15th December 1849
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Condition of Ireland


(From our own Correspondent.)

[The present fearful Condition of Ireland, made considerably worse, we believe, by the operation of the New Poor-Law, has induced us to give, as far as possible, a faithful report of the working of this law with Illustrations of Localities, sketched by our own Artist.]



Kilrush, which gives its name to a Poor-law Union, will be celebrated in the history of pauperism. With Clifden, Westport, Skibbereen, and other places, it forms one of the battle-fields of Ireland, in which property, under the guidance of legislation, has fought with poverty, and been worsted in the conflict. It is our purpose to describe the progress of the contest, and, as Sterne took a single victim to make mankind sensible of the horrors of slavery– as a single case of flogging women did more to rouse the people of England against the iniquities they had countenanced in the West Indies, than many volumes of general description– we presume that we shall make the condition of Ireland, and the working of the Poor-law there, more effectually known by selecting a single Union for remark, than by parading before our readers a great multitude of statistical facts. Our Commissioner is on the spot, and we illustrate the Sketches and condense the facts he has supplied us with. Sketch No. 1. represents the town of Kilrush.

As an appropriate introduction, we quote from the Times of Tuesday an account of the


The Limerick papers bring melancholy accounts of a “crisis” which has at length taken place in the affairs of this unfortunate Union. Money and credit are all gone, and starvation has literally set in among the paupers in the workhouse, the inmates having been sent to bed on Thursday night without having eaten any dinner– the only remedy that the guardians could suggest to numb the sense of hunger. The Limerick Chronicle‘s statement is as follows:–

“‘Notwithstanding the exertions of the local board and Poor-law inspectors, the in-door paupers were obliged to go to bed without dinner on Thursday night. The master brought the state of the house, as regards want of provisions for that day, before the board, when soup and chopped turnips grown on the land was the only food available. The out-door paupers are in a desperate state, crowding the dépôts and following the relieving officers by thousands to town to get into the workhouse; but one day’s admission (300 admitted) so crowded the auxiliary, that admission was impossible. Barley, the produce of the land about the workhouse, has been ordered to be threshed; but are 2600 paupers to be fed on the principle of “live, horse, and you’ll get grass?” It is fearful to think of the state of Kilrush Union– nothing but starving creatures fro the country to be seen pouring into a starving workhouse; the Board meet every day, but, if we are to judge from the general confession of that body, they are able to effect no good. The chairman, Colonel C. M. Vandeleur, took the chair yesterday, and his presence was sufficient it was thought to get the ‘needful,’ but to no purpose; out-door paupers and relieving officers were sent home, and in-door paupers recommended to go to bed. The coroner attended an inquest on a man who was found in a dying state o the side of the road near Kilmury. Mortality in the workhouse has been small; but, owing to the able-bodied on the out-door relief being struck off, the deaths in that department are every day increasing to a frightful extent. Relieving officers complain that they must bury their dead without coffins. The Board yesterday agreed to petition the Poor-law Commissioners on the state of the Union, and said that the guardians would not be morally responsible for the deaths that may occur through starvation.'”



Kilrush is in the county of Clare, and on one bank of the Shannon. It is situated in a district that is both fertile and picturesque. It has all the conveniences of a haven, and might have all the advantages of a great trading and fishing port. It is, for Ireland, a tolerably large town, with well-built stone houses, and broad, clean streets, though it has plenty of mud cabins and dirt, like every other Irish town. It is going rapidly to decay, and most of the houses could be bought for less than the value of the stones they were built with. The Poor-house is now, and likely to be for a long period, the principal building in the town, and, with the Catholic chapel, constitute its architectural distinctions.

The Union to which it gives a name consists of nine districts:– 1. Kilrush and Killimer. 2. Knock and Killofin. 3. Kilfiddan and Kildysert. 4. Kilmihil and Kilmacdooan. 5. Kilmury. 6. Killard. 7. Kilkee. 8. Moyarta. 9. Kilballyowen. It extends right across the Clare peninsula, between the Shannon and the Western Ocean, and contained, in 1841, a population of 82,358. Of this population, very considerably reduced in numbers, there were no less than 22,661 receiving relief out of the workhouse, at the cost per week of £559, in April, 1849; and in June the number was increased to 29,049, who were maintained at a cost of £780 16s. 5d. Taking the average of the two months, the number relieved was more than 35 per cent.; the cost of maintaining them was something less than 6d. per head per week. At the same period there were i the union workhouse about 2500 paupers, making the total number of persons relieved in June 31,549, or more than 43 per cent. of the population of 1841. If we knew the exact number at present, greatly reduced as it its, we should, no doubt, find that considerably more than one-half of the whole population, or more than 50 per cent., are receiving relief. So far as mere figures go, it is an afflicting picture to see every man, woman, or child, in possession of a crust or a pound of meat, besieged by another beggar for a share of that which is hardly sufficient for his own wants.

From this general view we pass to an example of the manner in which the out-door paupers live. In the workhouse the people, till the last arrival, were tolerably well taken care of; and such is the general destitution, that they were well housed, clothed, and fed, in comparison with the mass. Our second Sketch represents what is called a Scalpeen. There is also something called a scalp, or hole dug in the earth, some two or three feet deep. In such a place was the abode of Brian Connor. He has three in family, and had lived in this hole several months before it was discovered. It was roofed over with sticks and pieces of turf, laid in the shape of an inverted saucer. It resembles, though not quite so large, one of the ant-hills of the African forests. Many of the people whose houses have been levelled take up their abodes in such places; and even in them there is a distinction of wretchedness. A Scalpeen is a hole, too, but the roof above it is rather loftier and grander in its dimensions. It is often erected within the walls when any are left standing, of the unroofed houses, and all that is above the surface is built out of the old materials. It possesses, too, some pieces of furniture, and the Scalpeen is altogether superior to the Scalp. In such, or still more wretched abodes, burrowing as they can, the remnant of the population is hastening to an end, and after a few years will be as scarce nearly as the exterminated Indians, except the specimens that are carefully preserved in the workhouse. Those whom starvation spares, disease cuts off.

Even from the Scalps the poor are hunted. “None of the houseless class,” says Captain Kennedy, the poor-law inspector, “can now find admittance into some over-crowded cabin, whose inmates seldom survive a month.” A month’s agonies– the result of hunger, dirt, and fever– after being expelled from a home, suffices to destroy life. It is a sort of Majendie experiment made on human beings– not on cats in an air-pump, or on rabbits with prussic acid. Yet the instinctive love of life is so great, so strong is the sentiment by which Nature ensures the continuance of the race, that Brian Connor dreads nothing so much as that he shall not be allowed, now that his hut has been discovered, to burrow longer in security; and like a fox, or some other vermin, he expects to be unearthed, and left even without the shelter of what may be called a preparatory grave. The mud cabins and turf huts that the peasantry lived in before 1846 were denounced by every traveller as the scandal of civilised Europe; and it was supposed that worse habitations were not on the earth; but the Irish have proved that in their lowest deep there is still a lower deep– that a Scalpeen is worse than a mud-hut, and a Scalp worse than a Scalpeen.

Men who are wretched and men who are criminal keep each other in countenance, and perpetuate crime and wretchedness. What hope, then, can be entertained or ever again elevating the Irish, when the bulk of them are degraded to Scalps and starvations, even to the dignity of mud cabins and plenty of potatoes? They may die out or may be killed off; but, when the half of the whole live on 6d. per week, and are thankful for being allowed to burrow in Scalps, there must be more hope of the savages of New South Wales or the Brazils, than of those whom knaves have flattered with the name of the “finest peasantry in the world.”


A great and just sympathy is just now excited by the sufferings of the needlewomen of the metropolis, and by the hard labour and poor pay of females in various branches of town industry. But they at least find shelter; most of them have clothing; they manage to get food, though the supply is scanty; and the most crowded lodging-house of the metropolis is a palace compared with the Scalp, or burrowing hole, of the Irish peasant.

The present condition of the Irish, we have no hesitation in saying, has been mainly brought on by ignorant and vicious legislation. The destruction of the potato for one season, though a great calamity, would not have doomed them, fed as they were by the taxes of the state and the charity of the world, to immediate decay; but a false theory, assuming the name of political economy, with which it has no more to do than with the slaughter of the Hungarians by General Haynau, led the landlords and the legislature to believe that it was a favourable opportunity for changing the occupation of the land and the cultivation of the soil from potatoes to corn. When more food, more cultivation, more employment, were the requisites for maintaining the Irish in existence, the Legislature and the landlords wet about introducing a species of cultivation that could only be successful by requiring fewer hands, and turning potato gardens, that nourished the maximum of human beings, into pasture grounds for bullocks, that nourished only the minimum. The Poor-law, said to be for the relief of the people and the means of their salvation, was the instrument of their destruction. In their terrible distress, from that temporary calamity with which they were visited, they were to have no relief unless they gave up their holdings. That law, too, laid down a form for evicting the people, and thus gave the sanction and encouragement of legislation to exterminate them. Calmly and quietly, but very ignorantly– though we cheerfully exonerate the parties from any malevolence; they only committed a great mistake, a terrible blunder, which in legislation is worse than a crime– but calmly and quietly from Westminster itself, which is the centre of civilization, did the decree go forth which has made the temporary but terrible visitation of a potato rot the means of exterminating, through the slow process of disease and houseless starvation, nearly the half of the Irish.

The land is still there, in all its natural beauty and fertility. The sparkling Shannon, teeming with fish, still flows by their doors, and might bear to them, as the Hudson and Thames bear to the people of New York and of London, fleets of ships laden with wealth. The low grounds or Corcasses of Clare are celebrated for their productiveness. The country abounds in limestone: coal, iron, and lead have been found. It has an area of 827,994 acres, 372,237 of which are uncultivated, or occupied by woods or water. It is estimated that there are 296,000 acres of unoccupied land; and that of these 160,000 are capable of cultivation and improvement. Why are they not cultivated and improved, as the wilds of America are cultivated and improved by the brethren of the Irish? Why are these starving people not allowed and encouraged to plant their potato-gardens on the wastes? Why are they not married to the unoccupied soil, as a humane politician proposes to provide for the starving needlewomen of the metropolis by marrying them to the Currency Lads of New South Wales? A more important question cannot be asked. There is about Kilrush, and in Clare, and throughout Ireland, the doubly melancholy spectacle of a strong man asking for work as the means of getting food; and of the fertile earth wooing his labours, in order to yield up to him its rich but latent stores: yet it lies idle and unfruitful. Why is not this doubly melancholy spectacle destroyed by their union, and converted into life and happiness, as oxygen and hydrogen, each in itself destructive, become, when united as water, the pabulum of existence? We shall fully consider that question before we quit the subject, but we shall now only say that the whole of this land, cultivated and uncultivated, is owned by a few proprietors– that many of them are absentees– that almost all are in embarrassed circumstances– and that, from ignorance, or false theory, or indolence, they prefer seeing the land covered with such misery as we have described, to either bringing the land under cultivation themselves, or allowing the people to cultivate it. Their greatest ambition, apparently, is to get rid of the people.

Our third Sketch shows the desolation to be seen about Kilrush and in many other parts of Ireland. No conqueror ever left more conspicuous marks of his devastation. The Sketch is not of a deserted village— though that was a miserable enough spectacle, for the wretched beings who once viewed it as the abode of plenty and peace still linger and hover about it– but of a destroyed village. The ruthless spoiler has been at work and swept away the shelter that honest industry had prepared for suffering and toiling humanity. A conqueror would not have had time and security to do the mischief which is perpetrated in safety under the guardianship of the laws by the Irish themselves. Within the Union of Kilrush, in the year of grace 1849, and before the coming of the month of June, about 16,000 persons had been unhoused out of 82,358, and 1200 were unhoused within one fortnight of May 7, in all, one-fifth or 20 per cent. of the whole population were turned out of their houses and the houses pulled down. Not less than 2890 houses were levelled in the Union of Kilrush in the years 1848-49. Ireland is now marked with many such monuments of the terrible mistakes of landlords and of the legislature as the roofless village represented in our Sketch.




Having last week introduced this important subject to our readers, and given them some of the statistics of Kilrush, we shall henceforward allow our Correspondent to speak for himself:–

I assure you (he says) that the objects of which I send you Sketches are not sought after– I do not go out of my way to find them; and other travellers who have gone in the same direction, such as Lord Adair, the Earl of Surrey, and Mr. Horsman, will vouch, I am sure, for the accuracy of my delineations. The Sketch of Moveen, to which I now call your attention, is that of another ruined village in the Union of Kilrush. It is a specimen of the dilapidation I behold all around. There is nothing but devestation, while the soil is of the finest description, capable of yielding as much as any land in the empire. Here, at Tullig, and other places, the ruthless destroyer, as if he delighted in seeing the monuments of his skill, has left the walls of the houses standing, while he has unroofed them and taken away all shelter from the people. They look like the tombs of a departed race, rather than the recent abodes of a yet living people, and I felt actually relieved at seeing one or two half-clad spectres gliding about, as an evidence that I was not in the land of the dead. You may inquire, perhaps, and I am sure your readers will wish to know, why it is that the people have of late been turned out of their houses in such great numbers, and their houses just at this time pulled down, and I will give you my explanation of this fact.

The public records, my own eye, a piercing wall of woe throughout the land– all testify to the vast extent of the evictions at the present time. Sixteen thousand and odd persons unhoused in the Union of Kilrush before the month of June in the present year; seventy-one thousand one hundred and thirty holdings done away in Ireland, and nearly as many houses destroyed, in 1848; two hundred and fifty-four thousand holdings of more than one acre and less than five acres, put an end to between 1841 and 1848: six-tenths, in fact, of the lowest class of tenantry driven from their now roofless or annihilated cabins and houses, makes up the general description of that desolation of which Tullig and Moveen are examples. The ruin is great and complete. The blow that effected it was irresistible. It came in the guise of charity and benevolence; it assumed the character of the last and best friend of the peasantry, and it has struck them to the heart. They are prostrate and helpless. The once frolicsome people– even the saucy beggars– have disappeared, and given place to wan and haggard objects, who are so resigned to their doom, that they no longer expect relief. One beholds only shrunken frames scarcely covered with flesh– crawling skeletons, who appear to have risen from their graves, and are ready to returned frightened to that abode. They have little other covering than that nature has bestowed on the human body– a poor protection against inclement weather; and, now that the only hand from which they expected help is turned against them, even hope is departed, and they are filled with despair. Than the present Earl of Carisle there is not a more humane nor a kinder-hearted nobleman in the kingdom; he is of high honor and unsullied reputation; yet the Poor-law he was mainly the means of establishing for Ireland, with the best intentions, has been one of the chief causes of the people being at this time turned out of their homes, and forced to burrow in holes, and share, till they are discovered, the ditches and the bogs with otters and snipes.


The instant the Poor-law was passed, and property was made responsible for poverty, the whole of the landowners, who had before been careless about the people, and often allowed them to plant themselves on untenanted spots, or divide their tenancies– delighted to get the promise of a little additional rent– immediately became deeply interested in preventing that, and in keeping down the number of the people. Before they had rates to pay, they cared nothing for them; but the law and their self-interest made them care, and made them extirpators. Nothing less than some general desire like that of cupidity falling in with an enactment, and justified by a theory– nothing less than a passion which works silently in all, and safely under the sanction of a law– could have effected such wide-spread destruction. Even humanity was enlisted by the Poor-law on the side of extirpation. As long as there was no legal provision for the poor, a landlord had some repugnance to drive them from every shelter; but the instant the law took them under its protection, and forced the landowner to pay a rate to provide for them, repugnance ceased: they had a legal home, however inefficient, to go to; and eviction began. Even the growth of toleration seems to have worked to the same end. Till the Catholics were emancipated, they were all– rich and poor, priests and peasants– united by a common bond; and Protestant landlords beginning evictions on a great scale would have roused against them the whole Catholic nation. it would have been taken up as a religious question, as well as a question of the poor, prior to 1829. Subsequent to that time– with a Whig administration, with all offices open to Catholics– no religious feelings could mingle with the matter: eviction became a pure question of interest; and while the priests look now perhaps, as much to the Government as to their flocks for support, Catholic landlords are not behind Protestant landlords in clearing their estates. English notions and English habits, without any reference to the causes of English greatness– which are not to be found in a Poor-law and farms of a particular size– impressed law-makers and the landlords of Ireland with a strong desire to enlarge and consolidate farms, and clear them of the squatters and subtenants, who had formerly been permitted, if not encouraged. With a Poor-law, that desire could be safely acted on, and so it supplies a temptation and the means to carry eviction extensively into effect.

The evictions were numerous before the potato rot. It was not that great calamity, therefore, that superinduced them, it was the chief cause of the present desolation. The potato harvest and harvests of every kind have been lost many times before 1846, without reducing the people to their present misery. But that calamity threw the people at the mercy of the Government, and the Government used its power directly and indirectly, in accordance with the theory, to clear the land. Out-door relief was established in that season of distress, and relief altogether was coupled with the resignation of the land. The poor were required to give up their heritage, small though it were, for less than a mess of pottage. A law was passed, the 11 and 12 Vic. c. 47, entitled, “An Act for the Protection and Relief of the Destitute Poor Evicted from the Dwellings,” which provided a means of evicting them, subjecting the landlords to the necessity of giving notice to Poor-law guardians, and to the share of a common burden. Under such stimuli and such auspices, the clearing process has gone on in an accelerated ratio, and Ireland is now dotted with ruined villages, and filled with a starving population, besieging the doors of crowded workhouses, and creeping into the halls and chambers of the deserted mansions of the nobility and gentry. A gentleman’s mansion turned into a poor-house, is a fit emblem of the decay that a mistaken policy has brought on all classes. The system intended to relieve the poor, by making the landlords responsible for their welfare, has at once made it the interest, and therefore the duty, of the landlords to get rid of them. Extirpation is accordingly going forward at a rapid rate; and the evidence of that is now placed before the eyes and the understanding of the readers of the ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS.

I will give you, by-and-bye, some notices of driving for rent, of landowners impoverished by rates, and of bankrupt unions; but at present I must draw attention to some of the other Sketches I send. The Scalp of Brian Connor (here represented) has been already described; it is another illustration of the worse than pig-sty habitations of those who did live in the now roofless cottages. Another Sketch follows (of Miss Kennedy), which shows that, amidst this world of wretchedness, all is not misery and guilt. Indeed, it is a part of our nature that the sufferings of some should be the occasion for the exercise of virtue in others. Miss Kennedy (about seven years old) is the daughter of Captain Kennedy, the Poor-law Inspector of the Kilrush Union. She is represented as engaged in her daily occupation of distributing clothing to the wretched children brought around her by their more wretched parents. In the front of the group I noticed one woman crouching like a monkey, and drawing around her the only rag she had left to conceal her nudity. A big tear was rolling down her cheek, with gratitude for the gifts the innocent child was distributing. The effect was heightened by the chilliness and dreariness of a November evening, and by the wet and mire in which the naked feet of the crowd were immersed. On Captain Kennedy being appointed to the Union, his daughter was much affected by the misery of the poor children she saw; and so completely did it occupy her thoughts, that, with the consent of her parents, she gave up her time and her own little means to relieve them. She gave away her own clothes– she was allowed to bestow part of her mother’s– and she then purchased course materials, and made up clothing for children of her own age; she was encouraged by her father and some philanthropic strangers, from whom she received sums of money, and whose example will no doubt be followed by those who possess property in the neighbourhood; and she devoted herself with all the energy and perseverance of a mature and staid matron to the holy office she has undertaken. The Sketch will, I hope, immortalize the beneficent child, who is filling the place of a saint, and performing the duties of a patriot.



On all sides I hear praises of the amiable child and her excellent father, and this is not without a moral for the landlords. The public officers who are appointed to administer and control the relief of the poor, have it in their power to do much for the people. Mere kindness of manner, though they render no substantial assistance, endears them to the suffering crowd. Captain Kennedy is at once kind, charitable, and judicious. He is at the head of the Union. He fills for the people the most important office in the district. He is the great man of the place. It must be so in other districts. The funds are contributed by the landowners, but they are distributed by public officers. Thus the Poor-law, which disposes of the landowners’ property, also deprives them of the pleasure and the burden of distributing it themselves. A public officer is made, in fact, to administer their estates, and he stands between them and their compulsory bounties, securing the respect and confidence which they might and ought to have. The more the subject is examined, the more, I have no doubt, it will be found that the poor-law is as injurious to the landlords as it is to the people.

Searching for Potatoes is one of the occupations of those who cannot obtain out-door relief. It is gleaning in a potato-field– and how few are left after the potatoes are dug, must be known to every one who has ever seen the field cleared. What the people were digging and hunting for, like dogs after truffles, I could not imagine, till I went into the field, and then I found them patiently turning over the whole ground, in the hopes of finding the few potatoes the owner might have overlooked. Gleaning in a potato-field seems something like shearing hogs, but it is the only means by which the gleaners could hope to get a meal.

The Sketch of a Woman and Children represents Bridget O’Donnel. Her story is briefly this:– “I lived,” she said, “on the lands of Gurranenatuoha. My husband held four acres and a half of land, and three acres of bog land; our yearly rent was £7 4s.; we were put out last November; he owed some rent. We got thirty stone of oats from Mr. Marcus Keane, for seed. My husband gave some writing for it: he was paid for it. He paid ten shillings for reaping the corn. As soon as it was stacked, one “Blake” on the farm, who was put to watch it, took it away to his own haggard and kept it there for a fortnight by Dan Sheedey’s orders. They then thrashed it in Frank Lellis’s barn. I was at this time lying in fever. Dan Sheedey and five or six men came to tumble my house; they wanted me to give possession. I said that I would not; I had fever, and was within two months of my down-lying (confinement); they commenced knocking down the house, and had half of it knocked down when two neighbours, women, Nell Spellesley and Kate How, carried me out. I had the priest and doctor to attend me shortly after. Father Meehan anointed me. I was carried into a cabin, and lay there for eight days, when I had the creature (the child) born dead. I lay for three weeks after that. The whole of my family got the fever, and one boy thirteen years old died with want and with hunger while we were lying sick. Dan Sheedey and Blake took the corn into Kilrush, and sold it. I don’t know what they got for it. I had not a bit for my children to eat when they took it from me.”



The last Sketch shows the Scalpeen of Tim Downs, at Dunmore, in the parish of Kellard, where himself and his ancestors resided on the spot for over a century, with renewal of their lease in 1845. He neither owed rent arrears or taxes up to the present moment, and yet he was pitched out on the roadside, and saw ten other houses, with his own, levelled at one fell swoop on the spot, the ruins of some of which are seen in this Sketch. None of them were mud cabins, but all capital stone-built houses.

I must conclude my present communication with an account of a great catastrophe, which has hurried 37 of the poor wretches that depended on the Union of Kilrush, with four other persons, into eternity. The Union will be relieved by an accident at which humanity mourns:–

“On the evening of Wednesday week intelligence reached the town of Kilrush that a large number of persons, most of whom were paupers, who had been seeking out-door relief at Kilrush, were drowned while crossing the ferry on their return to Moyarta. No less than 33 dead bodies were washed ashore on the northern side of the ferry. They were removed to an adjacent field, and the coroner, Mr. Frank O’Donnell, arriving soon after from Kilkee, an inquest was held on their wretched remains. It appeared upon the inquiry that no less than 43 or 45 persons (for they could not tell the exact number), were allowed to crowd into a crazy and rotten boat, which had been plying on this ferry for the last forty years. The boat moved on as far as the middle of the ferry, when a sea broke over her stern, and filled her at once, the wind blowing strong from the south-west at the time. She upset instantly, and her miserable living freight were immersed in the merciless waters, while four (who were eventually saved) clung to her until a boat from Captain Cox’s men came to their assistance. The verdict of the coroner’s jury was as usual in such cases, but imputing gross neglect, and attaching censure to the owners of the boat, for admitting such a number of persons into so frail a craft. With the exception of four, the victims were all paupers who had frequently come into the town in vain to seek out-door relief, and were returning that sad evening to their wretched hovels in the parishes of Moyarta and Kilballyowen.”


From the town of Kilrush to Kilkee, on the shore of the Atlantic, I passed through an unimproved district, on which nature has bestowed fertility, and man has levelled the habitations that were built in happier days. In a drive of seven miles I counted thirty-three roofless houses. Kilkee is a beautiful spot. Round a bay, from which the ground rises like an amphitheatre, are planted many villas and baths. The scenery is bold, and the waves, after rolling across the vast Atlantic, spend their last force on the rocks, dying amidst noise and foam. From its situation, it is worthy of its name, the “Western Brighton,” and it is worthy of notice, showing that nature has left nothing that can contribute to prosperity, not even a suitable bathing-place, unprovided in the Union of Kilrush. From Kilkee, through Kilard and Donoughboy, I went to Moveen the roofless, of which I have already sent you a Sketch. I was told here a melancholy tale of the widow Hogan and her four children, who were all carried out of her cabin in a helpless state of fever, and laid down in a ditch on the opposite side of the road, where they remained several days, when a humane stranger had them carried to the hospital, eleven miles off. To Tullig from Kilkee, I counted ninety-two roofless houses. Passing afterwards through the picturesque village of Cariegaholt to Donagha and Querin, I counted 105 dwellings in ruins. Clarefield, to which I came next, baffles description. Adults, who appeared idiotic; children, wrinkled with care, so that they appeared like aged persons; and men who should not be worn out, but more helpless than children, with scarcely a rag to cover them, crowded the place. Their habitations were mere kennels. I was heart-sick, and said “Surely there cannot be so much suffering and neglect in any other spot on the face of the earth!” I returned to Kilrush, glad to find a refuge even in it from the more appalling misery of the surrounding villages.

Leaving Kilrush once more, I proceeded northwards to Enaghmonmore, Derryard, and Donmore, and in this distance I counted thirty houses levelled. In the whole district there is not one respectable or even decent house. Kilard, to which I next came, is another ruined village, in which the extirpation of the old Irelanders has been complete. Afterwards I passed through the village of Doonbeg, a spot possessing every natural advantage, one half of which has been destroyed by the landowners, and remains, with its pointed gables and a few blackened rafters, a sad contrast even to the miserable houses that are left standing. The people who are yet left alive are crowded into dens, or rather dog-holes, where, in a space not sufficient for two persons, twenty are glad to find shelter.


Two wretched families have taken refuge under the bridge in a hole. They consist of two widows, one with three children, all ill of jaundice, and the other with five. The history of Judy O’Donnel, one of the widows, is worthy of being sketched. She had given evidence against a dishonest relieving officer whose relative was a driver upon the estate on which she lived, and Judy’s house was very soon afterwards levelled with the ground. The wreckers came upon it in her absence, when her son gallantly defended his home. He mounted on the roof with a bag of stones, and kept the enemy at bay till his ammunition was exhausted, when he was obliged to give in, and stand by to see the little furniture of this mother cast into the road and the house pulled down. Judy exhibited her receipts for the rent up to the last gale; and she declared the agent of the owner, to whom she had tendered what was due twice, had refused, and that she was ejected because she deposed against the dishonest public servant. Judy and Margaret O’Donnel, with their families, then retired to the hole under the bridge, represented in the sketch, and there they are now suffered to remain, holding their habitation at the mercy of the county surveyor. They are afraid of being ejected even from this spot, and dare not cross the stepping-stones shown in the Sketch lest they should be taken up for trespassing. Judy O’Donnel’s son is dying of dysentery.

Before quitting Kilrush altogether, I must give you some further particulars of the Union and of its inhabitants. I must first tell you that at present the population of the Union is decreased from 82,358 in 1841 to 65,000; and, as 31,549 persons were receiving relief in June, actually 48 per cent. of the inhabitants are paupers, and such paupers as the veriest paupers in England would hasten to relieve. What has become of the 17,358 who, contrary to the course of nature, which everywhere delights in the increase of sentient beings, unlike warriors and Irish landlords, and has provided for the continual ennobling of all, I cannot precisely say. Some few, a very small fragment, may, by emigration, have escaped from the desolation, and found a refuge in England, or a happier home across the Atlantic; but the great majority has been starved out of existence.

“I see,” said Captain Kennedy, writing on January 2, this year, in the papers published by the House of Commons, “masses of the people starving, and the land, which could be made to feed treble the number, lying all but waste.” In the special returns I find entries like this:– “This man, Michael Considine, in consequence of having land, could not be relieved. His wife and nine children died of actual want.”

Thus, the whole number of deaths in the workhouse, in 1847, exceeded the average number of inmates by 43. It was only less than the largest number ever present (1192) by 117. In 1847, the paupers entered the workhouse only to die. In 1848, the case was not quite so bad; the deaths were 202 less than the average number present in the workhouse, and 469 less than the largest number (1678) ever present. In 1849, the mortality was much lessened, partly owing to a change in the management, under vice-guardians, who had superseded elective guardians, and partly owing to the vast number of previous deaths, which left, in 1849, fewer to die. Of all the frightful mortality I ever heard of, except that of the Black-Hose of Calcutta, or that of the fore-cabin of the Londonderry steamer, that of the Kilrush Union workhouse is the most frightful. Nor was there, according to the theory of Mr. Doubleday (who asserts that births are in proportion to want and misery), any increase of children to compensate. In the half-year ending March 25, 1849, there was not a single birth in the Kilrush Union; in that ending September 25, there were only four; while the average number of inmates was 2200. Neither pestilence nor war can cause depopulation like a short crop, combined with the evictions dictated by a false theory, and the belief that, under the direction of legislation, the evicted people will be benevolently provided for in a union workhouse.



The area of the Union is 178,935 acres; and in 1841, therefore, the population was in the proportion of one soul to every 2-1/2 acres, or far below the poet’s standard of every rood of ground maintaining its man, and far below the proportion of population to acres in Lancashire. The area of that shire, according to Mr. McCulloch– for high authorities differ on such a matter of geometrical measurement– is 1,130,240 acres, and its population, in 1841, was 1,667,054; or, there was then 1-1/2 souls to every acre; since then the population has, no doubt, increased at least in as large a proportion as the less dense population of Kilrush has been destroyed. May I mention this contrast as some elucidation of the great question at issue i the world, as to the effects of commerce and manufactures united with agriculture, and of agriculture alone, in sustaining a population. In proportion to Lancashire, Kilrush– which consists for the most part of a very fertile soil; which is admirably situated at the mouth of a great river, possessing also a large extent of sea-coast, in the neighbourhood of an abundance of fish; whose people are actually starved out of existence– was, before the depopulation began, only one-third as densely peopled as Lancashire. The valuation of the Kilrush Union is put down at £59,449, or something more than 6s. 2d. per acre. The annual value of real property in Lancashire is put down in 1841 at £5,266,606, or upwards of £4 13s. per acre. Thus, while the population of Lancashire, per acre, is three times as great as that of Kilrush, the value of property is thirteen times as great. These little data, applicable in a great degree to the whole of agricultural Ireland, may serve to explain the different effects of commerce and manufactures as contrasted with agriculture, and the different operation of a Poor-law falling on the rapidly increasing property of commercial and prosperous England and on the poverty of agricultural and decaying Ireland.

It is not my object, nor can it be yours, nor that of any reflecting man, to hold up the unfortunate landowners of this district to public indignation. They are the heirs and the victims of a vicious system. I have forborne, therefore, to mention their names in conjunction with the unfortunate creatures whose cases I have brought before you. I will, however, before I quit the subject altogether, mention that the principal proprietors and middlemen of the Union are Colonel Vandeleur, O’Gorman Mahon, John McDonnel, the Marquis of Conyngham; Messrs. Westropp, John McMahon, Blackall, Major Brooks, Charles Wilmot Smith, Hugh P. Hickman, H. Stewart Burton, Mr. Westly, and Messrs. Stackpooles, minors. I may also give you the following account of the houses levelled within the Union of Kilrush, in the last two years:– Kilmurry Strikane, 604; Kilard, 621; Moyarta, 402; Kilrush, 305; Knock and Kilmer, 111; Kilmichael, 221; Kilmacdooane, 167; Kilballyowen, 150; Kilkee, 165; Kildysart, 80; Kilfidane, 40; Kilofin, 30: Total, 2891.

I must now take leave of Kilrush, which I left on my way to Ennistimon. Similar scenes of desolation to those I had beheld for several days continued; and on both sides of the road, as far as the eye could reach, it fell on “tumbled” and roofless houses. Now and then I saw on the borders of a bog or quagmire some of the scalps in which the people seek to preserve their lives. On arriving at the bog of Cahuermore, I alighted at the scalp shown in the Sketch, which Mr. Monsel and his companions discovered to their surprise, and found in it a woman dying of the customary fever which attends on want of food and clothing and the ordinary necessaries of life. Than this scalp, nothing could be more wretched. It was placed in a hole, surrounded by pools, and three sides of the scalp (shown in the Sketch) were dripping with water, which ran in small streams over the floor and out by the entrance. Yet, wretched as this hole is, the poor inhabitants said they would be thankful and content if the landlord would leave them there, and the Almighty would spare their lives. Its principal tenant is Margaret Vaughan, whose history has found its way before the public, and a more wretched history, even in this country of wretchedness, is scarcely to be found. Not far from her cave is the destroyed village of Kilmurry Strikane, another of those pictures of desolation of which I have already sent you too many. For the present I will leave them, and turn to a little oasis of humanity in the desert of misery.

A short drive from Kilmurry brought us to the summit of a hill where the face of the country appeared instantly to have changed. It was like passing from the Catholic to the Protestant cantons of Switzerland, or rather like a dream. At once I came on neat white-washed houses and tidy gardens, with the haggard or farm-yard enclosed, and generally containing something worth taking care of. I had entered on the domain of Colonel Windham, who is not tired of his fellow-creatures, and does not seek to exterminate them. Not a roofless house did I see here. Whether Colonel Windham have spent a large fortune on this place, or whether he have gained money while he has promoted the happiness of his tenantry, I am not informed; but when he contrasts his property with the surrounding estates, he must feel himself a proud and a happy, if not a rich, man. The whole face of the country is altered, and all the people you meet, whether men, women, or children, seem cheerful, as if they had plenty of the means of subsistence. On the very threshold of his property stands a national school, equally picturesque from its position, and admirable for its management. Though a single example is by no means conclusive of what might be equally done by all, and there never can be any just reliance on a system which places the welfare of the many at the discretion of a few, and wrecks the happiness of a whole community when the hereditary owner of a large property is a worthless extortioner and spendthrift, yet I must say the conduct of Colonel Windham adds to the loathing with which we regard many of his neighbours. More fortunate, however, than many of them, he inherited an unencumbered property and an ample fortune in England, which enabled him to spare his Irish tenants without falling prey to exacting creditors, when the famine fell on the land.


On coming to Spanish Point, so named from a portion of the Armada having been wrecked on it, I found an enormous building, once called the Atlantic Hotel, converted in to an auxiliary union workhouse. It is an emblem of what is everywhere going on– the change from productive industry, to destructive pauperism, the cessation of hope and enterprize, and the spreading of apathy and despair. I love the ocean with its incessant life, a great emblem of eternity, and I found the scenery on its shores, about Spanish Point, bold and attractive. From thence, however, to Ennistimon, through Lohyncha, there is nothing so remarkable as the absence of those roofless villages and skeleton houses I had found so abundant in the districts about Kilrush.

I send you herewith a Sketch of Driving for Rent. It may serve to vary a little the miseries I have to portray.



In the whole county of Clare, therefore, the proportion of persons relieved is 43 per cent. of the total population of 1841– now lessened at least 20 per cent. The expense of the four unions is estimated at £200,000 per annum, or 73 per cent. of the total valuation. But, as much of the land is now out of cultivation, the valuation has declined as much as the population. I knew one gentleman in the Ennistymon union who pays, and will have to pay till next September, 18s 1-1/2d. in the pound on his whole receipts on account of poor-rates, county cess, &c. One great misfortune of the Poor-law is, that, as it increases the burden, it incapacitates the landowner from bearing it. The diminution of the rate-paying power is in proportion to the increase of pauperism. The population of Clare is only 1 person to every 2-3/4 acres. There is, therefore, plenty of room in the county, plenty of all the natural sources of wealth, or of those agents out of which industry creates all wealth; yet in Clare, wealth is the one thing needed, and industry, therefore, is defective. Man, not nature, is to blame; and all the woes of Ireland come from bad national husbandry. The great want being wealth of all kinds, and the great want having long been wealth, it is plain that a Poor-law that provides for idleness and destitution, and lessens the natural stimulus to industry; which decreases wealth and devotes it to unproductive consumption, is one of the last measures any reasonable being would have had recourse to for the purpose of regenerating Ireland. What I have shown to be true of Kilrush, and true of Clare, is true of by far the greater portion of the island. The same leading facts exist everywhere: everywhere there is a scanty population in relation to space as compared to Lancashire, and a very redundant population as compared to the wealth in existence; everywhere there is great abundance of all the natural means of opulence, and scandalous neglect or ignorance in applying them. The Poor-law is obviously calculated to encourage idleness to prey on the wealth already in existence. Lessening the motives for exertion, whatever interest it may give the landlords in keeping their estates clear of paupers, it will prevent in future the creation of wealth. It does the very thing, therefore, that ought not to be done. As I see before me the sickening evidence of its operation, it is plain, whatever measures may be required to regenerate Ireland, that the Poor-law is only the climax of the ignorant legislation that, operating in silence through the ages, has perverted the Irish, and made their naturally fertile abode one scene of desolation.

On the road from Ennistymon to Ballyvaughan, the extreme part of Clare, for about thirty miles I saw nothing particularly worthy of being mentioned. I passed by the property of Mr. Cornelius O’Brien, late M.P. for the county of Limerick, which, like that of Colonel Wyndham, is in a credible condition. No scalps or scalpeens were visible, but there was bog reclaimed from barrenness by thorough draining, and impregnated with fertility by the hand of industry. Afterwards, on the road on the Birchfield property, I saw some specimens of the abortions of the Board of Works– roads driven into the midst of bogs, and left unfinished, conducting nowhere, and serving no purpose. Nor was the neighbourhood without those roofless villages and tumbled-down houses I have so continually met with. Some potato-fields were to me a more agreeable sight; and in this part of the country the cultivation of that root is still continued extensively. I shall not trouble your readers with any of the local disputes which I am obliged to hear and read a great deal about. Vice-guardians, inspectors, &c., men who have the difficult and ungrateful task of carrying the Poor-law into execution, need much indulgence, and must fall even, if they be exempt from the partiality, the selfishness, the desire of avoiding trouble, and of sparing their own purses, which distinguish men in their situation. On such subjects, all classes wrangle and write a great deal, and the poor guardians have to bear the blame of the opthalmia at Athlone, which has already destroyed the sight of twenty-seven children, of the want of adequate supplies for the crowds of paupers, and of all the disease and wretchedness in the workhouse they are forced to behold, and must vainly try to alleviate. That there may be jobbing and carelessness it is impossible to deny; but the multitude of inspectors, relieving officers, and guardians and critical rate-payers, gives rise to endless criminations and recriminations, such as always take place amongst conflicting authorities in a state of uncertainty and doubt, with difficulties before them which they cannot overcome. These things, even to the opthalmia at Athlone, are the natural consequences of the law which crowds people stricken with misery and disease into the workhouses, and places them under the government of men ignorant of the means of organisation, and having the interest to provide for them as badly as possible. It is only another evidence of the impropriety of establishing such a law for people in such a condition.

I crossed the bay to Galway, and proceeded towards Clifden by a route devoid of interest, exhibiting, in a less degree than in Clare, the usual signs of devastation in progress. Mr. Martin’s property extends almost the whole way from Ouchterade to Clifden and is a mixture of mountain, moor, and fertile land, capable of indefinite improvement, with great facility of water carriage, but most sadly neglected. It is a bad sign for the next harvest, and for the people of this country, that in my whole journey from Galway I did not see more than from thirty to forty persons, including all ages and sexes; and, with the exception of ten men working under a road contractor, few or none of them were at work.


At Carihaken the levellers have been at work and tumbled down eighteen houses. In one of them dwelt John Killian, who stood by me while I made the accompanying sketch of the remains of his dwelling. He told me that he and his fathers before him had owned this now ruined cabin for ages and that he had paid £4 a year for four acres of ground. He owed no rent: before it was due, the landlord’s drivers cut down his crops, carried them off, gave him no account of the proceeds, and then tumbled his house. The hut made against the end wall of a former habitation was not likely to remain, as a decree had gone forth entirely to clear the place. The old man also told me that his son having cut down, on the spot that was once his own garden, a few sticks to make him a shelter, was taken up, prosecuted, and sentenced to two month’s confinement for destroying trees and making waste of the property.

I must supply you with another Sketch of a similar subject on the road between Maam and Clifden, in Joyce’s County, once famous for the Patagonian stature of the inhabitants, who are now starved down to ordinary dimensions. High up on the mountain, but on the road-side, stands the scalpeen of Keillines. It is near General Thompson’s property. Conceive five human beings living in such a hole: the father was out, at work; the mother was getting fuel on the hills, and the children left in the hut could only say they were hungry. Their appearance confirmed their words– want was deeply engraved in their faces, and their lank bodies were almost unprotected by clothing.

At Kylemore my companion bought a turbot, weighing from 18lb. to 20lb., for 1s 6d., and might have had it for 1s. had he driven a hard bargain. The fact indicates that the sea would supply plenty of food if man would take the trouble to procure it. A similar capacity of the equal capacity of the soil is found at a short distance from Kylemore. Two enterprising Englishmen, of the name of Eastwood, planted themselves there about four years ago, and all around them the bleak and barren moor has been changed into well laid-out fields– some green with herbage, and others brown and dingy with the stubble of the carried corn. There is a comfortable lodge, in the Elizabethan style, and around it suitable farm buildings. The whole indicates skill, industry, and good taste; it indicates, too, great courage in overcoming a moral as well as a physical opposition. The Messrs. Eastwood have, in some measure, conquered the habits of the people, which was a more difficult task than subduing the neglected and deserted heath. They will be pioneers to others, who will select, let us hope, this fertile and promising wilderness for the scene of their exertions, instead of wrestling against the arid sands of Australia, or engaging in competition for the plains of the Mississippi with emigrants from all the countries of Europe. Their example has in fact been followed, and between their abode and Clifden two or three beginnings have been made– so that the country adjoining that town exhibits several signs of improvement.

This neighbourhood, before the potato rot came, was not so entirely occupied by the cultivation of the root as some other parts of the country. In the Union of Kilrush, for example, in 1848, there were 11,569 acres under potatoes, out of an area of 178,935 acres; in the Union of Clifden, there were only 3714 acres, out of an area of 189,504 acres, under potatoes. The fact is of some importance, in explaining the comparative ease with which the poor in Clifden has been disposed of. Clifden itself is exotic in an unfavourable climate. It was reared by the patronage of the late Viscount; and since that ceased, it began to decline: the Poor-law has almost finished it. Before we reached, we learned that all the guardians of the union were out of money, and obliged to pay for what they wanted by cheques, which they are to receive in payment of the rates. Extreme poverty exists in the neighbourhood– the soil around is poor– great numbers of houses have been levelled– but the poor, unlike those of Kilrush, have in great part disappeared with the houses. They have not found refuge in the workhouse– they have not been carried away as emigrants; they have either wandered away or have died, or both may have contributed to causing their disappearance. I have a list of 111 houses levelled within a few months in the immediate neighbourhood of Clifden, which is very considerable, considering that the whole population of the Union was only 33,465 in 1841. Assuming five inmates to a house, the sixtieth part of the population has been dispossessed. Here, too, there is little more than one person to every six acres; or, scanty as is the population of Clare, the population of the Union of Clifden is not, in relation to acres, half so abundant. I have taken a Sketch of the workhouse, which I send as a memorial of this pet place of the late Viscount Clifden.



From Clifden to Ouchterade, twenty-one miles is a dreary drive over a moor, unrelieved except by a glimpse of Mr Martin’s house at Ballynahinch, and of the residence of Dean Mahon. Destitute as this tract is of inhabitants, about Ouchterade some thirty houses have been recently demolished. A gentleman who witnessed the scene told me nothing could exceed the heartlessness of the levellers if it were not the patient submission of the sufferers. They wept, indeed; and the children screamed with agony at seeing their homes destroyed and their parents in tears; but the latter allowed themselves unresistingly to be deprived of what is to most people the dearest thing on earth next to their lives– their only home.

I returned to Galway, where the Poor-law officials are not communicative, nor is there in the Union any extraordinary fact to communicate. The old town is a jumble of thatched mud cabins, stone-built houses, and the remains of a former splendour, old sculptures and carvings, putting to shame the homely and even rude houses of modern date. The people are remarkable for the vivid colours of their dresses, amongst which red predominates, and some lingering traces of a foreign origin may yet be discovered in their countenances. Here, as in most other sea-ports and fishing towns, particularly of Ireland, hulking men lounging about were numerous and appeared to have every other capacity to work but the will. You are not annoyed, however, by mendicants in Galway, as in other Irish towns, though there is a universal complaint of distress finished by the exclamation, “That last five-shilling rate is a death-blow to all.”

From Galway, I proceeded to Ennis, and in the neighbourhood inspected the village of Clear, which had been destroyed within a few weeks, and some part of it within a few days. The Sketch of Pat Macnamara’s Cabin shows the condition of the village. In Ennis, I went through the lanes and alleys, and amongst the most distressed part of the population. In one small room, not 20 feet square, I found congregated fifteen people, young and old, exhibiting nearly all the phases of want and squalor. From the smoke which filled the place, it was a Rembrandt scene, and it was with difficulty I could make out the forms of the wretched groups, or of the squalid and dying child on the floor. In the union workhouse of Ennis, there is order, decency, and regularity. With it is conjoined a farm of eighteen acres, which is well cultivated by the labour of the paupers. It is wisely placed under the superintendence of one of the Lord Clarendon’s practical agricultural instructors, and probably he is as well employed in displaying his skill at the farm as in any other mode of teaching his art.

At Ennis, I consider my tour terminated; and I shall only send you further some general observations on the Poor-law, and some suggestions as to what might reasonably be done for Ireland.





Some communities associated with this timeline

Some buildings associated with these communities