The word mendicity is the same as mendicancy (i.e. begging), and the Mendicity Institution was originally founded for ‘the suppression of street begging in Dublin’.
The ‘Mendo’ as it is called colloquially was originally founded after a particularly severe winter in 1816 compounded the misery of the poor. Inspired by the work done by philanthropists in Hamburg, Munich, Belfast, and Edinburgh, Dublin businessmen called a public meeting that was held in the Mansion House on 23rd May 1817. The public was told that an organisation such as the one in Edinburgh could save half the amount of 100, 000 spent annually in answering the demands of beggars on the street.
The plan based on models operating in the aforementioned cities, was to support beggars at subsistence levels while training them for simple employment and encouraging good industrious habits, so that they might recover their strength and purpose sufficient to reassert their independence. The revealed law, the Association maintained is that he who will not work, will not eat. It was also held that parents should support their children and adult children should support their aged parents. Every care was taken that the employment of beggars would not interfere with the normal channels of employment and take work away from others.
The Mendicity was only open to people who had normally been resident within the ring of the two circular roads for three months. The intention was that the able bodied could earn enough in the Mendicity over and above what they were charged for their food in order to pay for their lodgings. In order not to break up families there was a girls and a boys school. By the end of 1818 their were 2,930 attending – apart from those working at the various tasks there were 282 children in school, 319 elderly and infirm and 400 younger children. It is important to note that though fever was rampant in the winter 1818-1819 the Institution remained remarkably free from disease, a situation attributed to the improved diet of the mendicants.
Funding was vital and the city was divided into 60 ‘walks’ and collectors were appointed, so that all Dublin’s 12,000 or so houses would be visited and donations requested.
The affairs of the Association were managed by a committee of sixty and by a president, vice presidents, and secretaries – all of whom acted voluntarily. There were many well known people on the original management committee, names that would inspire confidence including a Bewley, a Guinness, a La Touche, a de Vesci, and an Orpen. The patron was the Lord Leutenant, the president was The Lord Mayor, the vice presidents included dukes, judges, archbishops and generals.