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.

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