John McCullagh January 19, 2004
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AFTER THE FAMINE

Even among neighbouring Poor Law Unions, Newry had a reputation for niggardliness in its treatment of its paupers.


  The Guardians constantly decried the cost to the ratepayer and sought to further limit the diet of inmates.  An example from the pages of Dundalk’s principal newspaper illustrates the point.

An editorial in the Dundalk Democrat of 21 July 1860 decried the miserliness of the Guardians of Dundalk Union in regard to the paupers’ diet.  

This ‘wise’ Committee led by the cheese-paring Lord Clermont deliberated for hours not on how they would make the victims of misrule and poverty more comfortable but to ascertain the length they could go in hurrying them to the grave without incurring the guilt of murder. All to save a paltry one hundred pounds a year on diet.  

The unfortunate paupers have been in the habit of getting some soup made from the necks and hocks of meat. A neck part of a forequarter was sent in once a week, the better part of which was given to the officers and the neck and inferior parts boiled into soup for the paupers. Too good for them, the Committee deemed. In future they were to taste only a cow’s head boiled into two hundred pints of water as soup! 

The Dundalk Board take as their best example the pauper-starving Board of the Newry Union who act so shamefully as to send the poor to bed groaning on the two pence worth of food doled out to them during the day. 

The editorial goes on in this vein, condemning the unchristian acts of men who know little of charity and whose penury (i.e. Newry Guardians) it would not be creditable to emulate. It refers scathingly to the ‘Cow’s Head Committee’.


The 1851 Census detailed the deaths per County per year since 1841. The figures – though not expressed per thousand live register – still reveal trends over the Great Hunger years.  Down was the most populous Ulster County and had the highest deaths total at 46,276, a substantial rise over the previous decade. The second part of this decade (Famine Years) saw a 230% increase over the previous half decade.   The vast majority of starvation – and disease-related deaths took place outside the walls of the Workhouse. 

 

Ulster County

Total Deaths

Armagh

32907

Antrim

33243

Belfast

24262

Cavan

31761

Donegal

36330

Fermanagh

18803

Derry

25883

Monaghan

25337

Tyrone

34834

Down

46276

 Down 1841

1223 (equiv)

1842

2823

1843

3116

1844

3353

1845

3582

1846

4700

1847

9202

1848

6255

1849

5812

1850

5150

1851

1586

The full pre-1901 Census Returns no longer exist. For that reason the information gleaned from Workhouse admissions records is of great significance. Usually recorded was the name, sex, age, religion, marital status, number of children, address, whether able or disabled and date of admission/departure/death. Some half of all these records for Irish Poor Unions survives.

County Armagh‘s death toll though numerically less at 33,000 was greater as a live register percentage. The equivalent figures for Belfast and other areas are reproduced below. Ulster‘s anguish was great but was least of all the four provinces.

Part 8 is here …

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