'Unhappy and Wretched Creatures': Charity, Poor Relief and Pauper Removal in Britain and Ireland during the Great Famine

Lewis Darwen, Donald MacRaild, Liam Kennedy, Brian Gurrin

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    During the Great Famine (1845-51) hundreds of thousands of Irish refugees fled to Britain, escaping the hunger and disease afflicting their homeland. Many made new lives there, but others were subsequently shipped back to Ireland by poor law authorities under the laws of Settlement and Removal. This article explores the coping strategies of the Famine Irish in Britain, and the responses of poor law authorities to the inflow of refugees with a particular focus on their use of removal. We argue that British poor law unions in areas heavily affected by the refugee crisis adopted rigorous removal policies, and that the non-settled Irish consequently only applied for relief when they required urgent medical attention, or after alternative sources of support (charity, employment, kin) were unavailable or inadequate. Consequently, the true scale of Irish hardship was hidden from the official record. The article also explores, for the first time, the experiences of those sent back to Ireland, a country suffering from the devastating effects of Famine. The controversial combination of heavy Irish immigration to Britain and large-scale removals back to Ireland created a tense political situation between British and Irish port towns, as both sides felt aggrieved by the inflow of destitute Irish. At the centre of all this were the Irish paupers themselves; uncertainty, dislocation and hardship was often their experience as a result.

    © 2019, Oxford University Press. The attached document (embargoed until 04/06/2021) is an author produced version of a paper published in THE ENGLISH HISTORICAL REVIEW uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self- archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at the link. Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)589-619
    JournalThe English Historical Review
    Issue number568
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2019

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