Living conditions in Wicklow in 1834 (Archive Month #4)

Following on from a previous post, here is an extract from the previously mentioned Ireland in 1834: a journey throughout Ireland, during the spring, summer, and autumn of 1834, Henry D Inglis, London: Whittaker, 1834. It describes living conditions observed by this writer in Wicklow, but unfortunately no details on what part. It’s interesting to compare this to Fraser’s Statistical Survey of the county in 1801 (and indeed Catherine O’Connell’s experiences in 1844). The Poor Laws came into force in Ireland in 1838.

I found rents in Wicklow such as for the most part could never be paid by the produce of the land and the small farmers as well as labourers barely subsisting. High rent was the universal complaint and the complaint was fully borne out by the wretched manner in which I found the people Catholic and Protestant living. And if the question be put to them why they take land at a rent which they know it will not bear the reply is always the same how were they to live what could they do. From which answer we at once arrive at the truth that competition for land in Ireland is but the outbiddings of desperate circumstances. As for the condition of the labouring classes I found little to bear out the assertions of some of my Dublin friends to whom Wicklow ought to have been familiar that I should find all the labourers employed and all tolerably comfortable.

On one of the afternoons I spent here I walked up a mountain road and after a short walk reached a glen with several cabins scattered in it and three of these I visited. The first I entered was a mud cabin one apartment. It was neither air nor water tight and the floor was extremely damp. The furniture consisted of a small bedstead with very scanty bedding a wooden bench and one iron pot the embers of some furze burnt on the floor and there was neither chimney nor window. The rent of this wretched cabin to which there was not a yard of land was two pounds. The next cabin I entered was situated on the hill side in size and material it was like the other I found in it a woman and her four children. There were two small bedsteads and no furniture excepting a stool a little bench and one pot. Here also were the burnt embers of some furze the only fuel the poor in this neighbourhood can afford to use. The children were all of them in rags and the mother regretted that on that account she could not send them to school. The husband of this woman was a labourer at sixpence per day eighty of which sixpences that is eighty days labour being absorbed in the rent of the cabin which was taken out in labour so that there was little more than fourpence halfpenny per day left for the support of a wife and four children with potatoes at fourpence a stone.

I entered one other cabin it was the most comfortless of the three it was neither air nor water tight and had no bedstead and no furniture excepting a stool and a pot and there were not even the embers of a fire. In this miserable abode there was a decently dressed woman with five children and her husband was also a labourer at sixpence per day. This family had had a pig but it had been taken for rent a few days before. They had hoped to be able to appropriate the whole of the daily sixpence to their support and to pay the rent by means of the pig but the necessities of nature with the high price of potatoes had created an arrear before the pig was old enough to be sold. The landlord might not be to blame he was a very small farmer of hill land at twenty shillings an acre and was just as hard set to live and pay his rent as his humbler dependent was.

A labourer in this county considers himself fortunate in having daily employment at sixpence throughout the year and many are not so fortunate I found some who received only fivepence but there are many who cannot obtain constant employment and these have occasional labour at tenpence or one shilling but this only for a few weeks at a time I found the small farmers living very little more comfortably than the labourers A little buttermilk added to the potatoes made the chief difference.

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