Distress In The West


Westport, 18th June, 1863.

A very distressing spectacle presents itself this day in front of the Westport Union Workhouse.  Immediately after the adjournment of the board of guardians (which met as usual at 11 o’clock, and closed its proceedings at 12 o’clock), there arrived from Louisburgh, ten Irish miles distant, a number of carts loaded with somewhere about 300 or 350 miserable-looking creatures, men, women, and children, of all ages.  They were accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Ryan R.C.C., and a few persons form Louisburgh.  The rev. gentlemen expected to find the guardians assembling at 12 o’clock, and felt rather disappointed on being informed that the proceedings were over.  He then applied to the officials of the Union for immediate relief for the famishing multitude who were crowding at the workhouse gate, alleging that he would insist on having out-door relief administered to them – as in the absence of aid from the landlords, he would hold the poor law guardians and officials responsible for the lives of the suffering poor.  At this time (the guardians having all left the workhouse previously) there remained in the boardroom, Dr. Johnston, the medical officer, Mr. Egan, the union clerk, and representatives of the press. The clerk explained to the Rev. Mr. Ryan that the proceeding of the board did not occupy an hour, as there was no subject to be considered but mere routine business, which on this occasion was unusually light.  He also informed the rev. gentlemen that the board had not received from the relieving officer of the Louisburgh district, who was still in the workhouse, any report officially or otherwise of so large a number of applicants applying for relief, that there were but three applications on his book for the week in one instance of which the party being sick out door relief had been ordered, and the others were admitted to the house.  The relieving officer then, by direction of Mr. Egan, commenced filling up tickets of provisional admission to the workhouse for such of the destitute beings as were legally admissible, as in the majority of the cases the husband, or, as the poor-law designates him, the head of the family or “occupier”, remained at home in the hope that the wife and children would be allowed even workhouse relief for a month or two, till the arrival of better times.  Such, however, is not the law.  The head of the family is either alone, or with the wife and children, relievable in the workhouse; so the result was that scarcely half the poor creatures could avail themselves of the sad alternative of the workhouse, and even of the 150 or so who got tickets of admission only 83 finally consented to enter the “house”, such is their abhorrence of the establishment.  The great majority of the applicants who entered the workhouse are persons without land, or, if holding a little patch as conacre, are undertenants or squatters, or poor roomkeepers or lodgers from the miserable village of Louisburgh, where they usually eke out an existence as labourers or beggars.  Some of the applicants had a very miserable appearance others, those who hold land at the yearly value of 3l at highest, andin most cases 2l, or 1l 10s., did not present such and emaciated appearance, although indeed it is difficult to expect how any “tenant” can even in prosperous seasons lock otherwise than miserable, whose earthly possessions in the shape of house and land are of such a low valuation.  How in fact can any man, no matter how industrious, subsist and maintain a family on a holding valued under 2l, as is the case generally on all the smaller estates in the parish of Louisburgh.  The admission of such as entered the workhouse had concluded at seven o’clock, when the remained under the care of the Rev. Mr. Ryan, were provided with provisions in Westport, and removed in carts to their homes. Some so far as six miles beyond Louisburgh.  The following are the names of townlands and numbers admitted :- Louisburgh town, 15; Aillemore, 8; Ballyhip, 22; Carrownisky, 3; Dooghmakeon, 7; Devlin, 5; Runith,1; Knockeen, 1; Cross, 5; Kilgeever, 2; Askillire,1; Carrowmore, 2; Fallduff, 7; Mooneen, 2; Tully,1; Feenane,1.  The pressure on the Rev. Mr. Ryan did not leave till all those admitted had got supper.

Numbers in the workhouse: – Last Saturday 251; last Saturday twelve months, 209; last Saturday two years, 131.





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