Kevin J. O'Brien in Killernan Graveyard, County Clare, Ireland June 1981

Kevin J. O'Brien in Killernan Graveyard, County Clare, Ireland June 1981
Kevin J. O'Brien in Killernan Graveyard, County Clare, Ireland June 1981


                The following article from The Clare Journal, January 13, 1851 is the account of death, of my great-great grandfather, James O’Brien’s brother, Daniel O’Brien.  Over the years I have been searching and advertising for the whereabouts of Daniel O’Brien.  This past summer the search ended when I found reference to Daniel O’Brien death in an article: “Where are the People Gone to?” County Clare 1850-1852 by Ciaran O’Murchadha, published in The Other Clare, Vol. 26, 2002.

The last know record for Daniel O’Brien was in the 1826 Tithe Applotment Books of Kilmurry-Ibrickane Parish.  Daniel was listed as having 6 acres of land in the townland of Killernan, Co. Clare.  He and his brothers, Patrick, James, Michael and father, John all lived on about 50 acres of land.  Ireland’s population was growing at a rapid rate and the potato was feeding the masses.  Twenty years later and after the Famine, the farms were consolidated to make them more efficient and profitable for the landlord.  In 1855, the Griffith’s Valuation of land for Killernan townland only listed the families of Honoria O’Brien and her brother-in-law Michael O’Brien having two distinct farms.  The land had been cleared of the unwanted Irish tenant, many through emigration and others by death from starvation as this newspaper article describes.
Daniel O'Brien was on his way to the home of Thomas Howard of Ballyvaskin, Miltown Malbay on his return from the Work House in Ennistymon.  Thomas Howard was married to Mary O'Brien of Killernan on Feb 16th 1846.  Mary O'Brien Howard was probably a neice of Daniel O'Brien.  



The subjoined communication, which we were obliged to hold over from Thursday, furnishes one of the strongest instances of culpable neglect on the part of a relieving officer, which has perhaps ever been brought under our notice: -


                Miltownmalbay, 5 January, 1851.
Death from Destitution. __ I send you the following minutes of evidence taken before Francis O’Donnell, Esq. Coroner, at an inquest held by him this day at Ballyvaskin, near this village, on the body of a man named Daniel O’Brien, who was found dead in a field there on Saturday evening last.
                Anthony Howard sworn -- Lives at Ballyvaskin; at about 12 o’clock on Saturday last found the deceased, Daniel O’Brien, lying dead by the side of a ditch in a dyke at Ballyvaskin; called Thomas Howard, and told him there was a man dead in the field; both of us took him up out of the dyke, and laid him on the field; we then went to Miltown, and Thomas Howard told the police the man was dead; saw a small piece of bread near him.  I had seen the deceased on Friday morning.  There was water under him where he was found dead.
                Eliza Hayes sworn --Lives at Drummin; on Friday night after dark deceased came into her aunt’s house, and sat by the fire to warm himself; he said he was coming from the workhouse of Ennistymon; he got a bit of bread from my aunt; witness does not know if he eat it; he remained about half an hour in the house, when he said he would go to Thomas Howard’s which is about a quarter of a mile across the fields form my aunt’s house.
                Thomas Howard sworn – Lives at Ballyvaskin; deceased called at his house on Friday morning on his way to Ennistymon union workhouse; remained about half an hour; deceased got some stirabout; he was evidently weak, and had a bad appearance, which I am sure was from starvation; did not see him afterwards till he was found dead on Saturday; knew the deceased for the last 8 or 9 years; he had some bread near him when he was found; he was always a healthy man; he was on outdoor relief; he had nothing to support him but begging since that relief was stopped; witness heard his principal food was turnip and cabbages.
James Clancy sworn – Is relieving officer for the electoral divisions of Annagh and Ballyvaskin; knew the deceased Daniel O’Brien; he as on outdoor relief as long as it has continued, which was till about 1st. August last  his age on the books is 63 years; deceased applied on 31st. December last for relief, or for a ticket of admission to the workhouse; took down his name on that day, and told him to come before the Board on Friday, at Ennistymon workhouse; thinks he saw the deceased among the crowd at the workhouse on Friday; on the day he applied to me he appeared to be weaker than usual; there were such a large number of applicants (about 1,000) my books could not be ruled, nor my paupers examined  on that day; and about three o’clock the Vice-Guardians told me to send home the paupers till Monday next, the 6th. Inst.; deceased was from Killernan in the electoral division of Annagh, about 10 Irish miles from Ennistymon workhouse; on my way home from the workhouse on Friday evening I passed the deceased on the road at Rinneen, about, five miles from the workhouse; he appeared to be weak; I sent my boy to speak to him: I heard him say he had bread enough for his supper; my opinion is that deceased died from starvation.  I was in the habit of giving provisional relief, where I thought it necessary; on one or two occasions I was censured by a Guardian for giving provisional relief, where I thought it necessary; on one or two occasions I was censured by a Guardian for giving relief in such cases, and the attention of the Inspector called to it.  This witness further said – The Vice-Guardians ordered me on Friday to relieve any bad cases I had until I would bring them up on Monday, I was at the workhouse of Ennistymon on Monday, was there at ten o’clock in the morning, but the Guardians were not there at this time.
The verdict was as follows. – We find that Daniel O’Brien aged 63 years, came by his death on Friday night, at Ballyvaskin, from STARVATION, THROUGH THE NEGLECT OF THE GUARDIANS.
It should be here remarked, that the jury, in attributing the death of this poor man to the neglect of the Guardians, meant the Guardians in the office at the date of his application for relief until the 31st of December prior to which they had been superseded by Vice-Guardians.
As to this verdict attributing the poor man’s death to the neglect of the Vice-Guardians it is simply ridiculous.  There is no evidence what whatever to sustain such a finding.  We happen to be present at the Ennistymon Workhouse on Friday week – the day referred to above – and it was utterly impossible to consider the cases of even one half the numerous crowd of applicants who were present.  The report of out door relief being resumed brought them in thousands from all parts of the Union.  The verdict might, we think with much more propriety, have been directed against the Poor Law Commissioners; who by their arbitrary proceeding in dismissing the elected board at such a critical period of the year, threw the affairs of the union into the utmost confusion, and left the paupers, in the interval, at the mercy of a few relieving officers, on some of whom, as is evident from the present case, but little reliance should be placed.  It is indeed very clear form the testimony given at the inquest, that the person immediately and directly culpable in the present instance is the relieving officer.  He was obliged to admit in his examination by the coroner, that the Vice-Guardians had directed him to give provisional relief in all cases of urgent distress; though he had endeavored previously to shirk this responsibility by stating that on a former occasion, a Guardian has censured him on a former occasion, a Guardian had censured him for giving such relief.  He well knew, however, that no Guardian had the power to interfere with him, so long as he discharged his duty properly; and we a have personal knowledge of the Poor Law Inspector ( Mr. Briscoe) having distinctly informed all the relieving officers  that so long as they faithfully performed their duties according to their printed instructions, they were quite independent of any Guardian or even of the Board of Guardians; and that if they neglected to make a proper use of the discretionary power vested in them, they could not throw the responsibility of such neglect on the Board of Guardians  The relieving officer cannot therefore plead ignorance of his duties in extension of his guilt.
We may well imagine the case of this poor man who it seems since the time he was deprived of out-door relief at the beginning of harvest, strove to eke out a miserable existence as long as he possibly could with out entering the workhouse.  On Tuesday,, the 31st of December, however, every other resource having failed him, he comes weak and sickly with want, and applies to the relieving officer (James Clancy) for that relief which lie was bound by law to afford him. – Clancy knew him as having been a recipient of out-door relief, and had, therefore, previous knowledge of his destitute condition.  His appearance confirmed the fact.  He might naturally be supposed, then that this poor man, of whose destitution there could be no doubt, would at once obtain provisional relief; especially as the Board of Guardians had placed money at Clancy’s disposal to meet such cases – at least it was offered to him by their clerk.  But no; this humane relieving officer coolly told the poor old starving man that he would put down his name, and directed him to attend the work-house on the following Friday.  But how was he to subsist for the three intervening days?  It seems not to have occurred to this relief officer, that before Friday came the poor man might be no more.  He merely inserted his name in his application book as a matter of ordinary duty, and allowed the wretched man to depart unpited and unreilayed .  But he did survive till Friday and on that day – weak and emancipated as he was contrived to travel upwards of ten Irish miles to the workhouse.  Clancy observed his in the crowd, and is not surprising that he appeared weaker than usual; but yet this official, in whose hands
The unfortunate man’s life was placed, did not even then afford him any relief, not withstanding the caution of the Vice Guardians to that effect.  With the most callous indifferences as to the fate, he orders this man, already dying, to travel those ten long miles over again in a cold winter’s night!  Our blood congeals at the bare idea of such inhumanity.  It is true he told him to return again on the following Monday; but on that day we trust Daniel O’Brien was “where the weary are at rest.”
But there was yet one more opportunity afforded Clancy of being instrumental in preserving this poor man’s life.  Let us see how he availed himself of it.  In returning on that same Friday evening to Miltown this officer who is paid for attending to the wants of the poor, again beheld the unfortunate man, faint and weary, but struggling to reach, if possible, the locality where he was known, and the cabin of some hospitable neighbor.  It would, of course, be too much to expect that this paid official would suffer a wretched pauper to come “between the wind and his nobility,” but HE SENT HIS BOY TO SPEAK TO HIM.  The poor man may not have known the boy – indeed it is probable he regarded his as some fellow-applicant for relief, who might be returning home perhaps as heart-sick as himself.  Had he known the relieving officer was within hearing of his voice, he would doubtless have solicited aid, though after the result of his former application to that officer his hope of receiving it must have been faint indeed.  We trust that the boy did not share the disposition of his master, but he that as it may, it does not appear the poor man could be aware that this boy had either the power of the will to assist him, and therefore, in answer to his inquire, he merely told him “he had bread enough for supper.”  The relieving officer considered this quite sufficient- although he knew three more days would intervene before the man’s application could be brought before the Board-although he must have known that then and there the man was dying-(for he swore at the inquest that in his opinion he died of starvation)-yet this time also he passed him by unrelieved, and the result is known.
We cannot suppose that the Government, who have shown such vigilance in other cases, will pass over the death of this poor man without instituting a strict inquiry.  Outraged humanity demands it.  It is necessary indeed for the sake of all parties; for if it be possible for the relieving officer to clear himself from the guilt and odium which, as the matter at present stand, must attach to his character, let him by all means have a fair and full opportunity of doing so – We await the result.