The Reproductive Loan Fund in Kilconierin Parish
After the famines of the 1820s surplus charitable donations were provided to loan societies in the counties worst affected.
A micro-credit scheme called ‘The Irish Reproductive Loan Fund’ was then established to provide loans to the industrious
poor. The Kilconickny Fund, serving modern Kilconierin (the civil parishes of Kilconierin, Lickerrig, and Kilconickny)
and wider areas (Loughrea, etc.) was one of seven such associations in Co Galway to make monies available (1838-46).
The borrowings proved ill-timed as the great famine followed and many funds were in arrears long before it was decided
to ‘call in’ the sums in the 1850s. A question which has never been addressed has been the specific reasons behind the loan
defaults. A catch-all generic reason of ‘the famine’ doesn’t address matters and so it is most worthwhile to review and analyse
the break-down of the loan defaulters.
After the British Treasury assumed responsibility for these funds, the status of loans and reasons behind the default was
provided by the local Head Constables. This information has never been collated so a detailed picture of the status of the
borrowers has never been presented. This study seeks to address same with modern Kilconierin chosen as the study area.
Likely mirroring the situation in other east Galway parishes, it is unsurprising that the majority of defaults were in Lickerrig
as, despite having the smallest population, it suffered the highest drop in population in the famine years. By way of
context, in the decade to 1851 the population of the modern parish had fallen from 5,307 to 3,309 (38%). This equated to a
drop of 41% in Kilconierin (1,552 to 915), 48% in Lickerrig (1,191 to 622), and 31% in Kilconickny (2,564 to 1,772).
The chart (figure 1) does though illustrate some surprising findings. Collectively, close to one third (72 people, 29%) of
those who defaulted had perished in the famine years, with approaching a further third (28%) being considered to still be
very poor. More than half of the remaining 43% comprises those who had emigrated; with the remaining 21% being a mix
of those not considered too poor to repay, and individuals of whom no trace could be found.
Analysing the figures further, close to 4 in 5 (41 of 53, 77%) of emigrants went to America, followed by England (8, 15%),
with no destination given for three, and with one person emigrating to Australia. Of those who died, some descriptions are
given e.g. ‘died in poor circumstances’, though the place of death e.g. Loughrea Workhouse is only sometimes referenced.
Descriptions on the circumstance of individuals at the time the local Constables visited them is provided e.g. ‘depends on
the generosity of neighbours’, albeit on an ad-hoc basis. The terms ‘rather comfortable’ and ‘in middling circumstances’ is
provided for those in better circumstances most notably in Kilconierin, with the size of their land-holding sometimes given.
These descriptions provide nuggets for historians and genealogists which are only beginning to be unearthed.
In addition to the modest sample (geographic) size, another limitation of this study is that the whereabouts of 18 individuals
is not detailed so these may be included in any of the first four categories in the chart. One might ask how many of
those emigrating were escaping the burden of debt? - a motivation for emigration rarely explored. And of equal significance,
one might find it surprising that 14% of the Parishioners were deemed to be well capable of repaying their debt.
In conclusion, the study of the Reproductive Fund in Kilconierin demonstrates that drops in population closely correlated
to the extent of defaults in the loan fund. While almost a third of the defaulters had perished in the famine, a sizeable proportion
of borrowers remained and some of these had apparently chosen not to repay. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of
those who emigrated went to the U.S. As records have now been available on-line for wider areas within Galway (see below),
it will be interesting to see if the above trends / findings are replicated elsewhere.
1. The census of Ireland for the year 1851: part I, showing the area, population, and number of houses, by town-lands and
electoral divisions: County of Galway, pp.4.65, H.C. 1852 (1557), xcii, 339 (Dublin, 1852), pp 4-65.
2. ‘Co. Galway. Kilconickny: note books’, Irish reproductive loan fund records - local associations, 1838-1846 (The UK
National Archives - HM Treasury, MS T91/93-T91/95).
3. ‘Co. Galway. Returns to the clerk of the peace’, Irish reproductive loan fund records -county committees and trusts,
1848-54 (The UK National Archives - HM Treasury, MS T91/144A-144B).
4. Lawes, Aidan, ‘The Irish reproductive loan fund and its records’, in Ancestors, xii (2003), pp 48-52.
The Loan Funds On-line
In terms of its value to genealogists and historians, it really is difficult to overstate the potential of the loan funds in the
areas concerned as the details provide an invaluable ‘bridge’ between the tithe and Griffith’s Valuation. Seven associations
in Co Galway benefitted from the Reproductive Loan Fund, namely Ahascragh, Ballygar, Castle Hackett, and Kilconickny
in the east; and Galway City, Clifden, and Oughterard in the west. There were also other funds in operation at this time.
Each borrower, both men and women, supplied their address and sometimes occupation, and each loan was guaranteed by
two sureties (also giving their address) who agreed to pay the loan if the borrower defaulted. For genealogists, this can be
particularly useful in making / confirming connections between families. Monies were made available for farm equipment,
and for spinning wheels and looms etc. The average loan in the Kilconierin sample was £3 (min £1, max £5).
For more on the specifics from your area of the county, visit ‘Find My Past’ under ‘Poverty Relief Loans 1821-1874’
ireland-poverty-relief-loans-1821-1874 . A criticism of the FMP records is that they are not searchable by townland or parish,
at least not at the time of writing. For example, John Hickey’s return for the townland of Dooros in Woodford (where
four out of the five men had emigrated) can only be found by county, and then searching each record.
This Chronicle was created using information originally published in the South East Galway Archaeological and Historical Society Newsletter No. 18
These records are available at Findmypast.ie