Occupational structures, migration, religion and poor relief in nineteenth century urban Ireland
Patterns of poor relief varied greatly amongst nineteenth century Irish cities. To date, however, there has been little examination of the reasons behind these divergences. One possible factor is the divergent occupational and demographic structures of these cities – ranging from the dramatic growth of an industrialising Belfast, to relative (post-Famine) stability in more service-oriented Dublin, to the slow decline of other southern regional capitals. This paper examines the occupational and social class breakdown of the six major Irish cities over the period from 1861 (after the Great Famine) to 1901 and explores whether the difference in these factors can help to explain the differences in poor relief policies adopted in the different poor law unions. It concludes that the aggregate evidence suggests little clear link between occupational structures and poor relief policies. While it would seem unlikely that occupational structures did not have some impact on such policies, it appears that the impact of such structures was mediated through a range of other policies and will only be revealed through detailed local studies. Drawing on broader work, the paper suggests that key influences in the different patterns of poor relief– in addition to overarching factors such as the wealth of a union – may have included both religious factors and the use of poor relief policy to control in-migration in the rapidly growing northern cities.
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