Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835
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Clare County Library

Parish Killaloe. Barony Tulla.


MR. VAUGHAN states, “I think there are not less than 60 destitute widows in my parish.” The state of these widows is most deplorable ; many, indeed most of them, have too much pride to beg openly, and they stay at home in their wretched cabin, pining in hopeless misery. Their entire support, if they have not been able to retain any of the land of their husbands, or if they have not children capable and willing to support them, is the precarious charity of their own equals, who are often little better off than themselves. Assistant Commissioners visited some of them. The first was Mary Slattery. On asking for her at her own door, the decency of her appearance caused surprise, but her comfort was only apparent. “I am,” said she, “the widow of a pensioner, and have not a single person on this earth to look to. I can get no employment, and,” pointing to the fire, “I had not a halfpenny to buy a sod of turf to warm a drink for my sick child till a neighbour gave me what is in the grate. All I or my family had to eat to-day was four cold potatoes, and now I have nothing for my supper. I pay 1s. a week rent for this cabin. I let that corner of it there to a woman and her four children for 1s. 6d. a week ; and though she pays me that, the rain comes down through the roof on her, and she never slept a wink last night, trying how she could keep her bedclothes dry. As God knows my heart and my conscience, where I spent the night myself was on the heartstone crying, and praying that God would look down on me and my children.” A second woman was the widow of a day-labourer who had died of the cholera. She had four children; three were young ; the fourth, if he were well, would be able to support her ; but he was labouring under a disease of the chest, for which he had been occasionally under the care of the dispensary surgeon for four years. None of these poor creatures had yet broken their fast. The mother was preparing a scanty meal of small and unwholesome potatoes, which she had collected from a field after the labourers had removed the crop. The woman had been in England, and bitterly deplored that she had ever left it, as her children had been born there. These and other widows have no employment whatever, except occasionally as charwomen. When Mrs. Arbuthnot, a charitable lady, was alive, she used to provide employment for a few widows by spinning, knitting, &c. “Now,” says Mary Carthy, “we have not the means to buy the materials to begin with.”

There are no instances of landlords providing the widows of their tenants, further than allowing them to retain their holdings, and this only so long as they continue to pay the rent. There was one case mentioned, in which a landowner had remitted 15s. to a woman whose husband died. The only regular fund arising from the gentry is the contribution of the protestant bishop.

The labourers make it a constant practice to assist poor widows with part of a day’s labour ; and while the widow’s misfortune is recent she rarely wants the aid of her neighbours. If a widow has turf to cut, or corn or potatoes to be dug, they assemble on a Sunday to do it. Mary Doyle says, “they will do nothing for a married woman, but for a widow they will work early on Sunday morning.” An instance came within the knowledge of the Assistant Commissioners, where nearly two acres of potatoes belonging to a widow had been dug by more than 20 men, on two consecutive Sundays.

A woman with an illegitimate child would not long hesitate to beg ; a widow would have too much pride to do so. She is therefore more likely to be badly off.

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