Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835
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Clare County Library

Parish Kilmanaheen. Barony Corcomroe.


IT is thought that there are about 50 destitute poor persons infirm through age in this parish. Of this number, probably about 30 may be considered regular and habitual beggars ; the others are assisted privately by their neighbours and friends, and they thus avoid the shame which is attached to the term “beggar.” About eight or ten of the above-mentioned number of paupers are assisted by the church collections, but none of them, owing to the smallness of the average Sunday collections, can be supported by them. There was a material difference to be observed between the labouring and the agricultural classes ; for, while the comfortable farmer or cottier tenant will work a good day, considerably beyond the age of 60, the poor labourer is quite broken down and harassed, and is seldom able to do even light work after 58. Dr. Finucane stated that this great difference, which he has often observed, was mainly attributed to bad diet, hard work, and, generally speaking, to the harsh treatment which an Irish labourer in this part of the country is sure to undergo. This undermines his constitution, breaks down his spirit, and is certainly the cause of his not being able to hold out till a much later period of life.

When both the father and mother are alive, the old couple like to have a house of their own, which they usually reserve to themselves, together with just enough of land to grow potatoes sufficient for their own consumption. All the witnesses agreed that it would be much better and safer if the old people would always keep something for themselves, and not give up their land entirely. Where there is no property in question, the aged parent generally takes up his abode with his son or daughter, and, on the whole, these poor people treat their parents much better, and scarcely any instances were known, in that part of the country, of the parents of labourers being obliged to beg publicly ; in fact, the poorer the people were, the greater seemed to be the anxiety to preserve the respectability of their families. The support of the aged parents presses very heavily on the children ; and many cannot afford the little indulgences which old age requires, without depriving themselves of absolute necessaries. According to Dogherty, the labourer does not find much difficulty in providing his parents with food, for whatever is going in the house he is most welcome to it ; but as to the clothing (which poor Dogherty himself could not afford decent enough to send his own children to school), he could not give his father such as would make an old man warm in winter ; the poor old man, therefore, keeps almost all the winter at home, close by the fireside, with several old sacks thrown over him. This was stated to be the case with many old people belonging to labourers ; and several, whom the Assistant Commissioners visited at their own dwellings, acknowledged that the reason why their children did not go to school was, because the money which would put a rag or two on them had been laid out in buying a second-hand coat or trowsers [sic] for their old and impotent parents. With regard to whether the child considered himself aggrieved by being obliged to support his parents, it was observed, that as it was generally the most affectionate child who undertook the charge, the feeling was seldom expressed ; and it was therefore thought that any ill-will of the kind was seldom, if ever, created. As to the degree of relationship which would confer a claim for support, it was considered that parentage was the limit, for uncles or aunts are seldom supported, as their relatives are generally not in a condition to afford them even sustenance ; the consequence is, that in seasons of distress they are often forced to beg.

The aged, who are without any relative able to support them, are fed and lodged among the neighbours for a short time ; but after following this course for some time, the people get tired of them, and they become professed beggars, and stroll about different strange parts of the country. The young single labourers never subscribe to support this class of paupers ; but when they are without work, the aged are left without provisions at all ; and several instances were known there of persons, after having been obliged, in consequence of their children not having employment, to beg for a few months, afterwards refusing to return to their relations, on account of the increased indulgences they were able to procure from the people by means of mendicancy. These facts would naturally lead one to imagine that there must be a great many vagrants similarly situated, persons who have found out, after a short trial, the superior advantages of a vagrant life over the life of misery they must naturally endure when at home. There were no cases known here of persons having received any money from friends who had emigrated to the colonies.

The gentry of this district never subscribe for the support of the poor ; the whole burthen is thrown upon their more benevolent neighbours. The gentlemen, from their not residing on their estates, avoid it entirely, and are, generally speaking, totally unacquainted with the real condition of the poor on them.

There are no almshouses or institutions of any kind for the relief of the destitute in this neighbourhood. It was considered utterly impossible that a labourer could provide against the wants of age out of the earnings of his youth. Archdeacon Whitty observed on this subject, that there were no less than five of his old labourers, who were as honest, sober, industrious and hard-working men as he ever knew, who, though they attempted, to his certain knowledge, to save at intervals a little out of their wages, did not succeed, in consequence of the emergencies which invariably occur in a labourer’s life, and require him to spend the trifle he might have saved. These poor men are now solely depending on the aid they receive from the Archdeacon.

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