From Guardian to Watchman
Anne Herdman Martin
My great-great grandfather, Bartholomew Corry was born in 1811 in Kilkee, County Clare. His parents were Charles Curry and Helen Boyle (of Limerick). Charles was a general merchant in Temperance Road, Kilkee and he is also listed in the 1827 Tithe Appointment Books as the tenant of farming land. Charles rented land from the leaseholder Counsellor William Hern at Lislanihain as ‘tenants at will’. He and his family were evicted for non payment of rent on 25th November 1848.
By 1841 Charles’ son, Bartholomew had married Sarah (known as Sally) Hickey and owned freehold property at Strandview, Kilkee and rented land from lessor Jonas Studdert at Dough in Kilfearagh. The properties had a rateable value of £30 per year.
St. Senan’s parish records show a daughter, Ellen Corry, was born to the couple on 23rd November 1843. According to traditional rules for naming children, the second daughter would usually be named after the father’s mother (in this case, Helen Boyle). This would indicate that Bartholomew and Sally had an older daughter. By 1842 Bartholomew and his family were resident at 176 Albert Road, Kilkee and in 1846, he is listed in Slater’s Directory as a Poor Law Guardian of Kilrush Union and Workhouse.
The Kilrush Poor Law Union opened its workhouse on 9th July 1842 to house and feed 800 ‘paupers’. Kilrush was one of the areas most harshly affected by the Great Famine and by the cholera and typhoid diseases which accompany starvation. The Kilrush Union was governed by a Board of Guardians whose responsibilities were to decide on the level of the poor law tax which funded its work and to collect these taxes from local ratepayers ‘by every available legal means and power of recovery’. The Guardians also appointed and supervised the officials running the workhouse, the assessors responsible for deciding who would be accepted as an inmate of the institution, and the rate collectors. The post of Guardian was unpaid. There were 38 Guardians on the Kilrush board. Nine were selected from among magistrates of the county and 29 from local ratepayers. Bartholomew Corry would have been elected by fellow ratepayers as one of three Guardians for the Kilrush district. His intentions would have been good, but like other small ratepayers his lack of experience in institutional management, tax collection and his own struggles with the Famine are likely to have made it impossible for him to be an effective Guardian.
The workhouse was soon overflowing with starving, homeless people and the ineptitude of the Board of Guardians was made worse when the Poor Law Extension Act came into force in 1847.
In November 1847 an inspector (Captain Kennedy) was appointed to look into the affairs of the Kilrush Union and to help and guide the Guardians in running the workhouse. Kennedy was unsuccessful in this. Compounding the problems of the Union was the fact that additional money received from the British Association for the purpose of providing relief to the starving community had allegedly been partly spent on making good the non payment of rates by some of the Guardians on the board.
On 7th March 1848 the Board of Guardians of Kilrush Union was dissolved. Bartholomew Corry’s tenure had been short lived.
Hansard records of 1848 show the English Parliament receiving a report that the Kilrush Union had received in total £133,000 of public money but this amount was deployed ‘in a manner that tended to increase destitution rather than to make the Union self supporting’.
The Parliament had apparently granted the money for the purpose of bringing ‘waste’ land into use so that the Irish could start farming and feeding themselves once again. Instead the Guardians had used much of the money to provide basic foods and soup kitchens to the starving people.
Bartholomew’s position as a Poor Law Guardian at Kilrush did not protect him and his family from eviction, starvation and probably cholera. The 1850-1851 records of the Poor House show 15 Corry children and young adults dying through disease caused by famine conditions. No record has yet been sourced for the deaths of his wife and children but on 27th October, 1856 Bartholomew is listed in Scottish marriage records as a widower marrying a widow – another Irish emigrant to Scotland, Margaret Porter. The record changes his name from Corry to Curry and all his descendents from that point were named Curry.
Family oral history indicates that after his family’s death, Bartholomew made his way to the northwest coast of Ireland and took a ship landing in Ayrshire in Scotland. He travelled to the town of Kilbirnie where his uncle, Daniel Corry, rented accommodation. (In 1831, Daniel Corry had been evicted from his Kilfearagh land for non payment of rent by his landlord Mountiford Westropp.)
Arriving in Kilbirnie around 1854, Bartholomew took work as a labourer and as a pit night watchman. The 1861 census record shows Bartholomew and Margaret sharing rented accommodation with Margaret’s daughter and two of their own children, Elisabeth (aged 4) and Margaret (aged 2). Margaret’s widowed aunt also lived with them – she was 75 years old and still working as a children’s nurse.
Kilbirnie Parish records of 1861 and 1862 list Bartholomew and Margaret as receiving parish poor relief with Bartholomew described as ‘unemployed’. In 1862, a third child, Agnes, was born to the couple and a son was born in 1864. This was ‘Young Bartholomew’ (1864 to 1937) who was my great grandfather.
Old Bartholomew Corry died of pneumonia on 15th February 1865 aged 55 leaving his wife, Margaret and the four young children of his second family in extreme poverty. From a relatively comfortable start in life on the west coast of Ireland, the Great Famine and the harsh policies of Governments and landlords decimated the quality of life and opportunities of Bartholomew Corry. But his descendents did him proud. His son, young Bartholomew, worked in munitions during the First World War and subsequently became a respected Insurance Inspector. Old Bartholomew’s four grandchildren also did well in Scotland becoming shopkeepers and tradesmen. And Bartholomew is not forgotten – he still lives on in our memories as the patriarch of our family history.