Poverty in pre-Famine Westmeath
The findings of the Poor Commission of 1833
The scale of the Great Famine of 1846 has overshadowed the prevalence of extreme poverty in Ireland in the period 1815–45. As economic conditions deteriorated between those years, population increased rapidly. From the 1820s onwards, in the wake of famines and epidemics and an increase in agrarian violence, pressure mounted on the British government to address the problem of poverty in Ireland. In 1833 the government established the Royal Commission for Inquiring into the Condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland. The commission investigated poverty by holding public enquiry sessions, in which the poorest people participated, in seventeen counties. The reports of those public session provide a detailed account of poverty in 1830s Ireland. This book uses the findings of the Poor Inquiry for Co. Westmeath to give an account of economic and social conditions in the county in the decade before the Famine.
Seán Byrne is Lecturer Emeritus in Economics, Technological University Dublin.