Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835
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Clare County Library

Parish Kilferagh. Village Kilkee. Barony Moyarta.


THERE is no relief fund for the poor when sick, and they are often unable to procure a drink of gruel. “The funds of the dispensary are so low,” observed Mr. Murray and Dr. Ryall, “that they are quiet insufficient to buy the medicine required ; when the poor are attacked with sickness, they are frequently obliged to borrow money from some kind individual, but this only increases their misery.” “The moment a disease is rumoured to be in any house,” continues Dr. Ryall, “they congregate outside the door, and according to their means they give milk and potatoes, and whatever else they have ; and frequently it happens when a woman in labour requires the assistance of instruments, her neighbours will assemble and collect among them the doctor’s fee. I observe far greater reluctance to beg here, than in Roscrea or Kilrush, places where I formerly practised ; and what makes disease so bad here, when it breaks out, is the want of ventilation, of good clothing, and of attention to the orders of the physician.” With regard to the poor attending on each other, in cases of contagious diseases, Dr. Ryall says, he has known cases where the poor would have died from want of attendance in such cases.

The following is a recent case : “A stranger, a short time ago, got a typhus fever, in a house where she was staying, and being but a servant was put out ; and a hut being built for her, in a bog, she was conveyed there ; shortly after, I was called in to attend her, and I discovered, through a door-way, which I could not enter without bending myself completely double, the most miserable scene I ever witnessed. In a corner lay the patient on some straw, which scarcely sufficed to cover the floor ; there was literally nothing, but the wet floor, which actually, when I approached, sunk under my feet, and formed a puddle close round the bed. This was the condition I found the poor woman in on the second day, without any attendance whatsoever - neglected by all, and apparently in the last stage of existence. Not knowing what to do, I consulted with a respectable individual in the parish, and we both agreed to offer any sum for a nurse tender ; we were unsuccessful, and in two days, notwithstanding the kindness of the parish priest, she died. A coffin was raised by public subscription, and she was quietly interred. Her case was forgotten by all, and seemed to produce no very extraordinary sensation, which I can only attribute to the frequency of cases, which though perhaps not quite so melancholy, are yet calculated to surprise and horrify even those who are daily witnesses of the forlorn condition of the poor, when overtaken by sickness.”

“A labourer’s wages,” says the Reverend Mr. Comyn, “do not give him more than the worst and most unwholesome kind of potatoes ; and therefore it is quite impossible for him to save.” Fitzgerald observes, “It is not owing to improvidence they do not save ; if they can, they will : a weaver, who was attacked with the cholera, told his wife to fetch a purse out of the thatch of his house ; it contained 27 sovereigns, three of which he took out, and said, ‘there is one for the doctor, one for the priest, and one for Biddy,’ (an old beggarwoman, who had lived some time on his house, for God’s sake). Though he possessed these riches, his children were naked, and had nothing to cover them ; and this will prove to you, they would save if they could.”

With regard to contributions from the rich, Dr. Ryall observes, “Out of 40 cases, which I attend, I am sure the rich do not subscribe a penny ; and there is not a single person on whom I could give an order for a glass of wine in convalescence.”

It is the opinion of the gentlemen present, as well as of Dr. Ryall, that there would not be any danger of encouraging idleness, if the sick were supplied with food and clothing. Dr. Ryall has known individuals to come into the cholera hospital to partake of the food ; and great would be there avidity to avail themselves of food and clothing, so that none but a medical man could discriminate the proper objects.

Several persons spoke favourably of the kindness of Dr. Ryall ; all the better class of farmers and gentlemen agreed in thinking the relief afforded by this as well as by several other dispensaries extremely limited, not owing to the neglect of the medical officer, but caused by the regulations according to which it is conducted ; and it is therefore observed by Dr. Ryall, that it would be far more useful to have Baronial Medical Institutions, calculated to give more general relief.

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