Extract of a Report from Captain Kennedy - January 22, 1849
"I MAY here remark, that the number of houseless poor in the
Union, whose cabins have been levelled, renders the workhouse test comparatively
inoperative; they in the majority of instances seek it for shelter as much as food. This
class is daily on the increase. I cannot estimate the evictions in the Union much under
150 souls per week, and I anticipate little decrease for some months to come.
"The number in receipt of out-door relief on the 13th January (date of last return) was as follows:¾ under section I, being the infirm widows, orphans, &c., 3547 cases, numbering 8479 persons; under section 2, being the able-bodied and their dependents, 2532 cases, numbering 10,102 persons, making a total of 18,581 souls. The former class is unusually numerous in this Union; insufficient or bad food, want of clothing, and exposure in a wet climate, break down many before their time, and throw them upon the rates; their existence is one continued struggle for life. Of the latter class, there are but few who realize my idea of an able-bodied labourer; the great mass of them are called so, more in relation to their years than their physical power, or in contradistinction to those who are in the last stage of disease or existence. Men are called able-bodied here who would not be so designated elsewhere.
"I anticipate a steady but not rapid increase of numbers between this and the 1st of April, till the numbers reach a total of probably 22,000. Spring work is unusually late on the wet and undrained land in this Union. A temporary decrease of numbers may be calculated upon from the middle of April till the middle of June, but not to the extent which might be expected at this season.
"The tillage is completed in a miserable, scratching, slovenly mannerthe small farmers assisting one another, and employing but little labour. I anticipate a large quantity of land being left untilled: many farms are being thrown up, the occupiers becoming convinced that they can no longer pay a potato rent when they can only grow corn on undrained land. The general letting, compared with other parts of the country with which I am acquainted, is unusually high. I know one district (distant from any town or village) where there were thirty-five occupiers last year, and there are now but eleven. Much of the land so cleared or vacated will remain in grass or weeds, affording no employment for this year. I cannot calculate upon an average of less then 20,000 (or one-fourth of the population, according to the census of 1841) being chargeable to the rates between this time and harvest. I do not offer this opinion at random. I have inquired into and studied the subject diligently and anxiously. I have now almost a personal knowledge of the paupers. Some individuals, whose opinion I respect, think otherwise; but I fear it is because it is their interest to do so.
"I have from time to time scrutinized the out-door relief list in each division, assisted by all the ratepayers who could afford information as to the state of the poor. I have seen almost every soul of them; and I cannot be very far wrong in the estimate I have formed of their numbers. It ceases to be a matter of surprise that I estimate their numbers so high when it is beyond a doubt that 13,000 to 13,000 persons have been evicted within the year.
"The next subject to which my attention is directed is by far the most important and most embarrassing, viz., the funds which the Union is likely to derive from the poor rates before next harvest. I have on former occasions stated my belief, that they will be totally insufficient to meet the current expenses. A reference to a late return, showing the number and value of the holdings, will show the absence of yeomen, gentry, or persons of means in the Union. The lands have been already literally swept for rent. I frequently travel fifteen miles without seeing five stacks of grain of any kind; all threshed and sold. Rent has seldom or ever been looked for more sharply, and levied more unsparingly, than this year. The farmers are now sitting upon bare acres.
"The amount of stock in the Union is trifling, and the animals appear to have shared in the general destitution. Twenty-five head of cattle seized and sold in Kilrush for rent during the week realized the most incredible price of 31l.
"The rate must be primarily levied from the occupiers, and the occupiers, generally speaking, have it not. The ratepayers in this Union have, with few exceptions, paid their rates honestly and cheerfully, while suffering severe privations themselves. I have paid particular attention to this matter. I have been fourteen months in charge of the Union; on some occasions collected 1000l. per week for 8d. per pound, and never once had occasion to apply for the aid of a single policeman. This fact would distinguish the orderly and peaceful character of West Clare from other parts of it. The rate collectors might, and I think should, be of a better class; and the Vice-Guardians endeavour to carry out this view upon every vacancy which occurs.
"The means of the occupiers are, I cannot doubt, much exhausted by paying a potato rent for land that will no longer grow them. Those who have means are, from various causes, averse to lay out the capital necessary to the successful growing of other crops. Of the proprietors there are but few resident. I cannot speak of their means; I only know that there has not been any amount of poor rate levied in this Union seriously to injure them; no more than any man of common humanity ought voluntarily to bestow in disastrous times. That they are, generally speaking, embarrassed, I fear is a melancholy truth, and goes far to account for the existing want of employment and consequent destitution. The destitution in this Union is a mighty and fearful reality; it is in vain to strive to falsify or forget its existence; yet no combined effort, and hardly an individual one, is made to alleviate or arrest it. A few philanthropic individuals continue to afford their mite of relief and employment, but their example is not taking. There is a general lack of energy; the better part of the community seem, for the most part, as apathetic as if the country were comparatively prosperous; while demoralization, disease, and death, are spreading like a cancer. I see the masses of the people starving, and the land, which could be made to feed treble the number, lying all but waste.
"I think an amount or rate sufficient to keep the Union for three months between this and harvest could with difficulty be levied. This leads me to the inquiry, what are the precise causes of the destitution existing in the Union? Simply want of employment and wholesale evictions, and the land being left scarce half tilled. Why naturally fine and fertile land should be left undrained and unimproved, when hundreds of labourers can be had for 4d. to 5d. per diem, and many for their food alone, is difficult to understand.
"The facile mode by which the landlord or middleman hitherto obtained exorbitant rents, and the labourer or peasant a wretched subsistence, has unfitted each for energetic exertion. The greater portion of this Union was essentially a potato country, yielding the most prolific return. The peasants life was passed in planting his potatoes in spring, digging them up in autumn, and dozing through the winter, over the turf fire which cost him nothing. His potatoes are now gone, and with them his pig and means of buying clothing. He must now go naked and starve, unless he gets employment or gratuitous relief."
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