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.


John Reade, Irish Canadian Poet.

John Reade. 1837-1919

Although born in Ballyshannon, John Reade’s parents, Joseph Reade and Mary John Reade came from Pettigo. He emigrated to Canada in 1856 where he became one of the best known Canadian poets of the latter half of the 19th century.  At his death he was described as “The Dean of Canadian Literature.” He became general editor of the Montreal Gazette and held this position for the rest of his life. In 1870 he published a much acclaimed volume of verse entitled “The Prophecy of Merlin and other Poems”. This volume made his name in Canada. He was a wonderful linguist and translated poetry from Latin, Greek, Italian and French. He died unmarried and is buried in Montreal. John Reade took a keen interest in Canadian politics and fervently supported the idea of Canadian Confederation.John ReadeHe never forgot Ballyshannon and this poem about the town was in “Treasury of Canadian Verse” by Theodore H. Rand of Toronto in 1910 and in many other collections of verse. It is a lovely pen picture of Ballyshannon as he remembered it in the middle of the 19th century.


Here is the old church.  Now I see it all –

The hills, the sea, the bridge, the waterfall.

The dear old sleepy town is still abed

Although the eastern clouds are tinged with red.

And everything is as of this graveyard still,

Except the soldiers at their morning drill,

And in the Pool a fishing boat or two

Belated, homeward pulled with weary oar,

And the dim curlews on the distant shore,

And the lark soaring through the ether blue.

And now the lazy smoke curls through the air –

I will go down and see who tenant there,

And meet old friends.  “First, wanderer, look around

And see what friends of thine are underground!



The mountains gather round thee as of yore,

O holy lake, across whose tranquil breast,

Was borne the saint who to the farthest west

Brought the sweet knowledge that transcends all lore.

There on the islet at the chapel door

The penitents are kneeling, while along

There flows the mystic tide of sacred song

To where I stand upon the rugged shore.

But now there is a silence weird and dread –

And utter loneliness is in my heart.

It came to seek the living but the dead –

This is their welcome.  Slowly I depart,

Nor read the name beneath a single cross –

He still is rich who does not know his loss.



There is the schoolhouse, there the lake, the lawn;

And there, just fronting it, the barrack square;

But of all those I knew not one is there –

Even the old gatekeeper – he is gone.

Ah, me! Ah me!  When last I stood upon

This grassy mound, with what proud hopes elate

I was to wrestle with the strength of fate

And conquer!  Now – I live and that is all.

Oh! happier those whose lot it was to fall

In noble conflict with their countries foes

Far on the shores of Taurie Chersonese!

Nay, all are blest who answer duty’s call,

But – do I dream our wake?  What ghosts are these?

Hush, throbbing heart!  These are the ghosts of those.



Oh!  what could wake to life that first sweet flame

That warmed my heart when by the little bay

On blissful summer evenings I lay

Beneath our thorn-bush, waiting till she came

Who was for me far more than wealth or fame,

But yet for whom I wished all fair things mine,

To make her, if she could be, more divine

By outer splendour and a noble name.

Now I may wait in vain from early morn

Till sunset for the music of her feet.

And yet how little change has come upon

This fairy scene her beauty made so sweet!

It weareth still the glory of her smile.

Ah!  If she were but here a little while.