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Father Mathew visited Sligo in the year 1840, and received the pledges of one half or even of two thirds of the Catholic population : and some thousands kept their pledges until the whole system was disorganised, as already said, by the visitations of famine, cholera, and fever. There was then a Temperance Hall and the other usual adjuncts of a zealous and active association. All these have disappeared, and I was told that before the Sisters of Mercy began their labours, there were probably not more than a hundred members remaining of the original stock.
I visited the Union Workhouse, which is prettily situated about a mile out of the town, and presents the same admirable neatness and order which characterises all this class of houses. It was first opened in December, 1841, and was planned for the accommodation of 1200 inmates. Further accommodation was afterwards provided for 800 more; and I see by the official Reports that in April, 1848, it contained at one time 1690 inmates. It can now receive within its walls 1600. At the time of my visit it contained in all only 753. Of these there were no less than 212 persons in the hospital, including 16 in the Fever Hospital. As this is a greater proportion of sick than has been observed in other houses of the kind, it is but fair to say that of the 196 inmates of the hospital, 58 were merely infirm from old age, making the actual number of sick in the two infirmaries 154. Among these no less than 50 were cases of ophthalmia. Out of the 753 persons in the house there were in the schools no less than 226 children, viz. 99 boys and 127 girls; and the number of Protestants was about 80— by far the largest number yet found in any Union, and indicating our gradual progress towards the Presbyterian district.
The following statement gives, in round numbers, the greatest amount of paupers on the books at any one time during the last few years, and points out the progressive diminution of pauperism in the dis
The same results are shown on a still larger scale in the official Poor Law Reports :
I observed a peculiarity of the “stirabout” in this Union, 2 oz. of rice being here combined with 5 oz. of Indian meal in its composition. The resulting mess was very palatable. I also noticed that
By a communication from the master, dated February 12, I learn that this number had decreased to 24.
the bread was composed entirely of flour, that is, from fine Egyptian wheat; and was very good.
At a short distance beyond the Union Workhouse I visited the new County Asylum for Lunatics. Though not yet completed, I could see from its interior plan that it embraces all the best modern arrangements hitherto suggested—among others, that of having a recess dining-room, bulging out, as it were, from the exercising gallery adjoining the cells. In this respect it has the advantage over the new asylum at Killarney. I cannot omit to notice the singularly-elegant elevation of this house, and the remarkable beauty of the whole structure. Indeed it is, to my taste, one of the finest public charities I ever saw, and seems no less creditable to the liberal spirit of the public body who authorised its erection, than to the fine taste of the architect, Mr. Deane Butler. It was to me another striking evidence of the great architectural genius of the Irish nation.
I visited several cottages in and near Sligo, and had a good deal of conversation with their occupants. Being Sunday morning, I found them all at home and at leisure. Upon the whole, the cottages were somewhat better than those observed further to the south and west, both as to neatness and amount of furniture. Many of them, however, were lamentably deficient in both these respects. Only in one or two, out of many, could I recognise even a slight approach towards what in civilised nations is called
comfort : in none could I find a single trace of those humble but charming efforts at embellishment and decoration, those simple and innocent luxuries, so surely indicative of mental progress, that delight the eye and touch the heart of the visitor of an English cottage. Alas, for the poor of Ireland, that gifted as they are, beyond most, with the quick imaginations and the warm affections which are best calculated to create and to enjoy what is graceful and what is tasteful, they should still be bound by their hard fortunes within the circle of mere physical wants! Truly, of them, if of any, it may be said —
“Chill penury repressed their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.” Among others, I went into a cottage belonging to a young labouring man and his wife, and which, with the exception of two chubby, half-clad infants, could boast no other wealth than a couple of chairs, a potato-pot, and a few dishes of coarse crockery. I here met with one of those strong-headed men, not seldom to be found in the very lowest rank of society, who at once arrest the attention and command the respect of every one, by the uneonscious display of natural talent, good sense, and good feeling. He was a working mason, of about forty years of age, and seemed to have come into his neighbour's house for a little morning's gossip. It was early, and he had not yet begun to prepare himself for chapel.
Soon finding that my friend in the flannel jacket and lime-burnt hat was one of nature's gentlemen as well as philosophers, I gradually got into an interesting discussion with him on the everlasting theme of Ireland—her evils and their remedies; the young labourer and his wife standing by, the while, now joining in as a sort of confirmatory chorus, and now serving my friend as living illustrations of his theme. I don't know that he told me aught that was new or worth reproducing in these pages; but his shrewdness, liberality, and impartiality, certainly tended to strengthen impressions already in my mind, and added to my respect for the Irish character in its humbler sphere. He was a strong Catholic, but without bigotry. He seemed to regard his Protestant neighbours without the least ill feeling; and the great question that so agitates the Catholics of the middle and upper classes and the Roman Catholic clergy-I mean the monstrous anomaly of the Church of the minority being the exclusive recipient of tithes-seemed hardly to affect him at all, because, in reality, it scarcely touched his class practically. He thought his own creed the true one, but he did not blame others for preferring that they had been brought up in. Being somewhat of a scholar, he now and then referred to passages in the Bible; and on my expressing my surprise at this, he told me that he had an English Bible, and that he had not only the sanction of the priest for keeping it, but for reading it. He offered to show it to me, if I would go with him to his house, which was hard by. His possession of this book was shown to be an ex