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

Chapter 7
A New Home

My counsel begins cross-examining Crofton, asking when he first began evicting tenants from his land. Crofton turns to the judge. In fairness I do not blame him for questioning the relevance of the question. My own researches, on which I based my evidence to Mr Scropes, concerned only the period from November 1847. I was well aware there had been earlier evictions but they did not form part of the discourse which had set us on the path to this court room. I think the judge is right to rule that the question is inadmissible.

Having set in motion the preparation of the slaughter house for its new role, I obtained for myself a fine looking chestnut mare and a simple box cart. The dealer assured me that the animal was well bred, well fed and was used both to being ridden and to draw the very same cart. The dealer agreed to store the cart at his premises pending my securing for myself a suitable dwelling.

I gave the mare its first outing, riding along the coastal path to the townland of Cappagh which I found to be a pleasant collection of houses grouped around a small bay and overlooking an islet upon which was a lighthouse. I was much encouraged by the condition of the men and women that I encountered. There was no sign either of fever or of the severe hunger that was exhibited by so many of the paupers that crowded the lanes and alleyways of Kilrush.

I sought directions from a party of women occupied in the intricate business of mending fishing nets. After they had pointed out a house that stood at the top of a lane leading up a steep incline I engaged them in conversation about their task. From this I learned that the Society of Friends had redeemed the nets and 3 small boats on their behalf, the same having been pawned many months before in order to purchase corn. The men were thus able to resume their occupation, fishing the waters of the estuary. The women agreed to maintain an eye on the mare, which I tethered to a convenient post whilst I climbed the lane to avail myself of a closer inspection of the house.

It stood four square, its two stories overlooking the smaller dwellings below and, beyond that, the islet, the estuary and – although on this day I had to use my imagination since they were obscured by a mist hanging over the water – the mountains of Kerry. The entrance was framed by a portico of the kind I believe is called Palladian though on a small scale. The symmetry of the shuttered windows, and their relation to the whole, created a most pleasing aspect. The plot of ground on which it stood was surrounded by a wall, shoulder high at the front but higher than my head at the rear. The centre of the front wall, directly in front of, and some ten paces distant from, the portico, was pierced by a narrow opening secured by a simple iron gate. I was in the act of lifting the latch of this impediment when I was disturbed by a gruff voice. “Sir, please wait, sir.”

I turned to see a small man bent almost double, his hands on his knees, obviously exhausted by the effort of hastening up the hill. “What is it, man?”

The man coughed and spat a gobbet of phlegm into the gravel. Straightening up where he stood, some three paces from me, he spoke again, his words interrupted by frequent short intakes of breath. “I have the key. I can show you the inside if you have the time.”

I wondered who had sent him and learned that one of the women, upon discovering my interest in the house, had summoned him. He having been charged with the responsibility of looking after the house on behalf of its owner.

The front door gave on to a large hallway. I bade the man to leave the door open and to precede me into each room, opening the shutters to provide light with which to assess its size and suitability for my purpose, returning to close each before we left. Two large rooms on the ground floor were devoid of furniture but possessed numerous witness marks upon the walls where once had hung paintings. I imagined a portrait of my own father hanging there alongside on of Georgina's family group. I owned, in addition, a number of hunting scenes which I could hang. The high ceilings were embellished with plaster mouldings depicting a kind of flora that I was unable to identify in the gloom of the November afternoon.

A large bay window to the rear of one of the rooms would make an excellent site for a piano, whilst a small room behind the other I envisaged as eminently suitable to serve both ...

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