Tim Downs - Evicted from Ancestral Home

Tim Downs - Evicted from Ancestral Home (Illustration) Social Studies Geography Famous Historical Events World History Disasters Nineteenth Century Life

The Illustrated London News ran an article - with pictures - just before Christmas in 1849. 

Among other things, it notes that the “potato rot” - which caused the potato crops to fail - was not why Irish people were being evicted from their homes.  Rather, the “Poor Laws,” which Britain had imposed on Ireland, were responsible for the misery of Irish homelessness.

Tim Downs was one of those people, as depicted in this image from that December 22, 1849 article.

We learn more about the situation in Ireland - including the number of people who lost their dwellings - with this excerpt from that lengthy pre-Christmas story:

The public records, my own eyes, a piercing wall of woe throughout the land - all testify to the vast extent of the evictions at the present time. 

Sixteen thousand and odd persons unhoused in the Union of Kilrush before the month of June in the present year; seventy-one thousand one hundred and thirty holdings done away in Ireland, and nearly as many houses destroyed, in 1848; two hundred and fifty-four thousand holdings of more than one acre and less than five acres, put an end to between 1841 and 1848: six-tenths, in fact, of the lowest class of tenantry driven from their now roofless or annihilated cabins and houses, makes up the general description of that desolation of which Tullig and Moveen are examples. 

The ruin is great and complete. The blow that effected it was irrestible. It came in the guise of charity and benevolence; it assumed the character of the last and best friend of the peasantry, and it has struck them to the heart. They are prostrate and helpless. 

The once frolicsome people - even the saucy beggars - have disappeared, and given place to wan and haggard objects, who are so resigned to their doom, that they no longer expect relief. 

One beholds only shrunken frames scarcely covered with flesh-crawling skeletons, who appear to have risen from their graves, and are ready to return frightened to that abode. They have little other covering than that nature has bestowed on the human body - a poor protection against inclement weather; and, now that the only hand from which they expected help is turned against them, even hope is departed, and they are filled with despair. 

Than the present Earl of Carlisle there is not a more humane nor a kinder-hearted nobleman in the kingdom; he is of high honour and unsullied reputation; yet the Poor-law he was mainly the means of establishing for Ireland, with the best intentions, has been one of the chief causes of the people being at this time turned out of their homes, and forced to burrow in holes, and share, till they are discovered, the ditches and the bogs with otters and snipes.
The evictions were numerous before the potato rot. It was not that great calamity, therefore, that superinduced them, or was the chief cause of the present desolation. The potato harvest and harvests of every kind have been lost many times before 1846, without reducing the people to their present misery. 

But that calamity threw the people at the mercy of the Government, and the Government used its power directly and indirectly, in accordance with the theory, to clear the land. Out-door relief was established in that season of distress, and relief altogether was coupled with the resignation of the land. 

The poor were required to give up their heritage, small though it were, for less than a mess of pottage. A law was passed, the 11 and 12 Vic. c. 47, entitled, “An Act for the Protection and Relief of the Destitute Poor Evicted from their Dwellings,” which provided a means of evicting them, subjecting the landlords to the necessity of giving notice to Poor-law guardians, and to the share of a common burden. 

Under such stimuli and such auspices, the clearing process has gone on in an accelerated ratio, and Ireland is now dotted with ruined villages, and filled with a starving population, besieging the doors of crowded workhouses, and creeping into the halls and chambers of the deserted mansions of the nobility and gentry. 

A gentleman’s mansion turned into a poor-house, is a fit emblem of the decay that a mistaken policy has brought on all classes. The system intended to relieve the poor, by making the landlords responsible for their welfare, has at once made it the interest, and therefore the duty, of the landlords to get rid of them. 

Extirpation is accordingly going forward at a rapid rate; and the evidence of that is now placed before the eyes and the understanding of the readers of the Illustrated London News.

This image - from the 22 December 1849 issue of the Illustrated London News depicts Tim Downs and his predicament.  The home he was forced to provide for his family is a scalpeen in Dunmore (a village in County Galway).

The Illustrated London News - in its 15 December 1849 issue - defines a “scalpeen” as a less-than-desirable place to live:

A Scalpeen is a hole. . . It is often erected within the walls when any are left standing, of the unroofed houses, and all that is above the surface is built out of the old materials. It possesses, too, some pieces of furniture, and the Scalpeen is altogether superior to the Scalp.

What is a scalp?  The same article, from 15 December 1849, defines it:

There is also something called a scalp, or hole dug in the earth, some two or three feet deep.

It was in such places that Irish families, evicted from their homes, were forced to live during the time of the "potato famine."


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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5155stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 05, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Apr 15, 2015

Media Credits

Image online, courtesy Clare County Library (Clare County, Ireland).



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