«L- ONATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND ST. PATRICK'S COLLEGE MAYNOOTH. THE POOR LAW UNION AND THE FAMINE IN CARLOW. 1845-1847. BY EDWARD F. BROPHY. In ...»
L- ONATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND
ST. PATRICK'S COLLEGE
THE POOR LAW UNION AND THE FAMINE IN CARLOW.
EDWARD F. BROPHY.
In partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree for M.A.
Department of Modern History
St. Patrick's College,
HEAD OF DEPARTMENT: Professor R.V. Comerford.
COURSE CO-ORDINATOR : Dr. Ray Gillespie.
SUPERVISOR OF RESEARCH: Dr. Dympna McLoughlin.
ABSTRACT This thesis is about the Carlow area during the early Famine years of 1845 - 1847.
The first chapter is about Ireland before the Famine, the phenomenal increase in population, the great amount of poverty among the people and all the problems which accompanied both.
The second chapter looks at the background to the introduction of a Poor Law System to Ireland and the various commissions and reports prior to its introduction. It also looks briefly at the setting up of the system in Ireland.
The third chapter looks briefly at the setting up of the Poor Law Union of Carlow, its Board of Guardians and the building of the Workhouse.
The fourth chapter deals with the Workhouse and the Famine in Cariow up to December 1847.
The fifth chapter deals with the number of paupers in the Workhouse between April 1845 and December 1847 and also studies the number of deaths there during that period.
TABLE OF CONTENTSAcknowledgements.
Chapter 1 : Ireland before the Famine.
Chapter 2 : The Introduction of the Poor Law to Ireland.
Chapter 3 : The setting up of the Carlow Poor Law Union Chapter 4 : The Poor Law Union and the Famine in Carlow 1845- 1847.
Chapter 5 : Number of paupers in the Carlow Workhouse and Deaths in the Workhouse April 1845 - December 1847.
In preparing and assembling information for this work I have been helped by many people to whom my thanks is due. They are Tom King and Carmel Flahavan of Carlow County Library, Michael Purcell and Liam Kelly of Carlow Heritage Society, Joe Waters - Town Clerk Carlow U.D.C. who very kindly placed the Carlow Union Minute Books at my disposal.
Professor Thomas P. O'Neill who gave me advice on various issues. Br. Linus, Archivest of Kildare and Leighlin Diocesan Records. Rev. Gary Dowd who gave information on St. Marys Church of Ireland parish records. Fr. John Byrne for Catholic parish records. Sr. Mary Carmody and the Mercy Sisters, Carlow who placed the Annals of St. Leo's at my disposal.
My supervisor Dr. Dympna McLoughlin for all her help and advice.
The M.A. Course Co-Ordinator Dr. Ray Gillespie who made the two years pleasant and memorable ones.
A very special thanks to Martina Kenny, Secretary in Holy Family B.N.S., Askea, Carlow for all her dedicated work in preparing the typing and printing of this thesis.
"These statistics taken together present in what is considered one o f our best circum stanced counties a frightful picture o f the condition o f the poor. W hat m ust the am ount o f m isery be elsewhere"....Sym od o f priests o f Kildare and Leighlin Diocese, Carlow 1st D ecem ber 1847 This thesis is intended to give some information on the Cariow Union area during the early Famine years of 1845 to 1847. Included are chapters on social conditions of the time, the introduction of the Poor Law to Ireland and the subsequent formation of the Cariow Union to provide a background to the thesis.
The primary sources of information on this subject are the Minute Books of the Carlow Board of Guardians. They provide much valuable information on the Workhouse, the numbers using it, the general diet of inmates and other administrative details such as appointments of staff and details of contracts with suppliers etc.
At the end of each weekly meeting of the Board of Guardians the minutes were signed by the Chairman of the Board so all information in the minutes can be regarded as accurate. This information is mainly of an administrative nature and no personal information is given on any of the paupers who used the Workhouse apart from exceptional circumstances such as cases of indiscipline among the paupers when they were then brought before the Board.
Together with the Carlow Union Minute Books other sources both primary and secondary were examined to describe and determine the extent of poverty in Ireland and the Carlow area before the introduction of the Poor Law System, and how the area coped during the years 1845 to 1847.
While the Great Famine in Ireland of 1845 -1847 was due to the large scale failure of the potato crop it is important to have a look at the preceding century to note the conditions which made such a high proportion of the population of the country so dependent on that one crop.
The potato was first introduced to Ireland sometime in the last fifteen years of the 16th century.
It was a crop which was free from disease, easy to grow, easy to conserve, highly productive, pleasing to the palate and required the minimum of cultivation and capital inputs while at the same time producing its own seed for the following crop.(1) Bourke also attributed the suitable meteorological conditions - wet and overcast - to the general acceptability of the potato in Ireland. The first official record of the potato in Ireland is to be found in the Montgomery Manuscripts which refer to potatoes being grown in County Down in 1606. In 1663 Robert Boyle's gardener sent him a box of potatoes from his estate in Lismore, County Waterford with accompanying information as to the proper husbandry of the crop was well advanced by the middle of the 17th century. (2) The Irish also developed the "lazy bed" system of growing potatoes during this period. This system had distinct advantages in wet and poorly drained soils and was also used for over wintering the produce. (3) In time the potato became an accepted and welcome addition to the diet of the Irish people. It was not and did not become the staple diet among the Irish people for many years and eventually became the chief diet only among the lower social classes - the cottiers, umemployed and landless people. The potato was nutritious, with milk added, it formed a balanced diet, containing adequate amounts of protein, carbohydrates and minerals. Its high energy value and low fat content made it a healthy food source. It also remained palatable even as part of an extremely monotonous diet. (4) An interesting factor to watch over the one hundred years preceding "The Great Famine" was the rising population in Ireland from 1740 onwards. The year 1740-41 was a year of famine, fever adding to its horror. Deaths may have been in the region of 200,000 to 400,000. (5) This famine of 1740-41 may have killed a higher share of the people at the time compared with the famine of the 1840's.(6) The population of the country in 1740 was estimated at around three million people. By the 1780's this figure was estimated to have risen to around four million - an increase of thirty three and one third percent. This increase in population has been attributed to people surviving because there was not large famine in the intervening years. From the 1780's to the 1840‘s the population of Ireland increased to over eight million in 1841 - an increase of one hundred and five percent. (7) Arthur Young, when undertaking a tour of Ireland 1776-79, estimated that the population of Ireland was around three million persons. He based his figures on the hearth-tax returns but admitted that they were not entirely accurate. He found the circumstances in Ireland were ''extremely" favourable to population and mentioned five factors influencing the rapid growth - the lack of Poor Laws, the habitations, high marriage rates, large families and fifth - the potato. (8) The potato was increasingly becoming the main food of the poorest sections of the Irish people, particularly those living in the poorer regions of the country. Previous to this time grain was an important feature in the diet of the people generally and was also important in cultivation too, among small farmers and in the eastern half of the country. Carlow was a tillage county as also were bordering counties Kildare and Kilkenny. Milling was carried out extensively in the Carlow, Kilkenny area. (9) Grain was not only extensively cultivated; it was also immensely important in the diet of the countryman and townsman. The potato was widely cultivated and figured prominently in the diet - but it did not dominate the diet. Oaten bread was widely consumed. As the population grew the potato became the chief food of the poor. At the time the definition of the poor meant cottiers and labourers in the countryside and unskilled labourers in the towns. Poverty lay in economic insecurity. The cottiers and labourers were unable to pay the hearth-tax and very many of them were exempted from the tax. It was this rural social class which relied more and more on the potato as time passed.
(10) The spread of the potato was also a factor to the evolution of the cottier system. Population expanded rapidly in areas of the west of Ireland where potato cultivation could be added to access to hills for grazing, to bogs for turf and to the seaside for seaweed, sand and shore food. With these amenities, families had access to cheap food, fuel and housing - which could easily be constructed from local materials - stones for walls, clay for floors, "wreck timber" for rafters and oats or bent grass for thatch. Because this social class of people had little material expectations and had positive inducements to marriage I.E. cheap food, fuel and housing, there was a very high early marriage rate with resultant increase in families and population. (11) The spread of the potato as the main diet of the labourers benefrtted the farming class; as the cottier system expanded it delivered an extremely cheap and disciplined work force to the fanner who paid a "potato wage" to the labourer. (12) This scene can be contrasted to the population picture in the environmentally favoured farms areas of South Leinster i.e. Carlow etc. where social and economic constraints depressed the demography. (13) Unchecked subdivision operated on inferior or upland soil where commercialised agriculture did not exist or on land freshly colonised from the waste. Farmers subdivided land extensively only where agricultural output for the market was limited. The composition of the countryside was varied and complex. According to the 1831 census 100,000 farm occupiers employed hired labour. These occupiers would be in general the more comfortable section of the farming community. These would approximate to those holding over fifteen acres counted one hundred years later. In addition, the 1831 census returned 564,000 occupiers who employed no labour and 567,000 agricultural labourers. A few years later the Poor Law Commission regarded both those categories alike and lumped them together. (14) There was a difference - whereas the half a million labourers were destitute and had nothing, many of the small holders had the security of the farm, so they were not totally destitute. The gap between the social classes in Ireland was very noticable to visitors to this country who while commenting on the beauty of the countryside noticed the abysmal living conditions of the very poor. These visitors also gave good accounts of life in Ireland. Young tells us that ploughing in Carlow was better with four horses than with four oxen which would plough less than half an acre a day. He also mentions an important fact that around Carlow the hiring tenant was the occupier. (15) In 1835 a Fench nobleman, Alexis de Tocqueville toured Ireland extensively and commenting on the appearance of the country from Dublin to Carlow stated that the country was pretty, land very fertile with some beautiful parks from time to time. Most of the dwellings very poor looking - a large number of them wretched - of those occupying these dwellings he said, "many wore clothes with holes or were much patched and went bare headed and bare foot".
(16) While in Carlow he met and dined with the local Bishop (R.C.) Edward Nolan and discussed the state of Ireland. In the Bishops opinion poverty was increasing "the population was increasing rapidly and the means of employing it were decreasing". He believed the adoption of "Poor Laws" indispensable. (17) Another traveller in Ireland was the retired M.P J.C. Curwen Esq., who wrote a very descriptive account on the poor in Ireland. He travelling the Carlow area in September 1813 and while commenting on the rich land around Carlow he described living conditions in a cottiers cabin in neighbouring County Kildare as miserable. The food was potatoes. (18) Earlier, Edward Wakefield travelled Ireland and his description of Carlow was of a very neat town abounding with houses of entertainment for every shop almost has attached to it a house which is used as an inn. (19) He does not mention any poverty in the town but of the country part of Carlow he says "in this county there is very little of that minute division so injurious to other parts of Ireland. It has neither a temporal or spiritual peer resident in it......