Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835
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Clare County Library


Parish Kilferagh. Village Kilkee. Barony Moyarta.

ABLE-BODIED OUT OF WORK

FROM November to March there will be scarcely anything to do for the labourer, except in January, when he will be employed for a short time in sowing wheat. At the end of March and the beginning of April potatoes will be set, and then he will have some little work. From May to September he will every now and then get some little employment, so as to enable him to earn a little. The new roads through this part of the country have been of some use ; several persons have been engaged in them temporarily, who expressed themselves very thankful for the 7½d. per day they were enabled to earn. In this parish, as well as in many adjoining ones, there are but few labourers solely depending on their daily hire ; by far the most numerous portion have a little con-acre. In summer, however, they are in the habit of reducing their meals to two, whilst at other times they can barely afford themselves three.

The people in this district, though reduced to great distress at times, and particularly in 1822, were never known to commit an offence for the purpose of going to gaol. The system of discipline at the Ennis gaol is extremely perfect, and holds out no inducement to persons to get into it. All concur in saying, that since the Terry Alt system in 1830-31, comparatively few crimes have been perpetrated in this extensive county, which is now considered one of the most peaceful counties in Ireland.

The credit system does not prevail to any great extent in this parish. “When we get potatoes on trust, we work out the loan of them by labour with the farmers, who are very hard on us ; they make us work like slaves, and this we must do to keep in favour with them.” - (M’Mahon.) - M’Mahon further says, “It is always the poorest man marries first, because he knows he cannot be worse off by it ; it is better for him to marry early than to seduce the girls, who are so poor and wretched that this would often happen. Besides, we poor people have a strange idea that it is a good thing to have children as soon as possible, in order to help and support us when we begin to grow old.” In answer to the question whether labourers become old and disabled before other people, M’Mahon replied, “We are worked harder and worse treated than the slaves in the colonies ; I understand they are taken care of by their masters when they are sick or old. When we are sick, we must die on the road, if the neighbours do not help us. When we are old, we must go out to beg, if the young ones cannot help us, and that will soon happen with us all. We are getting worse and worse every day, and the landlords are kicking us out of every little holding we have. This last May 28 families were put out, and next May I am sure there will be as many again within five miles of Kilkea ; and if something is not done for those who are turned out upon the world without a rag on their backs, God knows what will happen in this country ! When we suffer all these hardships, is it wonderful our spirits should be broken down ; that we should grow grey, and give up the spark at 58 or 60 ? If we are kindly treated, there is not a man amongst us that could not work till he was 70 or 75, ages at which I see many of the farmers doing a good deal of work.”


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