|Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835|
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Clare County Library
IMPOTENT THROUGH AGE
IT is extremely difficult to ascertain the exact proportion to the rest of the population of those infirm through age, who are destitute ; but Daniel Ryan, a shoemaker, being directed to count in six houses on each side of him how many were supporting their aged parents, counted five. All the witnesses agree in stating that the instances are very rare of persons allowing their parents to beg. Fifteen persons are supported by the church collections, but none supported by the rich exclusively.
Rev. Mr. Vaughan states, that it is quite common for parents, on giving up their land, to provide, by a written stipulation, for their support by their children. Formerly, a verbal contract was thought sufficient, but it gave rise to so many quarrels, that more caution is used now. M’Donnell states, that he had to support his father for the last 10 years of his life, and hard enough he felt it, though the old man was welcome to whatever he had. His father had stipulated for nothing but snuff and clothes.
If they be not so fortunate as to have a kind child to support them, they have no other mode of existence but begging, and it is the lot of many. The Assistant Commissioners visited the cabin of the widow of a pensioner, and found in it a wretched old woman, who stated that she had been lodging there on charity for the last seven months ; she was crouched shivering beside a little fire, and as the rain was falling in torrents, she said she had not been able to go out to beg that day, and affirmed that she had not broken her fast. M’Donnell says, “If anything would drive an old man out to beg, it is that he may not be a burthen to his children.” Very few from this district have emigrated this year ; the many disasters which have happened to passenger vessels have not failed to produce a marked effect. Of those who have gone good accounts have been received, and many have sent remittances to their relations. Michael Ryan tells of a decent, enlightened young man, Michael Corbet, who went out a few years ago to New York; last year he sent home 10l. to his mother, and besought her to send out his three sisters ; they did go, and are now doing very well. Michael Hickey also, who had been a day-labourer, and though a hard-working, yet a distressed man, went out some time ago to Newfoundland : last summer he sent home 3l. to his family, and desired them to scrape together whatever they could and go out to him.
Some old people beg, but seldom the parents of those who reside in the parish. The disinclination to beg is really extraordinary on the part of the old men. Mr. Ryan pointed out some who confessed to him that at times they were absolutely starving, and have nevertheless said, that they would rather lie down and die than beg.
On the part of the great absentee landlords, there seems to be a disgraceful apathy towards their unfortunate tenants. The kindness of the present Bishop of Limerick, when he was Bishop of Killaloe, is spoken of with great praise, and still the members of his family continue their aid towards various poor pensioners. The absentees never send any subscriptions for any purpose, except Mr. Law ; the burthen falls entirely on the poor occupying tenant and a few benevolent individuals who reside. This statement was derived from very many witnesses, in all ranks of life.
There are 13 persons receiving relief from the church collections ; of these, eight are widows, two widowers, one is blind, and the other two are very destitute women. They are all selected by the clergyman of the establishment ; eight are catholics and five protestants. Formerly the present Bishop of Limerick resided here, and preached frequently ; large congregations attended, and the collections increased greatly ; latterly, owing to the absence of the Bishop, they have much fallen off. The persons are put on the list, not at any particular age, but merely according to the poverty of their circumstances. Many of the widows were put on when their husbands were carried off by the cholera ; it is considered far more respectable than begging ; 26l. 5s. was collected last year. Paddy Doolan says, “that he never ceased working as long as he was able ; he never spared his hand at the spade till he was 70 years of age. He owned a small cabin, which he was forced to sell, reserving for himself only as much as he could lay his bed on ; he is now without any earthly support but the charity of his neighbours. He has a son in Dublin, who is serving his time to a corkcutter, and he hopes to get something from him when he is out of his time.” Mr. St. George pointed out an old man who holds a miserable tenement, but is totally destitute of any means of subsistence.
Mr. St. George has known him frequently to pass the day without breaking his fast, and when urged to let his house in lodgings he refused, saying, that he would be ashamed to let the neighbours see his distress. This man has a son an attorney, in good circumstances ; about a year ago he sent his father an order for 5l., which has never been paid. Mr. St. George says, he was sure the order was given on a man who the son knew would not pay. The old man even refused to go on the Bishop’s list. As to the possibility of laying by for the wants of age, Courneen says, “It may have been possible formerly, when wages were high, during the war, and work abundant ; but how could a man do so out of 10d. a day and that only sometimes ?” There is in this parish but one opinion as to the necessity of some provision for the destitute through age ; at the same time much stress was laid on the necessity of exercising a rigorous superintendence in whatever system might be deemed proper. All concurred in expressing strong disinclination to taking any part in the management ; a disinclination arising from the odium which had fallen on several when on the committees of other charities ; they had been accused of partiality, and some even of embezzlement, when concerned in establishing a soup kitchen last year. The Rev. Mr. Vaughan says, “My object in wishing to have a poor-law is, because there is a great deal of trickery and because the farmers, and even I, myself, have often been the dupes of beggars who are wandering about, and of whom we know nothing. I should suggest the appointing of one man from each townland, and that he should be sworn to point out faithfully only those in his district whom he knew to be really distressed ; he should be also obliged to publish the names of those whom he recommended for relief. Government should select a steady officer to dispense whatever funds should be placed at their disposal.” Mr. Parker “is as willing as any to contribute his share towards the support of the poor, but he would be cautious at this moment to afford relief to any but the impotent, as he has had ample opportunities of tracing a noble spirit of independence in the peasantry, and he would not wish to run the risk of destroying this by opening any path to acquiring a livelihood without exertion, particularly as the improvement of this part of the country has received a decided impetus of late in the navigation of the Shannon, which promises to be attended with the happiest results.”
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