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Judy O'Donnel - Habitation under the Bridge

Judy O'Donnel - Habitation under the Bridge Disasters Ethics Civil Rights Nineteenth Century Life Visual Arts

 

During the Irish Potato Famine, many already-devastated Irish people were evicted from their homes.

"Poor Laws," which Parliament had passed in an effort to have landowners help their destitute tenants, had a backlash effect when those landowners threw-out the home dwellers.

Tenants who tried to pay their rent, but had previously reported dishonest-landlord behavior to the police, were also at risk of eviction. Judy O'Donnel—one of those individuals—was forced to live in a hole, under a bridge, after her house was levelled.

The Illustrated London News (ILN) tells her story in its December 29, 1849 issue:

Two wretched families have taken refuge under the bridge [at Doonbeg] in a hole. They consist of two widows, one with three children, all ill of jaundice, and the other with five.

The history of Judy O’Donnel, one of the widows, is worthy of being sketched. She had given evidence against a dishonest relieving officer whose relative was a driver upon the estate on which she lived, and Judy’s house was very soon afterwards levelled with the ground.

The wreckers came upon it in her absence, when her son gallantly defended his home. He mounted on the roof with a bag of stones, and kept the enemy at bay till his ammunition was exhausted, when he was obliged to give in, and stand by to see the little furniture of his mother cast into the road and the house pulled down.

Judy exhibited her receipts for the rent up to the last gale; and she declared the agent of the owner, to whom she had tendered what was due twice, had refused, and that she was ejected because she deposed against the dishonest public servant.

Judy and Margaret O’Donnel, with their families, then retired to the hole under the bridge, represented in the sketch, and there they are now suffered to remain, holding their habitation at the mercy of the county surveyor.

They are afraid of being ejected even from this spot, and dare not cross the stepping-stones shown in the Sketch lest they should be taken up for trespassing. Judy O’Donnel’s son is dying of dysentery.  (ILN, 29 December 1849, at page 443.)

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Media Credits

Illustration and quoted passages from The Illustrated London News, published on December 29, 1849. Public Domain.

 

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