The coming of the Old Age Pension was an absolute milestone in the lives of the elderly of that Era. Most of the elderly were in dire poverty and only family affection kept them in the corner of the cabin and huddled up to the fire. Now in receipt of five shillings a week (Out Door Relief from the Workhouse was just one shilling a week) the elderly pensioners were now a valuable asset to the income of the house – more so than they had ever been before.
The Old-Age Pensions Act 1908 was an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom, passed in 1908. The Act is often regarded as one of the foundations of modern social welfare in the United Kingdom and forms part of the wider social welfare reforms of the Liberal Government of 1906–1914. The Act provided for a non-contributory old age pension for people over the age of 70, with the cost being borne by younger generations. It was enacted in January 1909 and paid a weekly pension of 5s a week (7s 6d for married couples) to half a million who were eligible. The level of benefit was deliberately set low to encourage workers to also make their own provision for retirement. In order to be eligible, they had to be earning less than £31. 10s. per year, and had to pass a ‘character test’; only those with a ‘good character’ could receive the pensions. You also had to have been a UK resident for at least 20 years to be eligible and people who hadn’t worked their whole life were also not eligible. Also excluded were those in receipt of poor relief, ‘lunatics’ in asylums, persons sentenced to prison for ten years after their release, persons convicted of drunkenness (at the discretion of the court), and any person who was guilty of ‘habitual failure to work’ according to one’s ability.
The Night of the Big Wind (Irish: Oíche na Gaoithe Móire) was a powerful European windstorm that swept across Ireland beginning in the afternoon of 6 January 1839, causing severe damage to property and several hundred deaths; 20% to 25% of houses in north Dublin were damaged or destroyed, and 42 ships were wrecked. The storm attained a very low barometric pressure of 918 hectopascals (27.1 inHg) and tracked eastwards to the north of Ireland, with gusts of over 100 knots (185 km/h; 115 mph), before moving across the north of England to continental Europe, where it eventually dissipated. At the time, it was the worst storm to hit Ireland for 300 years. The storm developed after a period of unusual weather. Heavy snow, rare in Ireland, fell across the country on the night of 5 January, which was replaced on the morning of 6 January by an Atlantic warm front, which brought a period of complete calm with dense, motionless, cloud cover. Through the day, temperatures rose well above their seasonal average, resulting in rapid melting of the snow.
Later on 6 January, a deep Atlantic depression began to move towards Ireland, forming a cold front when it collided with the warm air over land, bringing strong winds and heavy rain. First reports of stormy weather came from western County Mayo around noon, and the storm moved very slowly across the island through the day, gathering strength as it moved. By midnight the winds reached hurricane force. Contemporary accounts of damage indicate that the Night of the Big Wind was the most severe storm to affect Ireland for many centuries. It is estimated that between 250 and 300 people lost their lives in the storm.
The Night of the Big Wind became part of Irish folk tradition. Irish folklore held that Judgment Day would occur on the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January. Such a severe storm led many to believe that the end of the world was at hand. The Old-Age Pensions Act 1908 introduced pensions for over-70s, but many Irish Catholics prior to the Registration of Births and Deaths (Ireland) Act, 1863 had no birth registration. One of the questions used to establish proof of age was whether the applicant remembered the Night of the Big Wind and of course they all clearly remembered it. Joseph Murphy puts it into verse.
OLD AGE PENSIONERS.
“God save you this morning, my dear old friends,
For you both seem hale and hearty,’
Were the words which I said at the foot of the lane
To Kate and Pat McCarthy.
“God save you avic,” said Pat and Kate,
’Twas your name we just had mentioned,
For we know you’ll explain to us fair and straight
How to look for our Old Age Pensions.”
I said, our faithful friend “The Herald’
Explained the matter clearly,
If I knew how long they were in the world,
And the rate of their income yearly,
I then could tell them how they stood,
When I’d hear how they were stationed;
And. in order that I might do some good,
I would like an explanation.
Scon Pat began to tell his age,
But was inclined to stutter,
Kate begged his pardon at this stage
Till she’d explain the matter.
Kate told me all the days and dates
When both were little babies,
With that characteristic flow of speech—
The birth-right of the ladies.
“I was six mouths owl the ‘Windy Night’
That tossed my father’s dwellin,
And Pat’s my senior just a week
I heard his mother, tellin’;
You know our income is not big
Since Pat’s too frail for diggin’.
I work with fowl, and feed a pig.
And do a little spriggin’.”
I said they just were in the sun,
That I could see no prevention,
When both were nearing seventy-one,
To keep them from the pension,
And told them not to make delay,
While the days were calm and warm,
But to The Office go today
For their Application Forms.
To take their forms to the priest,
And he’d show them how to fill them,
And he’d search the parish books for proof
Of the date when both were children.
The officer would have when round
Their claims investigated,
But they most receive the full amount,
From the facts which she had stated.
They’d each receive a crown a week,
’Twould keep them snug and tidy,
’Twould be for them there, in snow or sleet,
At The Office every Friday
Kate wished a blessing on my way,
And love from all the girls
While Pat said every pension day,
He’d always buy ‘The Herald.’
- Crown = Five shillings.