THE APPALLING POVERTY OF COUNTY KILDARE

by ehistoryadmin on February 15, 2023

This article from the Leinster Leader of 1931 gives an indication of the extreme poverty and hardship experienced by a section of the population in the first decade of the new Irish State. The withdrawal of the British Army and subsequently the Irish Army from the towns of Naas and Newbridge in particular – where they had indirectly and directly employed hundreds of people – along with the long-term economic cost of the bitter Civil War, a struggling Irish economy and the Wall Street Crash of 1929 all contributed to a dire situation for many.

THE APPALING POVERTY OF COUNTY KILDARE

(From a Correspondent.)

Leinster Leader, 30 May, 1931

County Kildare is said to have paid out more money in Home Help than any other County in Ireland. Those who are not in touch with the people of Kildare assume that the excessive payments are due more to a good natured benevolence on the part of the members of the Board of Health rather than to any genuine need by the recipients.

Had anybody possessed of such notions been present at last Meeting of the Board they would have witnessed such scenes as would have disabused the men who spend their third Mondays helping the courteous and efficient Secretary Mr. D. J. Purcell, to administer the Poor Laws.

When applicants fail to impress the local Home Assistance Officer they sometimes resort to an appearance in person before the Board. On Monday last the usual quota was present to recite their litanies of want and privation. Some might be classed as those who had lost the will of work, but men handing in references and discharges containing the stereotyped phrases: “Thos. Blank has been in my employment for blank years, and I have now to let him go having no work for him owing to the Beet fiasco,” could not this be said to come under that or any such category.

One man made it clear that never before had he to humiliate himself so far as to beg relief. He could get no work; he could not live on grass; what was he to do? Another said he had walked 24 miles to the Meeting, starting at 6 o’ clock in the morning, and had to walk 24 miles back. Sacked off a Beet farm! A beardless youth from Castledermot had a wife and child to support, but had no job. Had been working on a farm up to recently, but, no beet, no work.

A young widow holding a six year old child by the hand stated she was from a North Kildare Village, had been in receipt of 6/- per week Home Help, but could not live and feed 4 children and pay rent out of 6/-. No member of the Board was courageous enough to challenge any item in the budget she presented. She was willing to take work if she could get it. She would not go back to Dublin; she preferred Kildare and hunger.

A well-set-up young married man from another North County Village begged for two or three weeks’ help while he was recuperating after a severe illness. He had been ill; his wife had been also ill, and he had to get out of a sick bed to go in search of food. He was not strong he assured the Board, quite unnecessarily, and he hoped to get work in two or three weeks. He was examined and cross examined. He was not belonging to England and would not go there. He was an all-round handy man, gardener, builder, carpenter, butler. Yet work was scarce; he was hungry, and he looked it.

A bunch of seven men next appeared. It was late in the day, and the Members of the Board, who had had an early breakfast and nothing since, appeared to be as hungry as the applicants for relief. It was the Secretary’s attempt at mass-production methods, but the Chairman could not manage seven together and had to resort to the old-fashioned, slower and surer plan of one at a time. They were all from the South East of County and five out of the seven were married. Beet, or want of Beet, was the root cause of their troubles. Some would work on the roads if they could get it, but they explained, or complained, that a certain ganger had a weakness for employing single men. One of them said he would work seven days for £1 rather than stoop to the demoralising Home Help. And so it went on for hours.

The story never varied – no work to be had. Fancy no work in Co. Kildare within 15 to 50 miles of the teeming population of Dublin, now greater Dublin. Fertile Kildare half derelict. The primest land in all Ireland in the Northend, intended by God to support human beings, but intended by its owners to support bullocks, and in many cases with no bullocks to support. The good land given over to the cattle, and the people herded on the bogs of Cloncurry and Allen. That was the deliberate policy of an alien Government when it made its laws in London and foisted them on the Irish. It was to end such a system that so many men offered their lives between. 1916 and 1921, both offered them in vain because the people are still on the bogs and the cattle still command the plains.

The South of the County was never given to grass in the worst days of Foreign Rule, and yet, after 10 years of Home Government, the area under tillage in the South is the lowest ever recorded. Tillage land put to grass and to carry about two sheep to the acre, while the men and women are put on Home Help collected from the few who work. It is a sad commentary on our ability to govern.

The Boards of Health, of which everybody is sick, are to be scrapped under the new local Government Scheme. The same brains that created the Union Amalgamation Scheme are now busy again, as they have seen that Local Government is not a thing that can be planned on a sheet of paper by people with little practical knowledge and their amalgamation scheme has been a disappointment. Every day sees us being gradually absorbed into the insatiable maw of centralization, but the worm will probably turn some day and then decentralization will begin.

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