Maghera Past and present – A view of Maghera in 1913

Lower Main Street, Maghera circa 1903 400x254

Maghera Past and present – A view of Maghera in 1913The Larne Times & Weekly Telegraph covered the town of Maghera in an interesting and wonderfully detailed article featured in their 8th November 1913 edition. This was part of their ‘In Ulster towns and villages’ series of articles and gives a wonderfully informative  zeitgeist of Maghera on the eve of World War I:





Progressing to Maghera in continuation of our series of articles on Ulster towns and village the ancient town of St. Lurach is the next natural stopping place after Castledawson and Magherafelt, the outlines of whose history we reviewed last week. If instead of the sequence of geographical situations we had consulted the interests of cultural precedence, Maghera should be given premier place in Derry by way of its rank and standing as the oldest town in the county.

The authority of Lewis, without whose topographical records the country would be much [poorer?] it is not necessary to establish the fact that Maghera is a place of great antiquity. The town to this day bears silent but indisputable testimony, not merely to its existence, but also its great importance, in early epochs of Ireland’s history, when many centres have grown up in the intervening centuries had not taken form from out the forest that covered wide tracts of what is now [ ] pasture land. The Plantation [period marks] the beginning of quite a large [  ] in the northern towns of Ireland. Not such Maghera. Three hundred years have passed into history since first settlers under King James’s scheme of colonisation [mov]ed to the regions watered by the Lower Bann. Twice or thrice three hundred years would not carry us back to the times when Maghera first assumed prominence as a centre of.


 St. Lurach’s Old Church.

Although we are told there is no precise account of the original foundation of an abbey for Canons Regular, believed to have been established there at a very early period, yet it is beyond controversy that at so remote a time as 537 the ancient see of Ardstra or Ardstrath was removed to the town. In the olden times the place was called Machaire Ratha Luraigh- Machaire meaning a plain (as in Magherafelt, the plain of the rushes). Gradually the name changed to its present form, Ratha Luraigh means the fort of Lurach, St. Lurach being the patron saint of the parish. This eminent ecclesiastical, of whom the town has more than one memorial, substantial as well as legendary, throws the mind back to the days of St. Patrick himself. Lurach, like many another Irish saint, was of Royal Lineage, and had close family ties with the patron saint of Ireland. One has but to turn to the ruins of St. Lurach’s Church, happily in an excellent state of preservation, to find abundant confirmation as to Maghera’s importance in the era in which Ireland won its first fame as the home of saints and scholars. The old church and grounds have been the hunting ground of the antiquarian and archaeologist who have written and lectured upon some of its features which have a distinctiveness of their own among Irish ecclesiastical remains. Some portions bear marks of very remote antiquity. The square-headed western doorway, with its representation of the Crucifixion, rudely sculptured in high relief with the company of the apostles, has long fascinated the attention of those who find a delight in the study of these memorials of an age, of which relics are but too few. It has been estimated that the date of this interesting piece of sculptury is between the years 960 and 1,000 A.D.. Lewis, in his indispensible Topographical Dictionary (1837) mentioned not only the fact that in the churchyard are the tomb and pillar of Leuri (or Lurach, but added that the grave of the patron saint was opened early in the last century, when a silver crucifix was found in it, and was carefully replaced. It has been placed on record that this addendum had been better suppressed, as it is related that a couple of thieves came afterwards, opened the grave, and


An information was sworn by the late Alexander Hipson, of Maghera, describing the thieves, and the late Rev. Spencer Knox had them followed to Magherafelt and Moneymore, but unfortunately all traces of them was lost. Readers of the “Ulster Journal of Archaeology” were indebted over ten years ago to the late Mr. A. K. Morrison and to Mr. S. D. Lytle for a copy of the deposition of Hipson, describing the disgraceful act of vandalism, and we take leave to reproduce it here. MADGHS

It was sworn and signed on January 20, 1865, before Mr. J. J. Clarke J.P., at Largantogher, as follows:-

I Alexander Hipson of Maghera in the county of Londonderry carpenter do solemnly & sincerely declare that in or about the year 1839 I think in the month of March I was in the employment of the Rev. James Spencer Knox rector, of the parish of Maghera, when one morning having to pass through the old graveyard on my way from the glebe house to the town of Maghera to buy nails I met two persons dressed like gentlemen in the graveyard, one had a paper in his hand, on which there was writing. He asked was I a native of the town I said I was. He then enquired if there was a long grave in the churchyard in which Saint Lorny was buried. I said I had often heard of it. He again asked if it had a black whin stone for a head stone I told him it had. He looked at the paper and bid the other gentleman to come along. We went together to the grave which I pointed out. He took a rule out of his pocket & measured the grave which he compared with the writing on the paper with it and the headstone. At his request I got him a spade from James Cassidy who was planting potatoes. On giving him the spade he gave me a half crown piece & said to me & Thomas Quinn who had just come up that we might go and have a glass. We went to Billy Crocketts had a glass & divided what was left of the half-crown between us. I then went to Harry Porters the nailer, got the nails & returned  through the graveyard, and there found the two gentlemen filling up the hole in the grave that appeared about 2½ feet long & about 2 ft broad. I don’t know the depth. On the grass was a handkerchief spread out the wind raising it up I saw underneath a cross which might be about 18 inches long. They then left taking the cross with them. I began to think I should tell Mr. Knox & went to the hall door, but he was not in the house. Half an hour after I returned I found him in his study and told what had occurred.  He sent me immediately to the hotel kept by Mr Falls to make enquiry who said, they had been gone for some time, but whether to Moneymore or Magherafelt he could not say. Mr Knox & myself then drove in his gig to Magherafelt but could not find any trace of them there but got a fresh horse & proceeded to Moneymore, with no better success-  came back by Desertmartin to Magherafelt hoping to meet with them Mr Knox having left instructions in Magherafelt to have them detained should they make their appearance there. Mr Knox told me afterwards he had reason to believe they had gone to Dungannon & was greatly displeased with Mr Falls as he blamed him for misleading him.

This is the story which, in point of detail, certainly seems very circumstantial. The resting-place of St. Lurach is marked by a rude whinstone, which is evidently the remains of a cross. The hope has been more than once expressed that some suitable monument should mark the resting-place of Maghera’s patron saint, but this natural and commending desire has not yet been realised. There is a local tradition that an underground passage existed between the old church and the church of Mullagh Hill, about a mile distant. No one, however, has been industrious enough to test the accuracy of tradition by any extensive excavation.


Another reminder of St. Lurach is the well which perpetuates his name to the present day. It is in the centre of the town not far from the principal street, at the entrance of Mr. John Marker’s yard. The well was for a considerable time the principal source of the water supply for the town, but was closed in recent years by the district authorities, and a pump erected over it. The legends concerning the efficacy of the waters of the well, as may well be conceived, are numerous.

Reverting to the earlier times we recall that for nearly 600 years Maghera continued to be the seat of the diocese but in 1158 it was united to the See of Derry and the cathedral church was established in that city. The transference meant more than a mere loss of prestige to the ancient town, for it appears to have declined rapidly in importance after that period, and a few events of historical interest occurred, except occasional depredations during the insurrections of the O’Nials, to whom the surrounding territory belonged. On the plantation of Ulster the lands of the ancient See of Maghera were confirmed to the Bishop of Derry, and other parts of the parish were also assigned by James I to the Mercers’, Vintners’, Salters’, and Drapers’ companies of London, who retained possession till their disposal under the Land Acts of the last few decades. In the war of 1641 Maghera suffered very heavily, being burned by the insurgents under Macdonnell. It was in that terrible period that the ironworks which were established at Drumconready in the reign of Charles I, were destroyed. In 1688 the town, which had scarcely recovered from its former devastation, was assaulted by the Irish adherents of James II, and the inhabitants were compelled to abandon their houses and seek refuge in the city of Derry. 1641 and 1688 are outstanding dates, but much could be written of long periods during which hardships tried the people of Maghera, as well as the country’s inhabitants generally. We must hasten on, however, and come to


Which not unnaturally had its influence upon the folk in and around Maghera. Times were different then, and the general discontent, which was generated by causes which should have been removed, found expression in the well-known incidents of the period. In our reference to the history of Presbyterianism we touch incidentally upon ’98. Suffice here briefly to relate that in Maghera a corps was formed called the Maghera National Guards, which was composed principally of Presbyterians, and a number of Roman Catholics and even a few Episcopalians joined the ranks. The corps was about 5,000, but only a tenth of them had firearms, the remainder carrying pikes, pitchforks, spades, and bludgeons. They assembled at Crewe Hill on the 7th June, 1798, but owing to the defeat of the other corps of United Irishmen in the neighbourhood when the soldiers put in an appearance they disbanded. Some of the leaders escaped to America. Walter or “Watty” Graham was not so fortunate. He found shelter in Limavady, but was betrayed, and brought back to Maghera, where he was hanged, the place of his execution in the Square being pointed out to the present day. His servant man, reputed to be dull-witted, was ordered to proclaim at intervals as his master’s head was carried on the top of the pole through the streets- “Behold the head of a traitor”. The man, whether intentionally or not is not known, cried out,


Many of the people emigrated to America at these times. England had cause to regret her misrule of the country afterwards. In America the Ulster people proved England’s most bitter enemies when that country was wrested from the British. It is a well-known fact that the Declaration of Independence was principally signed by Irish Presbyterians. Two of the signatories on that historic roll are Charles Thompson and a man named Hawthorne, two Maghera Presbyterians. Only two of the signatories added any address, and one was Thompson, who was proud to place Maghera after his name.


It is a long skip from 1798 to 1913, but in the interests of space we are compelled to make it. As we have said, Maghera is a town which can boast an historic continuity that none of its neighbours can eclipse. While proud of its almost unique record in this respect, the town by no means lives in the past, its inhabitants being animated by a spirit of progressiveness that has left its impress in many directions. It enjoys the reputation of being the most progressive market town in South Derry. Modern Maghera is improving materially both as regards size and importance. The installation of electric light is one of the indications of its up-to-dateness.


By far the most important event in recent times was the establishment of the new handkerchief embroidery works in Hall Street by Messrs. Glendinning, McLeish & Co., Belfast, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction. The advent of this industry as thus introduced holds encouraging potentialities for the future, and will be destined to mark a new era in the history of the town. The splendid structure in fine modern style means more than an ornate addition to Maghera’s buildings, but will prove a boon to the people around, as the prosperity of the works will reflect its influence on the town in an altogether gratifying way. The number of hands employed at present s necessarily somewhat limited, but larger schemes are in the air, including the erection of a large factory, into which the girls, after training in the embroidery works, will be qualified to pass. We trust, with every well-wisher of the town, that nothing will stand in the way of expansion and development. Our illustrations include one or two representations of machine embroidery as carried on in the interior of the well-lighted and pleasantly-ventilated works. The Juxtaposition on the same page of such widely differing views as that of the old Abbey Church and of those depicting his recent industrial development may seem to savour of the incongruous. And yet is there not in them a faithful reflex of Maghera- the one representing the glory of its storied past and the other pointing to the hopes of a brightening future?

A word or two must be said in regard to the churches. The present parish church, of which the respected incumbent is Rev. A. H. Maturin, dates back to 1820. The exact date upon which the last services were held in the old church is not known, but it is likely that the devotions of the church people were conducted there up to the consecration of the present church. The inscription on a stone above the doorway of the modern parish church reads:








Colonel Clark has recalled the fact that his late father, who was born over a century ago, worshiped in the old church. Compared with its venerable predecessor, the “new” parish church is but an “infant”, and yet in a few short years the centenary of its consecration will be celebrated!


Columns could be written, and indeed, have been written, of the history of Presbyterianism in Maghera. To the researches of Mr. S. Lytle, a leading merchant of the town, the community owes much for the information which from time to time he has brought to light concerning former times not alone in regard to the Church of which he is an honoured member, but in regard to the general history of the town. As Mr. Lytle pointed out on a public occasion over five years ago, the Presbyterian Church in Maghera has a history in many respects unique. The church was on two occasions closed by a partial Government, once it was burned, and in 1798 it was used as temporary quarters by the Tipperary Militia. The first mention that can be found of the Maghera congregation was in 1665, when a Mr. Anthony Kennedy, of Templepatrick was sent to supply the pulpit for two Sabbaths. The first minister appointed was Robert Rowan, who was placed in charge in 1658, but, after the restoration, which occurred a short time after his appointment, he went over to the Episcopalian Church and became rector of Maghera. The Presbyterian Church was closed, but the congregation continued their worship in a building accommodating 500 people provided by Major Montgomery, a member of the Established Church. For his catholicity of spirit the major was arrested- such was the spirit of tolerance in those early times. The succession of ministers till the famous Dr. Glendy was- Rev. James Kirkpatrick, Rev. John Tomb, Rev. Archibald Boyd, Rev. James Dykes, and Rev. David Smylie. In 1785 the church was removed to its present site from Fair Hill, where one of the foundation stones of the former building is to be seen. The name of Rev. Dr. Glendy, who was a man of outstanding abilities, stands out conspicuously on account of the prominent position he took in the rebellion of 1798. Upon the disabilities of the Presbyterians and all religious bodies except the Established Church and the causes of the ’98 rising it is happily not for us to dwell here, as they are common history. There is no evidence to show that Dr. John Glendy was not a United Irishman, but there is not the slightest doubt that he was in thorough sympathy with their principles. He was, accordingly, a marked man. A warrant was issued for his arrest, and when the soldiers arrived at his house, which occupied the site of Mr. Henry Shiver’s house, they found Dr. Glendy had escaped. Hs house and property was burned, and the doctor found refuge in “The Grove”, where Mr. Wilson now resides. He eventually made good his escape in feminine garb, and in Baltimore, America, founded a church, over which he presided for many years. He became acquainted with Thomas Jefferson, then


Who became his friend, and in 1805 Glendy was appointed chaplain of the House of Representatives, and in 1815 served the Senate in the same capacity. Dr. John Glendy’s successors in the pastorate of Maghera were Rev. Charles Kennedy, ordained 29th July, 1801 ; Rev. Smylie Robson, 16th June, 1843 ; Rev. Dr. Witherow (afterwards professor in Magee College), 1st October, 1845 ; Rev. Dr. Leitch (now President of Assembly College, Belfast), 2nd October, 1866; Rev. R.H.F. Dickey, B.D. (now Professor in Magee College), 26th January, 1880 ; Rev. Dr. Hall (who afterwards took up duty in Colbrooke Row, London, and Coleraine), 16th September, 1891 ; and Rev. Dr. Magill, 4th February, 1900, who resigned in 1903, when he was appointed professor in Toronto, and is now Minister of Agriculture in Canada. The present minister is Rev. Wm. McMurray, who was ordained on March 3, 1904. It is not out of place to add that during Mr. McMurray’s pastorate many improvements have been effected. What is practically a new entrance to the church has been made, at a cost of about £400, while there has been purchased an acre of ground adjoining for a graveyard. A wall has been built all around, and stabling and coach-houses, for the use of country members, have been provided, while electric light has been installed in the church. Among many others, the following may be mentioned as having been at one time members of Maghera Presbyterian Church- The Rev. Dr. Cooke, who was baptised by the Rev. Dr. Glendy in the Presbyterian Church; Rev. Jackson Graham, Rev. William McCullaugh, Rev. Joseph Barkley, Cormany ; Rev. Thomas Lyttle, Sandymount, Dublin ; and the Rev. Robert G. Milling, Ballinahinch ; also Judge Barkley, all of whom have passed away. Rev. John Macmillan, late Moderator of Assembly ; the Rev. Dr. Patterson, of May Street, Belfast; Professor Woodburn, of Magee College ; and Rev. James Woodburn, of Castlerock, were also members of the church in former days.


Amongst the men of wide renown who claimed the neighbourhood of Maghera as the place of their nativity and upbringing, foremost place will be given to the late Rev. Henry Cooke, D.D., L.L.D., the eminent Presbyterian orator and theological controversialist. Dr. Cooke was born on the 11th may, 1788, in a cottage, traces of which no longer remain, in the townland of Grillagh, about a mile and a half north of the town. His father’s house stood on the declivity of a hill. The road to Coleraine then passed over the summit of the hill ; now the new road winds around the base, and on the sloping ground between the old road and the new road was placed the mansion. Like almost every other great leader of men, Cooke was of humble origin. The stock from which he sprang, though poor as the world estimates wealth, was rich in independence and industry. His father was a farmer and his mother had been a farmer’s daughter. By fidelity to their common task they were enabled to transmit to their children, of whom Henry was the youngest, the priceless inheritance of a stainless and honoured name. Much of his stock-in-trade as an orator was inherited, his attractive appearance and his marvellous powers of memory. His speeches were word pictures that dazzled the eyes of all with their beauty. His mind was a galaxy, not of old masters, but of original works of art, whose colour and technique nevertheless revealed an intimate acquaintance with all the best. Neither as a lad at school nor as a youth at college did Cooke display any evidence of the great powers that lay slumbering in his soul, yet, though uncapped with academic honours, he did not go empty away, but carried with him a taste for reading, combined with a knowledge of how to read, which were the highest accomplishments in the gift of a university. As a boy Cooke had witnessed the horrors of the ’98 times, and they left a deep impress on his young mind. Thus he became the confirmed antagonist of every liberal sentiment and the consistent supporter of the powers that were. His college days having drawn to a close, he was ordained, though only in his twentieth year, as assistant and successor to the Rev. Robert Scott at Duneane, a settlement which turned out anything but happily. It could hardly have been otherwise, the two men being as far removed as the poles from one another in temperament and ability. Scott not only held Arian views, but discharged his duties with apathy. Cooke was evangelical and deeply interested in his mission and in his message. He deemed it wise to resign, and after a short interval, occupied as a tutor, he was installed in Donegore, a large and important congregation of about 500 families. The spheres of his subsequent labours were Killyleagh to Belfast. His reply to the Rev. J. Smithurst, which was the beginning of the struggle between Arianism and orthodoxy, culminated in the great debate that took place in Lurgan on the 30thof June, 1829. The one political act of Dr. Cooke’s life , which gave most satisfaction to his brethren, was the bold stand which in 1841 he made against the Repeal of the Union, his challenge of Daniel O’Connell to a public discussion of the whole subject, a challenge which the “Liberaltor” deemed prudent to decline, enhanced his already great popularity. Had Dr. Cooke been guided by no higher motive than the ambition of worldly success he would have sought some more conspicuous field than a remote province in Ireland for the exercise of his great and varied powers. A Scottish parish, a London congregation, a seat in the House of Commons were positions quite within his reach at an early period of his career. But on principle he shut out all such suggestions, and gave his undivided strength to the Church in whose membership he was born, and to the community among whom his lot had been cast. For the last 40 years of his life he was the most conspicuous personage not only in Belfast, but in Ulster. When at the close of a long and laborious life death called him away (13th December, 1868), the whole province did him honour in a manner such as was never shown to any man who hitherto died in Ulster. Belfast buried him with the burial of a king.

Rev. Dr. Adam Clarke, the famous Biblical commentator, was a native of Maghera district, having been born at Moybeg in 1760. Although as a lad he received a very sparse education he blossomed forth into one of the most learned divines of the Wesleyan connexion, a man distinguished for the remarkable variety of his gifts, especially as a linguist. He was president of the Conference three times, an almost unique record. His great work was his commentary, the first volume of which appeared in 1810, and the last in 1826. By special request of the British and Foreign Bible Society, he prepared their Arabic Bible. Dr. Clark was offered a bishopric in England, but declined it. He died of cholera in London in 1832.

Hall Street (Wth RIC baracks)    Hall Street National School


We approach the end of our review with a brief allusion to some spots of interest in the neighbourhood. About an English mile from Maghera, at Tirnoney, there is a very fine cromleac, near to which Lewis says there is an artificial cave formed of field stones and covered with flags; but that there is a souterrain there is doubtful. To the northwest of the cromleac, about 200 yards distant, there are the ruins of Killelagh old church, a very ancient structure, but unfortunately no reliable record can be found regarding its erection. The building, like so many others, is stated to have been destroyed in the wars of 1641 by the Earl of Tyrone and subsequently rebuilt. Lying close to the wall of the churchyard is a large flat stone, 3ft. by 4ft., and about 6in. thick, with two basin-shaped cavities. Close to this old church is a very fine rath, with one circumvallation. About two miles farther there is a sweathouse in Tirkane, with a well a few yards distant from its entrance. The favourite explanation of this sweathouse is that it was used to perform the purpose of Turkish baths, and as a cure for rheumatism and kindred complaints. A fire was lighted on its flagged floor, and when well heated, the fire was cleared out, and after the patient had dipped himself in the well, he was closed up in the house until he perspired profusely, with beneficial results. There are several other places in the neighbourhood of traditional interest, such as giant’s graves- one in Slaghtnail and one in Corlecky, also the remains of what is said to be one of the places of some of the Irish kings in Granaghan. At there is a very large and perfect rath at Dunglady. It is encompassed by treble walls and a trench, but unfortunately, there are no records regarding its occupation. It is said to be one of the most perfect in Ireland, and commands a most extensive view of the surrounding country. There are several other raths and forts in the parish. Numerous celts, swords, spear heads, and ornaments of bronze and brass have been found in the parish and vicinity.

In a sketch like the foregoing much has necessarily been omitted, but we trust we have indicated, even in a general way, sufficient to show that if Maghera had been excluded a prominent place in our present series the omission would have been grave and unpardonable.

Condition of the poorer classes in Ireland – Parish of Maghera


Condition of the poorer classes in Ireland : First report: Appendix A (1835)

Ulster, Co. Londonderry – Examinations taken by C.W. Borett, Esq. Joseph Pollock, Esq.
Parish of Maghera, Town of Maghera, Bar. Loughinsholin
Widows with Children
Persons who attended the examination
Samuel Airl – James Anderson – J. Barclay, shopkeeper – James Chambers – Alexander Clarke, Esq – J. Drips – W. Forrester, Esq, J.P. – Mr Henry, Apothecary – J. McCleland, shopkeeper – H McHenry, schoolmaster – P. McKenna – Rev. Spencer Knox, rector of Maghera and Tubbermore – A. Miller – S. Moore, grocer – Mr. Orr – T. Pettigrew, shopkeeper – D. Scullion – James Smith – A. Wilson – E. Wilson – Rev Mr. Vesey, Protestant curate – Four of the police, and several labourers.
There are many widows with young children having no support but their own earnings, but the number is not ascertained; some of them are in a very wretched state, but they meet with more sympathy that the other poor.
They cannot earn generally more than 1d. daily, by spinning; some occasionally work in the fields. No woman could maintain a family by the employment open to her; only one widow here sells illicit spirits. No assistance is ever afforded by the parish.
No landowner, except Mr. Clarke, who holds a small estate, and resides in Maghera, assists the widows of those who worked for him. Absentees never do so; nor do tradesmen or manufacturers provide for the widows of men who had been employed by them. Tradesmen cannot, and the gentry will not assist them. They are not generally supported by their relations.
The labouring classes do not work for or on any way to assist them.
Many beg in their own neighbourhood, though at first unwilling to do so; they have not, however, been known to become prostitutes.
A few are relieved from congregational collections; the church list admits persons of all persuasions, the Presbyterian does not.
There is not any poor-box nor any general subscription. Widows are worse fed than women of immoral character.
The granting of maintenance for illegitimate children is not believed to produce incontinency, the difficulty of recovering being very great. A strong opinion was expressed in favour of continuing the law, as at present it stands on this head, in the court of the assistant barrister.
The lower classes could not possibly provide against destitution to their widows and children.

Deserted and Orphan Children
The number of orphans in the parish was not known; there were two deserted children, four being the average number deserted within three years. The number of desertions has decreased, owing to the vigilance of the parish officers. All deserted children are supposed to be illegitimate, yet would not, it is believed, be exposed but for the inability of the parents to support them. They do not often perish before they are discovered. No assistance is afforded them from private contributions, religious orders, or subscriptions from the poorer classes. In order to be assisted by parish assessment, they must be deserted under the age of 12 months. Their support continues here until they attain their fifth year. No presentments have been obtained, either for deserted children or orphans, the latter class never being taken charge of by church wardens, as there is no statute giving to them such power. Deserted children are put out by the churchwardens to nurse, to women residing in the parish, and are brought to the annual vestry. £5 is the limit of expenditure on each child allowed by the statute; and for some time past the expense has been paid by the Rev. Mr. Knox out of some balance of an ecclesiastical fund remaining in his hands. No complaints have been made with regard to the distribution of the money by the churchwardens. There is no foundling hospital. The children nursed by the country people generally become useful farm servants. In contrasting this mode of education with that afforded by an institution, Mr. Knox stated his experience, in which the parish agreed, that on the breaking up of an orphan house, he had endeavoured to obtain places for some of the children with farmers and others in this parish; and that, in consequence of their having been reared in an institution, and therefore being unacquainted with the mode of living by others in their station, he was quite unsuccessful. The children reared in an institution are moreover believed to be less healthy that those brought up among the peasantry, and the expense of the former system is much greater. Deserted children have been observed to turn out better than those of the peasantry around, the reason being, it is supposed, that they have their good conduct alone to depend on to induce any to become their friends; and very often their nurses become greatly attached to them. The practice of taking charge of deserted children leads, it is believed, to their desertion. It has decreased since the closing of the Dublin Foundling hospital. It was thought that the parish should be invested with larger powers of taking care of and supporting deserted children, and in some cases orphans.
Impotent through age
The number of destitute persons infirm through age in this parish could not be accurately ascertained, but was computed by Mr. Knox at 150, the population being 1,400. About 60 beg, and perhaps 90 are supported by their relations, with the assistance of their neighbours, in most cases. None are altogether supported by congregational collections; there are 20 on the list of the parish church, who receive small aids; none are entirely supported by the richer classes. No particular age can be pointed out at which the working classes become incapable of supporting themselves by labour; it varies according to circumstances, many being strong at 70.
The old among the agricultural population are as a matter of right supported by the younger branches of the family; this is confined, however, to the children, and often presses upon them severely, so that disagreement is occasionally the consequence. The aged generally live with an unmarried child, and vary few of the lower classes can afford them proper sustenance.
The aged without relatives are usually beggars; the young labourers do not subscribe for their support. When the young are out of employment, great inconvenience is felt among the cottiers in supporting the old. A few receive money from friends in the colonies.
Many go about with wallets, collecting food, and they are much better fed than those who depend on relatives; still there is a great unwillingness to beg.
None of the gentry subscribe to any regular fund, but many of the residents are very charitable; against them no complaints are made; but the absentees contribute nothing. The general opinion appears to be, that that duty belongs to the occupiers of the soil only.
Destitution alone, from whatever cause arising, gives a claim on the congregation collections: this is deemed more respectable than begging. There are 20 on the church list, 10 on the Presbyterian, and no regular list in the Roman Catholic Chapel. The largest sum given in each is 5s quarterly by the parish church and 6d monthly by the Presbyterian. There is no almshouse.
None can, by any resource, obtain more than the bare necessaries of life. There is not, generally, any disinclination on the part of the labourers to allow their relations to enter almshouses.
Few labourers have ever been known to lay by anything; indeed, they cannot do so, the highest wages being 1s per day, and employment at that rate very uncertain; there are often unemployed in winter and wet days.
The general opinion of the parish is in favour of affording shelter to the infirm through age in an asylum, on a moderate scale.
Sick Poor
There is no certain fund to assist the sick poor, but collections are occasionally made for them through the country by two neighbours; they are very uncertain in amount; there is no loan fund. Relations attend the sick, but not strangers, and therefore cases have occurred of sick persons being laid behind a ditch; but such are very commonly put into a barn or other outhouse.
It has been observed here that alms asking in sickness has initiated into medicant habits.
The labourer cannot lay by anything for sickness, and it is generally said that the small farmers are often worse off than the labourers. There are no benefit or friendly societies.
It is thought that the power of giving food, fuel, &c. To those who had received a certificate of illness from a dispensary surgeon would be very desirable, and might be safe under proper guards.
Both the labourer and small farmer are often rendered reckless by the destitution caused by illness, and the community is a considerable loser by their continuance in a condition in which they are only a burthen to society, occasioned more by the want of wholesome food than of medicine. This dispensary seems to give satisfaction, but is not very warmly spoken of.
Able bodied out of work
Persons who attended the examination
Samuel Airl – James Anderson – J. Barclay, shopkeeper – James Chambers – Alexander Clarke, Esq – J. Drips – W. Forrester, Esq, J.P. – Mr Henry, Apothecary – J. McCleland, shopkeeper – H McHenry, schoolmaster – P. McKenna – Rev. Spencer Knox, rector of Maghera and Tubbermore – A. Miller – S. Moore, grocer – Mr. Orr – T. Pettigrew, protestant curate – Four of the police, and several labourers.
Many of the labourers are without work from November to March; at this season some of them weave, and others live as well as they can on their small store of potatoes, but are poorly provided for, there is no fund for their assistance.
The wife and children of unemployed labourers do not beg through the neighbourhood; there are many instances where women, with families, have been abandoned by their husbands.
No poor have ever been known to commit offences in order to be sent to gaol, nor have they stolen to relieve themselves from destitution, or committed outrages upon persons.
In the country the farmers give credit, the hucksters seldom do so now; the former generally charge one-fifth more than ready-money price; the debt is paid, in general, cheerfully, but some are processed at the quarter sessions for such debts; the barrister looks to the amount, and inquires if it is fairly due.
Mr. Clarke and Mr. Stephenson give work in ditching and draining, which they reserve or undertake to meet the distress of the season, when least employment is to be procured. Many are greatly relieved, and appear very grateful towards these gentlemen.
The poorest generally marry the earliest; the farmers’ sons, and those who are reared comfortably, seldom marry early.
There are about from 70 to 90 vagrants, not including children, helped in the town of Maghera on every Wednesday. The number has often been double, and in a very dear season treble. The decrease of late is attributed to the present cheapness of provisions, and the improvements which have been made in the cultivation of lands, which are still in progress, giving more employment to men.
In summer many strangers are added to the resident beggars. Mr. Orr stated that poor cottiers who had two or three acres of mountain district near Ballinascreen were in the habit of shutting up their houses and leaving one or two, sometimes three cows at grass, and going away to beg in other parts of the country, where they are not known; but not many instances now occur of persons of persons begging who have the means of living at home. However, it was admitted that some poor persons from the mountains in the neighbourhood of Maghera are in the habit og shutting up their houses after having planted their potatoes, and going to the sea shore on the pretence of bathing, but in reality for the purpose of begging from strangers residing there. About one half the vagrants relieved in the neighbourhood are strangers. About two thirds are female with children. Able bodied men are seldom encouraged, but great compassion is felt for the women with children, the wages of spinning being very low, about 1½d. per day; and in general women have no other employment. The men are all infirm, and none who labour during the week are found begging on Sundays. Some women beg while their husbands work in England or Scotland, but very few whose husbands are employed at home. One instance was stated of a thatcher whose wife begged in the neighbourhood where he was earning 1s 8d. a day. The proportion of cottier tenants who, having planted their potatoes, take to begging, is not known; but it is said that it is usual for those who have small patches of potato ground to beg in the interval between the old potatoes being exhausted and the new ones being ripe.
The cottiers and labourers here are nearly the same class, and they are generally more needy and more inclined to beg than any others. Many weavers are also cottiers and labourers, and are nearly in similar circumstances. Very few of those who are mere mechanics beg, and in such cases are generally the fruits of trades’ unions. Servants marry late, and have generally saved money, having constant employment.
The practice of cottier tenants going to beg into parts of the country where they are not known was more common formerly than it is now. The Rev, Mr. Knox said that these might “support life” if they remained at home. The practice of small farmers having, at an advanced age, transferred their property to their children and taken to begging has occurred in the mountain districts, but in no instance elsewhere. Those who go to England for work pay their way. But the Rev. Mr. Knox stated that he formerly resided in the county Leitrim, and that he had carefully ascertained that 670 men in one year had gone to work in England, and had left their houses shut up, and their wives and children begging.
The strangers generally belong to the mountains and bogs near Ballinascreen, in the county of Derry, and to the mountain districts of Tyrone; the resident beggars to the surrounding country within three of four miles of Maghera, and to the village itself.
The proportion of persons, the children of vagrants, themselves beggars, and who have been trained to begging from infancy, is not very great; but in general it is observed that those who have been reared by begging return to it on a slight excuse, particularly females. One instance was stated as notorious; that the grandmother, mother and daughter are now begging in Maghera, and that the mother is (as was the grandmother) a prostitute. Almost all the home beggars have, through misfortune, been reduced to begging; most of them by sickness, age or the death of husbands, &c.; some few by improvidence, drinking, &c. Most of the strangers are believed to adopt that line of life, owing to the facilities with which relief is to be obtained.
It is supposed that the average quantity of meal and potatoes which one able bodied beggar would obtain in a day would amount in value to about 10d. Some witnesses said that a good beggar would earn more than two labourers; and an instance was stated by Mr. Forrester of a man who hired another to plant his potatoes while he himself begged. An able bodied beggar will obtain much more food than he could consume. They do not get much from passengers in coaches, car, &c. There is nothing given here to mendicants near places of religious worship on Sundays.
The quantity given in relief to beggars is generally increased in proportion to their numbers. It is the constant habit of strangers to divide the family; and the husband sometimes travels with his wife and children, but seldom calls at the same house in company with them. The blind and crippled receive much more than any others; and they have been frequently known to change to the amount of 2s., halfpence received on a fair or market day. It was stated that some strong women have been known to travel miles in a circuit daily, and consequently such are able to collect more. Able bodied persons without children are able to collect more in a day than those with children, from the greater facility of travelling.
They generally sell the surplus at a cheap rate, and purchase tea and tobacco, and sometimes spirits. Some of the shopkeepers stated that beggars were in the habit of purchasing some small articles of clothing; but they find it necessary to wear rags whilst begging, in order to excite compassion. It was stated that some women begged enough to enable them to save somewhat to purchase flax, and that then they commenced spinning; but that in general they either cannot or will not save.
Wearing of rags, appearance of dirt and of being crippled, and methods used by vagrants to excite compassion; and sometimes it is found that they have got a change of clothes, using the ragged suit for the purposes of, mendicancy. The production and fostering of sores are not common among the usual visitors of the place, but it is believed that it is the habit of those who frequented fairs and markets.
The use of surreptitiously obtained recommendations is not known here; but the gentry are in the habit if giving certificates to paupers upon trivial occasions. The poor do not refuse to have their sores cured.
There is no asylum here into which the crippled could obtain admission; this is also as to the blind, the deaf and the dumb. Instances have been known of children having been carried about by beggars in a dying state, to excite compassion.
They are generally supposed to be liars, and the women to be prostitutes; these are generally accompanied by children. The beggars are not usually found engaged in great outrages, but sometimes are guilty of petty thefts, such as stealing clothes, &c.
Few of the confirmed vagrants could work, and therefore are not fit to emigrate; the only exceptions are the women. No difference has been observed in the relative affection of beggars towards their children, and the affection manifested by others among the poorer classes. Beggars do not often hoard their earnings; they borrow, but do not hire children to excite compassion.
Their families are in general large, though they seldom marry while beggars. One instance was mentioned where the Roman Catholic clergyman refused to marry a couple in such circumstances. Many of the infants of beggars are supposed to be illegitimate, and some are known to be so; the proportion cannot be ascertained. Some of the beggars are very old; One is 87. No difference has been observed between the mortality of the beggars and the other poor.
Nothing is known of the strange beggars. It is not known whether the prevalence of charity be injurious to the morals of the labouring classes; but the practice of lodging beggars tends to prevent cleanliness.
Vagrants generally prefer that mode of life, especially the females, many of whom might have remained home if inclined to industry. Some instances were stated by Mr. Forrester where beggars have been refused work; but in general it is not offered.
No attempt is made to ascertain how much the vagrant has already received.
A night’s lodging is often given, but not clothing; potatoes and milk are constantly afforded them, food being more convenient and less scarce than money, which the beggar would always prefer.
All are helped, and there is no fixed quantity given to each. Only a few are supported as pensioners; and in some cases a consideration has been given, by surrendering old leases to their landlords, and obtaining small annuities instead. A calculation has been attempted to be made, whether any farmers or shopkeepers give away much as would support an additional workman; but the result could not be ascertained with some regard to the farmers, though it is said that they do not give as much as the shopkeepers, some of whom give from 14d. to 18d. a week. One gentleman, Mr. Clarke, residing in Maghera, distributes, in halfpence, from 2s. to 2s. 6d., in addition to his other aids given to the poor. The shopkeepers in country villages have a helping day each week.
The relief of beggars falls generally on the middle class; the non resident landlords contribute nothing. The farmers and shopkeepers are more exposed to, and therefore more annoyed by, vagrants than the richer classes, who give less in proportion than the poor. The labourer with half an acre of ground gives readily, and even the4 day labourer who has only a cabin.
Some beggars receive more than they require, from the impossibility of ascertaining how much they have already received; yet it cannot be said that any obtain perfect relief.
Some give part of their potatoes, and afterwards are obliged to buy in summer; but no labourer has been pauperizes in this way. The farmers complain of high rents and charges on their land, and are very reluctant to consent to any additional tax. The gentry and shopkeepers feel the great evil of the present mode of giving alms to the strolling beggars, many of whom are quite strangers; they would gladly contribute to any modified scheme of poor laws.
The appearance of distress is often very great, and few can refuse to give, but custom or fashion does not influence; relief, however, is often exhorted by mere importunity.
If there were any means by which the beggar could be certain of obtaining relief, no regular system of almsgiving to strollers would be continued. Fear of violence sometimes influences females to give at farmers’ houses, when the men are working out; but such cases are very rare here. Few, and they only of the very lowest class, dread the beggar’s curse.
Fever, small pox, measles and whooping cough are frequently introduced and spread by mendicants; but they are not tale bearers or promoters of discontent. Few who have long been vagrants return to industry.
No punishment for vagrance has been inflicted; and while the vagrant may perish from want of food, there must exist a strong feeling against their introduction, nor would the relief givers sanction them; but if the public were assured of any moderate provision to relieve the wants of the hungry, they would willingly co-operate. Destitution has never led to the commission of outrage.
There is no house of industry nearer than Belfast; if there were such an establishment, public opinion would induce all to have recourse to it, and many would now willingly accept of such a shelter.
Beggars have not been known to refuse to enter a house of industry, or to leave it for the purpose of begging.

Condition of the poorer classes in Ireland : Parish of Kilrea

The Diamond & Mercer's Hotel, Kilrea 1905 400x256

Condition of the poorer classes in Ireland : First report: Appendix A (1835)

Appendix A. Able bodied out of work – Ulster, Co. Londonderry – Examinations taken by C.W. Borett, Esq. Joseph Pollock, Esq.
Parish of Kilrea, including Town of Kilrea. Bars. Loughinsholin and Coleraine, half Barony
Persons who attended the examination
Robert Holmes, esq. J.P. and agent to the Mercer’s company – Thomas McCay, farmer of 13 acres – Daniel Hunter, grocer – ___ Thompson, grocer – William Anderson, farmer of 8 acres – Rev. Mr. Rodgers, Presbyterian minister – Rev. Mr. Waddy, rector, J.P. – Rev. McCammon, Presbyterian minister- Kennedy McCan, schoolmaster – Mr. Adcock, innkeeper – Robert Armstrong, farmer of [ ] acres, and weaver – Laurence O’Regan, farmer of 20 acres – Joseph Irwin, farmer of 9 acres, and weaver – Hugh Hunter, spirit dealer – ___ McCrowley, farmer of 10 acres – John Adams – Mr. Houston, grocer – John Bradley, Journeyman baker – Robert Laughlin, farmer of 13 acres – Mr. Church, surgeon.

Able bodied out of work

During the months of June, July and August work is very scarce, and in winter from the end of November to the middle of March. In June there is a little employment at cutting, drying, and stacking turf. In July and August there is no work, many then go over to England or Scotland, where the harvest is early, and return here for their own harvest time. All agreed that there was not more than two days’ employment in each week at agriculture; during the remainder of the week they weave, “but this,” said Mr, Holmes, “is a bad combination, they frequently say to me when they return to the loom, that their “hand is put out for weaving”. In winter they have more food than in summer, generally their own potatoes, with a salt herring or some leeks, but no milk – (Bradley.)
They usually have a little patch of land, or the use iof it for manure. “If thrown on the market,” said Mr. Holmes, “they could not live at all. In summer they have but little potatoes, but some milk; they then get meal and give their labour for it afterwards, (the highest intermediate price between the time of getting credit and the time of paying being the usual bargain.)”
“Last summer,” said Bradley, “when potatoes were 1s 6d a bushel, they would have been glad to have got two meals a day of them.”
In July the potatoes are generally 10d a bushel, three bushels a week, which is a small allowance for a family, would be 2s. 6d. a week; there is no fund that affords them any assistance. When heads of families are out of work it is very common for the wives and children to beg, not however in the intermediate neighbourhood.
Mr. Holmes had little doubt that many of the cottiers when out of work went begging. “I have met them myself,” said he, “going to Port Stewart, and I knew they were begging; one man here holds three acres, and pays his rent badly; he is believed to beg and steal, but the children do not beg.”
All agreed that the practice tended greatly to increase mendicancy. “Begging,” said Mr. McCammon, “is decidedly the best business. I have known them able to sell by it, every night, five pounds of meal, and heard a man in the County of Down, say he was worth 18s. a week by begging.”
“Oh! Sir,” said Bradley, “the beggars had a monopoly of it then, but there is plenty of opposition in the trade now.”
All agreed that the girls were often driven by distress to prostitution. “In fact,” said Mr. McCammon, “there are but very few of them who are not prostitutes.”
And destitution was believed by all to be the most common cause of this.
Bradley says, “the poor would all but starve; they would live on half a meal a day before they beg, much less before they would steal.”
Potato pits have been occasionally, in scarce times, opened by destitute persons, but not since Mr. Holmes came, he had found frequently his pits broken open, but generally traced it to thieving rather than to want.
When out of work the labourers usually get credit, 4s. Interest in the £1 is frequently given, and often 15s. is given for meal when the market price is only 10s., and the credit six months, 2s. in the cwt. of meal is generally allowed. The dealers purchase it in November for 10s., when the small farmer sells it to make up his rent, and sells it in June and August for 12s., giving credit until the November following.” “Character,” said Bradley, “determines the price; an honest man gets it at 12s., others have to pay more. A labourer gets another man better off to get it for him.”
Mr. McCammon says, “The labourer, cottier or small farmer, is very seldom indeed out of debt, they frequently get their seed one year, and pay for it the next, and are almost always a year in debt.”
Mr. Holmes and Mr. Waddy have employed some men at fencing, and a few girls at weeding, when they did not require it, but the practice is very uncommon.” “Absentees never do so, they have no feeling for the country,” said Mr. Waddy, “they live beyond their means, and make the tenants pay for it.” A statement in which all present concurred.
John Bradley says, “The poorest class marries earliest; they frequently have to borrow the money to pay the clergyman, and the expenses of the wedding feast. The men marry at from 19 to 25, the women whenever they are called on.”
“They have no providence whatever,” said Mr. Holmes, “sometimes indeed, they look to a grown up family as a blessing, at least they allege to me as an excuse for going back in their rent, that they have a large small family; the parents, and especially the mothers, encourage early marriages, especially in the case of girls who cannot earn their own support by labour, and therefore are a burthen to their parents; they have also a look out for their character, and wish to have them settled; all depend on contingencies.” McCan says, “they are often very poor when they marry, but generally have a small family before their distress is seen.”
”Another reason for their marrying so early” said Mr. Holmes, “is, that a woman is actually necessary to superintend their household, so much so, that a wife will get on better (if she holds her husband’s land) without her husband, than the husband without the wife. She makes a far harder bargain than he does; the men often excuse the non-payment of rent by saying, they have not a woman to look after the house, and that their property is in the hands of strangers.”
“A widow, holding land and paying a man to work for her, pays me in every case better that a single man. A young man came to me the other day, and asked my leave to marry; he was only 19, and the girl 18. I endeavoured to dissuade him, but he said, he had before a father and a mother to see to him and to his property, but now he must have a woman. Those who are better off, are more cautious, they can support their children at home, and therefore are not so anxious to get rid of them off their hands.” – (Mr. Holmes.)
The farmers often hang back to obtain a larger portion. A cow is usually considered a fair portion, with a bed, a chest of drawers, and a wheel. A farmer of eight acres, if he has money, will give some, and if not, frequently promises or gives his bond for such a portion as this; the man, on the other hand, is expected to have two or three acres of land, or to be a good weaver or tradesman. All, when they are married, separate from their parents, and get a house of their own.” – (Mr. Holmes, Bradley, M’Can.)
N.B. – The assistant commissioners attach the greatest weight to every part of the evidence given by Mr. Holmes. He appears to me the most active, intelligent and benevolent witness we have yet examined; and his opinions, as coming from an Englishman, and one, therefore, free from party prejudice, appear to me deserving of the greatest attention.


There are nine regularly badged beggars in the parish, but the whole number of beggars is probably 200. Mr. Rodgers thought this rather over than under the number. In the village of Kilrea, which may be considered a fair criterion, there are from 50 to 100 beggars (many from a distance of 15 miles) on a helping day; and as it is the custom to beg by heads of families, the whole number is much larger. “There are,” said MaCan with whom the other witnesses agreed, “at least 100 children in the town that you will not see. Thompson relieves from 20 to 25 beggars on a helping day at his shop.” Mr. Anderson had sometimes only three call on him in a week, but accounted for this by saying that he lived off the road, and that beggars generally keep to the great lines of communication through the country. According to Mr. Key and others, the number had increased; but Mr. Rodgers, Anderson and Hunter limited the increase to the town, and thought there were not near so many beggars now in the country as formerly. Anderson said, “About five years ago there were five beggars for one that is now.” Last year potatoes were so cheap that it was not worth the beggar’s while to carry them. When asked whether the facility of obtaining potatoes would not tend to increase the number of beggars? – “No,” said Mr. Holmes, “for the beggars carried a heavy burthen, and got nothing for it.” As an additional reason for a decrease of begging, it was mentioned, that although there is not more labour now than formerly, yet the land was better cultivated, principally because those who had been weavers had become labourers from necessity. The rents too have been lowered here 18 per cent. by the Mercers’ Company two months since; but as the period elapsed since then is so short, the number of beggars was not supposed to be as yet influenced by the change; nor, says Mr. Holmes, will it ever be so, as none belong to the estate, if driven out to beg, would do so in their own parish.
Another influential reason for the decrease of begging in this country is, that now almost everyone about here has some small holding of land, which during a great part of the year at least supplies him with potatoes, and prevents his being thrown on the market. Those who said the number of beggars had increased, generally attributed the increase to the decline of the linen trade, which threw the weavers on the world, and the consequent failure of the spinning mills, which had once given employment to a number of women and children. All agreed that the number of beggars in the town of Kilrea had increased very largely, owing to the great amount of charity given by Mr. Holmes, agent to the Mercers’ Company, who, among other modes of relief, gave 1½d. Every Monday to all who applied.
William Anderson, farmer, said, “June, July and August are the months when vagrancy is most common, when, between the two crops, potatoes are very dear. Many who beg regularly raise enough of potatoes to support them for a part of the year, but have by this time exhausted their stock. The small farmers in the mountains at this period either shut up their houses, or only leave one or two of the family to take care of them, and wander about with their wives and families begging. He had known farmers holding three or four acres come down and sell their cows to buy seed, while at that very time they were vagrant beggars; they afterwards returned, and lived on their own potatoes in the autumn and winter months. The fineness too of the weather tempts out many who are unable to work, and summer is the only time when the female begs, while the husband is employed, at other times his wages, if at constant work, would enable them to provide a sufficiency of potatoes.” Mr. Holmes says that many request assistance on their way to the salt water, whither they beg their way; from 15 to 20 on this estate have done so. There are fully 20 strange beggars for one resident. They pass on, but are sure to remain longest where they get the most; they have, however, a regular tramp; and it is positively ascertained from the evidence of several witnesses, that the same beggars who were here on Monday, went on Tuesday to Garvagh, on Wednesday to Maghera, on Thursday to Magherafelt, on Saturday to Portglenone near this, and returned in time to begin again the same round on Monday, choosing the helping days at each place.
Mr. Adcock, for instance, had seen, going to Maghera, those whom he had assisted at Kilrea. Mr. Rodgers had met them at Magherafelt; and all concurred in saying, that after thus shifting their quarters during the week, they returned to enjoy their Sunday in Kilrea, which is key to the counties Antrim and Derry, with the determination of commencing the same course again on Monday morning. The proportion amongst beggars of women to men is at least six to one. No young men are to be found among them, but some of the women are strong and healthy; the general age, however is about 50. The men are all past their labour. “Not one man in 10 is strong,” said Anderson. And the young women beg for their families, whom they leave in the house. On Monday it is very common here to beg without their children, after that there are more children seen; those who were seen on Monday not appearing during the week afterwards. In the country, however, the children are taken about begging; and there, from three to five would be fair average to each woman. Robert Armstrong says, “he often had from 15 to 20 beggars at his house in the course of a day; and that in the country very few begged singly, “ (in which the other witnesses concurred); “and that it was only the poor of this parish who did so, and that the women, unless when aged or infirm, had all their children with them.”
The women outnumber the men for several reasons: there is less employment for them. The men would not, if able bodied, receive assistance, and are more influenced by shame. So that McCaul “had frequently seen the men sitting on a ditch at the corner of a town, while the women were begging. But if the men were to ask for alms, the people would tell them, ‘it was a shame for them to be seen begging, and to go and work.’”
The men, therefore, never will beg, unless when too old for employment, and either without children, or when they are so poor as to be unable to assist them. Another reason is, that men seek employment in England or Scotland, as the farms here are so small that the farmer and his family can work them themselves, or if not, they employ their own cottiers in preference to strangers; both because the cottier’s rent is usually paid in this way, and because a man working for rent works better, and is more confided in, than a day labourer, the latter being one of a class that farmers here seldom employ. – (Anderson)
Mr. Holmes said, they constantly offer me work for rent, and out of 11,000 every man would be glad to work, if I could give it to him. This statement was corroborated by all the other witnesses, who declared that not one in 50 who begged here was able to work, and that it was, in fact, very uncommon to meet with a beggarman capable of being employed.
Women with numerous families are the only persons who ever beg on Sunday, and even amongst them it is very rare. Mr. Holmes added, that the queen of the beggars here, who is not very strong in intellect, did so occasionally.
Mr. Rodgers did not believe that it was common for the wives and children of men in employment to beg. Mr. Anderson and others thought it a very common practice; explaining it by saying, that one was making it out in meat while the other was making it out in money; almost all, said he, coming down here to work have their wives and children begging; the man falls into employment, and the family wander about; they are unknown here, and do not mind it. I have offered the men, in harvest time and potato digging season, 6d. a day and their diet, and they said “they’d rather put their coat on a bush, and throw stones at it than take such wages;” but then, sure they had their wives and children supporting them. Not one in 50, said O’Regan, will employ strangers; I never did nor never would; I would prefer the man near myself. The cottiers in the mountains (but not here) shut up their houses, and wander about in summer, the wife and children begging. “I myself,” said Mr.Holmes, “have seen the wives and families of cottiers whom I knew, begging at Port Stewart and along the shore. This cannot, however, be generally known, as those who go from this to the sea usually take some provision with them; or if so poor as to be obliged to beg altogether, break up their establishment once for all (not periodically), under pretext of going to Scotland. They never confess that they are going to beg, and never return to their own parishes as beggars; though, if they get a little up in the world, they are sure to come and show that they are now in a better line of life, even though they may be able to stay only a few days.” – “Have not they natural affection for the place they were born in as well as other people?” said several witnesses, who all agreed with Mr. Holmes most fully in his statement.
Weavers were once distinct from labourers; but since the linen trade failed, both characters are united in the same person, who labours in the field and weaves alternatively as circumstances require. Though the linen trade has been reviving a little latterly, they are not one fourth as well off as they were formerly. “I had more profit,” said Anderson, “from a web formerly than the price I now get for the web altogether.” – “ I have got 18s. for weaving a web that I would now only get 2s. 6d. for,” said Irwin. All said there were 100 cottier weavers begging for one tradesman, such as a tailor or shoemaker, who never are found begging, except from old age, and who are generally then assisted by their neighbours.
All, however, are equally opposed to begging, though the greater necessities of one class may drive them oftener to it. No servants are found begging; they fall back, if in distress, to their relations and friends. Not one family in 10 here keeps a servant; those who do, hire them to spin when not at labour, at wages of two guineas a year; the usual spinning bargained for being 10 cuts a day. It is therefore very difficult to get a servant, as the farmer employs his daughters at home, and will not send them out to service. – (Mr. Anderson).
Mr. Holmes says, “Cottiers who are compelled to beg, are never known to do so in their own district; nor will they in nine cases out of 10 return there, though they would be better helped. No degree of habituation injures them to the degradation of begging where they are known. – (All concur.) – Hugh Hunter, spirit dealer, said “No old farmer voluntarily dispossesses himself of his land in order to beg, but breach of agreement on the part of the children, or want of means, not unfrequently compels him to go out. Those who go to England or Scotland for work usually pay their way, at least if they can; they call at farmers’ houses, and get either employment or food, but do not consider it begging to ask for a meal on their way to Belfast. A man can walk to Belfast, 30 Irish miles, in a day; he occasionally gets a lift on a car, and carries an oaten cake with him in his pocket. From Belfast he can get for 3s. 6d. to Glasgow, or for 5s. to Liverpool. I went to Glasgow last week; I paid 6d. for my tea in Belfast, and my passage cost me 2s. 6d. I went up to the Cross, Glasgow, and saw them standing there, and in 15 minutes they would get 10 people to ask them to work at from 20d. to 2s. 6d. a day, and not go more that three or four miles for it; labour was plenty there this year at first, but scanty afterwards. Very few would employ them in January next, but some stop all winter employed at buildings. Four to one may go to Glasgow rather than Liverpool, the expense being much greater to the latter, though they say the pay and food are much better in England, where they get beef, which they never see at home. One man from this parish staid seven years in employment with Sir James Graham, as lime quarryman; he is now returned, and is employed here.
The beggars usually come here from Ballynascreen, Garvagh and the county of Tyrone. They are generally from the mountains rather than from the lowlands, as there is more pasture and less labour in the former; and the cheapness of fuel induces many to settle there. Mr. Holmes says, “Many farmers give a small piece of a bog to tenants, whom I find it very hard to get out. The usual payment for this, with a cabin, is a day’s labour in the week, or three days in the fortnight, with diet when employed. The beggars generally come from the country, and have probably been originally cottiers.”
Begging is by no means hereditary. The sons, when 12 or 14 years old, or even younger, hire as farm servants, especially if they or their parents have been known in the district. The witnesses thought this a very profitable reason for beggars remaining in the same part of the country, in order more easily to dispose of their children this way. When the boys grow up to be 14 or 15 they would not be relieved, and would be themselves ashamed to beg.
Hugh Hunter said, “A man and his family came begging to my father’s house; we gave them a house and some potato ground, and they wrought for the rent a day in the week; and we drew his manure for him from the bog for additional work. He and his sons are now industrious, and well to do in the world. Two successive generations of beggars were never known here; almost all have at some period earned their bread by industry. They in general complain of the decay of the lined trade, and the want of employment. The women say their husbands are dead or out of work, or that they or their children are sick at home.” – (All concur.). The beggars certainly live more comfortably than the farmers. “We can see them,” said Hunter, “take a glass of whiskey at the end of the town, which others could not afford.”
Mr. Holmes thinks they are at first driven to begging by necessity; and then finding it a good business, continue the trade.
Mr. Hunter says, “Sure, in hot weather they can stop at home in the heat of the day, and do their business in the evening.”
An able bodied man would get nothing. A woman with three children would get at every house, and might probably collect a bushel of potatoes in a day; she would get very little meal. A blind, crippled or infirm person, however, receives very little potatoes, as he would not be able to carry them; but he may get from three to four pounds of meal in the day. A blind beggarman near this sold last year a ton of meal, worth from £9 to £10; he is the most regular attendant we have on helping days, and very abusive if at all displeased. – (Mr. Holmes)
Others say that he lays in from six to eight tonnes of meal every year; gets three or six months credit at the time, and sells it at a very advanced price. This man receives constant assistance in the country and in Kilrea. – (All concur)
On helping days many apply at a car when passing (no coaches pass through the village); on other days the beggars are very few in number here, as they are scattered begging through teh country.
Mr. McCammon says, “It is very uncommon for beggars to apply for relief at the doors of houses of religious worship; but they frequently come and ask for assistance from the congregational collections.”
The quantity given is increased in some degree, in proportion to the number in family of the applicants. A woman with six children would get six times as much as a woman with one. MaCan says, six for one would give to her, and she would get more in each palce.
Mr. Holmes, however, said, “The proportion is not always observed, a woman with three children getting very nearly the maximum quantity. No one, however, refuses a blind or cripples beggar; they get meal instead of potatoes, but are always sure of a good day’s harvest, and obtain fully as much as a woman with a large family. It is very common for different members of the same family to obtain relief from the same person, and in the same day.” – “I have seen,” said Mr. Anderson, “the man remain behind, the woman come first, the children next, and the man last, all served within half an hour.” – (All concur.)
“A strong woman would get less than an infirm one, unless she had a family with her. If single she would obtain very little at the end of the day, unless she had some very plausible excuse.” – (Mr. Holmes)
Small children cannot travel far, but get additional assistance at each house. A woman with grown up girls is not readily relieved; people would tell her she ought to have them at work. The daughters, however, are often taken by the farmers to gather potatoes, or for a short period, when other work is going on at which they can be employed; but they are compelled to follow begging longer than the sons.
Beggars generally sell their potatoes to cottiers, but will take very little under the market price. They do not in general (with the exception of the blind and cripples) get enough of meal to sell. “I knew of a man last summer,” said Hunter, “who used regularly to sell every evening half a bushel of potatoes, and take his comfortable glass of whiskey afterwards. They sometimes buy a little tea, but generally drink their money. They have drank more with me than all that are building Mr. Holmes’s castle. I take a halfpenny off their glass; I used to give it to them for 1½d. when it was 2d. to others, and now I give it to them for 1d.”
Mr. Adcock said that the beggars frequently came drunk to his door asking for spirits; when refused, they would draw out their money to show they were able to pay for it. They generally buy spirits or tea, trusting to the shopkeepers to supply them with soap and tobacco in charity. They sometimes, however, buy bread and take it to a lodging house half a mile from town.
Hunter says, “The beggars get more tea than the farmers’ wives; most of them have their tea every morning. Clothes are very seldom purchased by them; many of them, however, here (especially the blind), are very well clad. Many, however, have rags outside, though comfortably dressed inside. The children wear what they get, but the older beggars cover it with rags. They certainly believe that raggedness is more likely to promote their objects. I knew a man gather potatoes and have them pitted, but they in general convert their surplus earnings into cash. Winter is their harvest time, when potatoes are plenty. They do not often lay up for a scarce time of year, but frequently provide against wet days, when they are unable to go out.
“Able bodied men are very seldom found begging. The women say their husband is dead, out of work, lying ill, or that he has left them; sometimes that they have sickness in their family. All declare that they only want employment, which they are most anxious to get.” – (Mr. Holmes)
The beggars here generally wish to appear ragged to excite sympathy; but except in the case of fair beggars, have not been known to produce sores. Mr. Adcock had known them to counterfeit falling sickness; one case especially occurred here at the time of cholera, when a woman whom the doctor afterwards pronounced to be quite strong, pretended to be seized with it. The very commonly (especially if near sighted) feign blindness; but this was more common formerly than of late, their falsehood having being long since detected.
Mr. Rodgers once knew a beggar woman who was in the habit of attending at fairs and linen markets, drug a child so as perfectly to produce the appearance of death. She used to sit on the top of a fence near the town soliciting charity, and have the child stretched out behind it apparently dead.
There was also a woman who lately begged here as a child of Dean Blacker’s, and received assistance from many persons. Very few recommendations are taken out about, and these are generally distrusted. Beggars who have sores do not often apply at the dispensary, and are probably not very anxious to get cured; but they have not been known to refuse relief in this way when offered to them. – (All concur)
Mr. Adcock has not seen more than half a dozen or a dozen cases of children taken about peculiarly afflicted within two years.
All agree that beggars were very unwilling to part with their children, partly through affection and partly through the hope of gain. There is no asylum here to which afflicted children could be taken, so that the experiment as to whether they would part with them cannot be actually tried. When children get clothes they are generally allowed to wear them; but the old people prefer a ragged appearance for themselves. – (All concur)
The females are very often bad characters, and many farmers object to allowing them to sleep in their houses if they have grown up sons. “The beggars often meet,” said Hunter, “in the evening, two or three of them, to have their tea, fadge (potato bread, homemade), sugar, and a glass afterwards;” but they are too much scattered in general through the country to congregate thus. Families are cautious about allowing beggars about their premises, but as they have in general fixed circuits, depredations would soon be discovered, and their hope of gains destroyed.
Mr. Waddy says “he is visited by many of them, and never had anything stolen.” Some few thefts of clothes or yarn take place, and very rarely fowls are stolen, but the number of depredations this committed is very small.” – (All concur.)

Mr. Holmes states “that no men are seen to beg who are able to work; yet neither men or women would be willing to emigrate to America unless they had friends there before them.
“Confirmed vagrants never go in search of work, but many are for several reasons in succession obliged to go to England or Scotland, leaving their wives and families behind begging, who are most anxious to obtain employment but cannot. The kindness shown by beggars to their children is as great, if not greater, than that amongst other classes, and the mothers will scarcely every part with their children.” One of the witnesses asked, “Have not the beggars hearts towards their children as well as the rich man?”
Very few beggars in this immediate parish have been known to hoard their earnings. One man who was mentioned before, a blind beggar, lays by a considerable sum every year, which he lays out in purchasing meal at reduced prices. Children are sometimes borrowed, but never hired, for the purpose of accompanying beggars and exciting greater sympathy. Hunter says, “he has frequently seen a beggar woman at the end of the town lend them to another; and it is a common thing to ask the parent for a loan of the children in this way.” (All concur)
According to Mr. Holmes, the beggars here usually have families of from three to six children; “the heads of the families apply, but the number is known to be about this. They scarcely ever marry while beggars, but are frequently at the time of their marriage exceedingly poor. The men, however, trust to get work, but when two or three children come they are obliged to go out to beg. Many have to borrow the marriage money and the price of the wedding feast, and very often have not wherewithal to pay for their bed the first night. The number of illegitimate children is nevertheless very large.”
“I have baptised many,” said the Rev. Mr. Waddy, “whom I more than suspected to be illegitimate. These children (if daughters) usually turn out beggars and prostitutes; I have known many who have confessed that they were not married. The children are frequently killed, and continually crippled, by cold and starvation. Yhe houses in which they lodge are wretchedly thatched, and let in every shower of rain. One man here has 12 children, all owing to such causes, weakly and miserably stunted.” – (Mr. Holmes.)
Those who have not been beggars in their infancy generally live long, being better fed and clothed than those about them. All the beggars here are about 60, and almost all the women are very old, many of them above fourscore.
An able bodied man could collect very little indeed by begging. A woman with three children would make twice as much by begging as by the most industrious labour. By spinning, if she gave up her whole time to it, she might possibly earn 1½d. per day; and for three weeks twice a year, she may get 5d. or 6d. per day without her diet, by weeding, collecting potatoes, and working at turf or flax; she certainly does not on average get 25 days work in the year; the utmost earnings therefore of the most industrious woman would not on average amount to more than 2d. per day, or £3 10s. in the year, to support herself and three young children. She could certainly in value or money make 5d. ot 6d. a day with them by begging, or from £7 12s. 1d. to £9 2s. 6d. in the year. – (All concur.)
Irwin says, “Not one in 20 beggars is known. I myself do know one out of 100 who come to my house; all that we know about them is, that they beg through the district, and by constant habit we become familiar with their faces.”
In this Mr. Holmes agreed, and said, “I have no doubt the prevalence of private charity tends gradually to increase habits of indolence and begging: as an example, a gentleman staid here some time since for a week, and gave a penny on Monday (the helping day) to everyone who applied; the next two Mondays wh had three times as many; they were extremely impudent, and asked me (when distributing halfpence) did I think they would come so far for a halfpenny? Why, there was a gentleman gave them a penny the day before.”
Mr. Adcock (with whom the gentleman lodged) added, that they almost tore him to pieces because the gentleman left the house. The other witnesses corroborated this statement, and added, that if he had stayed longer they would have had ten times as many beggars, and would have been quite overrun with them.
Mr. Holmes thinks that none originally adopt begging in preference to labour, but having once got over the degradation of asking charity, they are not unwilling to continue the practice.
Beggars are often offered work, but seldom get the full wages of the country; 1d. less is the usual wages given. Irwin says, “they have not tools for their work, and they allow something for that.”
“I once,” said Mr. Waddy, “made an experiment on a beggar who had two or three children, by offering to give them 6d. or 8d. for shaking out some hay; this occupied them three or four hours, and I never got so much abuse as when I paid them.”
All the witnesses agree in saying that beggars think it most disgraceful to work for their meat; “all the best proof of which is,” said Irwin, “that you can get none to work for their meat, but plenty to beg for it.”
Cottiers are often working while their wives are begging; they frequently work for a while, and then give it up. “I very lately,” said Mr. Adcock, “offered work to a single man, and he refused it at the ordinary wages.”
Mr. Holmes says, “The farms here are so small and so badly managed, that all are out of work and all are employed at the same time, and the strangers are only taken to work when the residents are employed; they frequently come to me asking for work, and then, when offered it, solicit assistance to carry them on further into the country.”
“No questions are asked us as to what the beggar has already received; but to avoid any danger if this, they who can make good speed often empty their bags during the day; they have their bags marked with a thread, and can h=measure their potatoes by these marks so as to sell them to a nicety.” – (J. Irwin.)
William Anderson says, “It would be no use to be asking the beggars any question, for they would be sure not to give us fair answers; maybe I ask him is he worth 2s. 6d. a day.”
A night’s lodging is never refused, at least amongst the cottiers. The farmers do not lodge beggars, but give them straw for their beds, sometimes on the promise of returning it, which they seldom do; they generally leave the straw with then cottiers for manure.
John Adams says, “There is a man who lives about three quarters of a mile from this, that lodges all that come, and often has two families with him of a night. Cripples and others come down there at night, and go to Kilrea in the morning. We are fairly plagued with them, especially on Saturday, to be in readiness for Monday, the helping day at Kilrea. There is one man in a barrow tht is always with us; we have lost fowls this season, and never found how they went. One night there were five fowls and a spade stolen from me, and all the thefts that are committed take place on a Saturday night.”
Mr. Holmes said, “The cottiers will not tell me of the beggars whom they lodge; they know I object to it, suspecting them to be thieves. The reason why so many thefts are generally committed on Saturday night is, in my opinion, because after being up all night they can lie later on Sunday morning without being remarked.”
Kennedy McCan, schoolmaster, says, “The farmers will sometimes in the summer lay by a certain measure of potatoes, to which they are to limit their day’s charity, but seldom adhere to their resolution. They once here came to the resolution to badge the resident beggars and exclude the strangers; the system lasted only about three weeks, although adopted unanimously at vestry; and during the second and third week we were obliged to hire beadles to keep the beggars out of the town, but because we knew that if they came in they would be relieved; the beadles, although the plan succeeded, refused to act, on account of the unpopularity of the office and their own pride. I offered 2s. 6d. to anyone who would act as bangbeggar, but no one would accept it. The usual quantity given to each beggar is a double handful of potatoes, and a single one of meal; but the handful is more or less plentiful according to the necessities of the applicant.” – (All concur.)
Mr. Holmes has three pensioners in the town, who receive each from 1s. to 3s. in the week. Mr. Waddy has six, whose allowance varies from 6d. to 1s. each. Mrs. Holmes has about 12 more, all of whom are old or cripples. Mr. Holmes thinks an allowance of from 6d. to 1s. would be sufficient to support an old woman; 9d. a week is £1 19s. 1d. a year; for £1 14s. she could get 24 bushels of potatoes, and two cwt. of meal, being 10s. a cwt., and potatoes 7d. per bushel. (Mr. Holmes last year sold good potatoes at 4d. a bushel). When making bargains for parents with children, I have always found the old people contented with this allowance, at least with the addition of a little milk, and 3s. or 4s. in the year for tobacco. Bread is very dear, and they cannot afford it, the Dublin loaf being 1s. here. No one gives away near so much meal as would support an additional labourer. The cost of a labouring man’s diet was calculated by the farmers present to be, on average, about 50s. for the half year; he would be able to diet himself for about £4 a year, but they must give better food, and more of it; his wages are £6; his whole cost therefore to his employer is about from £11 to £12. Now, supposing Mr. Anderson to relieve 12 persons each week, this would require half a bushel of potatoes in the week, that is 3½d. a week, at the average price of potatoes, or 15s. 2d. a year; he would also give away along with the potatoes a couple of handfuls of meal, about 1lb., value each week, on an average, 1d., or 4s. 8d. a year; the whole value, therefore, which he would give away would be 19s. 10d. a year; much more, however, is given by those living near the roadside. Mr. Houston, a grocer in the village of Kilrea, assists 25 beggars on a helping day, and about five on other days; total, 30 in the week. Each four get one pennyworth between them, in small bits of tobacco or thread, pins, &c.; that is, the 30 receive between them 7½d. worth a week, or £1 12s. 6d. a year. The calculations, in all these instances, were made at the lowest possible average of the amounts given to each, and the number to whom it was given. A number of shopkeepers assist applicants on Monday, their helping day; the general opinion, however was, that the relief of beggars falls chiefly on the farmers. Mr. McCammon thought the calculation made for the farmers too low. “I have often,” said he, “seen them give one pound of meal to one person, while the best of the grocers do not give to half the applicants. The farmers always undervalue their charities; they do not miss the potatoes from the store, nor the meal from the barrel. Not one in 12 farmers refuses; but at least one out of every six shopkeepers does refuse. The farmers give 10 times as much as the richer classes.” – “In fact,” said Bradley, “charity is not at all confined to circumstances.”
Laurence O’Regan states, “that the cottiers give to the beggars till they are forced to go to market themselves. I know a man paying 50s. a year for an acre of ground and the grass of a cow, and he never refuses any one. No one of the lower classes ever refuses lodging to the beggars.”
Much more, said McCammon, is given to some beggars than they require. Beggars’ trade is the best I know of, and they become quite in love with it; this leads to very great waste. Some get tea and whiskey, while others are very badly off.
“The estimate was a very low one,” continues Mr. McCammon, “which valued the quantity given weekly by the farmer holding 10 or 11 acres, at half a bushel of potatoes, two pounds of meal, and a quart of milk;” and he also believed that the estimate of 7½d. weekly to the shopkeepers was to high. Mr. O’Regan said, “I was a shopkeeper myself for 16 years, and I attended to the poor as well as many of my neighbours, and I think it high.” A grocer will make one halfpenny worth of tobacco serve 3 beggars; they give anything rather than the money; it only stands them in the first cost. The average here made would suppose the shopkeeper to give away annually £1 12s. 6d., and the farmer £1 6s. The cottiers can give away but very little in alms after May or June. They are trying their potatoes in the garden in August; they are early put to it, and obliged to dig their potatoes before they are fully grown, and when they are not wholesome food; but the potatoes do not come in properly until the middle of August, so that they are often 10 weeks in the market. Maybe they give away a stone of potatoes a week, on average, for the year, that is, 10½ bushels in the year. It is a small family that would not eat two stone of potatoes in the day, so that what they give away would keep them 26 days out of the 10 weeks; it is thought, however, that 10 bushels in November are only equal to eight in June, they dry up so, and lose their weight. At 1s. a bushel, which they might then be, the cost would be 8s. A cottier here (all labourers are cottiers) works in general two days in the week for his rent, getting his diet, or pays 1s. a week, or 52s. annually. He holds himself perhops a rood of ground, but gets the produce of a patch of land, for manuring it, from the bog. He will be a forthright weaving a web, for which weaving he will get 4s.; two days are then lost in preparing and disposing of it. His wife, unless he has grown up children, must attend to him at the loom, and therefore cannot earn more than 3d. a week by spinning. The whole earnings of the two, after working for his rent, will be about 4s. 6d. in the fortnight; yet such a man will help everyone who calls to him for alms. – (O’Regan, Bradley and Mr. McCammon concur.)
Charity is the feeling from which relief is usually given. Some few (not one in 50, said Bradley) do not like to have a bad name amongst their neighbours. Some of the beggars blackguard them so much, that they give to get rid of them; this is, however, distinct from importunity, as they do not abuse until they are refused.
O’Regan thought the famer would go on giving, even though he was subscribing to an institution where the beggar would obtain relief.
Mr. McCammon says, “that feeling would soon subside, and the farmers would refuse; the most charitable of the farmers would soon tell them that story.”
O’Regan never knew a case where relief was given from fear of violence.
Mr. McCammon tells, however, of a large man in the county Down, called the “big beggarman,” who used to take anything he wished in the house, if there were only women present; he had known him to take the bread from the mistress’s hands. The beggar’s blessing is regarded; they say it increases the stores fourfold; the curse too is regarded, but not so much.
Doctor Church thought “that in some few instances infectious diseases, such as fever and small-pox, were communicated by the habit of giving a night’s lodging to beggars.” – “I believe,” said Mr. McCammon, “that duty is often on the other side; and it is, in fact, a violation of charity. The morals of the farmers’ sons are very much injured by associating with beggars, who are the reservoir of all the petty scandal going; they slander and backbite everyone.” Laurence O’Regan, farmer, said, he never knew of such conduct on the part of the beggars.
Mr. Bradley also said, “Surely they would not backbite their neighbours, that is part and parcel of their support; besides, they would be soon found out, and would be only starting an opposition to their own trade.”
Those who have been long vagrants seldom return to industry, but there are exceptions. “I have known many go out to beg in a hard summer,” said Bradley, “and return to industry at the end of the year.” O’Regan says “they generally return in August or September.”
Bradley further states that there never has been any punishment inflicted on vagrants here. Mr. Holmes is the best friend they have. One man was attempted to be punished, but they failed. They will often live on half a meal in the day rather than commence begging. Even if the people subscribed to a mendicity themselves, the only punishment they would wish to see inflicted on the beggars would be the refusal of relief. All agree in saying that the laws for punishing vagrants would have no chance of being executed, except by the firm determination of the magistrates.
Coleraine is the nearest place which has a mendicity institution; it is 12 miles distant, but the parish knows nothing of it. John Bradley says, “I believe the poor would think going into an institution a greater disgrace than begging. A man is not known now to beg (though we may guess at it), for he says he is going to England or Scotland, but then all would be known about him.” When asked if he thought the beggars would still be assisted if they refused to go in, he said, “Why indeed, I think more would cry out against them than me; they would not be so readily helped.”
Two old beggar women and a girl were examined; their evidence is given below; it happened to be on Monday, the helping day. For the two previous days we had not seen a beggar in the village; but as we walked down to the school house on Monday morning, there was one at every second door; they were of all ages, the young being women or children; not a single able bodied man amongst them. The blind man, who had been mentioned to us as being able to buy two tons of meal in the year, came up among the rest to the inn door. He said, “A poor blind man, Sir,” and stood with the greatest air of confidence, awaiting relief; the instant he got a halfpenny he moved off, without even thanking us for it, apparently in the greatest haste not to lose a moment; he was led by a young bay, and was strong and healthy, looking about 65 years old. A poor palsied woman, of about 50, miserably clad, was the next who came, just as the blind man was going away. We asked her, had she no relations? She said she had none, but some far off cousins; and if she had plenty of them, maybe they would assist me, but they might be badly off themselves. She said she was a widow, and that the blind man would get 20 times as much as she could, and could travel 10 times as far (this was evidently true); “no one, Sir, would refuse him.”
Michael McClosker, the remains of a stout and good looking man, said, “I was once a cottier, and had a house and garden, but no land. I used to work then, but I am past work now. I am 71 years of age, and I am six years out. The next year after my wife died I took a fever, and my leg broke out; that was this Christmas seven years. I have children, but they are scattered from me, two of them in Scotland; they never assisted me since I came to this. I never went over to them; I would not go. It is as good for me to be among my neighbours as to go to a strange country, for all I would make of it. The neighbours helped me twice while I was sick, going round for me, and the priest helped. They got praties (the Irish name for potatoes) and meal, and a trifle of money that some throwed me, about 7s. worth. There is no work going on in the country for the old, or if there be, I can get none of it. I paid all that I could pay, and there is a little owing yet. I owed about 4s. 6d. when I went out, and it is all clear now except 1s 6d. I think I would be better off as I am now, than ‘snapping’ now and then with my son and daughter-in-law. Now I can rise up and lie down independent of anyone. I never got 2d. in money the best day I ever travelled, but others get more than me; a blind man gets more than another. I mind myself once having £1 4s. and a horse and car, which was better; but all went when I had a family to keep with it. Before I took the fever, I had £2 to the good, and when I rose, after 18 weeks, it was all gone, and more. I fell back on it, (relapsed) and that is what led me astray (injured me) ever since. I was six or seven weeks before I got a cool out of it, and it would have been telling me a good deal that I never got it. I saw a good deal of hardship since, but the Lord’s will be done. I just travel about the country; they are as good neighbours as can be; I know no stranger about the place. It is only some days that we are here, it is not worth while, only when we want a little tobacco; it will be 12 o’clock today before we get 1d. We both know where we will sleep tonight; they always give us lodgings for God’s sake; we get lodgings plenty wherever we go; there is never past one person lodging in the same house. It would not be best for us to stay where there is more than one. If the weather would not let us out, the neighbours would keep us going; we are often four nights in a place, and if it is hard weather they would not let us out at all.”
Thomas Dogherty says, “I had a little house and no ground, and worked a day in the week for the rent. I paid 2d. a perch to put manure on, for my potatoes. I have two children, both soldiers abroad, they never send me a farthing; they have their own families with them. The people said they could assist me, but I do not think they could. I was working at a malt kiln and got a rupture, backing sacks; the man that I worked with did help me till he died, which is now 2½ years since. I went to beg. I wrought (i.e. worked) until I was not able. I lived 36 years in one house, and the landlord turned me out after all. I hired Mr. C_____ of Magherafelt, to defend me for 2s 6d., but they had Mr. J_____ against me, and I was cast, because I could not do my day’s work you know for rent. I was fourscore and two last Midsummer. I do not know any stranger about the place, and never was at Garvagh in my life. I keep to the county Antrim side.” Both these men said at first they would go into an institution, but afterwards acknowledged that they would prefer their liberty. McCloskey was said by Bradley to have been a very respectable man, and Dogherty was a neat, clean looking person. Sarah Jane Kane, who had a little sister with her, said, “My father, mother and five children are begging; my mother was a very dauncey woman, and my father is 73. I would not leave them to take a place like my sister (an older one, who is hired at 7s. a quarter) (she afterwards allowed she would leave them if she was to have nothing to do). Both my father and mother lived in the next parish; they have been begging ever since I was born, and I am 15. My father had three acres, and the grass of a cow and a house; he has been put out of it; his landlord wanted him to go to a mill to grind corn there. My father said he would if he would draw it there for him; but he would not agree; and my father said it was too far to carry it on his back; so he took it to a mill about half a mile off. Then he turned my father out; and after that he got a house and two ar three acres. My mother begged all the time he had this house, but not before it. She had a wean before she married him, to another boy, and her friend wanted her to have it taken to the ‘cradle’ (the Foundling hospital); so my mother went away, for fear they would take the child from her. The snow was up to her knees when she went off, and she came to lodge with my father’s aunt; he never saw her before that, but he courted her then; he did not make much objection at the time to her having the child by another, but many a time since he cast it up to her; he was good enough to the child (this is the girl who is at service) at first, but not afterwards. If I wanted to make the most in a day, I would go along by the Coleraine road; I would go both by the road and country. My father keeps by himself when he is able, but now he is not; he stayed three weeks at George Brown’s, in the village here, this time. The woman of the house was dauncey, and my mother stayed and kept her clean. We separated in the day and met in the evening. We do not let my mother go out now, except from house to house, she is that ill. I have only one frock besides the one I have on, and I keep it for Sunday. My father goes every Sunday to chapel, and so do I whenever I am near it. I got the frock by getting a halfpenny from one and another; it cost 6d. a yard; the entire price was 3s., and the making cost 6d. A woman with three or four children would get far the most; we only get a handful of meal when it is plenty. We do not altogether get above five stone of potatoes in the day.” Between two and three stone would feed them, and Bradley says he has often seen the father with five stone on his back. This was considered to be a fair specimen of a “begging” family. The people did not like them because they divided and went in clans. During the short term we spent examining them a number of beggars had collected at the door; we counted them, and found eight women, three men and a boy. Of the 11 adults, all were old but one, who we understand was a woman of bad character. She had been a servant to a farmer, but having an illegitimate child, turned out and begged. She had now another at her breast.

Condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland (1835)

Parliament conducted a number of ‘fact finding missions’ in the 1830’s to try to understand why there seemed to be more poorer people in Ireland than elsewhere in the Kingdom (bear in mind that Ireland was an integral part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at this time). One of these was the ‘Condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland (1835). These reports consisted of depositions of testimony provided by various witnesses within select parishes in Ireland. In the MADGHS area there were three. Please click on the links to read the reports.

Parish of Kilrea

Parish of Maghera

Parish of Magherafelt

1835 Free Letter to Captain Tennyson d’ Eyncourt of 46th Regiment of Foot

Before Stamps had been invented in 1840, this is how a letter would have looked. This one is a ‘free’ meaning that the person sending it had some kind of priveledge not to have to pay for his or her mail. This letter was posted in 1835 and was addressed to an officer in the 46th Regiment of Foot, who were obviously stationed at Maghera during that year.  This letter was addressed to Eustace Tennyson d’ Eyncourt, who was the youngest and favourite son of Charles Tennyson d’Eyncourt, a Member of Parliament, and it was he who posted the letter to his son. Does that name sound familiar? Eustace Tennyson d’Eyncourt, was the cousin of Alfred Tennyson, later Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson.. he of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ fame. Unfortunately, this young army Captain died in Barbados in 1842.