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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of the Famine in the mid-nineteenth century to the onset of the Great War in 1914, by which time the Poor Law had been replaced by a range of other policy measures such as the old-age pension and national insurance.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 3Poor Relief and Family Structures 61


Chapter 3 Poor Relief and Family Structures This chapter examines the extent to which poor relief supported families and households. While nuclear and extended families dominated house- hold structures in late nineteenth-century Ireland, at least in rural areas, it is shown that, by 1900, the majority of persons supported in workhouses were single.1 However, outdoor relief also formed an important part of the Irish poor law system, and data on the household composition of per- sons supported are not available from of ficial sources. Drawing on a data- matching exercise for a number of poor law unions, it is suggested that the household structure of persons on outdoor relief may have been more complex than the of ficial data would indicate and, in contrast to indoor relief, much more representative of overall household structures. Poor law and families in Ireland Unfortunately there is little evidence as to the forms of family and house- hold structure in nineteenth-century Ireland, due to the almost total non- survival of Census manuscripts. However, considerable analysis has been carried out for rural areas for 1901 and 1911.2 This indicates that extended 1 Household are classified according to the Laslett household classification: P. Laslett and R. Wall, (eds), Household and Family in Past Time, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1971. 2 T. Guinnane, The Vanishing Irish: Households, Migration and the Rural Economy in Ireland, 1850–1914, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1997. 62 Chapter 3 households were common but that simple (or nuclear) families dominated (table 3.1)...

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