Poor Relief in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Preface to First Edition continued

The burden, therefore, of giving that relief to the poor, which they always require in times of sickness, and when they cannot get work, falls almost exclusively upon the priests and the convents. Were it not for the exertions made by the priests and nuns throughout Ireland for the support of the poor, and to obtain work for them, and the immense sums of money sent to Ireland by emigrants, for the support of aged fathers and mothers, I believe the destitution would be something appalling, and that landlords would find it even more difficult than at present to get the high rents which they demand. Yet, some of these same landlords, getting perhaps £20,000 or £40,000 a-year from their Irish estates, will not give the slightest help to establish industrial schools in connexion with convents, or to assist them when they are established, though they are the means of helping their own tenants to pay their rent.

There are in Ireland about two hundred conventual establishments. Nearly all of these convents have poor schools, where the poor are taught, either at a most trifling expense, or altogether without charge. The majority of these convents feed and clothe a considerable number of poor children, and many of them have established industrial schools, where a few girls at least can earn what will almost support a whole family in comfort. I give the statistics of one convent as a sample of others. I believe there are a few, but perhaps only a very few other places, where the statistics would rise higher; but there are many convents where the children are fed and clothed, and where work is done on a smaller scale. If such institutions were encouraged by the landlords, much more could be done. The convent to which I allude was founded at the close of the year 1861.

There was a national school in the little town (in England it would be called a village), with an attendance of about forty children. The numbers rose rapidly year by year, after the arrival of the nuns, and at present the average daily attendance is just 400. It would be very much higher, were it not for the steady decrease in the population, caused by emigration. The emigration would have been very much greater, had not the parish priest given employment to a considerable number of men, by building a new church, convent, and convent schools. The poorest of the children, and, in Ireland, none but the very poorest will accept such alms, get a breakfast of Indian meal and milk all the year round. The comfort of this hot meal to them, when they come in half-clad and starving of a winter morning, can only be estimated by those who have seen the children partake of it, and heard the cries of delight of the babies of a year old, and the quiet expression of thankfulness of the elder children. Before they go home they get a piece of dry bread, and this is their dinner—a dinner the poorest English child would almost refuse. The number of meals given at present is 350 per diem. The totals of meals given per annum since 1862 are as follows:—

During the year1862......36,400
Making a total of320,900

There were also 1,035 suits of clothing given.