|Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835|
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Clare County Library
ALTHOUGH the assistant commissioners are unable to ascertain the number of illegitimate children in the parish, yet it was found in the course of the inquiry, that the applications to the magistrates in cases of rape, had somewhat increased. Bastard children were never supported by the parish ; and it was stated that there had not been a case where one of them was deserted by the mother for the last four years. There were then, however, two foundlings supported by individuals, who were exposed about five or six years ago, and whose expenses had not been paid for some time back. Collections are made at the roman-catholic chapel for nursing two other foundlings, who were also exposed anterior to the above-mentioned period. There had been only one case of infanticide within the last 10 years. The infant was found in a bog lake, but no traces of the mother could be discovered at the time. When the investigation commenced there was the greatest anxiety evinced to detect the parent, but this zeal soon wore off, and it was ascertained eventually, that the suspected criminal had been screened, and got out of the way.
The system of granting wages has been in practice there ever since the sessions were first instituted ; but where applications are made to the magistrates before the birth of the child, they always refer them to the quarter sessions. As to the amount usually granted, although the women often apply for the whole 6l. allowed by the Act of Parliament, yet the magistrates very rarely decree more than 3l. Out of 20 applications which had been made at the petty sessions, there had not been more than five successful, owing to the evidence to make out the case having failed.
It was the opinion of all present that the amount generally awarded was so trifling, that there could be no inducement thereby held out to incontinency besides, as Archdeacon Whitty declared, he must do the people the justice to say, their chastity is marvellous, when their poverty and wretchedness are considered; and several persons added, that the morality of the women had considerably increased since the military had been withdrawn.
In a case of an application for wages for nursing a child, proof of a contract by a witness is all that is required, before it can be adjudicated on by a bench of magistrates. The woman’s own oath and that of her witness, does most, however, preclude any proof to be offered by the man to the contrary, as he has it in his power to disprove by witnesses the statement made by the complainant. The reputed father is always first summoned to attend ; and as the magistrates do not consider that they have any jurisdiction beyond the simple case brought before them, they do not go into the character of the women, consequently a second application might be equally successful with the first.
In case the reputed father should not pay, the magistrates can issue a warrant against his goods, a course, however, which it has never been necessary to adopt there. As to the time within which the amount awarded is to be paid, the magistrates, when they find the person decreed to pay is in poor circumstances, generally recommend the woman to receive it in instalments. The reputed father has never been known to abscond, where wages have been awarded against him. The men, however, sometimes leave the place where they reside for a few weeks or months, when they anticipate a claim being made upon them, but the woman invariably watches them, and brings her case on the very first opportunity when they return.
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