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Potato Famine - What is a Scalp?

Potato Famine - What is a Scalp? Geography Social Studies Tragedies and Triumphs World History Education

Beyond the famine, and all its problem-causing situations, the Poor Laws made life for Irish peasants completely untenable.  Those laws effectively created an obligation, on the part of landowners, to provide for their poverty-striken tenants. 

But ... if the landowners no longer had poor tenants, they had no legal requirements to care for them.  It didn't take too long for people to figure this out, as reported in the December 29, 1849 issue of The Illustrated London News:

As long as there was no legal provision for the poor, a landlord had some repugnance to drive them from every shelter; but the instant the law took them under its protection, and forced the landowner to pay a rate to provide for them, repugnance ceased: they had a legal home, however inefficient, to go to; and eviction began.   

Displaced Irish families, who were evicted from their homes with nowhere to go and no one to take them in, began to dig holes in the earth to create some form of shelter.  Such a hole was called a scalp - also noted in the same article from The Illustrated London News:

There is something called a scalp, or hole dug in the earth, some two or three feet deep. In such a place was the abode of Brian Connor. He has three in the family, and had lived in this hole several months before it was discovered. It was roofed over with sticks and pieces of turf, laid in the shape of an inverted saucer. It resembles, though not quite so large, one of the ant-hills of the African forests.


Media Credits

Image, and quoted passage, from "Conditions of Ireland:  Illustrations of the New Poor-Law," a lengthy article from the December 29, 1849 issue of The Illustrated London News.

 

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