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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of the Famine in the mid-nineteenth century to the onset of the Great War in 1914, by which time the Poor Law had been replaced by a range of other policy measures such as the old-age pension and national insurance.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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Chapter 1Poor Relief in Ireland, 1851–1914 9


Chapter 1 Poor Relief in Ireland, 1851–1914 This chapter outlines trends in poor relief over the period, 1851 to 1914 in the context of economic and demographic change in Ireland. The first part of the chapter looks at the historiography concerning the relation- ship between poor relief and economic and demographic change. In the second part of the chapter, key changes in the socio-economic context are outlined, before examining trends in poor law numbers over the period and looking at the composition of those relieved (drawing on both admin- istrative and Census data).1 Finally, these trends are examined in their socio-economic context. Historiography The question as to the relationship between developments in the poor law and broader economic and demographic trends has been examined in the literature on the development of the British and European poor laws.2 Firstly, studies have looked at the macro relationship between the poor law and economic and political structures. For example, Solar has argued that ‘poor relief played an integral, and to a degree autonomous, part in 1 The family and household status of recipients of poor relief is examined in chapter 3. 2 In general, most studies focus on particular countries (or regions) in particular peri- ods. Obviously, their findings are specific to the time and place and do not necessar- ily imply that the same outcome would occur in a dif ferent time or place. Thus the discussion here focuses on studies which raise suggestive issues as to the Irish case...

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