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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of the Famine in the mid-nineteenth century to the onset of the Great War in 1914, by which time the Poor Law had been replaced by a range of other policy measures such as the old-age pension and national insurance.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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Conclusion 261

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Conclusion Objectives and key conclusions As set out in the introductory chapter, this study aimed to establish the empirical basis of the provision of poor relief in the period; to chart and explain regional variations in poor relief; to examine issues which highlight political and social class struggles; and to consider the broader role of the poor law and the boards of guardians in local politics and community. As discussed in the introduction, there has been only limited study of poor relief in the period from 1850 to 1914. This study, therefore, breaks new ground: first, in providing a detailed analysis of trends in poor relief and, second, echoing the UK historiography, in highlighting the regional variations which occurred in Ireland. This allows an analysis of the fac- tors going to explain dif ferent levels of poor relief. Third, developing on the work of authors such as Feingold and Crossman, this study examines the relevance of political and social class struggle to the provision of poor relief. The research strongly supports Feingold’s thesis as to the take-over of the poor law boards by Nationalist guardians in the period from the late 1870s-early 1880s. However, it emphasises the point that poor law boards were rarely (if ever) simply administrators of poor relief and that broader political and social questions were seldom absent from the minds of the boards of guardians. It also questions the assumption that the take-over of power by Nationalist guardians led to significant changes in poor law policy,...

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