Exhuming insights: what burial records can tell us about the aged poor and emerging welfare provision in Limerick City, 1875 to 1925

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Buckley, Margaret
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University College Cork
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This study is centred on the over 60s in Limerick City between 1875 and 1925. It is based on information gleaned from in-depth analysis of burial records with a focus on life expectancy. It then progresses to an exploration of the emerging welfare state and social policy initiatives, with the evolving recognition of old age and older people as a welfare category providing the contextual framing. It specifically examines the impact of the Old Age Pension (1908) on the lives of older people in Limerick. The work was guided by two key research aims. Firstly, to search for possible explanations for observed increased life expectancy of older people. Secondly, to develop an original and replicable methodology, involving the practical application of both inductive and abductive logic, and the use of burial records, in order to evaluate the impact of social policy on life expectancy. The marked increase in life expectancy for people aged 60 and over in Limerick City is the overarching finding. This increase, beginning in 1911, was a real and sustained increase. The increased life expectancy of older women, both in absolute terms and relative to that of men is of particular note. Data from the workhouse in Limerick, combined with a review of political debate and social commentary at the time, indicates that the Old Age Pension was a significant contributor to the observed increases in life expectancy. A geographical analysis, comparing variations in life expectancy between relatively poorer and wealthier areas, indicates that the Old Age Pension may have helped to narrow the gap in life expectancy between the wealthy and the poor. This study makes a number of contributions to social policy scholarship and research and to the history of Irish social policy in particular. These contributions arise from the originality of using burial records as a data source to evaluate specific social policies; critical insights arising from the methods employed; elucidation of the opportunities and challenges in interpreting burial records; and explication of the importance of accumulating knowledge from multiple sources in the course of research.
Ageing , Limerick , Old age pension , Burial records , Irish social policy , History of Irish social policy
Buckley, M. C. 2020. Exhuming insights: what burial records can tell us about the aged poor and emerging welfare provision in Limerick City, 1875 to 1925. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.