'An tOcras Mór' The Great Hunger.



Post Reply
Forum Home > How Each County Was Affected "The Great Hunger" > County Westmeath - An Iarmhí / Co. na hIarmhí

Site Owner
Posts: 1033

Between one fifth and a quarter of the population of 1840s Westmeath, who died or were forced to emigrate because of the Great Famine, will be brought to mind when the National Famine Memorial Day is observed later this year.


Government is encouraging people to hold local events to commemorate the Famine, when the memorial day takes place on Sunday, May 16.


It has also been proposed that public and sporting events observe a minute's silence in recognition of the day, which will be headlined by a commemoration at Murrisk, Co. Mayo, and a parallel event in New York.


In Mullingar, victims are remembered at the Famine Graveyard at Robinstown every June.


However, the announcement by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Éamon Ó Cuív TD, looks set to increase local interest in this unprecedented national tragedy.


Local historian Ruth Illingworth welcomed the Minister's decision to set in stone a date for national Famine commemoration.


"As it takes place on a Sunday, it would be great if there were events in towns and villages across Westmeath," Ruth told the Westmeath Examiner.


"Westmeath was, of course, horrifically affected by the Famine, and between disease, starvation and emigration, the country lost over 20 percent of its population by the end of the disaster.


"In 1849, it recorded the fourth or fifth highest death toll in the country, and over the course of three years, around 15,000 people died here, with more than 20,000 more thought to have emigrated."


The Famine - caused by a number of socio-economic issues, and not solely potato blight - came to Westmeath in the harsh winter of 1845.


"People started dying in numbers here in late 1846, mainly from disease rather than hunger," Ruth continued. "The main workhouses in the county, in Athlone and Mullingar, were packed out.


"They didn't have enough space in Mullingar, which housed about 2,000 people, so they set up a number of ancillary workhouses. One was an old farmhouse at Irishtown, and others included a farmhouse at Rathconnell, a warehouse along the Royal Canal, a disused brewery on Dominick Street, and the old Market House building.


"Even the jail became a workhouse of sorts, and as the Famine got worse, people stole deliberately to get into prison to be fed.


"The conditions in the auxiliary workhouses were deplorable. In one you'd have a couple of hundred kids packed into the one barn, with water coming through the roof.


"They had a tap close at hand, but they couldn't use it, and older men would have to cross fields just to get water."


Food distribution was assisted by soup kitchens, although no stable self-sufficiency was achieved until 1848/9, when a bakery was established at the Mullingar workhouse.




Matters were made worse by the fierce winter of 1846/7, and in 1848 - the year of revolutions in Europe - things worsened with outbreaks of killer disease.


"People did the best they could, but it was inadequate in some ways," Ruth said. "Famine relief committees were set up. Some of them worked efficiently, but in other cases you had the Bishop of Meath, Bishop Cantwell claiming that there were attempts to keep him and the Catholic clergy off these committees.


"But in general, the Protestant and Catholic clergy worked together, and worked well.


"Towards the end of 1846, the weather didn't help. People had no work, and they were moved into crowded workhouses so that they could be seen to be working for their keep.


"The railway didn't arrive in Mullingar until 1848, and by then it was too late."


Cholera and typhus broke out in Westmeath that year, resulting in soaring death tolls. In Athlone's workhouse children developed ophthalmia, often resulting in permanent blindness.


"Cholera hit Mullingar hard, particularly the Blackhall area of the town, where living conditions were awful," Ruth said.


"It was the same at Patrick Street, where you had 14 or 15 people living in mud cabins, to accommodate people coming to the town looking for work."


Outside Mullingar, there were similar scenes of death and devastation. Ballymore lost half its population through emigration and death; a larger village at Killare was deserted, while Delvin, Rathowen, Ballynacargy and the Longford border areas were devastated. Areas such as Killucan and Kinnegad, where land was of better quality, were not as affected by the tragedy.


The political backdrop to the famine in Westmeath was dominated by secret societies such as the Ribbonmen and the Young Ireland Movement, whose revolutionary ideals gained plenty of traction locally.


Thousands of people were forced to leave home to go to Australia, Canada, the United States and Europe. Although most of the poor went to Britain, even slightly more comfortable farmers and landowners were badly affected.


One noteworthy of example of this was the demise of sheep farmers in the Ballymore/Moate area, many of whom emigrated to Argentina, where there was a demand for skilled shepherds at the time.

April 29, 2015 at 9:29 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Site Owner
Posts: 1033

Mullingar, Co. Westmeath


[Records] [Bibliography] [Links]


Mullingar Poor Law Union was formed on 1st November 1839 and covered an area of 392 square miles. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 30 in number, representing its 26 electoral divisions as listed below (figures in brackets indicate numbers of Guardians if more than one): http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Mullingar/

April 29, 2015 at 9:30 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Site Owner
Posts: 1033

A group of people from Strokestown, Co Roscommon will complete a 155km commemorative walk to Dublin on Wednesday afternoon in honour of the 1,490 people from that location who took the same route in 1847 during the Famine.http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/famine-walk-of-155km-retraces-1847-route-to-coffin-ships-1.2184899

They began the walk on Saturday and have been retracing the steps of the then Canada-bound Famine victims through Roscommon, Longford, Westmeath, Meath, Kildare and Dublin, along the tow paths of the Royal Canal.

Their walk will be completed at the Jeanie Johnston tall ship at Custom House Quay, where Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys will launch the official programme for the inaugural Irish Famine Summer School.




This petition seeks your support for a campaign to:

* Persuade relevant authors, editors and website content providers to stop using the word ‘Famine’ for what took place in Ireland between 1845 and 1850, and start using terms such as, "The Great Hunger" or 'An tOcras Mór

PETITION LINK- TO CHANGE THE WORD FAMINE http://www.petitions24.com/when_famine_became_genocide_ireland_1845_-_1850

April 29, 2015 at 9:34 AM Flag Quote & Reply

You must login to post.