Death in a hovel

People think they are hard done by these days.

Read an edited version of an entry in Newry Reporter 31 March 1908:

A man named James Connor of Castle Street was found dead in his residence by the police and the circumstances surrounding the tragedy show that a very low state of civilization must have existed in the case of the deceased.

The condition in which the deceased was found would, if exhibited realistically to the public, produce a shock.  The houses in the close off Castle Street in which he lived were let at the great sum of 1s per week.  The tenements comprise kitchen, with a ladder leading to a loft, which in each house is over the kitchen of the next house. The deceased occupied one of these hovels alone, and paid his shilling each week. He was a man of between 60 an 70 years of age with a long beard, and his figure was well known in town as that of a man who earned a precarious livelihood gathering bottles, rags etc for re-sale.  When trade was good the old man could get by; when trade was bad the neighbours in kindness supplied out of their poverty some meagre fare, for none understand hunger and wretchedness like the poor; none know its sorrows so well, therefore none are so quick to relieve.

He was tenant of the house mentioned, and he held it under a respectable local landlord who never foreclosed so long as the shilling a week came through the agent.  The old man never seemed able to gather furniture together for his own use, for on arrival of the police the place was bare.

The neighbours yesterday missed the old man, and rapped for him; he came not, and the police were sent for. Here is what they saw

Having entered the house and ascended the ladder, the upper room was found to be in darkness.  The flickering of a match revealed the spectacle of a corpse lying on the boards, completely naked.  The head was turned towards the door, and fixed in death on the features was a look of mute appeal: the beard covered part of the chest, the arms were flung out, one partly upraised, one leg was propped against the wall, the other was curled up: the whole was a photograph of the souls struggle to leave even an unworthy tenement.

 A few empty bottles stood in the corner, evidently part of the deceaseds stock-in-trade. The window was plugged up with rags and paper, for the glass had long since gone.  There was a sickening odour in the small room.  In the corner of the room were four sanitary receptacles and the contents of these gave off sickening effluvia, so much so that the police were nauseated.

Is the picture strong enough? The emaciated body, naked as when born, no signs of food or fire, no provision to contain either – just a corpse, a few bottles, and the other things.  From the room below, occupied by another family, a view could be had of part of the body, for there were spaces between the floor boards, and there was no ceiling below

The deceased was last out on Saturday, and had since been supplied with tea etc by the neighbours.  The houses of which the deceaseds formed one would probably be described on an auction bill as a desirable property.  There will be no occasion to close up this house so far as Connor is concerned. 

Death has evicted him.

You will not find writing like that in today’s Newry Reporter.

… Christy Roe …


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