THE IRISH SCHOOLS AND THE BRITISH RELIEF ASSOCIATION.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE SPECTATOR.
Sta—In your number (1079) of the 3d instant, after noticing the fact that some members of the British Relief Association had felt hurt at the strictures con- tained in a recent number on the disturbance and injury to education reported by the Inspectors of the National Board in Ireland to have been caused by the system of feeding the children attending the schools in the distressed unions of that country in 1848, and that your attention had been drawn to the "Official Papers and Correspondence" published by the Association, you observe that "on the whole" the papers seem to make out that, although the steady business of education was invaded, the disturbance could not well be helped; and that "the substantial aid of food" "was so needful, and in general so efficacious, that it may be deemed to have compensated every consequent evil." Those, however, who have arrived at a different conclusion, both from personal observation of the working of that system of relief, and from the perusal of the correspondence adverted to, will remark that the evidence (or rather opinions) quoted in the published correspondence is exclusively from parties biassed either by the natural and amiable feelings of impulsive benevolence, or (as in the case of the patrons of schools, &e.) by other and obvious motives in addition: and that probably much testimony of an opposite tendency might have been collected, and Innumerable instances of abuse and petty fraud, plunder of the carts conveying bread to the schools, and application of the issue of rations for the indirect or in- dividual benefit of the schoolmasters, might have been cited, had it been sought for, and had there not existed a universal reluctance to inteifere in any way be- tween the Association and the recipients of their bounty during that period of widespread distress and misery.
It may, however, be doubted, whether this particular system of relief was either SO needful or so efficacious as to compensate for the interruption and injury to
education which it caused; whether; Mika, it was not to a great .extint super- Linens and disturbing to the introduction of the extended system of Poor-laws, which the Association had agreed, at the instance of Sir Charles Trevelyan, to support and strengthen by their aid; and whether it had any recommeudation except one which shall be presently noticed. The system had at first, during the earlier stage of the Relief Act, beemadopted in the town of Westport by the Count de Strzelecki; and his observation of its good effects there inauced him to urge it strongly upon the Association as a genei rat measure for all the distressed unions to which it was proposed to extend the assistance of the Association. No one who has traced the active and zealous career of this gentleman can for a moment doubt or fail to appreciate the warm and genuine philanthropy that hes led him to devote himself to the task of alle- viating the misery of this unhappy portion of his adopted country : but it may be questioned whether the system found useful under one state of law and under judicious and effective daily superintendence, such as could be easily given in the town of Westport, was suitable to remote rural districts, and under a different legal provision for the destitute. By the Isiah Poor Relief Extension Act, adequate provision was made in 1848 for the effectual relief of all destitute persons, and a class of officers appointed for the special purpose of ascertaining the real circumstances of all applicants, (a point so difficult to arrive at in Ireland,) and for affording the requisite relief. It is not shown in the "Correspondence" that any advantage was gained by the issue of food to the children of these parties at the schools instead of at their parents' houses; and it is a fact that in consequence of the great want of clothing, the children (many of whom had to travel two or three Irish miles on foot to at- tend the schools) suffered much from cold and exposure in the winter and early spring; for scarcely any clothing was given out by the Association until an ad- vanced period of the summer. The only actual benefit conferred hy the plan may be stated in a few words. It extended aid to the children of the small farmers—those occupying more than a quarterof a statute acre of land, who by the 10th section of the Act Vic. 10, cap. 31, were excluded from receiving relief from the poor-rates; and, vitally im- portant as that clause is to the future working of the Irish Poor-law, it was, no doubt, desirable to soften the suddenness of the transition, and to give to the struggling and industrious occupiers of small farms, who were pressed down by large dependent families and by the failure of two years' crops, a chance of hold- ing on to the possession of their few acres until another harvest; and it was, no doubt, supposed that the distribution of food to their children attending any schools was less liable to abuse or waste than any other mode. This latter point is by no means evident; but, waiving that consideration, it remains to be seen how far the system was efficacious, and whether it did not prematurely exhaust the funds of the Association; which we find ran out early in July, and in conse- quence of which the Treasury were compelled to advance largely to the distressed unions from that period until harvest. The children who attended the various schools consisted of three classes,—those of the tolerably affluent or comfortable farmers, those of the small farmers, (just referred to,) and the children of the cottier or labouring class; the last being the most numerous, and the second class forming probably a third of the whole. Now, the children of the first class did not require this food; although, probably, not a few after a time shared in it, but many more either staid away from the schools or were seriously interrupted in their education by the long daily process of cutting up bread and issuing rations. The children of the third class were already provided for by law, and in practice were almost universally receiving out-door relief with their families. It is, in- deed, slated in the letters of Inspectors, that the Relieving-officers were instructed to strike them off the lists while receiving rations at the schools; but any one con- versant with the enormous and oppressive weight of duties these functionaries had to perform during the winter and spring of 1847-8, must be aware that it was quite impossible for the Relieving-officer, consistently with the proper performance of his business in visiting the houses of multitudes of destitute, attending the Board, &c., to inspect the schools and identify every ragged urchin or shivering little girl with the innumerable juvenile "Pats" and Norrys " of the clans who were clus- tered in the various townLinds and who were all in his books. It is not credible that one-tenth of these were so struck off; and the very reverse of what is stated in the Report of the Association—namely, that "there was less call upon the union funds for the relief of the ablebodied poor in those unions where the relief to the children was more generally extended"—could be shown from the comparison of several unions nearly similar as to population and value. The return No. 5, quoted by the Association, does not exhibit any statement of the numbers of able- bodied receiving relief, and is, besides, inapplicable from the date. An examina- tion of the authenticated tables of the numbers and classes relieved in the months of June and July, compared with that of the children then receiving rations at the schools, will exhibit the real facts. The benefit of the system of school-rations, then, may be considered solely with respect to the class of small farmers and their families. To them it was un- doubtedly a great boon. It might, however, have been extended to them in another manner; and, seeing that their children constituted about one-third of the attendance at the schools, it would follow that nearly two-thirds of the funds ex- pended in this system might have been more usefully appropriated, (say in cloth- ing, of which the want among the Irish peasantry is now extreme,) or husbanded to a later and more trying period for the distressed unions. But, however we may regret what some regard as a misapplication of the re- sources of the British Relief Association, who probably miscalculated the extent of the destitution of 1848, and the necessity that would arise for the greatest amount of assistance just before the harvest, it would add to our regret to find that the honest expression of opinions or publication of truths as to evils accom- panying one of their measures for relief should give pain to men who so zealously undertook the troublesome duties of stewards for the starving and wretched, and who devoted so much of their time as well as money to the work of charity. That certain abuses and evils, however, did exist and attach themselves to the system in question, is undoubted; and if the wisdom of Parliament has failed to devise any absolutely free from such, it need excite no surprise if the humanely- intended project of a gentleman but little acquainted with the social condition of the peasantry of Ireland, was found in practice to be attended with a certain Another writer, like the above, of the highest degree of trustworthiness, ob- serves—" As long as it is taken for granted that there was no alternative but to feed the people in the school-rooms or not at all, every one will infer that the evil was unavoidable. In fact, however, nothing can be more erroneous than such an assumption. The school-rooms were, in most instances, the very worst places that could have been selected for the purpose in each locality What probably misled some hasty observers, was this, that in several schools the children had been fed by the private bounty of the patron or subscribers, and no evil had resulted. But in those instances the food was prepared at the house and brought to the school: it was given only to those who were boat fide regular attendants at the school, actually receiving icstruction there, provided with books, and compelled to come in a cleanly state. It is plain such regulations could not be enforced by the distributors of a public fund. They can put no limits to the numbers, nor make any scrutiny into the objects, character, and condition of the applicants." [Our correspondents most allow us to consider the controversy as now closed, so tar as our crowded columns are concerned, —ED.