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Historical Fiction
(Fic)
Called to Account (formerly The Poor Law Inspector)
by Frank Parker


From the author of Strongbow's Wife and A Purgatory of Misery comes another searing account of a terrible period in Irish history. When a government official exposes the unpalatable truth about the famine in mid-nineteenth century West Clare he is called to account by the men he accuses. Abandoned by his masters, he has only his strength of character and the love of his wife and daughter to sustain him as he fights famine and disease in a land teeming with destitute men, women and children. "Sounds interesting!"

Chapter 1
Introduction

I like to imagine Arthur Kennedy and Crofton Vandeleur each about to embark on his journey to Cork for the assizes at which the charge of slander was to be heard. Each looks in a mirror – shaving, perhaps, or combing a beard; adjusting the tilt of a hat or the folds of a neckerchief – and reflects on the similarities in the other's background to their own. Each was the son of a Protestant land owner, each grew up on the shores of an estuary – one on the North East coast of Ireland, the ...



Chapter 2
First Intimations

The court room was crowded, the viewing gallery at the back a jostling mass of humanity. I had been surprised by the size of the multitude outside the court upon my arrival. Surprised, and my heart gladdened, by the considerable number that wished me good luck as I passed. There had even been a cry of “three cheers for the Captain” as I dismounted and handed the reins to a stable lad. Now the cacophony of voices was silenced at the command of the judge.

An usher administered the swearin...



Chapter 3
A Change of Direction

All this activity, though often unpleasant, came as a relief to some of our men. Not a few could have been heard complaining about the daily routine of army life in peacetime. Everything from the drills to the monotony of the diet formed the principal discourse among the lower ranks whilst we were stationed at our North of England base. Conditions in our Irish barracks were no different. Had we been permitted to spend much time there I have no doubt that similar complaints would have been voiced. But we ...



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....



Chapter 5
Kilrush

I was soon to discover the veracity of that last remark of Twisleton's. There would, I was also to discover, need to be some better arrangement for passengers or cargo to travel East from Kilrush were such a port to be established there. From the proprietor of the hotel at which I spent a comfortable night in Limerick I learned that the most convenient means of traveling between the two places was by steamer. I chose to ignore his advice in order that I might observe the condition of the land and the peo...



Chapter 6
The Workhouse

The following morning I was woken early, as arranged. The meeting of the Guardians was set for ten o'clock. I had it very much in mind to carry out an inspection of the workhouse before hand so as to fully acquaint myself with its condition and that of its inmates. After breakfasting on porridge I ventured forth. Rain had fallen overnight, at times with such intensity that the sound of it lashing the window of my room had woken me. Now, however, the sky had mostly cleared, the few clouds driven away by a...



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 quest...



Chapter 8
Reunited

My heart was lifted by news that reached me one evening as I was about to leave the little room at the workhouse in which I had established a base from which to operate. Young Lillis accosted me, proffering an envelope the hand writing upon which I instantly recognised. What glorious tidings it brought! Georgina, Elizabeth and Niamh, the governess, had reached Limerick and would be arriving by steamer the next day.

I had already established myself in the house at Cappagh, having engaged two local w...



Chapter 9
Threats

Although the events of that day were not repeated, there was no reduction in the number of people seeking assistance. Where we deemed it appropriate, in the case of the old and the very young, persons who were quite evidently incapable of work, we provided food. We remained resolute in our determination to grant such aid only to the most deserving. Persons whose physical condition indicated an ability to work were refused assistance however well rehearsed and presented were their pleas. Were it to become...



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 an...



Chapter 11
Outside Help and a Journey

As I have previously observed when describing Georgina's correspondence in search of funding for her enterprise, the district was not wholly dependent upon the funds available from government. News of the suffering of Irish families had reached London, and further afield, with the result that many charitable organisations collected money and sent compassionate individuals to offer practical assistance. These were not always willing to collaborate with the work of the Unions and the Relief Committees. Oth...



Chapter 12
An Exciting Encounter

For our journey south we chose to travel through Leinster. I had some thought that we might call on an uncle of mine who farmed a holding near the town of Athy. From there we could travel west through Tipperary to Limerick where we would take the steamer to Kilrush.

It was pleasing to see so much agriculture taking place as we travelled through Meath and on into County Kildare. Cattle feeding upon the rich sward of gentle hills, grain turning from green to gold as it rippled in gentle breezes. My h...



Chapter 13
A Thief to Catch a Thief

Through the autumn of 1848, as the condition of the populace deteriorated and the daily count of deaths in the fever hospitals and the workhouse increased, I deliberated about the wisdom of enlisting the help of a local land agent in the task of drawing up maps showing the ownership of properties on which the ejection of tenants and squatters had taken place.

I sent regular reports of the number and location of evictions to the Commissioners but they were increasingly demanding evidence.

I am...



Chapter 14
Anniversary Blues

As autumn progressed into winter the conditions in Ireland, and the need for relief, were discussed with increasing passion in Parliament and in the British news sheets. A consensus seemed to be growing that the tax payers of England had poured money into Ireland and received nothing but ingratitude in return. Nothing that Edward Twisleton said, nothing that I and other inspectors wrote in our reports, could move Trevelyan from the view that the problem was one for Ireland, and the owners of Irish land, ...



Chapter 15
A Politician' s Mission

Give a man an acre who will use that acre to produce food sufficient for his family with a little over to sell so that in time he has the means to increase the amount of land he works. That is my recipe for prosperity. Give a man an acre and he shares it with the families of cousins, and the land will be quickly made barren. Those cousins, occupying the land without license, and the man who permits it, must be removed. That was and remains the purpose of my policy of eviction. To clear the lan...



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 ther...



Chapter 17
Afterword

The jury failed to reach a verdict on the question of whether Arthur Kennedy was guilty of libelling Crofton Vandeleur. After a brief period as Poor Law Inspector at Kilkenny, Kennedy left the Poor Law Commission and entered the diplomatic service. He served as the British Government's representative in at least two West African countries, Vancouver Island, two Australian states and as Governor General of Hong Kong, for which he was awarded a knighthood by Queen Victoria.

Not surprisingly, he never...




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