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

Chapter 16
Called to Account

Kennedy and Scrope and all the rest; the scribblers who come gawking at the beggars and write long, hand wringing pieces illustrated with sketches of scrawny children and their half naked mothers to titillate the imaginations of London gentry, they can harp on all they like about what they call the heartlessness of landlords. I know the truth. They are jealous of our success. Their one aim is to bring calumny upon the good name of our town and our district. I don't doubt for a moment that there are enough men of good sense in this jury to endorse my claim. Whatever the outcome, I shall be heartily glad to see the back of the self righteous government stooge that dares to accuse me.”

More of Crofton's testimony; so different from the Reverend Godolphin's. Another of the several learned individuals who visited the district in 1849, the Reverend Gentleman wrote in excruciating detail a description of an eviction he had witnessed, a description that would bring tears to the eyes of any reader with a heart. A description, moreover, the truth of which I was able to testify to from my own experience on more than one occasion.

A heart, it seems, is something that Crofton lacks, as I indicated in the letter to which he took exception. This “government stooge” is content that his accusations were fair and continues to hope that the jury will see that.

* * *

After Mr Scrope's visit we were summoned to London to answer questions from members of parliament under Scrope's chairmanship. Coffee and I were accompanied by Fr. Michael Meehan, Parish Priest of Moyarta and Kilballyowen. Marcus Keane being an agent for several landlords and responsible for a great many evictions and tumblings, he and Crofton refused to travel in proximity to the three of us. Whether on road, rail or at sea, each group shunned the other. I could only imagine what exchanges passed between the two conspirators. Father Meehan was of the same mind as myself, aware of the necessity of informing those with the power to relieve the conditions of the Irish paupers and the unrelenting suffering being endured in West Clare. We welcomed the opportunity to state our case and present the true facts, even though the inquiry was instituted at the request of Marcus Keane.

It is difficult to divine Keane's motive for issuing such a request. Following Mr. Scrope's visit that man presented his findings in a lengthy statement to the Parliament. Perhaps Keane believed that the inquiry would counter the accusations contained in Scrope's testimony. Perhaps he felt it would provide him with an opportunity to justify, in a public forum and on behalf of his many clients, his activities carried out in pursuit of their desire to maximise the income from their Irish estates

In truth all five of us should have been equally eager to make Her Majesty's government aware of the truth. Only in that way could there be any hope of securing an increase in the resources available to the Union, and not at the further expense of land owners in the district. Unfortunately Crofton and Keane were more interested in preserving their own reputations. To that end they did their best to deny all responsibility for the condition of the people. It was, they asserted, the sick and starving who were to blame for their own conditions. Swarming into Kilrush from all corners of the earth they were a burden on the resources of the town and should be returned whence they came. Indeed, Crofton had assisted the town's merchants in driving miserable wretches from the town. Having been rounded up and placed upon a conveyance they were taken miles beyond the town's boundary and left to fend for themselves. Little wonder they were subsequently found to be stealing crops from farmers who themselves had barely sufficient to meet their own needs and that of their families.

Father Meehan railed against such actions. I did what little I could to alleviate the suffering of any found wandering the lanes beyond the town, as well as those who clustered in shop doorways and back alleys. There was no possibility of the two parties combining in order to impress upon the committee the urgency of the situation. Instead of a united front, we appeared as a broken line of infantry. No need for the enemy to divide us, we separated ourselves into two camps, making it easy for the committee members to form equally differing opinions. Thus, unable to agree upon a solution, none was offered.

To his credit, Coffee put up a superb performance with his many maps and documents. When he made his first presentation to me it was plain that he was shocked by his findings, his anger at the behaviour of men he had previously admired evident from the tenor of his voice and the flush in his cheeks as he named them.

“When you invited me to undertake this task I did so believing that I would prove your suspicions wrong. I thought I was humouring you.” Perhaps noting the change of expression on my face, he held up a hand. “No, please, do not think that I would have taken your money under some false pretense. But I most certainly believed that you were mistaken in some of the conclusions at which you had arrived. That men like the Colonel and Marcus Keane could be so cold and unfeeling, so lacking in humanity, in their behaviour towards those who had lately occupied dwellings on their land.

“I was certain that this could not be so, that the number of dwellings indicated by James Shannon was greatly exaggerated.”

This time he paused to permit me to comment. “I trust Shannon. His reports of Union business were always accurate. He was not, like some others, inclined to present the facts so as to impugn my character or that of the Vice-Guardians. Perhaps it is his youth – he has not yet learned that the best way to succeed in his business is to please the powerful, praising where praise is inappropriate and failing to mention, let alone condemn, actions verging on the criminal.

“I had no issue with the numbers Shannon had provided. My problem was in identifying the person or persons responsible for the destruction of so many humble abodes. I thought you knew this.”

“I know it now. I have been able to identify every location at which cabins have been tumbled. I have spoken to some of the victims, listened to their description of the manner of their evi...

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