Poverty Before the Famine, County Clare 1835
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Clare County Library

Parishes of Tomfinloe, Kilnasullagh, Kilmaleary and Drumline.
Town Newmarket-on-Fergus. Barony Bunratty.


CARROLL, the labourer, said upon this subject, “there is many a man in this parish working well, with a hale heart, who is over 60; but I always think, and I remember well my old father saying, when he drew nigh his 60th year, that it went hard with him ; and he often thought the day long, and that the sun would never set.” And the Rev. Mr. O’Brien said, “that he took it as a general rule, that very few will get much employed after 58 years of age.”

Individuals, however, look forward to being supported by their children long previous to that age at which support becomes necessary. Many allow that they have got married in the hope of having children to support them in their old age. The performance of this, a natural duty, is often rendered more obligatory when the parent resigns his land to any of his offspring, which he generally does in successive portions to each of them as they get married, and is at last left to reside with the youngest. The Rev. Mr. Coffey thought that this support is viewed by the children more as an act of duty than as a matter of right. It is cheerfully undertaken by all who are able to afford it. The parent generally remains with his youngest child, who inherits his cabin ; and he thus continues to enjoy “his own bed and board,” to which it appears great attachment is felt. The other children bear their share of the burthen, by contributions of potatoes or other food ; they rarely give money, but sometimes clothes. No relationship beyond that of father or mother is conceived to give a claim, and few persons complain of the assertion of such a claim however they may feel it ; it would be considered disgraceful to refuse to acknowledge it ; but some have privately confessed to Mr. Coffey that they could not satisfy it without the greatest difficulty.

The condition of many persons in Newmarket is such that they can afford their own children and themselves a very scanty and uncertain maintenance ; in such cases of course the parents must participate in the common lot. Molony, the decayed shoemaker, has his mother-in-law residing with him. The old woman said that as long as he could work there was no better warrant for giving her all she wanted. He is now sick and unable to earn anything ; and many a day neither he nor his family would have anything to eat if she did not go out to beg for him.

Upon this point the Assistant Commissioners applied to the Rev. Mr. O’Brien, and he handed them a list, containing the names of a vast number of individuals, who he represented to be in a destitute condition ; but the precise number of aged who are without relatives able to support them they were not successful in procuring. Nevertheless, from the aged persons whom they met begging in Newmarket and its vicinity, they can have no hesitation in saying that they were most numerous. “Indeed,” observed Halpin, “the people here have a pride which I perceive nowhere else ; they will sooner starve than allow those belonging to them to go out in search of alms.” There does not appear to have ever been any great disposition to emigrate in this part of the country ; and it has recently been considerably checked from the bad news received concerning the ships which had left the port of Limerick. A poor man, however, of the name of John King, whose son emigrated to America about three years ago, received a remittance of 15l. from him, which he very judiciously applied in draining and reclaiming a small bog farm, which he held at a very low rent. His efforts were successful, for he is now a thriving, though a small farmer, and attributes his comfortable condition to the assistance which he received from his son ; but he often wishes that he was here to share his prosperity.

No regular and systematic relief is afforded by the gentry to the aged and infirm on their estates ; but at the same time much desultory aid is given by the resident landlords and their families. Many poor persons bore testimony to the benevolent disposition of Lady O’Brien and Mrs. Studdart ; but still, except in seasons of scarcity, no general assistance has been offered to the great body of the poor, who are often in a state of destitution.

As to the point, whether persons refuse to contribute, Mr. Coffey stated, that some years ago there was a great dearth of provisions, and subscriptions were successfully entered into throughout the parish for procuring meal and other necessaries for the poor ; that he applied to a barrister who at that time drew upwards of 500l. a year out of the parish, and was that moment receiving his rents at the inn, and solicited his contribution, but that he met with a refusal ; he represented to the gentleman that on his property, which was leased to Major Creagh, many of the occupying tenants were in the most abject distress. “That is nothing to me,” answered he ; “tell Major Creagh to get rid of them ; I shall not give them anything.” Mr. Coffey could not get any other answer.

There is no particular age for putting persons upon congregational lists. The collections are divided amongst those who are the greatest objects, and who are considered the most destitute. It is considered far more respectable to be thus supported than to be begging ; and it is regarded as a reward for those who are destitute, and who have led an industrious and respectable life. There are 30 individuals in all on the congregational list belonging to the church. In 1833, the sum of 29l. was collected, and distributed as follows :
Two protestants received 30s. each, and the remainder was equally divided among 28 roman-catholics.

The Rev. Mr. M’Cullagh stated, that he relies principally upon Sir A. Fitzgerrald, Lady O’Brien, Mrs. Studdart and Mrs. Creagh for recommending objects worthy to be placed upon this list. Those who are at present thus assisted are all either widows or old men unable to work.

There are no almshouses in the neighbourhood. Mr. Coffey observed, that as to these poor persons thus relieved, the rent of their cabins absorbs all they get, and it is as much as they can do to procure the bare necessaries of life. It was the unanimous opinion of all the persons present, that it would be quite impossible, at the present low rate of wages, for any man with a moderate sized family, working as hard and as many days as he could, to save any part of his earnings. “I know what it is,” said M’Namara, “for a hard-working man to make both ends of the week meet. When I was first married, I endeavoured to lay by something, and though I was enabled to save some little trifle the first two years, I found it could not last long. I had soon three children, and sickness overtook me one day, and kept me in bed three weeks, and all the little savings I had soon went in supporting the wife and children during that time.” It was agreed on all hands that there were few men who could make a little money go so far as M’Namara. He is considered one of the most independent labourers, and one of the most honest men in that part of the country. No person present could remember an instance of any poor labourer having thus saved with effect. All agreed in saying that there should be some provision for the impotent poor ; and the majority agreed that no danger could arise out of any such provision.

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