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Poor Relief in Ireland, 1851-1914

Mel Cousins

This book examines the provision of poor relief in Ireland from the immediate aftermath of the Famine in the mid-nineteenth century to the onset of the Great War in 1914, by which time the Poor Law had been replaced by a range of other policy measures such as the old-age pension and national insurance. The study establishes an empirical basis for studying poor relief in this period, analysing over time the provision of indoor and outdoor relief and expenditure levels, and charts regional variations in the provision of poor relief. The author goes on to examine a number of issues that highlight political and social class struggles in relation to the provision of poor relief and also considers in fascinating detail the broader role of the Poor Law and the Boards of Guardians within local communities.

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Introduction 1

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Introduction This book examines poor relief in Ireland from the immediate aftermath of the Great Famine (about 1851) to the onset of the Great War (1914), by which time the poor law had been subverted by a range of other policy measures such as the old age pension and national insurance. The aims of the study are: i) to establish the empirical basis of the provision of poor relief in the period, analysing over time the provision of indoor and outdoor relief and expenditure levels; ii) to chart regional variations in the provision of poor relief and examine the reasons for those variations; iii) to examine particular issues which highlight political and social class struggles in relation to the provision of poor relief; and iv) to consider the broader role of the poor law and the boards of guardians in local politics and community. Why study the poor law? There are, for the purposes of this study, two basic reasons why the poor law was important. First, because of the scope and importance of the serv- ices which were provided. Starting initially in 1838 it provided the main form of poor relief in nineteenth-century Ireland – a country which was, in overall terms, considerably ‘poorer’ than England with national income per capita only about 40 per cent of the United Kingdom level.1 This role 1 See generally C. Ó Gráda, Ireland: A New Economic History, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1994; K.A. Kennedy, ‘Irish National Accounts for the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century’,...

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