Would you pay rent for this hovel?

Our picture of an Irish peasant cottage (SO151) appeared in the Illustrated London News of 9 April 1870, which told of ‘the miserable condition of a number of mud cabins in the principal street of Kildare’.

The dwelling in our picture ‘consisted of a single room, eight feet by ten in size, in which lived a widow, with a grown-up son twenty years of age, another son, of sixteen, and a daughter, of ten years. They had no bedstead or bedding, but slept in their clothes on the bare ground, with a few dirty rags over them. The only furniture was a rickety table and a broken bench, with an iron pot and kettle and two or three cups …

‘Save that it actually has a chimney and a comparatively lofty roof, blackened, however, by a century of smoke, and that it accommodates at night simply a donkey instead of the customary pig, this is about as bad a specimen of an Irish cabin as could be found in any village in the county. There were puddles of water in different places on the mud floor, and the planks of the door very nearly tumbled apart every time it opened or shut. The widow who occupied the cabin, although in rags and with bare legs and feet, was a person of some intelligence, who had a good choice of language, and had taught her children to read, if not to write as well; her idea being “there was nothing like education to get on in the world.” Getting on, from this poor creature’s point of view, was, no doubt, limited to a certain and sufficient supply of food and fuel all the year round.

‘The rent of this hovel of hers …has been increased to 10d a week [about £2 in today’s money]. The Irish peasant may well be dissatisfied with his condition when he has to pay £2 3s 4d per annum for a bare shelter from the elements’. She would also have had to pay rent for land where she could cultivate potatoes, the staple food; the current rate was £7 per annum (about £320 today) for an acre.

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