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A Child Helps the Poor during the Irish Potato Famine

This illustration depicts the daughter of Captain Arthur Edward Kennedy, about seven years old at the time, distributing clothing to children and families in dire straits as a result of "The Great Hunger" (known, more commonly, as the "Irish Potato Famine").  

Captain Kennedy was a military officer, who had an appointment with the Poor Law Commission at Kilrush Union, County Clare (in western Ireland).

Fortunately, for Kennedy's daughter, the child did not face the type of circumstances which thousands of other young Irish children faced during the time of the Great Hunger.

Her father would have had access to food supplies which - if they had been available for everyone in Ireland - could have been sufficient for the country at large. Only the potato crops were failing - not all Irish-grown crops. Had the government not shipped much of those other agricultural products out of the country (as exports), there would have been far-fewer starving Irish people.

It is because of this policy - exporting other agricultural products to Britain, for example - that the Irish refer to these awful times as "The Great Hunger" (instead of the "Potato Famine"). Ireland did not have a nationwide loss of crops; it had a loss of potatoes, due to the potato blight.

The writer of The Illustrated London News' article, which accompanies the drawing of Miss Kennedy, writes the following in the ILN's December 22, 1849 issue:

Another Sketch follows (of Miss Kennedy), which shows that, amidst this world of wretchedness, all is not misery and guilt. Indeed, it is a part of our nature that the sufferings of some should be the occasion for the exercise of virtue in others.

Miss Kennedy (about seven years old) is the daughter of Captain Kennedy, the Poor-law Inspector of the Kilrush Union. She is represented as engaged in her daily occupation of distributing clothing to the wretched children brought around her by their more wretched parents.

In the front of the group I noticed one woman crouching like a monkey, and drawing around her the only rag she had left to conceal her nudity. A big tear was rolling down her cheek, with gratitude for the gifts the innocent child was distributing. The effect was heightened by the chilliness and dreariness of a November evening, and by the wet and mire in which the naked feet of the crowd were immersed.

On Captain Kennedy being appointed to the Union, his daughter was very much affected by the misery of the poor children she saw; and so completely did it occupy her thoughts that, with the consent of her parents, she gave up her time and her own little means to relieve them.

She gave away her own clothes - she was allowed to bestow parts of her mother’s - and she then purchased coarse materials, and made up clothing for children of her own age; she was encouraged by her father and some philanthropic strangers, from whom she received sums of money, and whose example will no doubt be followed by those who possess property in the neighbourhood; and she devoted herself with all the energy and perseverance of a mature and staid matron to the holy office she has undertaken.

The Sketch will, I hope, immortalize the beneficient child, who is filling the place of a saint, and performing the duties of a patriot.

On all sides I hear of the praises of the amiable child and her excellent father, and this is not without a moral for the landlords. The public officers who are appointed to administer and control the relief of the poor, have it in their power to do much for the people. Mere kindness of manner, though they render no substantial assistance, endears them to the suffering crowd.

Captain Kennedy is at once kind, charitable, and judicious. He is at the head of the Union. He fills for the people the most important office in the district. He is the great man of the place. It must be so in other districts.

The funds are contributed by the landowners, but they are distributed by public officers. Thus, the Poor-law, which disposes of the landowners’ property, also deprives them of the pleasure and the burden of distributing it themselves. A public officer is made, in fact, to administer their estates, and he stands between them and their compulsory bounties, securing the respect and confidence which they might and ought to have. (ILN, 22 December 1849, at page 405.)

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5119stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Sep 21, 2017


Media Credits

Illustration and quote from "The Illustrated London News," 22 December 1849 issue. Online, via Clare County Library.

 

PD

 

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