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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: May 2018

14 - Attitudes and Responses to Vagrancy in Ireland in the Long Nineteenth Century

from Section 4 - Manifestations of Crime and Violence

Summary

In August 1909, Peter Walsh petitioned the Lord Lieutenant to reduce his sentence of one month in prison on vagrancy charges. Walsh, who was in his late fifties, had been sentenced at Stewartstown petty sessions in County Tyrone in early August having been found guilty of wandering abroad and lodging in an unoccupied building. Walsh insisted that he was innocent of any offence and that he had in fact been a victim of violence. He stated that he and his wife had found themselves ‘quite unprovided for … and having no money to pay for lodgings and the nearest Union [workhouse] six miles [away], it became late on us and we did not know what to do’. When a man approached them, they asked him whether he knew of ‘any empty old shed that we could stay in until daylight’. On being told that there were empty sheds further down the road, they went into one to sleep; not, he stressed, ‘to do harm’. They had not been there ‘more than one hour when the door was knocked in by men with sticks; one man had a billhook in his hands; these accompanied [by] three of the RIC, and before we got leave to state our case the whole lot attacked us with violence. They broke my box fiddle and bow that I had to live by and they brought us to the lock-up that night’. Walsh thus presented himself as a hapless victim of circumstance, as well as police brutality; someone who was ignorant of and inexperienced in seeking aid (‘we did not know what to do’) but also as someone who had the means of supporting himself (the box fiddle). Presiding magistrate Charles Logan, however, rejected Walsh's version of events, stating in his comments on the petition that Walsh was one of five tramps who had been reported to be sleeping in an outhouse belonging to Charles Anderson, a substantial farmer and land agent to the earl of Castlestewart. Ever since a recent murder in the locality, ‘the people residing on the outskirts of the town have a terrible horror of tramps’, he explained, and if the police had not arrived the party would have received ‘rough treatment’.