Black '47: Britain and the Famine Irish by Frank Neal

By Frank Neal

The Irish Famine of 1845-49 used to be an important smooth disaster. The go back of the potato blight in 1846 brought on a major exodus of destitute Irish looking shelter in British cities and 1847 witnessed an remarkable influx of Irish refugees into Britain. This booklet examines the dimensions of that refugee immigration, the stipulations less than which the refugees have been carried to Britain, the relaxation operations fixed, the horrors of the typhus epidemic in Liverpool, Glasgow, Manchester, South Wales and the North-East, and the monetary fee to the British ratepayers.

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The majority of this group of workers were Irish. Speaking of the short period in economic analysis, Kay described their conditions: The handloom weavers, existing in this state of transition (my italics) still continue a numerous class, and though they labour fourteen hours and upwards daily, earn only from five to eight shillings a week. They consist chiefly of Irish and are affected by all the causes of moral and physical depression which we have enumerated. 55 Kay went on to argue that the Irish had had a deleterious effect on the morals of the English working-classes with whom they were in contact.

For Kay, the Irish encouraged the English to use poor relief as a fall back position to be used when current income was spent, thus becoming welfare dependent. Kay was fully aware of the detrimental effects of long hours spent in factory employment. He also understood that, faced with unremitting toil followed by returning home to poverty stricken, unhealthy and uncongenial dwellings, men would go to the tavern and drink excessively. The solution was education, religious instruction and a reform of the poor law in such a way as to reserve relief for the deserving poor.

74 Howard's view on the condition of Manchester's poor received support from a report on a survey of 12 000 poor families in Manchester, undertaken at the behest of a number of socially concerned members of the middle class. This was published in 1842, before die results of the Sanitary Enquiry. The objective was to establish the scale of the poverty problem before giving private relief. 75 The investigators visited 1551 handloom weavers' households in 1840, consisting of a total of 6978 individual weavers and members of their families.

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