|Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835|
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Clare County Library
ABLE-BODIED OUT OF WORK
FROM December to March the greater number of the labourers of this parish are without employment ; a little work may sometimes be had at this period from a gentleman, and the mending and making of roads will occasionally afford a few days’ employment to a small number of labourers, who are happy indeed to get 6d. or 8d., the usual remuneration on roads. It is in June or July that the labourer has to suffer most ; then his condition is indeed deplorable ; no work, and from the high price of food, he can scarcely keep body and soul together. “In July we must keep ourselves on dry potatoes, without any salt or milk, and divide the quantity we usually eat at one meal into two.” - (Halloran.) - There is no fund to assist the labourers when out of employment or when food is dear ; his con-acre and the provisions he can get on credit are the only resources he has then to look to.
Mr. Fitzgerald could not possibly tell how labourers managed at those periods to keep their wives and children from begging ; but true it is, that seldom or never are they known in this part of the country to become beggars during this period, neither do the wives or daughters become prostitutes, nor does want ever induce a man to leave his family and abscond. The able-bodied in this parish have never been known to have committed any offence for the purpose of being sent to gaol.
The credit system is not so popular as it used to be formerly, when people were richer ; they could always, when in want, procure potatoes on credit, by paying a little more than the market price, but now the agricultural classes are so distressed the farmers will not trust the labourers. Occasionally, when they think a man solvent, they give him credit, and charge him most exorbitant interest, frequently cent. per cent.
Neither gentlemen nor farmers are in the habit here of employing more labourers than they actually want. About five years ago, when great local distress was felt, a committee was formed to receive subscriptions, with a view to give employment: it was generally found that the residents came forward readily enough to assist this laudable object, but the non-residents not only refused, in one or two instances, but actually neglected to answer, when written to. It would not be possible for a labourer to lay by anything out of his wages to provide against non-employment ; his wages are barely sufficient to support him. It is observed here, that the poorest class marry earliest ; in short, the more wretched their condition, the more anxious they are to marry. This was attributed by witnesses to their anxiety to have children to support them in their old age.
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