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Philanthropy in nineteenth-century Ireland by Lisa Lavery

Throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there was a notable increase in society’s involvement in charity and benevolent work. While this trend was not unique to Ireland and historians have also mapped similar activities in England and America, the condition of the Irish poor was distinct because of the dominance of Ireland’s agricultural economy and its rapidly expanding population. Moreover, poverty was exacerbated during the Famine years (1845-1850). Maria Luddy reinforces this stating that ‘there was an increasing number of poor people in Ireland in the pre-Famine period’.[1] However, the standard of living in Belfast stood apart from the rest of Ireland as it was afflicted by poverty associated with industrialisation and a rapidly increasing workforce and population. Alison Jordan highlights the fact that Belfast was more similar to industrial cities elsewhere in the UK than other Irish cities as it ‘had the same form of commercial base or urban class structure’ because of its rapid industrial growth and the development of the linen and cotton industries. [2]

[1] M. Luddy, ‘Religion, philanthropy and the state in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Ireland’ in H. Cunningham and J. Innes (eds) Charity, philanthropy and reform from the 1690s to 1850 (Basingstoke, 1998), p. 148.

[2] A. Jordan, Who Cared? Charity in Victorian and Edwardian Belfast (Belfast, 1993), p. x.

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Lisa Lavery is a graduate of the School of History and Anthropology at Queen's University Belfast. Her research interests include gender and women’s history, particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Her MA dissertation focused on childbirth and pregnancy in Ireland and was entitled, ‘From the time of conception to the delivery of the patient’: pregnancy, childbearing, labour and lying-in in Ireland 1730-1850'. She intends to complete a PhD on a related topic.

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