Irish Studies

Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland – In Conversation with Ciarán McCabe

Beggars and begging were ubiquitous features of pre-Famine Irish society, yet have gone largely unexamined by historians. Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland explores for the first time the complex cultures of mendicancy, as well as how wider societal perceptions of and responses to begging were framed by social class, gender and religion. The book has recently been unlatched by Knowledge Unlatched, and the ebook can now be accessed for free. We spoke to author Ciarán McCabe about this recent publication.

9781786941572

Firstly, could you tell us a bit about Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland and what compelled you to focus your research in this area?

I have been interested in the history of poverty and welfare for a number of years, and the topics of begging and vagrancy kept coming up in the sources, but there was no substantial study of them. I think I was initially attracted by the language used by contemporaries to describe “study beggars and idle vagrants”! The sheer ubiquity of beggars in the pre-Famine period was fascinating to me: they were everywhere and constant. They were found in large numbers in both urban and rural areas, and they were inevitably commented on by foreign travellers, albeit with some literary gloss sometimes applied to their account!

When researching this topic during my PhD at Maynooth University, I decided to explore how charitable societies, civil parish bodies and the various churches dealt with mendicancy. And this facilitated the approach I have taken in Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland, wherein I consider societal perceptions of beggars and begging, and then responses to the problem  – (begging was usually seen as a problem!). I also consider the other side of the giver / receiver exchange, and explore the motivations and experience of alms-givers.

The book explores different ways in which beggars were seen: as spreaders of disease; as work-shy idlers; as conveyors of gossip and political sedition; as a drain on the benevolence and Christian generosity of a mostly impoverished population. But, they could also be seen as engaged in a perfectly legitimate, fundamentally human act: asking assistance of one’s fellow man. When factors such as gender, social class and religious background are considered, it becomes a fascinating, yet complex, topic.

In a nutshell, Chapters 1-3 consider the broad topic of mendicancy: how can we define who was a beggar and what was begging; how and why were many contemporaries so eager to enumerate the numbers of people begging; and the disparate ways in which beggars were perceived.

Chapter 4 explores the short-lived mendicity society movement (there were more than fifty anti-begging societies established throughout Ireland between 1809 and 1845), while Chapter 5 looks at how parish vestries regulated begging through a badging / licencing system.

Chapters 6 and 7 respectively examine Catholic and Protestant approaches to mendicancy and discuss differences and similarities in perceptions and responses.

You highlight the lack of historical study into begging in pre-Famine Irish society. Why do you think this topic has been somewhat overlooked?

I think that the seeming lack of sources – especially sources from the perspective of the soliciting beggar – did not lend itself to considerable attention from scholars. I trawled through archives and libraries throughout Ireland and Britain finding material relating to begging and beggars in Ireland, and in some cases came upon sources which had not been used before, while in other cases, I asked new questions of well-worn sources.

The historian Caitriona Clear has written about beggars and vagrants as having “at best, a walk-on part in Irish history”, which I think is perfectly accurate. In social historians’ studies of the pre-Famine period beggars are usually mentioned, but have been left as ubiquitous, yet not terribly important, figures. My book broadens out the question beyond just the people engaged in begging and considers the practice of begging itself, as well as the significance that begging played in wider social and political reforms, such as the introduction of the Poor Law into Ireland in the late-1830s. But also, it looks at how a study of mendicancy informs changes in other developments within Irish society – the evolving experiences of poverty and welfare; the emergence of statistical and social inquiry in the early- to mid-nineteenth century; societal responses to disease epidemics; the changing function of the parish vestry as a unit of local government.

How does this volume pave the way for future research on the topic?

Among the topics I explore is the changing role of the civil parish vestry as a local government entity and a provider of social services, such as the care of orphans and deserted children, the provision of coffins to poor parishioners and the regulation of begging through a badging system. The parish gradually lost these powers throughout the mid-nineteenth century and this loss, I think, represents a substantial change in community power-brokering and interdenominational relations, especially in urban parishes, which is a much-neglected subject.

My book also makes considerable use of the published reports of the Whately Poor Inquiry, which sat between 1833-36 and examined in considerable detail the condition of the poorer classes in Ireland a decade before the Famine; their final output comprised more than 5,000 pages of reports. While numerous historians have made great use of the Whately Inquiry material, I still found new questions to ask of the sources. I think that the inquiry’s reports are wonderful sources that other scholars can return to as well, bringing new interests and asking new research questions.

The book uses a range of sources including case studies. Are there any sources which particularly stood out to you which you could discuss further with us?

The most enjoyable sources to work with were ones which opened up new perspectives on the history of begging, vagrancy and the relief of the poor. I started my research by considering these topics within the broader history of criminality, but the research evolved away from this angle and towards considering the responses of charities and churches. As such, it became a study of begging and alms-giving within the wider sphere of charity. The sources which facilitated this approach included Presbyterian kirk session minute books, the manuscript records of the Methodist-run Strangers’ Friend Society, the Society of Friends’ monthly meeting minute books and, for a Dublin case study, the papers of Archbishop Daniel Murray, who served as the Catholic archbishop of Dublin between 1823 and 1852.

Most interesting of all, though, were the vestry minute books of parishes from across Ireland. With some exceptions, these were all consulted in the Representative Church Body Library, Dublin. The parish vestry was a gathering of (male) householders in a parish, to consider the levying of local rates (a parish cess) to fund particular items of expenditure for the coming year. The minutes reveal that, from the 17th into the 19th centuries, parishes’ role was not limited to ecclesiastical matters, but extended into social matters – for example, the support of foundlings, orphans, widows and, in some fascinating instances, the operation of a system of licenced begging. Local ‘deserving’ beggars, who were known to the authorities, were issued with copper or tin badges, which served as a licence to solicit alms in a public place. The beggar who did not possess a badge could, therefore, be labelled ‘undeserving’ and duly refused alms. The parish vestry minute books are a much underused body of sources for Irish social history tell us much about the public operation of power and community tensions, as well as attitudes towards poverty and welfare, in this period. I was fortunate in being pointed in the direction of the vestry minute books by the late Dr Caroline Gallagher of Maynooth University.

As valuable as the vestry minute books are, they are best considered alongside contemporary newspaper reports of the annual Easter vestry meetings. These reports, especially for parishes in large urban centres such as Dublin and Cork, reveal much more about these meetings than the administrative records. Journalists’ accounts reveal to us the debates, arguments and (occasional) boisterousness which went unrecorded in the minute books.

What are you going to be working on next?

At the moment I am a postdoctoral research fellow at University College Dublin, funded by the Irish Research Council’s Enterprise Partnership Scheme. My project examines the survival strategies of working-class women in Dublin city between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, and is associated with Dublin City Council and its new museum at 14 Henrietta Street. Among the topics I am exploring are the position of charwomen in Dublin’s unskilled labour force, women’s use of pawnshops, Dublin’s second-hand clothes markets, and the social and cultural relevance of the ubiquitous ‘open front door’ in the city’s tenements.

Visit our website for more information on Begging, Charity and Religion in Pre-Famine Ireland or to read the ebook for free.

 

Follow us for more updates and sign up to our mailing list
#LUP120 | Sign up | @livunipress | Instagram
horizontal--no-image
Modern Languages

Middlebrow Matters – In Conversation with Diana Holmes

Middlebrow Matters is the first book to study the middlebrow novel in France. It asks what middlebrow means, and applies the term positively to explore the ‘poetics’ of the types of novel that have attracted ‘ordinary’ fiction readers – in their majority female – since the end of the 19th century.  The book has recently been unlatched by Knowledge Unlatched, and the ebook can now be accessed for free. We caught up with author Diana Holmes to discuss more about the book.

9781786941565

Firstly, could you tell us a bit about Middlebrow Matters and what drew you to focus your work in this area?

Since at least A-level days I have been fascinated by literature, even the more arid reaches of modernism (Robbe-Grillet and the French ‘new novel’ come to mind). But I gradually became aware of a real divide between what I thought of as ‘books to read with a notebook and pen handy’ and the books I read – constantly – for pleasure. There was something in the deeply pleasurable experience of reading fiction that was neither valued nor accounted for in most literary criticism and theory. I wrote seriously about fully ‘popular’ fiction, including the Harlequin romance, but that did not correspond either to the sort of novel I and (I think) most avid book-lovers read, which falls between ‘literary’ and popular and is thus … middlebrow.

There was also a sort of semi-conscious political motivation in the desire to write this book. Literary scholarship tends to display a quiet disdain for ‘what most people read’. Difficult, ground-breaking, challenging, shocking is good: absorbing, page-turning, easy-to-read, moving is bad – hence the negative connotations of the word ‘middlebrow’. And somehow what women write and read is more readily placed in the latter category.

 This is the first book to focus on the middlebrow novel in France. How does this volume pave the way for future research on the topic?

Inevitably, despite the self-consciously challenging stance of each generation of literary scholars, a sort of master (the word is apt) narrative of a country’s literature gets written and generally accepted. Much has to be excluded, and I think what has disappeared especially in France is that broad swathe of serious-but-pleasurable fiction read by the majority – and the majority of readers over the past century have been women. Fiction read by a significant section of the population surely plays its part in forming, or inflecting, socio-political values.  In some cases such literature is hard to re-discover: I am still surprised by the relative absence in France of the rich seam of middlebrow women’s writing so evident in Britain in the inter-war period (thank you Virago and Persephone), and I hope there are authors there I failed to find.  Much work remains to be done on reading tastes at different periods, on forgotten writers and on the mainstream, broadly popular reception of acknowledged writers such as Mauriac, Colette, Beauvoir.

The book looks at several middlebrow authors from varying periods. Is there a particular author who you think is crucial to this study, or one you particularly enjoyed writing about?

Well of course there is Colette – I think the only book in which I have managed not to talk about Colette is the one on François Truffaut’s cinema. She is crucial here not of course because she is under-recognised (though she was for a long time), but because in the copious criticism devoted to her the aspect of her work least acknowledged is probably her huge appeal for ‘ordinary’ readers, and the reasons for this. Then there is the brave band of Belle Époque women novelists – hugely read at the time, then totally forgotten until (mainly Anglophone) feminist critics rediscovered them over the last few decades, though they remain largely out-of-print. Topical as they were, their novels (I think especially of Daniel Lesueur) are still brilliant page-turners that also deal with hard questions of gender politics,  and they deserve further attention. As does the equally topical but also durably eloquent fiction of Françoise Sagan.

You close the book with a double reading of Marie NDiaye’s  La Femme puissante which is a particularly interesting feature of your work. How did you find switching to and from ‘non-academic mode’, and what did you conclude from this?

This was part of the original proposal for the book – one of those bright ideas that you later have moments of regretting when it proves really difficult to write! Rather than a conventional conclusion – I hoped the central argument had been sufficiently spelled out – I wanted to try to put into words the (usually unarticulated) experience of suspending disbelief and travelling in imagination into the fictional world, and to compare this with the more detached, analytical reading I also engage in as a literary critic. To separate these completely is of course artificial, but what I learned from the exercise was that ‘just reading for pleasure’ is as instructive as the more cerebral process of analysing a text, though in a different way. The ‘immersive’ reading of Ndiaye’s story left traces of felt emotion that my critical reading might well have ignored. Through imaginative absorption into someone else’s consciousness and a world dissimilar to our own, we simulate experience beyond the confines of our own lives and thus (even if unconsciously) we grow a bit, develop, get outside our own skin. This is not often captured in literary analysis.

What are you working on next?

This book took a long time to write and I have unfinished business begun alongside ‘Middlebrow’ that I want to complete before deciding on the next direction. There is a collaborative edited volume on French feminism 1975-2015, Making Waves, now in production with Liverpool University Press. I am also engaged in a collaborative project on women and ageing in French culture, and writing a comparative piece on ageing in the work of Annie Ernaux, Nancy Huston and Margaret Drabble. Then a research group in Paris have invited me to speak at a conference on women and literary periodicals in France (Femmes et revues), and that allows me to go back to archival work on ‘my’  Belle Époque women writers and their spirited struggles to be taken seriously by a deeply patriarchal literary establishment. One of these will probably contain the seeds of a new project.

Visit our website for more information on Middlebrow Matters or to read the ebook for free.

 

Follow us for more updates and sign up to our mailing list
#LUP120 | Sign up | @livunipress | Instagram
horizontal--no-image
News

Liverpool University Press, Knowledge Unlatched and partners to develop KU Open Analytics

Liverpool University Press a founding partner in KU Open Analytics.

KU Open Analytics is a collaborative open access analytics project by Knowledge Unlatched and four founding partners: Cornell University Press (CUP), Edinburgh University Press (EUP), University of Michigan Press (UMP) and Liverpool University Press (LUP).  The alliance has been formed to develop a usage and analytics service available to publishers and libraries, providing a reporting tool for aggregate Open Access (OA) eBooks usage by Fall 2018.

Max Mosterd, Head of Operations and Analytics at KU said:  “In partnership with the founding partners, a number of additional OA eBook platforms will be integrated. The partners will also contribute to the future development of KU Open Analytics’ new features, allowing for a seamless reporting experience to stakeholders towards the usage of their OA books.”

Anthony Cond, Director of LUP added that “research funders and policymakers, especially those in the UK, are clear on the long-term importance of OA for humanities books. KU Open Analytics provides an important example of collaboration between a group of forward-thinking university presses and KU to enhance our understanding of OA as a pathway to impact for the monograph.”

KU Open Analytics is due to undergo further development throughout the summer, with the service due to be fully available in autumn 2018.

For further information please visit: www.knowledgeunlatched.org/ku-open-analytics.

Or contact Philipp Hess, Publicity & Communications, Knowledge Unlatched

philipp@knowledgeunlatched.org

News

Liverpool University Press participates in Knowledge Unlatched

Liverpool University Press is participating in the fifth pledging round of Knowledge Unlatched (KU), the central platform for sustainable Open Access (OA) funding models. Ten LUP titles have been selected for KU Select 2018.

Knowledge Unlatched is a global crowd funding initiative supported by more than 500 libraries. Its aim is to make Open Access for books and journals sustainable in all disciplines of science and research. It helps libraries to shift their budgets from traditional acquisition patterns to supporting OA at a larger scale. Liverpool University Press was the first publisher worldwide to sign up to Knowledge Unlatched.

“Liverpool University Press is a strong supporter of Open Access in different ways. By participating in Knowledge Unlatched, we are actively supporting this model of dissemination’, and we hope libraries will continue to support it as well”, says Anthony Cond, Managing Director of LUP.

“KU only works, because publishers like LUP submit excellent content that appeals to researchers and librarians worldwide”, says Dr. Sven Fund, KU’s managing director. “We are glad to see strong usage of the open content funded in prior rounds, and we are glad to see a lot of sympathy and support for our work worldwide.”

Libraries can pledge their support for Knowledge Unlatched and Liverpool University Press’s titles between now and the end of November 2018 at www.knowledgeunlatched.org.

 

About Liverpool University Press: Twice acknowledged as academic publisher of the year in recent years, Liverpool University Press combines the heritage of the UK’s third oldest university press with a forward-looking ethos that has underpinned its significant expansion over the past decade.  The Press publishes 100 books annually, 32 journals and a number of digital collections.

About Knowledge Unlatched: Knowledge Unlatched (KU) offers free access to scholarly content for every reader across the world. Our online platform provides libraries worldwide with a central place to support Open Access models from leading publishing houses and new OA initiatives.