Very few people who are descended from families living in Galloway in the 19th century do not have Irish in their blood. My own ancestor came from Ulster about 1825 and settled in Balmaghie parish. In 1837 the government published results of an enquiry into the Irish Poor in the UK. Below is the evidence of several Galloway witnesses as to the terrible conditions many had to endure.

Living Conditions of Irish Emigrants in Galloway, 1836.

STRANRAER. Mr. M'Neel, Collector of Customs at Stranraer.

I can recollect Wigtonshire fifty years. My father was a farmer, and the Irish then regularly came over to harvest; many of them returned to Ireland, and some of them remained; even before 1790, a large portion of the stationary agricultural population was Irish. The proportion has since gradually increased, so that now, throughout the county, I should think that at least three-fourths of the labourers and two-thirds of the entire population are Irish; the native population are mechanics; many of them emigrate to the colonies. They have not competed with the Irish; they thought they could do better, and moved off; many of them have settled in the manufacturing towns, as Glasgow, Paisley, Kilmarnock, Manchester, &c.

The Irish are capital spademen, but are not considered good ploughmen till they are taught. The majority of the ploughmen are still Scotch, the hired ploughman is almost always Scotch. When they first come over, there is a want of physical strength in them on account of the insufficiency of their food in Ireland; when they have been here some time they are better fed and become good workmen. The common rate of labourers' wages in this county is from 1s. 3d. to 1s. 6d. a-day in summer, and from 10d. to 1s. in winter. The Irish have also an advantage here, that they can get ground to set their potatoes in at a very low rate. The Irish are very improvident, and often spend a large portion of their wages in whiskey; this causes a great deal of misery among them. This is their general character.

Their average condition is very decidedly different from that of the native peasantry; they live in worse houses, and have far worse furniture; they have miserable beds, often lie on straw, and are crowded together in small apartments. Their diet is chiefly potatoes, and their clothing is very bad; in general they do not live equally well with the Scotch upon equal wages. In this town the Irish congregate in numbers and do not improve; but in the country they sometimes improve, and many of them become possessors of small crops. They generally settle on some moss side, or in some barren tract, rent small pieces of land, build mud houses, and live miserably; some of them, however, take example from the Scotch and get on.

The natives are preferred for the highest departments of labour, but in the low departments they are superseded by the Irish, and the condition of the labouring population of this country will be assimilated to that of Ireland. The system of subletting and subdividing will not, however, I hope, become so prevalent here as in Ireland. Three years ago I had a farm near Ballantrae, in Ayrshire, (which is now set for £500,) in my own hands - the overseer was the son of an Irishman, the ploughman was a Scotchman, and all the rest of the labourers were Irish. I expended then £200 or £300 annually for several years in making drains, fences, and roads, all which work was done by the Irish.

The contractors in the county almost always employ Irish for any public work. In my younger days the farmers considered it essential to encourage the influx of Irish, particularly in harvest; they have certainly reduced the wages of labour all over the county: there were periods, during the war, when I think but for them the farming labour of the county could not have been done. Wages are very low in Wigtonshire; they are 2d. a day lower than in Ayrshire. About two years ago I was passing from Newtown Stewart to Ballantrae in Ayrshire, and I observed a number of Irish families bivouacking on the road side with their working utensils, and their children about them, and generally asking charity; they had no covering; it was summer time; not one in ten comes now that would have come if the facilities afforded by the steam passage to Glasgow had not existed.

A large sum of public money (about £126,000) has been expended in making a harbour at Portpatrick; nearly all the labourers employed were Irish; at one time there were 600 persons employed, 300 who wrought, by night, and 300 by day; many of them, however, were tradesmen and not Irish. The harbour is unfinished. In general, the Irish are quite indifferent to the education of their children, although there is every access to it in this country. An Irish labourer in my employ had a grandson who could not read; I desired him to be put to school, and agreed to pay the expense: they objected that he had not clothes; I bought a suit of clothes for him, sent him to school, where he remained two or three days, and then left it.

Rev. Mr. Wilson, Minister of Stranraer.

This parish is not assessed; more than £100 a year is annually distributed among the poor, from the church collections and public funds, of which the greatest part goes to the Irish; they are the poorest part of the population. There are also fourteen licensed beggars, all of whom are Irish. I am not aware that any parish in Wigtonshire is assessed, but they are all on the verge of it, on account, I should think, of the pressure of the poor Irish.

Mr. David M'Culloch.

I employ about fifty hand-loom weavers in Stranraer, as agent to Robert Walker's house in Glasgow, in weaving pullicates and ginghams: at present their wages are from 1s. to1s. 3d. a-day, out of which they have to pay a loom-rent of 10d. a-week; about six months ago weavers' wages were as low as 8d. a-day. There are, probably, about 150 hand-loom weavers in the town and neighbourhood, of whom very few are Scotch. They come chiefly from counties Down, Armagh, Antrim, and Derry; not many of them stop here long; when they have been here a few years they go on to Girvan, Maybole, or Glasgow. The Irish generally live by themselves in the outskirts of the town, in low hovels.. They often live in garrets and small places at a rent of 6d. a-week, where they lie on straw, sometimes without blankets or rugs to cover them; often they make stools by placing a piece of wood across two stones: there is a part of this town called Little Ireland, almost entirely inhabited by Irish; some of the houses have been thrown down, and it is now becoming more respectable.

Rev. Richard Sinnot, resident Priest of Wigtonshire, and the Western part of Kirkcudbrightshire.

The Irish are scattered over the whole of Wigtonshire, and the western part of Kirkcudbrightshire; not so many in the latter. There is not a parish in Wigtonshire in which there are not Irish; in fact, they form a large part of the labouring population of the county, both in the country and in town. In some parts of the county, especially those near the coast, most of the common people you speak to have the Irish accent; the Catholics in my flock, either born in Ireland or of Irish extraction, certainly do not exceed 3,000 souls; a large number of the Irish in this county are not Catholics. The Irish have migrated into this part of the country from time immemorial; the number of those who pass through the county has been greatly diminished since the establishment of steam boats on the Clyde. The Irish are mixed up with the native population, and frequently intermarry with them; it is much more frequent for Irishmen to marry Scotch women than the converse: their habitations are for the most part wretched hovels; they often build cabins of turf and stone on the roadside, or on the side of some bog, generally with a small patch of land attached to them: some of them rise to small farmers; there are several examples of this. The appearance of the Irish working population in this part of the country is better than in Ireland; they pay more attention to their dress on Sundays particularly; their habitations are better furnished, and there are none of those above the rank of mere hovels: they are also better fed, and often have a considerable store of provisions in their house; their diet usually consists of potatoes, milk, often porridge, salt herrings, and salted pork, which latter they rear themselves; they sometimes keep the pig in the house. The lower Scotch imitate them in their mode of living; the manners of both are very similar; there is a dislike to the Irish in this county as intruders, as being poor, and also as being in many cases of a different religion, but that feeling is now wearing away: they are, generally speaking, honest and very industrious, but somewhat thoughtless and improvident, at the same time anxious to provide education for their families. They have, however, difficulties to encounter in many schools, where the Presbyterian catechism is taught to all the children; there is no provision whatever for the separate education of Catholic children in this part of the country; almost all the Irish in this part of Scotland are from Ulster, a few from Connaught, and scarcely any from the other two provinces. Generally speaking, they do not in this country marry earlier than the Scotch.

This country is much overrun by Irish beggars, who pass through it on their way to England. Many of the wives and families of the harvest men go about begging, and support themselves by it on their way backwards and forwards. The harvest men often make a sort of tent on the road-side in summer time, and remain there several days and nights. Irish travelling tinkers sometimes do the same.


1. What proportion of the labouring population of Wigtonshire and Kirkcudbrightshire are Irish, or of Irish extraction?
A very great proportion, probably nine-tenths, of the labouring population of Wigtonshire and Kirkcudbrightshire, are Irish or of Irish extraction.

2. Are the Irish scattered over the whole country, or are they chiefly confined to the towns and villages?
The Irish are scattered over the whole country, and are not confined to the towns and villages.

3. Have the native Scotch come in competition with the Irish labourers, or have they left the neighbourhood; if so, to what places have they emigrated?
The Irish have of course nearly altogether displaced the Scotch labourers; but the latter still generally retain the situations of farm ploughmen or cottars, who are engaged by the year, and are more comfortable than labourers depending upon day labour, which is almost entirely engrossed by the Irish. Great numbers of the Scotch have emigrated: many of them to North America, and some to England.

4. Are most of the small farmers, and shop-keepers, and of the artisans of Wigtonshire and Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotch or Irish?
The majority of the small farmers, and shopkeepers, and of the artisans (except, cotton weavers) in Galloway, are still Scotch.

5. Do the Irish obtain the same wages for farm labour as the natives; and what is the common rate of labourers' wages in this part of the country? ,
The Irish are generally ready to work at a lower rate than the natives. The wages of a labourer in summer, 1s. 4d.. to 1s. 6d.; in winter, 1s. to 1s. 2d.

6. Have the wages of farm labourers been diminished, and has their mode of life been reduced, by the settlement of the Irish in this part of the country?
The wages of farm labourers are lower than they were during the war; but they will command, at present, as many of the comforts of life as at any former time. The fall in the rate of labour has not kept pace with the fall in the price of corn.

7. Are wages higher, and does the condition of the peasantry improve in going to the East, in proportion as the number of Irish in the population diminishes?
I believe that wages are higher, and that the condition of the peasantry improves, in going east, in proportion as the number of Irish in the population diminishes.

8. Do many Irish obtain small portions of land in Wigtonshire, and erect mud cabins on them?
The Irish in Wigtonshire inhabit very wretched cabins; but few of them have any land attached.

9. Could the harvest of this part of the country be got in without Irish reapers; and did reapers ever come to this district from the Highlands?
The farmers are now obliged to trust to the assistance of Irish reapers; and it would necessarily be cause of inconvenience and loss were any abrupt change of system to take place. Highland reapers do not come to this district.

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