The Poor Farm in Ireland


I think it was 15 years ago today that I landed in Ireland.  I traveled around for 12 days.  And near the end of the trip I visited a town that my great uncle had been to in the early 1960s.  It was a place that carried the family name.  Since the town name was interpreted as the homestead of the family name, dating back to about 1300, I imagined the family had all originated from there.

 

For me this was the Garden of Eden. The land was holy.  I arrived on a bus, getting off in the middle of nowhere in County Laois.  This was farm country in the Midlands.  And even though I had a place to stay 2. 5 miles from where the bus dropped me off, I had no way of getting there.

 

For the first time since I was 15, I found myself hitchhiking alone.  And I was picked up by a man who seemed close to the age of 90.  Or older.  When I was about of about 6, I had made a trip to Iowa with my grandfather and his uncle who later lived to celebrate his one hundredth birthday on St. Patrick’s Day in the mid-1960s.  If I had not recalled that my father went to his funeral, I would have sworn this was who had picked my up that day in Ireland. 

 

The driver of the car that day not only drove me to the door of where I was staying but he first drove, out of the way, by one of three structure left operating in this homestead.  There was a railroad stop from Dublin and 2 bars, in a town with something like 140 people left.  The rails were now lightly travelled with 3 trains per week stopping from Dublin.  The train station had opened in 1847. 

But the most memorable part of this tour that afternoon was driving by the poor farm that day.   The poor farm that long ago had beeen closed.  But it had been quite active in the 1860s and 1870s.  I never imagined at the time that my relatives might have been in there.   My tour guide spoke like he might have remembered the activity in there.  At the time, I am not even sure I knew what he was talking about that day, and what the meaning of a poor farm was in Irish history. 

 

And I never in my life thought I could end up in a poor farm.  Until this week.  Whenever I think of my Great Uncle Den, which is not all too often, I think of that tour guide that day, and his stories.  Suddenly my compassion for the poor was growing.   

 

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