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

Chapter 10
Talk of Revolution

I may have given the impression that I have little regard for those who engage in the legal profession. I make no secret of the fact that I have an equal contempt for men whose business it is to promulgate a distorted version of the truth through the medium of what purport to be news sheets. And yet, in the case of the first mentioned trade, I am grateful for the skill with which Mr Isaac Butt and Sir Colman O'Loghlen are presenting my case in which the disputed words exchanged between myself and Crofton Vandeleur are being dissected before a jury at Cork Assizes. Similarly, I could not have assembled the quantity of information that gave rise to the dispute without the assistance of a young member of the latter trade.

It often seemed to me, on those occasions when I found the time and inclination to peruse those organs that purported to represent the state of affairs in County Clare, that they presented a picture that varied according to whether they were sympathetic towards the activities of the land owning classes or inclined to champion the cause of those who sought to lay the blame for the desperate condition of much of the population at the door of those same land owners. Indeed, it was one such mis-reported utterance that gave rise to my own unfortunate rejoinder which, in turn, brought us to this unfortunate pass.

That was, of course, still some way in the future when, with more than a little trepidation, I engaged the investigative skills of someone who was embarked upon a career as a scribbler of bulletins which he had been engaged to supply to one of the journals that served the county.

I had observed him on several occasions assiduously taking notes at the weekly meeting of the Board of Guardians. After one such meeting, if memory serves me correctly, the third at which he was present, he approached me and, after introducing himself as James Shannon, inquired if it would be possible to be granted a tour of the workhouse so as to ascertain for himself the conditions variously described and commented upon by Board members. He struck me at once as someone with a good deal of intelligence accompanied by an abundance of curiosity. I gave my blessing to his mission to discover the truth of circumstances in the House.

The medical officer was still present in the room, engaged in a discourse with Captain Mann. The latter had, during the course of the meeting, questioned the accuracy of the numbers supposed to be under treatment. Mann was, like Crofton, of the opinion that members of the medical profession were inclined to exaggerate the demands placed upon them in order to increase the remuneration received. The Captain, being one of those suppliers to whom the Board owed a significant sum of money, was at pains to ensure that no servant of the Union received more than his due. The Chairman having cut the discussion short, both men were anxious to continue their discourse before departing.

I had pressing business elsewhere so suggested to the young man that he await the conclusion of the altercation, at which he should indicate to the Physician that I had authorised the visit and that I would be pleased if he, as one of the most knowledgeable of those with frequent access to the house, would act as escort.

Georgina, meanwhile, had, in an exchange of correspondence with a friend of long standing, received the suggestion that she contact the secretary of a body styled The British Association for Relief. This body had been established in London, following reports of the dire conditions afflicting the inhabitants of Ireland, in order to raise money from wealthy individuals for distribution to the instigators of projects intended to relieve the suffering. Georgina's friend had herself succeeded in persuading her father and uncle to support the Association with generous donations. Were Georgina to make the initial approach, the friend would follow up with a personal endorsement of Georgina's intentions and the impeccability of her reputation.

As with the official relief effort, the administration of which was my personal and exceedingly burdensome responsibility, the opportunities for those with evil intent to avail of assistance to which they were not entitled were manifold. I encountered on a daily basis men and women who clearly had the means to support themselves but chose, instead, to pretend a level of pauperism that the most cursory examination exposed as false.

Neither I nor Georgina were in the least offended by those administering the Association's philanthropic endeavours taking proper precautions before dispensing charitable grants the source of which were the consequence of the generosity of hard working English men. Nevertheless the wait tried our patience. Elizabeth's youthful enthusiasm created in her an unseemly degree of frustration at the delay which no amount of lecturing from I or Georgina could allay. Georgina, too, began to exhibit dissatisfaction with the tardiness of the Association in responding to her pleas. I was forced to beg her not to express her true feelings to her friend for fear of initiating an unwarranted enmity between the two families.

The grant arrived at last and Georgina, accompanied by Elizabeth and Niamh, set forth at once to negotiate the supply of clothing to distribute to those most in need throughout the district. I was not a party to the discussions that took place in various drapers' establishments in the town. Knowing her as I do, the strength of her will and the persuasive power of her charm, I can well believe the account she regaled me with upon her return.

She set out with a determination that no merchant should gain excessively from the disbursement of such bounty. She had no desire for frills or fripperies, she did not require the finest fabrics. Practical, warm garments suitable for wearing whilst engaged in vigorous employment were what was required. This was, by now, the time of planting and every able bodied individual, men women and children, was required to till the land and sow the seed that would, with God's grace, produce a far more generous harvest than had been the island's fortune in recent years. Though, in truth, there were few of the former, most having long since left to seek their fortune in North America or the Antipodes. Thus it was mostly women and children who undertook the hard labour. The least well clad of these were allocated the new garments.

Here, too, it was necessary to weed out those whose apparent nakedness was deliberately assumed in order to deceive. There were too many ...






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