Labourers and Farm-Workers
Numerous men were
employed as general labourers and farm-workers on the Emo estate. Three
workmen’s wages books covering the years 1887-99 and 1901-09 have survived for
In the years
1897-1909 the number of men employed as regular agricultural labourers ranged
from 7-16 at any one time. Some of the men stayed for the whole period, like
John Dowling, William Coss, G. Dugan and N. Whelan,
while others came and went. Extra staff were taken on at busy times such as the
harvest, when entries record ‘extra hands at potatoes’ or payments of overtime ‘for
threshing’. Young boys were often given seasonal work, sometimes to the detriment
of their schooling. In October 1891, for example, a report on poor attendance
figures at the
The work of the labourer at Emo was varied, as he might work ‘with cows’ one day, and ‘with keeper’ the next. Specific job descriptions mentioned in the wages books include working ‘with weeds and turnips’, ‘at goats’, ‘herding cattle’, ‘cutting rides’, ‘cutting timber’, ‘fencing’, ‘trapping’ and at ‘sand for avenue’.
Demesne workers were often members of the same family, as sons followed their father into the same line of work. Thus, John Dowling’s son worked with him as a labourer, while many members of the Whelan, Christy, Kehoe, Keegan and Dempsey families all worked on the estate at various times. When a labourer became too old for physically demanding work, he sometimes found work elsewhere on the estate – William Coss, for example, retired to become the gate-keeper, while John Whelan became a car-driver.
The total amount paid out to labourers every fortnight ranged from nine or ten pounds to as much as ₤23 16s 6d in September-October 1897, during the harvest. Only one man received a pay rise between the years 1887-1909, William Coss, whose pay rose from 1s/8 to 1s/10 a day. Regular payments to ‘pensioners’ of ₤1 - ₤1/5s suggest that long-term workers were looked after in their retirement. Sick-pay was paid too, for example, when John Dowling Snr. was sick for seven weeks in 1898 he was paid full wages for the period.
As some of the estates men and their families are also listed in the 1901 and 1911 census returns, we know a little more about them. John Dowling, for example, is listed as a 60 year-old agricultural labourer in 1901. He lived in a small house on the estate with his wife and two grown-up children, John, aged 22, who was also a labourer on the estate, and Sarah, aged 20, who was a seamstress. In the 1911 census, now aged 73, John Dowling was still working as a labourer despite his advanced age.
In his twelve years of service between 1897 and 1909 he received no pay rise, yet the Dowling family were comparatively well-off compared to some of the other estates men. At 2s a day, John Dowling Snr. had the highest wage of any of the regular estates men, most of whom received 1/6-1/8 per day. In 1901, John’s family of four lived in a four-roomed house and had their own piggery and fowl house. In contrast, John Whelan, another labourer on the estate, shared a two-roomed house with his relative, Edward Whelan. The two Whelan families numbered 13 people in 1901 (and 18 in 1911), all of whom shared only two rooms!