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.

SICK POOR

THERE is no certain fund to which the sick poor can apply in case of distress. M’Namara observed, that they are entirely dependent on the casual charity of their neighbours, and in extreme cases are assisted by collections made at the chapels by the priest ; nevertheless they seldom want those things which may be considered absolutely necessary, as they are looked upon as specially entitled to commiseration. “Last summer,” said he, “I was taken sick of a fever whilst my wife was gone to see her friends in Kerry ; I lay on my bed, and my children were too young to mind me ; I had kind neighbours, however, and never was I a day without some of them coming to prepare a drink for me, and to reach it to me, until my wife returned.” There is no loan fund whatsoever for affording relief in sickness. The poor are always willing to attend those who labour under fever, and even anxious to be admitted into the room of the patient, and Dr. Fraser said he found considerable difficulty in keeping them out of the sphere of contagion. While thus blind to their own danger, said the Rev. Mr. O’Brien, they show a great readiness to withdraw the children of the sick person from the risk to which they readily expose themselves ; these are often taken away by some neighbour, and watched over until the parent is restored to health. Though the pressure of poverty is doubly felt during sickness, yet people are very much averse to permitting any of their family to have recourse to begging during that period, as it might be used as a taunt to them afterwards.

Sixpence or perhaps eight-pence a day would not allow the labourer to lay by much for such an emergency. The wages of the mechanic are also very low ; and Richard Molony, a poor man, whose house the Assistant Commissioners were induced to enter from its appearance of unusual wretchedness, gave the following account of himself : “I am 40 years of age,” said he, “and was engaged for upwards of 14 or 15 years in the shoemaking business ; I earned 7s. or 8s. a week, and would have laid by something if I knew what to do with it, but I never heard of savings’ banks or friendly societies. I am now seven years out of employment, and have nothing but charity to trust to live upon. I was one day going to Ennis, when I felt a something strike me in the ham, and since then the weakness has been increasing every day as fast as it can, and I am sure I could not now go a mile, or even walk down the street to look after some work.” Dr. Frazer remarked, that this poor man’s lower extremities were completely paralysed, and that he was quiet incapable of undertaking any employment. His appearance betokened too clearly his helpless condition, though from his energetic manner it was quiet clear that that spirit of independence which is generally to be met with among the more distressed classes of people whom they had on different occasions encountered, would not suffer him to degrade himself or his family by publicly seeking relief. Malony said, “I am frequently obliged to put myself on one meal a day, and I must wait until a good neighbour would give me some kitchen, because from my sickness I cannot eat cold potatoes. There was ne’er a ‘pratie’ in the pot this morning when two or three of the acquaintances came in to see how I was getting on. During the last year my wife has only been able to get 7s. 6d. in money, and I am afraid of letting the young children out when she is away for fear of their getting bad manners, and being tempted from their poverty to look among their neighbours for something to eat.” In answer to several questions put to him by the Assistant Commissioners, he said he had half-a-quarter of ground of dung potatoes (ground rent-free, which the tenant for the time must manure himself), which his wife got tilled by the boys in the vicinity of Newmarket ; it will not grow as much as he will require, and therefore he is often obliged to buy from the beggars in small quantities ; and sometimes when a poor creature asked him for alms, he must share what he had with them for the honour of God. He further told them, that a collection had been made for him by the priest, which enabled him to go to the salt water, from which he however derived no benefit ; a little warmth did him most good, but even that was not always to be had without difficulty ; “and if, perchance,” said he, “I am short taken with regard to that, the widow Griffey (a beggar woman, who lodged in the house free of expense) would be the only warrant to me for a bit of turf.” The Assistant Commissioners understood from several individuals that the case of this poor man would give a fair insight into the miseries endured by the sick, and the frequent extraordinary shifts and expedients they are obliged to resort to to procure the common necessaries of life “sufficent to keep body and soul together.”

Mr. O’Brien stated that he would be quiet satisfied to trust the disposal of any relief which might be provided for the sick poor to the direction of the dispensary surgeon, aided by the committee, by individuals whose duty it might be to check the expenditure ; there could not be any danger of imposition if the surgeon’s certificate was produced. At the present rate of wages, said Dr. Frazer, improvidence could not be encouraged, because it is next to impossible to save, and even if it could it would be more economical to administer at once to the wants of the poor man in sickness, than by withholding assistance to continue him in a condition in which he is sure to remain useless to the community and to himself. As matters are at present, the distress which is accumulated by a protracted convalescence and the sinking of the heart which is caused by the successive disappearance of every article of comfort and of furniture in order to supply pressing and immediate necessities, are more directly injurious than the original disease itself, which might have been cut short at the beginning by a judicious supply of proper regimen and of fuel, &c. Poor Molony, whose case is detailed above, when questioned as to the behaviour of the dispensary surgeon to him, said that he had been going to him for the last four years for the same complaint, and that though he had not been able to cure him, yet he had always been kind and attentive, and willing to listen to what he said.


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