Adam Clarke, the celebrated Methodist preacher, who was born at Moybeg just outside Tobermore in 1760/62, and who lived for a few years just outside Maghera wrote (upon a return visit to the area in circa 1807) “From Castle-Dawson I proceeded toward Maghera, and stopped to view the place where I had spent the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth years of my checkered life. Half the house in which we lived, one of the best in that country, is pulled down I walked through the grounds where I had laughed and cried, sought birds’ nests, looked for fairies’ haunts, made good resolutions, and spent the most happy (and, perhaps, the most innocent) period of my life. Though I had left that place when about eight years of age, yet I remembered every hill and every hedge where my brother and I used to see the fairies’ nocturnal fires. The orchard, from which I had eaten often of the choicest fruit, no longer exists. Zion is ploughed like a field. The emotions to which these scenes now gave birth cannot be described They connect the long interval between four years of age and fifty … To the poor woman I gave three tenpenny pieces, who received them as from heaven, and, addressing the child, said, ‘See, my dear, God has sent you a new coat by this gentleman; and may the blessing of God rest upon him and his family forever! ‘ … We soon got to Maghera, — looking over which before dinner, went to the quondam [former] dwelling of Dr. Bernard, the bishop of Limerick, celebrated in Boswell. This is also in a state of ruin; nothing like its former self, except the great beach-tree. Left the place with reflections not the most pleasant … “
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 Magherafelt, Bar. Loughinsholin
Persons who attended the examination
Mr. John Archer, farmer – G.W. Blathwaite, esq, J.P. – Mr. John Boyd, farmer – Mr. Archibald Bradley, farmer – Mr. Allan Browne, shopkeeper – Josiah Bryan, esq – Mr. Duncan, Shopkeeper – Doctor Evans – Captain Graves, J.P. – Mr. Henry – Mr. Edward Hull, shopkeeper – Mr. Little, farmer – Rev. Mr. Nevin, P.P. – Doctor Shannon – Mr. Thomas Shannon, farmer – Mr. William Shingley, farmer – Andrew Spotswood, J.P. – Rev. S, Twigg, curate – Rev. T.J. Vesey, rector – Rev. James Wilson, seceding minister – Police, labourers, &c.
Widows and children
The number of widows with young children, having no support but their own earnings, is very large; they are in a more wretched state than the rest of the community, and some with difficulty procure one meal a day.
They can make, by spinning, 1¼d a day, and by working in the fields in seed time, July and harvest, 6d a day, but could not possibly maintain a family by their earnings. Widows are not remarkable for the sale of illicit spirits. Few could even purchase a sufficiency of whiskey to set themselves up. The trade in illicit spirits has, moreover, greatly decreased.
One widow received assistance from parochial assessment; but the majority of the ratepayers objected to the assessment, which could not legally be enforced.
The widows strive to hold land, but are seldom able to do so, as the landlords give no assistance. A widow who has a lease of land will not divide it, and let it to cottiers.
Profits are not sufficiently great to allow persons in trade to provide for the widows of those who worked for them.
After the death of the landlord, the neighbours assist the widow by giving her a day’s work occasionally; but the practice is not long continued; they never support the children.
Widows are frequently obliged to beg, and generally do so at first at a distance from home, from feelings of shame. If the widow is young, she is sometimes led by begging to prostitution; but this is more common among women who have had illegitimate children. Among females especiallu, habits of begging in early life are most destructive.
Widows are very commonly relieved from congregational collections. There is no distinction of religious opinions, and therefore no motive for hypocritical pretence.
Widows are in general worse off than mothers of illegitimate children, their families being usually more numerous, and having no one to look to for assistance. It is not possible for a husband in the labouring classes to provide for his widow or children.
Impotent through age
There are about 150 destitute persons in this parish, not quite a fortieth of the whole population; about 50 beg; fully 100 are assisted and supported in different ways; and about 60 who beg receive assistance also from relatives; extremely few are supported by their neighbours, and none by the richer classes. About four in 20 labourers are above 60 years old, and they usually become incapable of working when between 40 and 70.
Before the son is allowed to take the farm which belonged to his father, a bargain is generally made by the landlord or his agent, that the later shall be supported from the farm. It is common too for the children to pay the rent of a cabin and potato garden for their parent, towards whom their affection is generally strong. The duty of supporting the old does not influence any but the children, on whom it frequently presses very severely. The most affectionate (not the child who is best off) supports the parent. It is generally also the unmarried child, and the parents prefer living with them, and seldom go from one child to another. The pressure on the child from supporting the parent frequently leads to ill will and quarrels. The parent in general fares in the same way as the child, though he who is to labour must get more sustenance. Both suffer when work is scarce and provision dear. None of the aged are supported by their neighbours, or by subscriptions from the young labourers, but remittances from the colonies are often made to a considerable amount, some of £5, £10 and £15, generally to bring over some of the family.
The regular mendicant (i.e. a person begging or relying on charitable donations) is much better off than the poor housekeeper, and the later is often reduced to one bad meal in the day, while the former can spend money in extravagance. The disinclination to beg is therefore not so great as it ought to be.
Blankets and clothing are generally given away every winter from a subscription among the higher classes. A clothing society has been formed, with a capital of £35 from which 700 to 800 persons in the year receive assistance. The price of the article is paid by weekly instalments of 1d in the shilling. The present tax on benevolence is generally proportionate to the poverty, not to the wealth of the giver. The absentees contribute nothing.
Sickness is the chief claim to relief from the congregational poor list; relief from this source is deemed much more respectable than that derived from begging. There are 40 on the church list, and 20 on the Presbyterian. Many are relieved from the Roman Catholic chapel, but no regular list is kept: 3s. Half yearly is the maximum given to those on the church list, and 1s 6d weekly to those on the Presbyterian. Food is never given by congregations. There are no almshouses.
Those who beg obtain more than the necessaries of life; the others can barely support themselves; still there is a great disinclination to beg. A labourer could not lay by anything; in the town they are less sober in general than in the country, probably from associating with servants and stable boys of intemperate habits. The general opinion of the parish was favourable to a provision for the infirm through age.
There is no certain fund for assisting the poor and their families who have become destitute through long sickness. When a family falls into sickness, two respectable neighbours go around, and make collections for them. About 2cwt. Of meal, or £1 is generally collected in this manner; these collections are made more than once if the sickness lasts long in the family. It is, however, necessary in most cases for the members of the family to beg, especially if they are unable to borrow. There is no loan fund. The poor are very much afraid of contagion, and will not even go near the door of a house visited by it; they do not remove the children. Contagion generally attacks all the inmates. Last December, a poor woman, who was ill of fever, lay for three nights under a hedge for want of a house; the neighbours were afraid to remove her. The labourer cannot lay by anything for sickness, and the small farmers and cottiers are even worse off.
The parish would wish to be able to assist the sick by assessment. The medical gentlemen would prefer that the power of giving relief in food, clothing or other necessaries should rest with the parish after they ad furnished the parish committee with a certificate of the ill health of the applicant.
Dr. Evans has frequently known a respectable family reduced to begging and ruined by sickness. He tapped a woman the other day who had not a loaf of bread. He ahd known men return to industry after recovering from a severe attack, and others fall into low spirits and become desperate from destitution. The poor want food oftener than medicine. Relapses continually occur for want of the necessaries of life; after recovery from sickness a poor man requires attention and a sufficiency of good diet; yet he is then in general most destitute.
The funds of the dispensary are not half equal to the demands on it; the district extends in a radius of nearly four miles all round the town. A fever hospital is much wanted, with a ward for accidents.
Able bodied out of work
From December to March is the period at which a portion of the labourers are without work; they generally have a patch of potato-ground planted, on the produce of which they subsist during the winter months; they are not reduced to so few meals in these months, as in the months of May, June and July. There is no regular fund out of which they receive assistance.
They beg much more in the summer months; begging is not so common in the winter months, when least work is to be obtained. Individuals, who have been compelled by necessity to beg in the summer months, have continued it afterwards when necessity ceased to exist. The women and girls are very rarely driven to prostitution. When work fails the family, there are no instances in the parish of women, having families, being abandoned by their husbands. There has been no instance of able bodied persons, or their families, committing offences for the purpose of being sent to prison, in order that they might obtain food and shelter there.
There is no instance known of pesons having been guilty of robberies, with a view to relieving themselves from destitution.
Credit is very common in the country, but rare in towns. Farmers are the persons applied to; 50 per cent. Above the market price is frequently charged; 2s. or 3. are commonly added to the price of one hundred weight of meal, value 10s. Processes for such debts, at the quarter sessions, are discouraged by the assistant barrister, who reduces the amount, if immoderately high.
Nothing like a labour rate has ever been known, and country works have been generally undertaken when work was most plentiful. The wages of the labouring people could not enable them to lay by anything; but they suffer more from the occasional high price of provisions, than from want of employment. The very poorest marry earliest; it is common practice to borrow money in order to pay the licence. The only requisite then is to get a shelter for the night. The clergy are not often consulted. Farmer’s sons are observed to be much later and more considerate in their marriages than labourers.
There are about 80 vagrants in the parish. Several respectable farmers stated that a dozen beggars on an average called daily at each of their houses. The cheapness of provisions lately diminished the number, which is largest generally in summer, owing to the increased price of potatoes and the failure of the cottier’s store. Magherafelt is also at this season much frequented by beggars passing through to Belfast and Coleraine.
There are about 50 house poor; the rest are strangers. Three fourths are women, and in many cases able bodied. The men are infirm, with the exception of the cottiers, who having closed their cabins, and one or two able bodied labourers, who from want of employment and the dearness of provisions have been obliged to beg. Most of the beggars go about in families, the average to each family being about three persons. Women form the greater portion, as it is more difficult for them to obtain work, and the wives and families of labourers who go to England or Scotland for employment are thrown upon the public. They have more temptation too to become beggars, as greater pity id felt for them, and more is given them in alms. Many women are strong and healthy. The house poor are infirm; the strangers occasionally able bodied.
There is no begging on Sundays. When provisions are dear women with large families are obliged to beg, and have often been known to continue mendicants when the necessity has cease. The cottiers come constantly own in summer from the mountains near Magherafelt to beg in the lowlands; they afterwards spread by degrees over the parishes, and are thus looked upon as the poor of Magherafelt. The labouring is of all classes the most prone to begging. A man can work longer at the loom than with the spade. Weavers often labour when wages are high; besides, a weaver, if sick, can do half a day’s work or less, while a labourer, if ill, is thrown altogether out of employment. Servants out of place or disabled fall back on their relatives. Cottiers, when begging, always go where they are not known, partly from shame and partly because they fear they might not be assisted at home. Those who go to England or Scotland for work pay their way, and sometimes travel by coach.
The districts from which the beggars generally come are Ballinascreen, in the county Derry, and the counties Tyrone and Donegal, generally mountain and bog districts, where they rent from the farmers, at exorbitant prices, small cabins with a half or a quarter of an acre of ground for potatoes.
Begging is constantly made an hereditary trade. Mr. Duncan had known individuals on the poor list for the last 30 years, whose children also got on the list and begged like their parents. In some cases begging had been traced for three generations. The majority, however, could not have avoided begging, being reduced to it by accidents, sickness or high rents. Not one in ten embraces mendicancy from choice, but many from laziness continue the practice when commenced.
A beggar may obtain in a day a bushel of potatoes and some meal. The earnings of a beggar in the country are supposed to be greater than in a town; in the former he might make 9d., and in the latter 6d. a day beyond what he requires for his own consumption. They obtain scarcely anything from coach or car passengers here.
The amount of relief is in general increased in proportion to the number of the applicants. It was stated by several witnesses that they had seen a family divide before they approached a house, and then ask for alms separately. The blind and crippled obtain the most, and are invariably observed to be the greatest drunkards. Mr. Brown had frequently seen blind beggars in a state of intoxication. An able bodied person will on the whole obtain more than any except the blind, maimed or mutilated, and much more than an infirm old man or woman. An able bodied man is often refused; an able bodied woman never.
Beggars sell their surplus earnings, and purchase luxuries, which the farmers and labourers who relieve them are unable to procure. Farmers constantly buy potatoes from beggars to feed their pigs. Beggars solicit charity from the poorest cottiers, and after obtaining it, frequently offer meal for sale. They purchase for themselves tobacco and soap, whiskey and tea. They wish to appear, while begging, dirty and rages. Many expose their persons mutilated or afflicted with sores, at fairs and markets, but these are the worst characters; they are in general improvident; but one case was mentioned where a beggar had been robbed of £40. If they have money, they naturally endeavour to conceal it.
They usually say they are out of work, but more commonly that they are driven to begging by the loss of a farm or death of stock. Women state their husbands are dead, or have deserted them; men, that they are broken down tradesmen. Beggars always appear worse clad than usual on helping days. Few go to church or meeting, except in the evenings, when they expect part of the collections; but then they are better clad. Cottiers with clean cabins will not lodge beggars. Dr. Evans had found, in the limb of a beggar which was amputated, pieces of copper, which had originally produced the sore which rendered amputation necessary. He had also known blue stone (Copper sulphate) used to create sores. One beggar pretended to have cancer, but fled when Dr. E. wished to examine it. Blindness is frequently counterfeited. The Rev. Mr. Wilson had known three persons, who pretended to be brothers, affect to be deaf and dumb. They were liberally relieved; but before they left the village they quarrelled, and the violence which ensued discovered the cheat. Certificates of loss of cattle, or burning of a house, are very common, but are generally suspected to be false. Beggars do not apply at the dispensaries for medicine. Children maimed, or peculiarly afflicted, are a good life income to their parents, and are made of course as pitiable objects as possible.
Beggars are in general ill conducted, and are not trusted with work, or even with a night’s lodging in an outhouse by the farmers, unless locked in. Both men and women of this class are constantly drunk. OIne farmer has seen, a short time ago, two women passing by his house on the road sde, both drunk, one of whom threw down her child with considerable violence on the road. Petty thefts are frequently committed by beggars. Mr. Henry had had fowls, hats and clothes stolen from his house by them. Mr. Wilson had known a beggar, after lodging for a week in a house, and gaining some confidence, rise in the night and steal clothes, &c.; potatoes as well as articles of dress are often stolen; and some women educate their children to commit thefts. The only relief which beggars afford to each other is to point out the houses where assistance may be obtained. The practice of borrowing or hiring children is common among them.
Beggars have generally large families. Mr. Archer said they generally dispense with the ceremony of marriage, and take each other’s word; their children are supposed, in most cases, to be illegitimate. Starvation is not known here. Many beggars live to be 70 or 80 years old. An able bodied man could collect more by begging than by working; but many would refuse him relief. An able bodied woman could make five or six times as much by begging as by work.
There is no knowledge of the characters of strange beggars. Shame and the remuneration for labour restrain men from begging; but the female has no such inducements against mendicancy. Many of the strange poor are supposed to prefer mendicancy to labour; but this is not true of the home poor. Cottiers who follow a vagabond life in the summer months refuse labour. Many farmers had offered work to able bodied beggars, but with little or no success. Mr. Wilson had known work thus offered; but the beggars never stayed long, even though they might accept it at the moment; they went off in the evening with whatever they could steal. He had also seen beggars hide their bags, and then know them apply at a door, saying they were starving.
Mr. little had known small farmers readily help a beggar, whom they k new to be in the habit of selling from a bushel to a bushel and a half of potatoes at the end of the day.
Character is not inquired into; the appearance of destitution is the only consideration.
Lodging is constantly given to beggars by small farmers and cottiers. There are regular lodging houses in the town, where they usually pay for a night’s lodging about 1d. Clothing is very seldom given. Potatoes are often refused by beggars when cheap, or when the applicant is infirm, and unable to carry them. To a beggar who carries a can a pint of buttermilk is constantly given. Money is given by shopkeepers; food by farmers, as being more ready at hand, and less felt. The beggars would always prefer money.
All who apply receive relief, generally a handful of meal or two handfuls of potatoes each. Farmers holding 20 or 30 acres give, on average, 30s. a year. Those who hold the largest farms do not give the most. The lowest amount for a shopkeeper is 30s. yearly. Mr. Duncan said no shopkeeper, on an average, gives less than 1d. a day; I myself give £3 at least in the year. On helping days the resident poor receive from each of the shopkeepers generally a halfpenny each.
The beggars are supported principally by the middling and lower classes. The gentry, except on helping days, exclude the poor; but the shopkeeper and farmer’s wife can always be applied to.
The poor give much more, and feel much more what they give than the rich. Those who can give food give it, and share their meals with the destitute. Those who have nothing else to give, give lodging.
All agreed that by the present system some paupers received much more than they required; while others, and those the most deserving, such as the poor housekeepers, get next to nothing. Much is thus lost to the community.
The poorest often give the most. A stone of potatoes is frequently given away in a day by a farmer, and sometimes treble the quantity, besides meal. A penny a day is a fair average for a shopkeeper during the year. Many are obliged, at the end of the year, owing to the numerous calls on their charity, to purchase potatoes. They give as readily from what they have purchased as from their own stock; and any distinction on this account would be thought uncharitable. The shopkeepers are more anxious for a legal assessment. The farmers fear lest it should be unequally imposed, and not to wish to continue by law the present tax on the occupying tenant; they would not object to a property tax, or any system by which the head landlord should be compelled to contribute.
Relief is given partly from custom, but principally from feelings of charity, and sometimes in towns it is exhorted by importunity from the shopkeepers. Great importance is attached to a request made “for God’s sake,” but fear of violence never influences; the very lowest class only dread the beggar’s curse.
Typhus fever, measles and small pox are constantly spread by beggars. Mr. Wilson had known a beggar woman to carry fever into 12 families. Cursing, swearing and prostitution are the consequences of mendicancy. Many beggars, who appear devout while asking alms, swear when refused; they fabricate scandal, and are great newsmongers, but are not known to have ever produced political discontent.
Those who have long been vagrants never return to industry, but become a separate class.
No punishments have ever been inflicted for vagrancy; and the general feeling is strongly against any sever measures, unless the destitute could be certain of obtaining relief; if any provision, however, were made for the poor, it was the general opinion that laws against vagrancy would be enforced; now they would only refuse relief; but some petty thefts have been committed from destitution.
The nearest mendicity establishment is in Belfast; such a house would not be popular with the poor.
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.
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.
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.
One of the many sources available to researchers is the treasure trove of evidence contained in the various Parliamentary reports. These include:
As more information becomes available, once transcribed it will appear here.
Hegarty’s Horse Belfast Newsletter 22nd June 1804
ON Wednesday night the 13th instant, a BAY GELDING, about 14 hands high, eight years old, black mane, and tail set, both hind feet white, hoofs striped, with a small white star on forehead.- Two Guineas Reward will be given to any person who shall deliver said horse to the owner William Hegarty, Knockaneal, Parish of Maghera, or who will give Eight Guineas for Horse and Thief, on prosecuting the Thief to conviction. June 21.