The Poor Law Inspector – Update.

I can’t believe it is 6 months since I first posted about this project of mine. If anyone is interested, here is an update on my progress since then. First of all I need to explain that this is part of a long term project which includes a non-fiction book about the Great Irish Famine, as well as the historical novel based on the activities of Capt. Arthur Kennedy and Colonel Crofton Vandeleur in Kilrush between November 1847 and 1851. I have been working hard on the non-fiction work over the summer and have what I consider to be a … Continue reading The Poor Law Inspector – Update.

Announcing The Poor Law Inspector

Reading about the famine that afflicted Ireland in the years 1845-52 is to discover story after story of the horrors that ensued. The families found naked and dead huddled together in some filthy hovel; the evictions that left other families to seek shelter in ditches and under hedges. It is also to enter the strange world of statistics. Did a million die, or more? Did a similar number emigrate? We have census figures for 1841 and 1851 which show a fall in population of around two million. Some have tried to interpolate what was the likely increase in population over … Continue reading Announcing The Poor Law Inspector

The Poor Law in Ireland

The third of my series of posts on poverty examines the transfer of poor laws from the British mainland to Ireland. The Dublin House of Industry was established in 1772 to care for vagrants and beggars. In times of more general distress, the work of this and similar institutions in other cities was supplemented by ad hoc provision by the parishes raising funds by subscription. Reading accounts of the conditions that prevailed in the early 1780s, for example, it is clear that the response to widespread food and fuel shortages that occurred consisted of a combination of fire-fighting with limited … Continue reading The Poor Law in Ireland

Evolution of Poor Laws

The second of my series of posts on poverty examines the evolution of poor laws in the British mainland. Prior to the reformation – the switch, over large parts of Europe, from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism – the poor were looked after by the monasteries. The funding for this came from the patronage the monasteries received from the land owners and from the tythes paid by farmers. Whilst the old, the sick and the disabled were provided with food, shelter and healing, the able bodied were provided with work, either in farms that formed an important part of the religious … Continue reading Evolution of Poor Laws

Better than all the Rest

I’ve been studying – and attempting to write a book about – the famine that devastated Ireland in the years 1845-52. No such study is complete without an analysis of the attitudes of the British towards Irish and English paupers. This is the first of a series of posts the overarching title of which is “Dealing with Poverty – a Historical Perspective”. This one deals with the evolution of the feeling of superiority that characterised the elites in Victorian Britain. Exploration By the nineteenth century British explorers and traders had for more than two hundred years traveled the world, discovering … Continue reading Better than all the Rest

Salutary Lessons for a Would-be Historian

Janet Cameron has posted a thoughtful blog about the pitfalls of historical writing. In my reading about the Great Irish Famine I have yet to discover a full length book by an English historian, something I believe is necessary in order to gain a proper English perspective on the events. I have read several books by Irish historians and it is sometimes too easy to conclude that the writer’s view point – the unconditional condemnation of the British authorities and the British landlords – is distorted by excessive subjectivity. That is not to say that I have not read accounts … Continue reading Salutary Lessons for a Would-be Historian

Community vs Individualism

The post from Felicity Sidnel about cohousing that I re-blogged recently reminded me of something I read whilst researching the Irish famine of 1845-51. Prior to this traumatic event there existed in parts of the North West of the island a system of communal land occupation and cultivation known as rundale. It had remained unchanged for many centuries¹. It continued even though legal ownership of the land might be vested in a landlord with ties to the British mainland. The people resided in a cluster of homes called a clachan. The adjacent land radiated out from the cluster and was … Continue reading Community vs Individualism

Inconceivable Realities: Writing of Past Horrors

Horror is a popular genre. Fantasies involving zombies, mummies or vampires are as widely read today as they ever were in the past. But history is filled with real horrors. Which raises the question: is it ever possible for a novel to do justice to real life horrors such as The Great Irish Famine? Part of my research for my novel set in the period of the Irish famine of 1845-51 has consisted of reading a massive volume entitled Atlas Of The Great Irish Famine. Produced in 2012 by Cork University Press, it is a monumental work, consisting of a … Continue reading Inconceivable Realities: Writing of Past Horrors

Nineteenth Century History – a new project (or two) for me?

The story began a few years ago when a certain gentleman (I’ll call him Paddy) joined our local writers’ group. Some years previously he had suffered serious injuries in a road accident and had subsequently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. From being a successful professional, keen golfer and member of Toastmasters, he was facing the frustrations of a debilitating condition that makes communication difficult. Nevertheless, he was determined to produce a collection of anecdotes and stories from his family history, humorous incidents from his long career, and adaptations of Irish folk tales. With help from members of the group he … Continue reading Nineteenth Century History – a new project (or two) for me?