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

Stranger in a Strange Land

Thanks to Stevie over at https://steviet3.wordpress.com/ for nominating me for the ‘Three Quotes for Three Days’ challenge. The rules of the challenge are: Three quotes for three days. Three nominees each day (no repetition). Thank the person who nominated you. Inform the nominees. For my third and final quote I am going to take another from George Bernard Shaw: Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it. George Bernard Shaw. I have been unable to find the context for this quotation, but he had this to say on the … Continue reading Stranger in a Strange Land

The Sin of Indifference

Thanks to Stevie over at https://steviet3.wordpress.com/ for nominating me for the ‘Three Quotes for Three Days’ challenge. The rules of the challenge are: Three quotes for three days. Three nominees each day (no repetition). Thank the person who nominated you. Inform the nominees. For my first quote I am going to take one from George Bernard Shaw: The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity. From “The Devil’s Disciple” (1901), act II I heard it recently during a television programme commemorating the 50th anniversary of … Continue reading The Sin of Indifference

The Exercise of Power

Ireland’s role in establishing the British Parliament’s supremacy over the executive. It was the English civil war, a brutal affair that lasted, on and off, for six years and pitched brother against brother and father against son, that established the supremacy of parliament. And it began with the trial of a man who had the temerity to threaten to raise a mostly Catholic army of Irish men to assist King Charles in his campaign against Scottish protestants. And Ireland was to suffer some of the worst horrors perpetrated during the course of the war. Thomas Wentworth had been appointed as … Continue reading The Exercise of Power

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

The Trouble with Grammar Schools

Early in 1952 I took, and passed, an examination generally referred to as 11+. This was the method by which pupils were selected for a grammar school education. It supposedly indicated that I had a higher than average intelligence quotient. In the whole of Herefordshire there were only two grammar schools for boys, not counting the highly specialised Cathedral Choir School – Hereford High School and Kington Grammar (There were also grammar schools for girls). Both were geographically isolated from our home in the hills above the Golden Valley in the south west of the county. This presented my mother … Continue reading The Trouble with Grammar Schools