Skip navigation

Poverty

The poor-law commission of 1839 reported that two million, three-hundred thousand of the agricultural laborers of Ireland were "paupers;" that those immediately above the lowest rank were "the worst-clad, worst-fed, & worst-lodged" peasantry in Europe.

- Thebaud, The Irish Race, p. 426-27

 

Houses

There are exceptions where there is a resident landlord careful of the interests of his tenantry & anxious to promote their welfare; these dwellings become raised from miserable huts into comparatively decent cottages, but generally throughout the country, their condition is so wretched as to become almost revolting. ...the rich persuade themselves that the tenant requires nothing more than the mere means of sustaining annual existence. ...A few months ago we examined one [a peasant dwelling]. Seven persons were housed there; we measured it; it was exactly 10 feet long by 7 feet broad and 5 feet in height; built on the edge of a turf bog. Within, a raised embankment of dried turf formed a bed & besides the clothing of the more-than-half-naked childen, a solitary ragged blanket was the only covering it contained. The family had lived there for 2 years. Close to this hovel were two others, scarcely superior; & indeed every cottage in the district was almost as miserable. We write of the Island of Achill [ County Mayo].

Let us now picture one of the comfortable Irish cottages, for such are occasionally to be met with. ...A few months ago we sought shelter from a passing shower in one. It is in the Co. of Galway. There was no upper story but there was a room branching to the right and anther to the left of the "kitchen, parlor, hall" - the sleeping rooms of the family, decently furnished. This cottage contained nearly every article of furniture in use in such dwellings of the humbler classes. ...The first object that attracted attention was a singular chair, very commonly used throughout Connaught [province]. It is roughly made of elm. There is evidence that this piece of furniture has undergone little change in the last 8 to 10 centuries. The inhabitants of the cottage consisted of the father, mother, grandmother, and seven children, a dog, & a cat, & a half a dozen laying hens. Unusual care, however, had been given to the livestock; there was a small cupboard in the wall converted into a hen-roost, with a door to open & shut. The pig had a dwelling to himself outside...

Their dislike to ventilation...predisposes them to fever...one woman gave us her opinion, "If I had a warm linsey-woolsey petticoat & a stuff gown, please your honor, & flannel instead of flitters (rags) for the children, its proud we'd be of air and the light of heaven in our little place. Sure the only reason we put up with the blinding smoke, is because of the heat that's in it."

- Halls, Vol. III, p. 289

 

[Ed. note: here Mrs. Collar has reproduced a small drawing of the chair mentioned above, probably shown in the original source.]

 

 

Poorhouses & Poor Law

The act entitled "An Act for the More Effectual Relief of the Destitute Poor in Ireland" received the Royal assent on 31 st July, 1838. The office began operation in Sept. 1838 & the erection of the workhouses began in June, 1839.

There were 10 districts with the following towns as centers - Galway, Limerick, Cork, Waterford, Donegal, Belfast, Derry, Longford, & Dublin.

In Ireland the houses (workhouses) vary in size, those for 800-1000 people being the commonest. However they are 800, 1200, 1600, & 2000 people accommodated.

It is by no means the least of the advantages incident to the system that every boy & girl, from the earliest age at which it is capable of receiving it, obtains education. The plan adopted is that of the "National Board," under whose superintendence this department of the establishment has been placed.

- Halls, Vol. III, p. 337-44

 

 

Relationship Between Poverty & Land Laws/Tenure

Mrs. Nicholson: Roundstone - Connemara - Galway

"Two miles from the town a decently-clad farmer accosted me. He had been to attend a lawsuit, a case of ejection. 'I have worked,' he said, 'on a farm since a boy; my father died & left it to me 3 years ago. I had made a comfortable house for myself and family, & been preparing manure all winter to put in a greater crop of potatoes and corn. The agent came around, saw the improvements, & told me I should not sow any seed, but must quit the premises.' And he was actually ejected... 'I must take my little all,' added the man, '& leave my father's bones & seek a home in America.' Hard is the lot of the poor man in Ireland. If he is industrious, his industry will not secure him a home & its comforts; these he must lose so soon as this home is above the abode of the ox or the ass.

'Why don't you,' said I to a widow who had an acre of ground, 'make things about your cabin look a little more tidy? You have a pretty patch of land, well kept, & might look very comfortable.' 'But, lady, I have but one little slip of a boy of 15 years of age, & he toils the long day to rair a bit of vegetable to carry to market, and he helped me put up this little cabin, & if I make it look nice outside the agent will put a pound more rent on me, or turn me out & my little things; & I wouldn't pay the pound.' These are facts all over Ireland. If the poor tenant improves the premises, he must be turned out or pay more. If he do not improve it, he is a lazy, dirty Irishman & must be put out for that."

- Irelands W. to a Stranger, p. 399 (Mil. Lib.)

 

 

Relief - Need for

The Irish Poor Inquiry Commissioners in 1836 reckon the number of persons simultaneously requiring relief in Ireland during 30 weeks of the year at not less than 2,385,000, of whom 585,000 were out of work & the rest dependent on them.

- Geo. Patton, To the Golden Door (1960), p. 50 ( Ind. Lib.)

 

Workhouses

"the diet varies in particular workhouses, chiefly dependent on the condition of the poor in that area, the object being not to give a diet superior to the local laborer. The most common diet:

A daily allowance -

 

B[rea]k[fast] - adults 7 oz. oatmeal made into a "stirabout;" children (5-14) - 3 1/2 oz.

oatmeal; 1 pint buttermilk; 1/2 pint new milk

Dinner - adults 3 1/2 pds. potatoes, 1 qt. buttermilk; children - 2 pds. potatoes, supper

6 oz. bread, 1 pt. new milk

 

Only 2 meals a day, except in a few districts where the labor[er] has three meals. Children given three meals. Meat not given (a luxury rarely tasted by a peasant out of the workhouse).

- The Halls, Vol. III, p. 242

 

Census of 1851 showed 250,611 paupers in Irish workhouses & 47,019 persons in hospitals, of whom 4,545 were not workhouse inmates (makes 293,085 paupers - one person out of 22 in pop. of 6,574,278).

1861 - 50,010 in workhouses (1 in 116)

1871 - 48,989 in workhouses (1 in 110)

- Sherlock, Case of Ireland, p. 25