Tuam Herald 1837 p.2
The Poor Rates – Galway Union
The Railway, a remedy (abridged)
The impoverished state of the inhabitants and proprietors in this union has attracted my attention for some months past. I have over and over again endeavoured to impress upon the government and the nation at large, the rapid strides which poverty and destitution are making in this portion of Ireland, gifted by nature with advantages second to none in the empire. True the new College is building – the earthworks of a barrack begun – a fishery pier has been erected and the drainage of Lough Corrib is in progress – still the streets are as full of filth and of beggars as ever, trade seems paralysed, and the poor house filling fast. You meet few people at work – despair seems to pervade every countenance, and the only question asked, is there any hope for Galway? I emphatically answer – yes; there is hope. We are part and parcel of the United Kingdom, and our rulers must see the absolute necessity of coming to the rescue of a district blighted by the will of an all ruling providence. At Kinvarra, barricades are hoisted in a foolish mad attempt to keep their little corn, by a people driven by desperation to acts which in their sober moments they will sorely repent. This is not the way to correct the evil, rather let us endeavour to persuade the authorities to come to the rescue of this impoverished district. The potato failing again and again, dashed to the ground all hopes from the small occupier; his little corn barely sufficient to feed his family instead of the potato, his only stay, he finds must go to the support of his neighbour; he sees it certain that as long as he has anything left it will be taken to meet the necessities of the poor house. Until he himself becomes a recipient of relief, the number of contributors to the rate becomes lessened, and those to be supported by it increased – until wide-spread ruin desolate the entire union, indeed the entire county, nay, even the kingdom at large, eventually. Facts are stubborn things; therefore I make the following statement which I can prove beyond cavil, hoping it may have its use. The small occupiers in the vicinity of a demesne, about a mile or so from this town, used to work in the demesne, and thus pay their rent; that source once stopped, they yet continued by industry while the potato lasted, to pay their rent. I find in the tenants’ book their rents well paid up to, and for November, ’45; in ’46 partially paid; since then nil. How could they pay for one, two, three or four acres? The sea-weed laid on one acre or less under the potato, fed the family; since then nothing or next to nothing grew – the rents then mounting up – land useless unless money could be found to improve it. What was to be done in the absence of sufficient capital to cultivate the land? Why, to give the occupants such small sums as could be scraped together upon their giving up the land, in order to enable the poor creatures to seek out employment elsewhere, or to occupy a corner of the poor house. I subjoin a statement of the number of families who have been or are to be dealt with:-
Number of Families ... ... 22 Contents of Farms ... ... 25 Acres. Yearly Rent ... ... ... £26 Arrears due ... ... ... 107 Money given or promised to be given on getting possession of the land ... £84 FAMILIES MALES FEMALES Aged 1 6 Able bodied 29 33 Young 9 15 Total number who have left the estate with their own free will and anxious consent, ninety three souls.
Here, then, besides the poor rates which have been paid, or are to be paid – upon 25 acres of an estate that used to be well paid, is a loss to the proprietor of no less a sum than £200, and the land now lying untenanted; but this is not all, he must share, in common with his neighbours in the electoral division, the maintenance, indoor or outdoor, of these paupers perhaps. I shudder to think of it; but I had, or conceive I had, no alternative. Upon examining the list and striking off the aged, who have a right to be cared for in the workhouse, and the very young (we have of male and female, able to earn their bread 62 individuals!) I think the land lord who parts people under these circumstances from the land, ought not to forget them altogether; he is bound to assist the poor law guardians in emigrating them – the only thing to be done with those deprived of land and house, and, in emigrating the parents, they will take some of the children, and send for others. In this way the poor-house would become a blessing to the district in keeping the poor until some provision be made for them. I found these poor persons unable to support themselves without constant labour, and that I was unable to provide them with; but I am sure if the Vice Guardians would rent those 25 acres, and set the labourers to trench and clear it of rock, after paying a moderate rent, which they should have it at, they could have a quantity of prepared soil which they could sell, freed from poor rate, for a good round sum which would help to pay part of the expense of the poor house. In this way, by a temporary advance for six months, a number of able-bodied poor might be employed, and the money got back in the sale of the prepared soil for a crop. Something of the kind should be attempted for the winter – preparing land for flax, green crops, oats &c. – the sale of the soil not doubtful if the land be well trenched and deep. I hope to get some money under the Land Improvement Act to employ the tenants now on the land, and others as labourers in the neighbourhood; but the grand employment will be the underworks of the railroad, if carried on immediately. 2,000 men could be employed between Mullingar and Athlone, county Westmeath; 1,000 between Athlone and Ballinasloe, county Roscommon; 1,000 between Ballinasloe and Kilconnell; 1,000 between Kilconnell and Esker College; 1,000 between Esker College and Athenry; 2,000 between Athenry and the boundary of the county of the town of Galway; and 3,000 from thence to the town. In all 10,000 men daily, and 50,000 sould fed by a loan of £300,000 to the Midland Great Western Railway Company, or by the government guaranteeing 3 and 1/2 per cent, to debenture holders of £5; in other words, by its agreeing each half year to pay £9,000 to these debenture holders in the first instance, taking the security of the entire line, 120 miles long, and which will have cost 1 and 1/2 million for the paltry sum of £9,000 each half year! Am I not justified, then, in not allowing my friends to despair, when with such ease the Prime Minister can set our people at this the greatest work ever undertaken in the province of Connaught. A small sum if contributed by the friends to Connaught, will enable this matter to be kept constantly before the British public thro’ the press, and in no better manner than in re-publishing from time to time, the resolutions of the most important meeding every held at Ballinasloe – that in favour of the Railway from Galway to Dublin and reproductive labour – at the last October fair of that town, presided over by the Earl of Clancarty and the Marquis of Sligo.
Thomas Bermingham, J.P.,
Honorary Secretary of the Ballinasloe
N.B. – The property alluded to is placed under the High Court of Chancery, and that excellent and human Master, “Litton,” will not hesitate to direct that assistance be given to take these poor people (now deprived of all means of support), out to America, if the Union – whose concern it now is – shall assist.