There is the tendency of people to presume that modern-day crime are somehow an aberration from the past - how Ireland in the last was a safe country to live in, but society today is breaking down.
It is not true.
Go back in the archives and you will see the same crimes committed in the past as in the present. The weapons may have changed, but the crimes haven't.
The tendency to look back on the past through rose-tinted glasses is a common feature. People in the 1920s thought society in their era was breaking down. People in the 1870s thought the same of their era. So too in the 1850s, and throughout the 18th century, the 17th century and right back.
People always presume 'modern society' so much worse than in the past. It isn't. The only difference is that we have the tabloids hype up crimes in a way that wasn't as obvious in the past.
For example, if someone spoke of an old man being robbed and stabbed to death in house, the reaction of many people would be to think "what is this country coming to?"
Here is a newspaper report - from the Anglo-Celt, a newspaper in Cavan.
The tabloids would have a field-day with such a story. It actually dates from Belturbet on 28th December 1848.The house of James MAGUIRE, an old man of seventy-one years of age, was broken into by four demons in human form, at the midnight hour--and his daughter coming down from the room was stabbed on the arm in three places--the old man was also knocked down and stabbed in four places on the body. The heartless ruffians cried out, "the purse, the purse," and though it was handed to them, in amount £1 10s., together with some little tea and sugar, remaining after their Christmas enjoyment, they ransacked the house, and carried off some portion of their wearing apparel and bed clothes, &c . . . Sub-Inspector GIBBONS, accompanied by Doctor WADE, almost immediately visited the scene of outrage--the latter gentleman with his known ability, probed one of the wounds over the heart of the poor old man, and from it extracted a file of about five inches long, but which, used as a dagger, was separated from its handle in their attempt to murder him. It is thought their victim cannot live, though he still lingers. This outrage was perpetrated near the place where Mr. MOORE's life was attempted.
Here is a story from 1910.
Another story in 1910, taken from the Quarter Sessions, reported“Anne Smith, Painstown, summoned her son, John Smith for threatening and abusive language. – Mr Markey, who appeared for [the] complainant, said her son threatened and abused her and also threatened to burn down her house. The old woman could not go near her own house on account of his conduct . . . A warrant was issued for his arrest.”
Sexual crimes were widespread.“[Mary Cassidy] said that while going to a neighbour’s house with her child in her arms defendant [Brigid Woulfe] threw a can of water over her and struck her on the head with a piece of iron. Defendant had a row with her before – Mrs Brien, a very old woman, stated that defendant had knocked down Mrs Cassidy and when both were on the ground Mrs Woulfe’s husband stood over them to see that his wife got fair play. . . A fine of 5 s (shillings) was imposed, and chairman warned defendant not to interfere with complainant in future.
In the 1940s, a local paper in my area reported how two brothers were accused of taking turns to rape a "feeble-minded girl" (contemporary newspaper language for a woman who was mentally impaired). The case collapsed because the girl (whose age is not stated) had not told her parents immediately, probably due to shock at what had happened, (so the precise date of the alleged crime was not known) and she was not in a fit state to give evidence due to her mental impairment.
Nineteenth century crime rates were certainly high in the pre-famine period. One statistical analysis noted
A House of Commons answer by the Chief Secretary for Ireland reported on one case involving gun crime in the 1880s:“law and order were deteriorating at a rate of almost 3.7% per year, which is more than twice as fast as [the] population was growing. In part this could reflect higher crime registration rates, but other evidence confirms that the country was getting more disturbed and unruly. Regional differences were quite marked; the proportional rate of growth in Leinster was six times larger than in Ulster. The standard errors reflect the sporadic nature of crime: in Ulster and Munster the crime rate fluctuated more violently around the trend than in Leinster and Connaught.
In a measurement of prison committals in Ireland in 1826 to 1838, 190,512 persons were committed to prison, 45,409 from Ulster, 57,916 in Leinster, 50,635 in Munster and 36,552 in Connaught.
Newspapers in the 19th century spoke constantly of sexual violence in and outside marriage, of faction fights, bitter rivalries among neighbours.Persons arrested on suspicion were discharged for want of evidence; but there appears to be no doubt that the house of a farmer named Callaghan was entered and searched by an armed party. Not finding him, they threatened his wife that they would come again and shoot her husband, and they fired several shots in the house.
Reading old newspapers knocks on the head on the idea that Ireland was in the past some sort of idyll that lacked the violence of today. In reality, crime, even very brutal crime, always existed. The technology may have changed, but the existence of crime did not.