigilance of the dispensary surgeon, for the due disposal of such a relief as that alluded to, and Dr. Costelloe observed, that even if fraud were sometimes successful, or if occasionally an idler procured what was intended for the industrious, in a state of destitution, yet the proportion would be always greater, where timely assistance would, in many cases, have prevented death ; and, in most cases, a protracted and slow recovery, which is often rendered so, not by the original virulence of the disease, but by the total want of every thing calculated to mitigate it. As matters are, the destitution caused by sickness is not merely temporary, for it has been observed that when a man on recovering, finds himself in arrear, and in debt, he is not likely to revert to his previous industry ; for he is dispirited, and rendered in some manner reckless, by this consideration, that his condition cannot easily be made worse.

The country people spoke well of the attending physician, but all inquiries upon this head were generally answered, by stating that they wanted something more than physic, or any thing that the doctor could do for them.

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