The Holy Sanctity of Poverty:
Welfare, Charity and the
Sacred Irish Poor
MATTHEW GALLMAN'S recent comparative study of Liverpool and Philadelphia highlighted a significant difference in the 'host' response to the Irish Famine influx. Where the city of brotherly love relied on voluntarism, the 'black spot on the Mersey' pioneered a number of public initiatives in poor relief, public health, policing and other areas of urban policy, some of which were already in place before the Famine crisis.1 This public interventionism, however, added significantly to the weight of the local Protestant establishment, prompting fears that relief and assistance—even for such special cases as the blind—would be accompanied by attempts at proselytisation.2 Hence Catholics in Liverpool campaigned persistently for pluralist religious provision at public expense within the workhouses, industrial schools and other 'pauper' institutions, increasingly inhabited by disproportionately large numbers of poor Irish Catholics. As the ruling Tory-Anglican-Orange formation strenuously opposed any such provision of 'Rome on the rates', Catholics duly pooled their limited resources to construct their own 'welfare' institutions. Although generally staffed by religious orders, this expanding institutional infrastructure was a substantial financial burden beyond the not inconsiderable sums necessarily expended on the foundational parochial structure of mission chapels. However, the competitive logic of sectarianism offered some compensation: it was a source of double pride, for instance, that housekeeping costs were lower but overall
1 Gallman, Receiving Erin's Children.
2Report of the Investigation of the Treatment of Roman Catholics in the Liverpool School for the
Blind. Reprinted from the 'Liverpool Mail' of February 11, 1841, Liverpool, 1841.