Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835
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Clare County Library

Parish Kilnaboy. Barony Inchiquin.


THE widows in this district are generally supposed to be in a very wretched state. The only employment open to them is spinning and knitting, for which, at present, there is little remuneration or demand ; so much so, that a poor widow stated that she was obliged to spend three whole days in knitting a pair of stockings, for which she would receive a stone of potatoes, worth then about 2½d. It is in consequence, therefore, of their poverty, that so many are driven to beg for their subsistence, and increase the number of female mendicants, who are traversing the country in every direction. It is quite impossible for widows, with every exertion of industry, to maintain their children ; nevertheless they were not remarkable here, as they were in other parts of the country, for being the venders of illicit spirits.

There is no instance here of the owner of an estate making a provision for a widow of a man who has worked on his land ; indeed, no kind of assistance seems to be given to them by the rich ; they are supported principally by their own relatives.

It is very common for the labourer to give a day’s work to widows ; generally, they give Sunday mornings. With regard to subscribing for them, or taking charge of their children, M’Mahon said, “How the devil could we take charge of other people’s children, when we are often without a bit to put in our own children’s mouths ?” There are many, however, that would rather half starve themselves than see any little child wanting food.

Widows are relieved in common with other very distressed objects. The Rev. Mr. Allen says, “The collections made at Crofin [sic] church every Sunday amount on an average to 2s. 6d. On sacrament Sundays, is from 4s. to 5s., and sometimes 7s. or 8s. It is divided as follows : to the Sweeneys, who are fatherless, 6d. or 8d. per week ; to Hehir, a distressed weaver, 6d. per week ; to Mullens, a poor man, with 10 in family, 6d. per week ; to a woman of the name of O’Loughlin, with a large family, 6d. Any surplus, with that on hand from the sacrament Sundays, I keep until it amounts to a pound, and then, adding whatever I can myself afford, I give it in sums of half-a-crown each to the most distressed persons, but chiefly to widows.”

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