The Old Age Pension 1908.

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.


“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.


The Night of the High Wind from the Impartial Reporter newspaper.

January 10 1839.  For the last 40 years this country was not visited with so furious a Gale of wind, or one as generally and awfully destructive in its effects, as that which took place on Sunday night last.  At about 10.15 we felt the first symptoms of it from the south and south-east from which it continued to increase in violence until past 12, when it blew a tremendous hurricane from the east; about 3.00 AM in the morning it chopped about to S.S.E. again for  half an hour, after which it flew round ten points of the compass in as many minutes, blowing with terrific force from west by north where it continued until 8 o’clock when it shifted a point or two more northwards: it blew very fresh during Monday until the afternoon, when it lulled and a heavy fall of snow came on which continued all night and part of Tuesday.  A strong frost has since set in.

On my Monday morning the town presented a frightful aspect; the shops were all closed as if death had visited the inmates of each; the streets were covered with broken slates, thatch and rubbish from the different chimneys blown down and the roofs taken of.  An awful extent of damage has been done; windows broken and blown in; trees uprooted; roofs blown off; chimneys thrown down; floors forced in; cattle maimed and killed, and hay and corn blown away.

Providentially we have heard of no human lives lost, except one man who, living near the edge of the lake, went upon the roof of his house during the night to preserve it by putting weights on it, and he himself was blown away and perished in the angry waters.  Mr. Marshall, an inmate at Eden, the residence of the George Rankin, Esq., narrowly escaped with his life, he having been but a few minutes left his room through the entreaties of Mr. Rankin, when a stack of chimneys fell through the roof: it would have crushed him to death!  It would be impossible for us to enumerate in detail the losses sustained, but, we may mention of three houses have been blown down in the Castle lane.  The large ballroom in their rear of Mr. Willis’s hotel, is in ruin, there is scarcely a pane of glass left in the front of the town hall, the roof and window of the Church have been much injured, the Roman Catholic Chapel is partly unroofed and the stone cross shattered to fragments; the greater part of the old distillery of the Messrs. Innis and Armstrong is level with the ground, and their brewery much injured; the massive lead sheeting and roof of the jail was rolled up and stripped off by the wind, like so much tissue paper; £2,000 pounds we learn will not repair the damage sustained by Portora Royal School.  One of the lightning conductors, formed of a thick pole bound to an immense strong bar of iron, in the Castle barrack, was beaten to the earth like a twig.  The sentry boxes were upset in all directions.  There is not a house in the town but has suffered less or more from the effects of the Gale.

Hay and corn are mostly blown away and scattered for miles through the hills: their prospects are most melancholy, may God pity them and assist them under this awful visitation of his wrath.  The Belfast mail, which left this on Sunday night, was upset three times, and we learn that the coach man had his thigh broken in two places.  The Shareholder coach which left this for Dublin on Monday morning had returned the passengers and coach man expecting it to be blown of the road and into the fields.  The mails due here have lost several hours every day since Sunday, the Belfast particularly.  Nearly behalf of Kells is correct burned to the ground.  Part of Navan was also in flames on Monday.  Monaghan has suffered – a dreadful fire has added its horrors to those of the Gale, and the town is nearly depopulated: a party of the 38th marched from this on yesterday morning en route for it to protect the property of the unfortunate sufferers which had been saved from the flames.  Up to the hour of going to press we continue to hear occurrence of the dreadful ravages that have been engender by the storm in all directions which has been one of the most desolating and awful in its consequences that ever visited us.  The foregoing account does not contain a tithe of the damage which has been done.  It would be impossible at present to estimate it, for none have escaped.