Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835
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Clare County Library

Parish Kilmanaheen. Barony Corcomroe.


ALTHOUGH it would be quite impossible to ascertain the number of widows having families of young children in the parish, yet, according to the opinion of all the witnesses, it may safely be laid down as a rule, that their condition is most deplorable throughout the whole district. As to their general diet, however, it has not been observed that their meals were fewer in number, nor more scanty in quantity than those of the labouring classes in general, who are as badly off as they can possibly be : and when it is considered how limited the sources of employment are which are open to these poor creatures, and how little assistance they can possibly derive from their relatives, it seems not a little extraordinary how they are able to exist at all ; the more particularly when one considers how reluctant they are to beg, which is a condition bearing no comparison, in point of comfort, to their own. - (Rev. Mr. M’Nally.)

A little washing occasionally, and some knitting and spinning, by which they might earn about 9d. a week throughout the year, are all the known sources of employment open to poor widows in that part of the country. The consequence of this is, that no widow with a large family of young children could possibly maintain herself without some assistance, derived either from her friends or from the charity of the benevolent. It has never been remarked that these people were in the habit of selling illicit spirits. They never receive any parochial assistance, nor were any of them known to hold their land rent-free.

There was in fact no systematic plan of relief afforded to widows by any of the landed proprietors in that parish, that any of the witnesses ever heard of ; and this remark applies equally to resident as well as non-resident lords of the soil. Even the common relief afforded to the widows of labourers and small tenants, so common in England and Scotland, by giving cabins and gardens to each, was not known in that quarter ; and the question itself seemed to excite some surprise amongst the numerous labourers and farmers, who were at that time attentively listening to the inquiries made by the Assistant Commissioners on the subject. As the gentry do nothing for the poor in that district, it follows, as a matter of course, that everything that is done for widows is by their relatives, and those who are at all times least able to afford it.

The labourers give a day’s labour to them occasionally, generally on a Sunday morning. They do not subscribe for them ; but the innumerable instances of kindness evinced by the labouring classes towards one another, under all circumstances, is quite surprising, and the daily recurrence of them in this as well as other districts made a deep impression on the Assistant Commissioners.

Poor widows, when obliged to beg, which is their last resource, leave home and wander in a strange district, where they conceal their shame and degradation ; and it is believed, according to Dr. Finucane, that the demoralization of begging, coupled with their necessities, sometimes, but not frequently, lead them to prostitution.

The widows are relieved, in common with other destitute objects, from the miserable collections made at the church, and all persuasions are equally admissible. All present agreed that the working man could never save anything for his children out of his precarious earnings.

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