Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835
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Clare County Library

Parish Killaloe. Barony Tulla.


O’BRIEN says, “At all times of the year a large number of able-bodied men are out of work ; but in summer there is the greatest scarcity of employment, the poor are then reduced to the greatest extremity, and are obliged to put up with just as much food as will keep body and soul together ; many is the man who thinks himself well off at that time with one meal a day.”

Mr. Parker says that the men about him would refuse any gratuitous relief, but that the women are not so particular ; however, both sexes are annoyed at an inquiry into their distress, and think it an intrusion.

Mr. Martin, a magistrate : “Has not known any crimes to be committed for the purpose of going to gaol ; but when persons have been sentenced at petty sessions to imprisonment, he has heard some of them exclaim, ‘I do not mind that, there is good food and lodging there.’ He thinks, however, that this was in bravado.”

“Credit is what kills us,” says M’Donnell : “I paid last July 17s. for one cwt. of meal, when the market price was 13s., for two months and a half’s credit. Mr. Purdon went security for us with a miller ; he has our blessing, and peace be to his soul.”

Pat Curtis, two years ago, gave 2l. a barrel for potatoes, and all the time they were only 22s. in hand in the market ; he only got three months’ credit ; he was processed the very first sessions, and paid. The practice of lending on exorbitant interest is very prevalent, and the people think it an advantage. “What else would we do if we did not get credit ? we would starve.” Yet, though this practice does not make them reckless, they complain that they feel the debt like a weight round their necks.

The gentry or farmers do not employ more labourers than they require ; but in 1830, a period of great distress, a small portion of the road was repaired, and paid for out of a subscription fund. The only labourers that can ever save are the farm servants ; but when they marry, their condition soon becomes the same as that of the other labourers. The Assistant Commissioners directed their inquiries towards ascertaining whether the poverty of the people had not the effect of making them reckless ; and when they considered the extreme misery of the people, they were only surprised at the peace and order which prevailed in the parish. Some years ago, the peasantry were driven to desperation by want ; and never looking farther than to a supply of potatoes, they became impressed with the idea that their privations arose from the land being kept in pasture that ought to be let out to them in the con-acre ; many outrages ensued, and much grass land was broke up against the will of the proprietors ; but after sometime the pressure of destitution passed away, and the peasantry are again completely quiet. With regard to early marriage, the answers of the roman-catholic rector were not a little contrary to what has been generally stated elsewhere. He says, that early marriages are not confined to any class of the agricultural population, and that farmers in good circumstances are as prone to urge the early settlement of their children as labourers are to get matches for themselves.

Formerly abduction, if not common, was very much apprehended, and many plans were laid to get possession of a girl who had a fortune ; through fear of this, a farmer was anxious to get his daughter married out of harm’s way. “A labouring couple marries,” says Mr. Vaughan, “that whatever they have may be kept together, and because they are tired of living on another man’s floor.” There were, however, many mechanics of the middle period of life who had remained single, and who say that they would be glad to marry if they could afford it. Mr. O’Brien remarks, “A man is considered stale at 30, and a woman at 20.”

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