Зображення сторінки

residence of the Protestant clergyman, the parish priest, or the coast-guard officer. It is evident that the incentives to industry, cleanliness, improved habits and modes of agriculture, and the acquisition of knowledge, must be extremely few, from the deficiency of encouragement and good example. It would be unreasonable to expect much from a people thus circumstanced, were the potato ever so abundant. It is not surprising that under the present visitation, any energy they formerly evinced should be wholly prostrated. Their former mode of support has failed them. They have no food, and can get no employment.* Their spirit is therefore broken. All hope, and with it all energy, is gone. They beg for work or food, and if unsuccessful, they lie down and die. Even in some districts where they are not quite so apathetic, their hopes are fixed on the resumption of the public works; and they look for assistance to the government, to their landlords, or to the distribution of gratuitous relief. How can it be otherwise ? To labour in their little plots of ground appears useless, for they have nothing to sow; and even if seed were given them, they have nothing to live on until the crop be ripe. It is probable that many of them have been served with “notices to quit,” and are in daily expectation of being evicted. Under such circumstances, what is to be expected but the apathy of despair 2 In some of the remoter districts, broken down by suffering, they submit with quiet resignation, saying, “It is the will of God.” In other places, where their spirit is less broken, they endeavour by clamour and threats of violence to compel relief. Wherever employment is offered, even with very insufficient wages, they accept it eagerly.” Many successful attempts have recently been made by benevolent associations and individuals, to establish various branches of domestic manufacture among the poor. This has been done with a view to encourage industrious habits, and to maintain feelings of self-respect among them. In the counties of Antrim, Donegal, Leitrim, Mayo, Tipperary, and others, large quantities of linens and of knitted articles, of the coarser and stronger descriptions, have been manufactured in a creditable manner, and at a very low rate of wages. And many articles of worsted and cotton knitting of the more elegant kinds, suited for ladies' wear, have been made by the females in their poor cabins, in a style which would not disgrace the most practised hands. Ample proof is thus afforded, that the disposition to work is not wanting, and that employment and a market for the fruits of their labour are alone required. The recklessness with which the poor Irish, more especially in the west, contracted marriage, has been frequently remarked. That they did not do so, without some prospect of being able to obtain the means of subsistence for themselves and their families, is shown by the fact, that since the recent calamity marriages are extremely rare in the more distressed portions of the country. It has been always remarked, that great national calamities have been accompanied by an increase of crime among the people. Men reduced to despair become reckless : they consider prudence and exertion useless, because they see them frequently unsuccessful. In the universal disorder which prevails, the value of character is lessened, and many of the conventional restraints on immorality are lost. These results have, to some extent, taken place in Ireland. The increased number of murders, and of other acts of violence, affords the most painful proof of the despair and demoralization of the people. Theft also has increased, and many of the people seem to think that they cease to be responsible, from the moment that they have become destitute. That theft should be on the increase can scarcely be considered extraordinary. Men are not likely to starve with food within their reach ; and it is to be feared, that in some districts, a large portion of the people have been of late mainly supported by stealing potatoes and turnips out of the fields. That they should do so is a fearful proof of the amount of the present distress ; formerly, potatoes were safe from pillage ; the winter store was pitted in the open field, and no one touched it. This year it has been necessary to watch them constantly, or they would have been pulled up, even before they were ripe. What will be the result when, the crops being all housed, there may be nothing left in the fields to be stolen 2 Although distress of the most biting character is unquestionably prevalent throughout almost all the western counties, it is equally certain, that many of those who pretend poverty possess the means of supporting themselves, if they would avow it; and that others are able to do something at least towards their own support. The following statement is taken from the letter of a gentleman in the county of Donegal, whose means of information and capability of judging render his testimony peculiarly valuable. It is dated 5th June, 1847, but is equally applicable to the present time : “The people are unquestionably suffering as “severe privations as it is possible to conceive, but “unfortunately nothing can be more difficult than “to ascertain precisely their circumstances and re“sources. That they have resources of which no “stranger can form an idea, is equally unquestion“able. We have had the strongest proof of this “lately; first in the general assertion of every “one, that they had not the means of cropping “ their land, followed, as it has been, by a greater “breadth of corn being sown than was ever re“membered ; and secondly, by the sale of the “cargoes of two different vessels, stranded near {{ , at which numbers of the people, appa

* When it is said that “the people have no food,” the writer wishes it to be understood that they have none of the food ordinarily relied upon for human subsistence. In their present sore extremity, they constantly resort to the use of sea-weed, shell-fish, turnip-tops, nettles, and other weeds, and sometimes to substances yet more revolting than these. * Some of the practical instructors sent out under Lord Clarendon's letter, by the Royal Agricultural Improvement Society, have made very gratifying reports of the anxiety of the small farmers in some places to obtain information; stating that they listened very attentively, and seemed very thankful for the advice given. They appear, by a report dated Westport, County of Mayo, Nov. 28, to be digging and manuring according to these instructions; and the same report states that many of the poor people “are without shoes, digging a hard stony “soil by task work, at the rate of seven shillings per Irish acre; a price “so immeasurably under what it ought to be done for,” that the writer would not have believed it, but that he “had it from the employer “ himself, not the employed. The price formerly was ten shillings “the Irish acre; but now, from the state and number of the destitute, “it is reduced to seven shillings. These poor people, even by the “greatest exertion, will not be able to earn four-pence a day at this rate, “ and that by task work.”

“rently the poorest, were purchasers to a conside“rable extent. The extreme difficulty of distinguishing those

« НазадПродовжити »