|Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835|
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MOST of the witnesses examined bore testimony to the rare occurrence of bastardy in the parish. No person could tell the entire number of bastards ; but Mr. Dunear and the Rev. Mr. Vaughan said, there could not be more than three or four cases of it in a year, and at any rate it is not on the increase. There is no instance known of women destroying their children. About a year ago a woman was tried who had thrown her child into the canal, but it was proved by medical men that the infant had been still-born. If the father be sure of the paternity, he is well inclined to support his child, and will often marry the woman, a practice which the Rev. Mr. Vaughan says he always encourages.
The bench of magistrates at Killaloe do not at present grant wages to women with bastards. Mr. Martin got a legal opinion, which induced him to refuse applications for that purpose.
At Clonrara [sic], a short distance off, the magistrates do give wages, and there are generally four or five applications in the year. The woman obtains about 5l., but the sum is regulated by the circumstances of the father. Since the petty sessions have refused to interfere at Killaloe, women have not had recourse to the quarter sessions for compensation.
Since the system of not giving wages has been adopted, the number of bastards has not varied ; and Mr. Martin thinks the numbers small in a population of 8,000.
About five years ago, when the practice of giving wages existed, a woman applied against a man whom she stated to be the father of her second bastard, as he was of her first. She was awarded but a very small sum, being considered undeserving, in proportion to the number of her illegitimate children.
The high spirit of the young men in this quarter would never allow them to marry a woman merely for the wages obtained on account of her child ; such a thing was never known. When the character of a girl becomes suspicious from her behaviour to a young man, she is more apt to be treated with scorn than if she had even had an illegitimate child. In the latter case a feeling of pity is excited ; but it often happens, according to Mr. Vaughan, that in the former a young man will marry a girl merely to free her from this suspicion. Girls who have had illegitimate children find great difficulty in getting husbands. Mr. Martin knows one instance only where a girl of the kind got married to a man who was not the father of the child. The match was made through love on the part of the husband, and it has turned out well. If her frailty extends no further than having one child, and she be in other respects well behaved, - though in such a case a woman will certainly have lost her caste, - it is not usual with her equals to treat her harshly. “I would not like much,” says Mrs. Mahony, “to see my daughter keeping company with her, but sure, if her misfortune possessed over her,” (i.e. if she has but one child,) “she is to be pitied, poor thing.” The bastard certainly suffers from the incontinence of his parent ; for though he is not an object of disdain, yet he is liable to be taunted with his misfortune on all occasions of quarrel. It does not appear, however, that if he had a little money, he would find any difficulty in getting a wife.
There are no wages granted at Killaloe ; but at Clonrara, a neighbouring parish, the woman is obliged to prove previous promise on the part of the father, though he is allowed to produce any evidence against the charge, which he may be able to bring forward. If the woman be of otherwise good character, and the man not so, Mr. Martin says the magistrates would take her testimony in preference.
There is only one beggar with illegitimate children in the parish, and she is a stranger, having been driven out of her own parish by the force of public opinion. And as to a woman being driven to prostitution in consequence of having an illegitimate child, there is not a prostitute in the parish except those who have come after the soldiers from other places. Mr. Vaughan says, that in the rare opportunities he has had of making any observations, he has found that great affection is shown by mothers to their illegitimate offspring. He recollects where a woman carried on a regular system of annoyance to get her child out of the hands of the father. An illegitimate child cannot be much worse off than the children lawfully begotten of the lower class in general.
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