Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835
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Clare County Library

Parish Killaloe. Barony Tulla.


INQUIRIES were first made as to the number of paupers subsisting on charity in the town of Killaloe, and it was estimated that they amounted to about 16. “But,” says the Rev. Mr. Vaughan, “the beggars are for the most part strangers ; but it is my opinion that there are in the whole parish about 100 families, or about 1,000 persons who are occasionally obliged to beg ; and I do not think I know the face of more than one in twenty that I see in the streets.” Mendicancy has much increased of late ; people come here to get relief from those who are employed. The number of employed persons has increased much of late, owing to the work given by the Navigation Company. The company, moreover, employ a great many strangers, and consequently the resident people do not benefit at all by it.

The Rev. Mr. Vaughan observes, “that the inundation which occurred high up the Shannon has destroyed the comforts of many, and has sent a great many individuals as beggars here ;” and it is most likely that mendicancy will be much increased next year on account of the very low prices, while no reduction is made in the rents.

The females beg, from their being less employment for them than the males at a certain time of life. By far the greater number of the men who beg are infirm through age or disease ; for if able-bodied, they would be ashamed to beg. “According to my knowledge,” says Burke, “there is not an able-bodied man in Killaloe to be seen begging.”

Mechanics are never seen begging ; they would not stoop so low ; a feeling of pride from having served an apprenticeship prevents them. “I have known them,” says Mr. Vaughan, “to pawn their things privately at Limerick, taking them away at night, lest the neighbours might discover their poverty.”

M’Dowell adds, “They would be taunted for not having saved out of their 2s. 6d. a day. I have heard people say to them, ‘Why have you not saved ; you were much better off than the labourer?’”

Small farmers, when they become aged, often give up their property to their children, but never with the intention of taking to begging. When they give up their farm to a married son, they stipulate, sometimes in writing, sometimes verbally, for a return of the land, if they do not like the wife.

The Rev. Mr. Vaughan says “that he hears very few complaints from fathers of their children, and that if ill treated they would be sure to refer to him.”

“It is such a reproach to a man,” says Cuneen, “to behave badly to his parent, that he cannot bear to face the world after such a transaction.”

“Very few from this part of the country go to England to look for employment ; and I never heard,” says Blake, “that an honest labourer, like those who travel to England, would degrade himself and his family by begging, though I have heard of their wives begging through strange parts of the country when they are from home.”

Mr. O’Brien thinks the children of occasional beggars may turn out honest, but that the children of regular professed beggars will often follow the same trade, and that there is little doubt but the child who follows its mother for a long period, and then gives up strolling, will upon any little distress occurring, beg with less reluctance than the person who had never known what it was to beg ; and how easy it is to get relief, if they once allow the spirit of independence to be broken down.

Ryan says, “I know the greater part of the families of beggars who have settled in Killaloe have turned out industrious, hard-working people, and I do not think that begging descends from father to son ; but as the parents cannot stop long enough in one place to have their children instructed in religion, the latter often turn out badly.”

As to whether many children are an advantage to a beggar, Judy Moynahan said, “that she had had plenty of offers of marriage, but dare not take any of them, because she would be likely to have more children, so that she could not make as good a day’s work begging, as she does now, if she was hampered with many children.”

It is the universal practice of beggars to dispose of their surplus collections for money, which in this neighbourhood is laid out for tobacco and necessaries. Very few, and those mostly imposters, lay it out in whiskey. They often dispose of potatoes for meal, but they never sell their collections below the market price, but always above.

Mary Malone here says, “They will always want the price of cups for lumpers, and the reason I pay them them so high is, that they will make me out a small quantity when may be, I have only a halfpenny to buy my supper, and could not get less than a stone in the market.”

Ryan says, “I have known them to make as much as 2d., 3d., or even 6d. in the day ; and if they were resident they would be apt to keep these sums to buy clothes.” And Tim Daly and others of his class stated, “that a beggar would be thought better of if he were known to make a good use of what he got.” Gilmore says, “I would rather give to a beggar, if he was genteelly dressed ; they are better behaved than those who are worse dressed.”

It is not supposed to be a very general practice to retain sores ; but Dr. Purdon pointed out to us a whole family of a scrofulous constitution, who refused his assistance to cure the sore eyes they are afflicted with, in order that they may continue greater objects of charity.

Mr. Ryan adds, “I was one day standing at my door, when a friend came up to me and said, ‘Come, and I will show you what these villians are doing.’ I went with him, and looking through a window, I saw a beggar irritating a sore with salt and water. The next day I met this same man at a fair, exposing his leg and supplicating charity.” Mr. Burke adds, “There is one fellow who frequents this side of the country, who ties up his leg before him, and carries a child upon it. I have seen this fellow when drunk in the evening let down his leg and fight like a Trojan.”

Dr. Purdon says, “I have known a woman to be delivered of a child with a hare lip, who had been frightened by having a beggar’s child forced on her notice who was afflicted in that way. Pregnant woman are often observed to bless themselves, when passing a disgusting object, for good luck.”

A great many robberies and petty thefts are committed by the mendicants ; they have been known to rob the peasant who gave them a night’s lodging. Tim Daly says, “One of them ran away with a 30s. note from him, and that he has never since let one of them inside his house after night fall.” Burke, a shopkeeper, says, “They are much addicted to shoplifting ; one of them lately got into the cholera-hospital and ran away with some of the sheets from it. Beggars, however, have not been known to be concerned in any outrages on persons.” It was not considered likely that a beggar would be willing to emigrate. “He is not an industrious person.”

Gilmore says, “A beggar came here to-day, a strong-looking chap, and I told him there were gentlemen come to Killaloe to send him off to a fine country where he would have 40 acres of good land. ‘I would rather die,’ said he, ‘than be sent out of Irish ground to the finest country in the world.’” Beggars show the greatest kindness to their offspring, and even to others more destitute than themselves. Gilmore says, “Last summer, I saw a beggar-woman complain of thirst to another who immediately gave her milk which I had given her a short time before.”

In many instances beggars are known to hoard money. One case was mentioned of a beggar coming to Mr. Carrig for gold for 4l. 10s. in silver ; he at the same time stated that he had upwards of 100l. in the hands of different persons. O’Brien saw a beggarman offer a woman 50s. to marry him, and when she refused, he went to a public-house and drank the money with his comrades.

The peasants never give any clothes to beggars ; “and could we,” says Curtis, “when we have hardly enough to keep out the cold ourselves ?” In the town, however, cast clothes are sometimes given by the better classes to the poor. Potatoes form the chief food given to the poor beggars. Edwards, a man engaged in the eel-fishery, says, “Nine or ten beggars called on me this morning, and I gave them what I had ; I gave them a share of the eels I had for the market.”

Farmers will often give meal, especially to the old, because they cannot carry a great weight of potatoes. Beggars sometimes get milk also from the large farmers. Beggars seldom get money from the farmers. “Very little money they have for the poor or for themselves.” The beggars would prefer money, which is evident from their converting their collections into money.

Patrick Hare, an old lame man, who had with him his daughter well dressed, and carrying bed-clothes for her father, stated, “I am returning from the salt water to hospital in the county Limerick ; I get a night’s lodging whenever I ask for it, in the name of the Lord, and my victuals just in the same way. I would not as much as bring a wisp of straw with me to the house where I stop ; it would be an affront to offer to get anything for myself. The poorer sort give freely whatever they have ; the rich do not feel for the likes of us at all. The strong farmers are very boorish and inconsiderate in comparison to the poor cottiers.” This old man had walked since morning seven miles on crutches, and expressed a great antipathy to his daughter’s continuing the life of a beggar when she was grown up.

“We give to all who come, as long as we have anything. Sometimes when we are at dinner, two or three people will come; they sit down and take their share ; sometimes when they pass and look in, they get a handful of potatoes, and we would give more if we had it.” - (Mary Doyle.)

There are none altogether supported by any one private charity ; a few poor people, however, receive 1s. a week from a fund instituted by the late Bishop of Killaloe, and continued by the present. This trifle goes towards paying the rent of their cabins. The relief of beggars falls principally on the farmers and poorer classes, and of this the poor themselves are quite convinced, and think it unfair that the burthen should fall on them. Burke says, ”I know the poor are as benevolent as those who have an income. I am sure, if a person came and asked them for a night’s lodging, they would sooner give it than any rich man; they would have no chance with them.”

James Daly, a wretched looking beggar, who evidently from his manner had seen better days, stated “that he had been obliged to beg for the last six years, and there was nothing in the world the poor labourers would not give him. Sure, they give the straw, firing and lodging for any length of time, in God’s holy name.” Mary Cuneen says, “Sure, I am the wife of a poor labourer, at 10d. a day, and that only now and then ; and I can safely say, the poorest house gives in the year 12 stone of potatoes.”

This at 1½d. per stone would be 1s. 6d. in the year. Curtis, a decent small farmer, says, “As to the amount given to the beggars, begad ! I would be hard set to say. I am not much at home, but the old woman gives a handful to everybody that calls, and I think it would be worth 2s. 6d. at the end of the year.”

Burke, a shopkeeper, says, “I would rather give a small sum according to my means ; the beggars come in crowds to the door, and interrupt my business.”

Gillmore adds, “When I was a tradesman, I would certainly have given a small sum, but now, as I am an innkeeper, I can shut my door and give when I like.”

Michael Burns, a small farmer and a herd, observes, that he also would be glad to get rid of the strolling beggars, but he knows full well the salaries of matrons and other costs would more than keep the whole poor of the parish.

Burke says, “About two years since, there was a soup-kitchen established in this town, and though it did not afford quite enough of food, yet it did pretty well ; but there were as many begging as before, and we gave our 4d. or 5d. a week as usual.”

Still it was considered, if a permanent house of relief were established, neither townspeople nor country people would feel themselves bound to give to the same extent. Fear of violence seldom procures anything for the beggar.

Burke says, “Though they give ill language, I should not feel more kind towards them ; on the contrary, they are the persons to whom I would not give. There might be some fear if a woman stood alone in a shop ; a curse then might go a great way.”

Most of the witnesses agree in saying, that without doubt diseases are spread by beggars. Dr. Purdon expressly states that they carry disease from place to place. There is a kind of tetter, or plaguedemic sore, which he has often traced to infection received from them. He adds, that the only cases of syphilis he has seen in the parish have arisen from connexion with beggarwomen, and that farmers’ sons and labourers are often infected by the strange women whom they are obliged to hire in the hurry of harvest work. There is a woman here present now with twins in her arms ; these children are labouring under confluent small-pox. The woman states that they caught the infection in a house in the county Tipperary, where she received a night’s lodging. Since then she has travelled about the country, and been freely lodged each night ; and there can be little doubt of her having disseminated a most malignant disease, against which the poor are the less secured, as Dr. Purdon states they seldom or never are vaccinated.

The Rev. Mr. Vaughan has found it necessary to take precautions against unknown beggars taking up their residence in the parish.

If a woman cannot produce a character, or have not her husband with her, he generally succeeds in making her quit the parish.

Mr. Scanlan, roman-catholic clergyman of a neighbouring parish, says “that he has a townland in it, where every house lodges a vagrant each night, and they are a most profligate set inhabiting it, and never go to their duties.”

Mr. Martin mentions a young female carried away by a beggarwoman, and by her hired out as a prostitute. As to whether beggars are the means of spreading discontent by fabricating stories, they certainly are apt to speak ill of those who have not been sufficiently charitable. They have told Edwards that another farmer did not behave like a Christian.

Somers, a weaver, says, “I would never go to beg. I am sure there’s many able fellows going idle about the world. Make poorhouses, and put them in by constables.”

Among all the different beggars who were asked, would they go into a house of industry ? there was a manifest reluctance to enter, and all have assigned very characteristic reasons.

Pat Doolan, a poor decrepit old man, whose appearance manifested extreme destitution, said, “that his time here was but short, and that he would rather die among the neighbours.” When pressed for a further reason, he said, “he feared he would never get mass.” But there will be a chaplin. “Still I do not like it.”

The Widow Slattery at first expressed her willingness to enter, but when told it would be necessary to separate her from her children, she answered, “she would rather die than part with them.”

Judy Moynahan, a sturdy beggarwoman, who sometimes works, but more frequently begs, and who is much better off than those just mentioned, says, “that she would go in if she saw others going.”

John Hare, a travelling beggar, remarked, “that a poorhouse would be much more convenient for his equals than to be travelling about in the wet and cold.”

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