Conditions in 1841 (Life in County Cavan)

Probably while in his mid-twenties, Peter married Mary ?. Mary had likely grown up in Scrabby parish as well, in a similar circumstance as Peter. Their son Patrick was born about 1815. Other children born between 1816 and 1827 were Mary, Michael, Ann and Thomas Dowd. Assuming that Peter and Mary followed the custom of naming children after their own parents; Patrick, Michael, Thomas, Ann and Mary were the names of our earlier Dowd ancestors.

As a remnant of the Penal laws, some of which were still enforced during his childhood, Peter would not have attended school. But later records show that at least Peter's sons could read and write, although it is not clear whether they attended formal schooling in Ireland. The family spoke in both Gaelic and English.

Social conditions in 1841
Census enumerations had been taken in Ireland in 1821, 1831 and 1841 and would have given interesting snapshots of the Dowd's life in Ireland. Unfortunately, the Public Records Office in Dublin was destroyed in a bombing in 1922 and most of the Irish census records were burned. Some scant returns exist for the 1841 census of Cavan County but none for the parish of Scrabby. A record of the neighboring Killeshandra parish (just north of Scrabby) did survive. Conditions of Killeshandra would have been similar to those in Scrabby so a study of this census return gives an insight to the lives of our Dowd ancestors in Ireland.

In the year 1841 Peter was a fifty year old farmer. His son Patrick was twenty-six, married with two young children. His daughter Mary was also married, but had no children. Peter's younger children, Michael, Ann and Thomas were teenagers, Thomas being just fourteen years old. The family probably all lived together in the same dwelling. Life in Ireland was relatively good from 1820-1840 as is evident in the large population growth recorded in this period. In 1821 when Peter and Mary were just starting their family, the population of Cavan was 195,000. Because of larger family sizes and lower mortality the population had risen to 250,000 by 1841.
As mentioned earlier, land in the southwest part of Cavan was of poorer quality so fewer people lived there. The total population of Killashandra parish in 1841 with its 98 townlands was 12,539, just 5% of Cavan's total population. Fifty percent of Killashandra parish was under twenty years old. In rural areas the average age for a man to marry was twenty-seven, while in the towns the age was slightly lower. The Dowd children seemed to marry well below this average indicating that they may have lived in towns rather than in rural areas in the 1830s/40s. The average number of children per family in rural areas was 3.9 and 3.2 in the towns. Peter Dowd's five children would have been considered a larger family which hints that he lived in a rural area during their births (1815-1827).

With only half of its population over twenty years old, just 57% of the residents of Kilashandra parish were employed. Only seven percent (867 men) actually operated a farm. The most common occupation, making up 12% of the population, was laborer on those farms. These were either the sons of farmers or hired helpers. The Dowds were most likely in this group. Laborers were paid between 10 "old pence" and 1 shilling [$11.00] per day.

Farmer bringing potatoes to market, Pictorial Times

After laborers, spinning was the next largest occupation and was the principle past time of the women and girls of the parish. Servants made up the next group, many of whom were teenage boys who resided at the household of their employer. Almost 4% of the population was employed as house-keeper which, after spinner, was the major occupation of women and girls. Other occupations, in much smaller numbers included weavers, shoemakers, tailors, stone-masons, bonnet makers, butchers, coopers, innkeepers, shopkeepers and even fifty-three persons reported their occupation as "beggar".

Just over 1,500 persons of Kilashandra reported themselves as a "student". It was more likely for children in the towns, rather than those in the countryside, to attend school. The return shows that half of the population could read, but most of these could not write. We know from later records that Thomas and Patrick Dowd could read and write, but it is possible that they learned to read and write after coming to America.

Six percent of the Kilashandra was over sixty years old. Because of the high infant deaths, the average age at death was twenty-nine. It appears that the living conditions were better in the countryside as the average age of death was higher there. From 1831 to 1841 just over 1,500 people had died in the parish. The infant mortality rate was high - with over one in three deaths from zero to five years of age. Among infants, measles and hives were the biggest killers. Tuberculosis or "consumption" was the most common killer for the rest of the population. Two residents of the parish had been murdered in 1841. The census return also reported that over the previous ten years, 360 people (3%) of the parish had left for America, a rate "much lower than the rest of Cavan County".




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