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Do We Have an Obligation to Care for Widows and Orphans?

In the 19th century, as the Irish potato famine devastated families, widows and orphans were particularly at risk.

Landlords, reacting against the requirements of “Poor Laws,” wanted to relieve themselves of the responsibilities of helping to care for destitute people. As a result, they evicted many, many families from rented homes.

Two of the evicted individuals were Judy and Margaret O’Donnel, two widows with eight children between them. Although Judy’s rent was up-to-date, she had reported dishonest behavior on the part of a local official. In exchange, her home was levelled.

Forced to take shelter in a hole under a bridge, O’Donnel and her family were in desperate shape. The children were ill, but the women were too afraid to even walk around lest they be accused - or arrested - of trespassing.

Do you think that widows and orphans should ever be treated the way they were treated in Ireland, during the Irish Potato Famine? Explain your answer.

Do you think that we have an obligation to care for widows and orphans? Explain your answer.

Before you read this story, did you have any idea that people in Ireland had been evicted from their homes in such extraordinary ways during the potato famine?   

Do you think such a thing could occur today?


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