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from Called to Account (formerly The Poor Law Inspector) by Frank Parker

Chapter 4
Distressed Districts

Having ended his diatribe outlining the case against me, Counsel began questioning me. I was reminded of the constant questioning to which I was subjected by Mr Scrope. Having presented my evidence to his inquiry, I was repeatedly asked to return in order to clarify some matter on which the account of one of those who followed me differed. On each occasion I repeated my original evidence, substantiating it with the maps and documents provided by Mr Coffee and which I thought made my case perfectly clear. But no. One after another of the great and the good of Kilrush and its hinterland presented an alternative view of the facts. I was, it was alleged then and repeated here and now, impugning their good name and bringing the district into disrepute.

How these men were able to deny the truth that they saw each day with their own eyes is beyond my understanding. But to have admitted the facts would have required them to accept responsibility for their role in creating the purgatory of misery in which so many of their fellows suffered and died. That they would not do, choosing instead to blame the victims for creating the conditions of their victimhood.

I have recounted how I had witnessed many scenes of poverty and ill treatment whilst serving in Her Majesty's Army in Ireland. Such scenes, the many discussions I had with Georgina, as well as several exchanges of letters with my father and brothers, served only to increase my sense that the duties now being requested of Her Majesty's army, standing by whilst the greatest of suffering was inflicted upon those of her citizens least able to survive the cruel vicissitudes to which they were subjected by nature, were not for me. I was more than ready to take upon myself a role in which I might instead play some small part in relieving that suffering.

Nevertheless, when I attended at the offices of the Poor Law Commission in Dublin in order to discuss the nature of the task to which Commissioner Twisleton wished to assign me, I had no inkling of the horrors that would confront me upon taking up that assignment.

I had, as the Colonel suggested, discussed with Georgina the implications for her and our children of my taking up a temporary appointment with the Commission. I was, as I say, strongly minded to do so for I was so moved by what I had seen that I hoped I might, in some small way, contribute to the alleviation of suffering. Imagine, then, my delight when Georgina expressed her own desire to be associated with such an enterprise. Her duties as a volunteer in the soup kitchens, now closing, had plainly moved her also. She did not hesitate to voice her concern at the closure of the kitchen, expressing the opinion that there were, among those who benefitted, some who lacked the means to obtain and cook food for themselves.

The only matter on which we disagreed was over how much information we should impart to Elizabeth. Arty, at boarding school in Edinburgh, I informed by letter, without revealing too much of the danger I knew I would be placing myself in. When it came to Elizabeth, I was firmly of the view that concern for a child should not be permitted to impair a man's career. On the other hand, it was a wife's ordained duty to follow her husband. Children should certainly be protected from whatever dangers might present themselves, but this would be achieved, in Elizabeth's case, by the services of her Governess. Nor was it, in my view, proper that the governess be granted a choice in the matter: she must either accompany us or else we would find a replacement.

Georgina was inclined to the view, not only that the governess should be consulted on the matter, but that Elizabeth should also. At seven years old, Elizabeth was undoubtedly far more advanced in her education and her understanding of the world around her than many much older children. Than, I must say, many of the adults whose lack of such understanding had brought them to t...

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