Inishail Kirk Session -Poor’s Funds

As mentioned in my previous post, I’ve recently been transcribing the copies of some pages I got on the Inishail Kirk Session records when I was in Scotland late last year.

In this post I’ll focus on what I found while trying to learn more about my 3xgreatgrandfather’s pauper status in 1851. The Kirk Session Records which focused on the Poor’s Funds are enlightening. It appears that mostly the meetings which dealt with the payments to the poor were held twice yearly at a time announced from the pulpit. Funds were collected throughout the intervening period and were supplemented by payment of banns for weddings and use of the mort cloth at funerals.

What is interesting is to see how long some people needed to claim poor relief. It was also enlightening to see just how tough things were for them. In May 1840 there is a record of the interviews in which people applied for support. For me the saddest one was probably the 34 year-old man who had seven children in his family, all under 11 years of age. He had been in “deplorable health” for more than two years as testified by a medical certificate: not long afterwards he applied for a Certificate of Poverty. The tragedy behind that story and the impact on his family is heart-breaking.

Just as tragic were the elderly whose family could not support them because of commitments to their own families: the 85 year-old man who was so severely handicapped by asthma that he “had been unable to earn a peck of meal” for three years and been confined to bed throughout the winter & spring;  a 67 year-old woman who the records state “appears very helpless” or the man who had supported a brother and sister after his father’s death: both of his siblings had been “of infirm mind” since birth. Truly tragic stories!

While it is clear some of them had been allowed to live in their cottages rent-free, sometimes for many years, there are others which refer to the increased rentals as “so exhorbitant” suggesting a move by the landlords to increase rents – a social change of the time. It is apparent from the context of the reports that it was expected there would be a quid pro quo for this parish support: many mention leaving any “subject” (belongings) they owned to the poor on their death.

There were two levels of support for the poor: one by cash and one by donation, which I assume was a payment in kind. I need to do more reading around this topic to understand it better.

Among those who received payment in kind for some years, were my 3xgreat grandfather and his wife, Duncan & Ann McCorquodale. He first appears in the records in 1841 under his name only, then in 1844 both names are mentioned in receipt of donations. This continues until March 1847. The next time Duncan appears is in December 1848, and it is his name listed. I knew his wife was not there in the 1851 census but this lets me narrow down the time of her death to an 18 month period: 1847-48. I can find no reference to him beyond 1850 though the census is clear he was still alive in 1851 and in receipt of an allowance. By 1861 a Donald McCorquodale is living in the same small place, but there is no evidence to suggest they’re directly related. As each six-monthly Poor’s Fund report is tabled by the Kirk Session it becomes evident when people die, or move to a different part of the parish –all excellent information for family history.

Another interesting report occurs in December 1844 when the Kirk Session appeals to the Heritors (broadly speaking the local landowners) for additional funds as the “state of the Poor is so urgent & distressing”. It seems logical to assume that this was because of the failure of the potato crop –the same Potato Famine which played havoc in Ireland also had an impact in the Highlands.

These documents are only available at The National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh and are reference CH2/968/1.

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