'An tOcras Mór' The Great Hunger.



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Forum Home > History Of The Irish "The Great Hunger" > Accounts of the famine in various counties

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County Mayo was one of the counties to suffer most and in commemoration the following article was included in a report from Mayo County Council.


The first reports of blight appeared in September 1845. For one third of the country's population, the potato was the sole article of diet. In County Mayo it was estimated that nine tenths of the population depended on it. Any other crops or farm animals a smallholder had, went to pay rent. A potato famine was a great calamity. However, the damage to the crop in 1845 was only partial and most had enough to get through that winter. Government relief measures and local charity also helped. 1846 brought disaster. Most of the crop was destroyed by the blight, particularly in the west. In August, The Telegraph newspaper in Castlebar reported:


'The dreadful reality is beyond yea or nay in this county. From one end to the other the weal has gone forth that the rot is increasing with fearful rapidity. We regret to say no description of potatoes have escaped. One thing is certain, the staple food of the people is gone: and the Government cannot too soon exert themselves to make provision to provide against certain famine'.

April 13, 2010 at 4:32 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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As the death toll mounted, the countryside was seized with panic and despair. There were mass gatherings throughout the county where lamentations went out to landlord and government. One such public demonstration was held in Westport in August 1846. The Telegraph reported:


'About mid-day some thousands of the rural population marched into town to have an interview with the Most Noble the Marquis of Sligo: he talked with them: deplored the visitation with which God had afflicted the land: told them he would instantly state their condition to the Government, in order to obtain them relief; and that as to himself, he would go as far as any landlord in the country to redress the grievances of his tenantry. The Noble Marquis assured them that no exertions of his should be spared to obtain for them, from Her Majesty's Government immediate employment'.


As a relief measure, the government imported large quantities of maize from America which became known as 'Peel's brimstone' because of the ill effects it had on the digestive system. Local relief committees were established. Under the Poor Law Act of 1838, Mayo was divided into five areas or unions which administered relief: Ballina, Ballinrobe, Castlebar, Swinford and Westport. Each union was required to maintain a workhouse where local paupers could be fed and housed.


Workhouses soon became overwhelmed by numbers seeking admittance and many starving people were turned away. Relief schemes introduced in 1846 included giving employment on public works such as road making, breaking stones, drainage works, pier and bridge building. The Corrib to Mask canal was one such scheme. Men were paid 8 to 10 pennies a day, while women and children got 6 pennies. Some unscrupulous overseers favoured relatives in granting employment, often at the expense of the most needy. Gaining employment did not guarantee security. In February 1847 the Tyrawly Herald reported an inquest at Coolcran:


'The deceased was employed at the public works, and on Saturday morning he went to the hill of Gurteens to meet the pay clerk where, in company of other labourers, he remained until night, but no clerk making his appearance, the others went off and he remained behind. Having got quite weak, he requested a girl who was passing to tell his wife to come and meet him, and upon the wife's arriving at the place, she found him dead. A verdict of "death from starvation" was returned'.

April 13, 2010 at 4:32 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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Such reports were common. Great work in helping the poor came from many organisations and individuals at home and abroad. Clergy of all denominations were prominent in relief measures. The Society of Friends (Quakers) opened soup kitchens in many areas, distributed seed and also clothing, as many people were in rags, having pawned whatever clothing they had. At Christmas in 1846, the rector of Crossmolina received a donation with the following note:


Rev. Sir - We the children belonging to the Moulton National School, in the Parish of Davenharm, (Cheshire) having heard from our beloved patroness, Mrs Harper, of the distress that is so prevalent in our sister Island, have given up our annual treat to the relief of our suffering sisters in Ireland; We humbly trust that our offering, (small as it may appear) will be accepted by those who have kindly undertaken to alleviate the sufferings of our brethren.

In the spring of 1847, The Mayo Constitution reported:


The preparations for the tillage of the Iand has been completely overlooked. There has not been 100 acres prepared for seed in this county by 'the poor farmers'.


After two successive years of blight, many people chose to eat whatever seed they had rather than risk planting. Ironically in 1847, there was no blight, but there was no crop either. 'Black 47' saw the advent of fevers such as typhus which rapidly spread through the weakened population. Workhouses were crammed with fever patients. Auxilary workhouses were opened and fever sheds erected. Dr Daly reported from Newport in May 1847:


'Fever, dysentery and diarrhoea are greatly on the increase, beginning with vomiting, pains, headache very intense; coming to a cnsis in about seven days, relapsing again once or twice, from which death occurred through mere debility or diarrhoea, caused and kept up by bad food, principally Indian meal, supplied to them in small quanitities, and which they invariably swallow after only a few minutes boiling and sometimes cold and raw. The greatest mortality is among the labourers, men and women, on public roads, in cold, wet, boggy hills'

April 13, 2010 at 4:33 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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In March 1847, a large body of starving people gathered in Louisburgh seeking assistance from the relieving officer. He informed them that they would have to apply to the Board of Guardians who were to meet next day at Delphi Lodge, ten miles away. Having spent the night in the open, they proceeded on foot to Delphi. When they reached Delphi, the Board were at lunch and could not be disturbed. When they finally did meet with them, assistance was refused. That day it rained and snowed and there was piercing wind. On the return journey to Lousiburgh, many perished.


In June, 1847, The Mayo Constitution reported that fever and dysentery were committing ravages in Ballindine, Ballinrobe, Claremorris, Hollymount, Ballina, Westport and Belmullet.


Many who cared for the sick and hungry caught fever themselves. In April 1847, The Telegraph reported the death of Rev Patrick Pounden in Westport of fever, caught in the discharge of his sacred duties, and rendered fatal by the exhaustion of mind and body in the course of his unremitting labours for the relief of the poor and needy - the famishing and the dying - in his extensive district'. In September Dr Lavelle of Shrule died of fever.


The starving sick crowded into towns in the hope of securing help. The Telegraph reported the situation in Westport in September.


'From the town to the Quay, on the Workhouse line, the people are lying along the road, in temporary sheds, constructed of weeds, potato tops . . . . on the road to Rosbeg, similar sheds are to be met with, with poor creatures lying beneath them. On the Newport line, the same sickening scenes are to be encountered'.

In the area around Shrule, the Reverend Phew described how


'about three or four hundred of the most destitute have crawled to Ballinrobe every Friday for the last month, seeking admission to the workhouse or outdoor relief and though they remained each day until night, standing in wet and cold at the workhouse door, craving for admission, they have got no relief'.


People weakened by hunger and fever were unable to give proper burials to dead neighbours and relatives. The Tyrawly Herald described the situation at Leigue Cemetery in Ballina:


'in some places the graves are so shallow that portions of the coffins are visible above ground'.

Often coffinless bodies were carried through streets for burial. Workhouse dead were buried in mass graves. Some dead were buried where they died, in fields, on the side of the road. Often to avoid contracting fever, neighbours simply tumbled a victims cabin around the body.

April 13, 2010 at 4:34 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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The Landords

At the beginning of the famine in 1845 and 1846 many landlords reacted with compassion, some reducing rents. Even Lord Lucan Photobucket   involved himself in relief measures but by 1848, he was enforcing wholesale evictions of tenants unable to pay rents on his lands around Castlebar and Ballinrobe. Equally infamous was Sir Roger Palmer who owned 90,000 acres in Mayo. In July 1848, The Telegraph reported how


at Islandeady his 'crowbar invincibles', pulled down several houses, and drove forth the unfortunate inmates to sleep in the adjoining fields. On Thursday we witnessed the wretched creatures endeavouring to root out the timber of the houses, with the intention of constructing some sort of sheds to screen their children from the heavy rain falling at the time. The pitiless pelting storm has continued ever since, and if they have survived its severity, they must be more than human beings'.

April 13, 2010 at 4:38 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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In contrast, other landlords like George Henry Moore,  Photobucket  were more caring. In June 1849, Fr James Browne, PP of Ballintubber and Burriscarra wrote:


'I never heard of a single tenant being evicted, either by himself or his agent; he sent over from London at an early stage of the famine, a sum of £1,000 for the poor on his estates, as a free gift, besides orders to his steward to give a milch cow to every widow on his property'.

The potato failed again in 1848 and there was partial failure in 1849. For many, emigration had become a means of escape. By 1851, it is estimated that one million Irish people had died and another million had emigrated, many leaving from Mayo ports for England, America and Australia. The 'Elizabeth and Sarah' sailed from Killala in July 1846 for Quebec with 276 passengers. By the end of the voyage, 8 weeks later, 42 persons had died due to overcrowding, lack of food and water and insanitary conditions. Such voyages were common.


Over the period 1841-1851, the population of County Mayo fell by 29% from 388,887 to 274,499. Emigration became a long term legacy of the famine with each successive census showing a steady decline in the population of County Mayo to a low of 109,525 in 1971

April 13, 2010 at 4:40 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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.Swinford District Hospital, the former Union Workhouse for Swinford. When the Swinford Union was formed in 1840 the assistant commissioner Joseph Bourke acquired six acres of land for £18.00 annual rent from William Brabazon. The workhouse was officially opened in 1846 and was in use up to 1926. It was opened at the height of the Great Famine in 1847 when hundreds flocked here for relief and shelter. During these years disease was rampant, people were dying so fast from starvation and fever, that the grave was left open to receive corpses. The site of the Swinford Workhouse Mass Grave, which is one of the best preserved in the country is at the rear of the present day District Hospital. A plaque was erected in the 1960's, when the Mass Grave was restored to the memory of the 564 victims of the Great Famine buried here.Photobucket

The end...

April 13, 2010 at 4:42 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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.The Great Famine in Galway

While Galway was by no means the worst hit area during the famine, it did suffer its share of disease, starvation and death. Thousands died making the gruelling walk to the ports, many of them without even being accorded the most basic acknowledgment, a marked grave. Many towns and villages shunned these people for fear of disease, terrified at the daily sights they witnessed entering their community. It was commonplace to find bodies lying in ditches along the side of the road, some with grass-stained mouths bearing testament to their desperation. It was once said of Rahoon that no language could express the ghastly suffering of the poor and destitute of this district during the famine. It was reported that '…On every side nothing but cries of death and starvation are heard. The poor are literally dropping on the public highways from hunger.'

April 13, 2010 at 8:53 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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Unforgettable scenes of human misery were also witnessed in other surrounding areas. There were reports of bodies of women and children lying in ditches along the Dangan and Barna roads. One of the women found on the Dangan road was Mary Commins, who died while making her way to the workhouse. Another lady named Ms Lawless from Rahoon collapsed from starvation at Taylor's Hill. Despite the best efforts of the Dominican Nuns, it was too late, she died. The Galway Mercury declared that her name was, 'added to the list of victims sacrificed to the insane starvation policy of Lord Russell and Sir Randolph Ronth. Another human being has been thus sent to great account by these heartless statesmen.'


It also stated the famine was doing its deathly work and that 'hour by hour our fellow-citizens are sent to their last earthly resting place, the grave.' Another particular case was that of Pat and Bridget Duffy, a brother and sister who lived near Spiddal. The only 'food' that they could find during the days prior to their deaths was 'sea-grass and sea-weed.' Another Spiddal man, Mark Murphy attempted to walk from Spiddal to Galway in January 1848. He was in such a weakened state that death overcame him on the road near Barna.


The Galway Workhouse had opened on Newcastle Road on 3 March 1842. It was the same year as the food riots in the town. The first person admitted was an old and infirm man, who died shortly afterwards. It was designed to cater for 800 inmates, however, by January 1847 there were 1,143 destitute people recorded there. The number of deaths averaged between 25 and 30 people per week.

Conditions in the workhouse were deliberately harsh to deter any 'able-bodied' poor from relying on the system. Husbands were separated from their wives and children were separated from their parents. They also had to surrender their clothing and wear a distinctive workhouse uniform.


The treatment in the workhouse was in many ways similar to prisons, leaving many inmates feeling that they were being punished for the crime of poverty. The conditions also led to depression among adults and children alike. While there were many well-meaning measures, such as education for children and the appointment of doctors and chaplains, most workhouses were run on a shoestring budget, causing these benevolent gestures to fall well short.


Another building used to house the poor during this time was the fever hospital on Earls Island, opposite the New Cathedral, close to Beggar's Bridge. According to some sources, inmates from the fever hospital and the workhouse would beg for food or assistance on this bridge, hence the name.

April 13, 2010 at 8:56 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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In the small parish of Bohermore at least five people per day perished. A local priest said people were trying to live on nettles and other wild plants. Even the Claddagh fishing village did not survive the disaster, as contagious diseases knew no boundaries.


A soup kitchen was set up in the Claddagh in 1847 to help elevate the suffering of this 'brave, worthy, honest race, simple-hearted and affectionate people,' who were now in extreme poverty. Donations were also requested for the Claddagh Cook House. Most of their furniture, bedding and clothing was already sold off for food. In one small 'wretched hovel', three emaciated families were found huddled together with only rags to protect them from the bitter cold.

Even in these terrible conditions, the charity of the Claddagh people shone through, as amongst them was a poor blind woman to whom they had given refuge. Cholera struck the Claddagh in 1849, making no distinction between young or old. There were so many children dying, it proved too difficult to record all of their names. The cemetery books simply recorded the number of children who died on a particular day. The question often asked regarding the famine in the Claddagh and indeed Connemara is why did the people not eat fish? It seems that the erring shoals had moved some 30 or 40 miles offshore, far out of reach of the small fishing boat. Even when they were closer to shore, many of the Claddagh fishermen did not have the means to fish for them, having already pawned their equipment to purchase any available food.

As the famine progressed, desperation set in among the poor and attacks on food stores and food transports were commonplace. On 7 May 1847, a group of people attacked a consignment of food at Eyre Square, while a group of women attacked a cart in Suckeen and made off with a large sack of flour. Three of the women were later arrested. A large 'mob' assembled at the stores of H. Comerford and forced the entrance, but did not do any damage. A troop of the Seventh Hussars and a company of the Forty-ninth Regiment were deployed to support the police and patrolled the streets to 'protect' the food from the starving. Nevertheless, desperation forced people to continue to risk all to secure a means of staying alive.


In October of the same year, two carts of flour were 'plundered' near Renmore House, the residence of P.M. Lynch. The local authorities were dreading the oncoming winter and reported that the government was doing little to alleviate the problem. A few months later, in January 1848, Lynch's son, Marcus became a victim of the famine when he contracted fever and died.


Troops were also deployed to aid with evections around the county. One report in June 1848, stated that a troop of Scots Greys were sent out from Loughrea to over-see the demolition of ten houses at Grange. The tenant's only option was to make their way to the poor house.

April 13, 2010 at 8:59 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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Famine in Kerry

Emigration and the Decline in Population in Kerry: 1841-1851


Famine Emigration: "For many the only alternative to disease and starvation, and the only option to eviction from their tenant lands, was emigration. The Passenger Act of 1847 was passed and it granted each emigrant 10 cubic feet and a supply of food and water. Realistically captains didn't obey this act and many people starved or died of disease in cramped quarters aboard the emigrant ships. An estimated one and one-half million Irish emigrated from 1845 to 1851, upwards of 30-45% dying in the "coffin ships" on their journey or shortly after their arrival in their new home. In 1846, the ship fare from Ireland to Quebec was about 6 pounds for a man, his wife, and 4 children. The fare to NY was about 21 pounds. (source: Magnus Magnusson, 1978. Landlord or Tenant?" (A View of Irish History).


Kerry suffered a drop in population of 19% between 1841 and 1851. In 1845-1848 the peak years of the Great Famine, Kerry lost about 30% of its population to death and emigration, with an excess mortality rate of +15%. Most of the emigration from the county took place in the later decades of the nineteenth century and in the twentieth century; in the 125 years from 1841 to 1966, the population fell by 58%. Emigration from Kerry began on a large scale circa 1845, then mainly to the east coast of the USA. Later emigration tended towards UK with a peak in 1940-60 period. Places to which people went include Springfield, Mass., Boston, Birmingham, London. Deportation to Australia and Tasmania in 1840-1900 period accounts for most of those of Irish extraction there.

April 13, 2010 at 9:04 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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"Flight From Famine"


by Donald MacKay


"My hand trembles as I write," said William Bennett on his six-week journey through western Ireland. "The scenes of human misery and degradation we witnessed still haunt my imagination, with the vividness and power of some horrid and tyrannous delusion, rather than the features of a sober reality. We entered a cabin. Stretched in one dark corner, scarcely visible, from the smoke and rags that covered them, were three children huddled together, lying there because they were too weak to rise, pale and ghastly, their little limbs - on removing a portion of the filthy covering - perfectly emaciated, eyes sunk, voice gone and evidently in the last stage of actual starvation. Crouched over the turf embers was another form, wild and all but naked, scarcely human in appearance. It stirred not, nor noticed us. On some straw, sodden upon the ground, moaning piteously was a shrivelled old woman, imploring us to give her something - baring her limbds partly, to show how the skin hung lose from the bones. Abover her on something like a ledge, was a young woman, a mother I have no doubt, who scarcely raised here eyes in answer to our enquireies but pressed her hand upon her forehead in a look of inutterable anguish and sorrow.


"Visiting Kenmare, Bennett wrote, "The poor people came in from the rural districts in such numbers, in the hopes of getting some relief, that it was utterly impossible to meet their most urgent emergencies, and therefore they came in literally to die in the open streets, actually dying of starvation within a stone's throw of the inn."



by John O'Connor


Workhouses in Kerry:

Listowel, Tralee, Dingle, Killarney, Cahirciveen, Kenmare


"WS Trench has left an eye-witness account of conditions in one part of the country in 1849:


When I first reached Kenmare in the winter of 1849-50, the form of destituiton had changed in some degree; but it was still very great. It was true that people no longer died of starvtion; but they were dying nearly as fast of fever, dysentery, and scurvy within the walls of the workhouse. Food there was now in abundance; but to entitle the people to obtain it, they were compelled to go into the work house and 'auxiliary sheds', until these were crowded almost to suffocation. And although outdoor relief had also been resorted to in consequence of the impossibiltity of finding room for the paupers in the workhouses, yet the quantity of food given was so small, and the previous destitutuon through which they had passed was so severe, that nearly as many died now under the hands of Guardians, as had perished before by actual starvation.


I spent six weeks in Kerry; and having completed an elaborate report describing the past an preasent condition, and probably future of the estate, I forwarded it to Lord Lansdowne. The district of Kenmare at that period - January 1850 - was not a in a desirable condition. 'The famine', in the strict acceptation of the term, was then nearly over, but it had left a train behind it, almost as formidable as its presence." Lansdowne Estate Assisted Emigration


" On 5 Nov 1847 a crowd of destiture people marched on the workhouse at Tralee carrying a black flag marked 'flag of distress', declaring they would enter the workhouse by force. They had been deprived of outdooor relief of a 'halfpenny a day' by the Guardians, 'because the Board's finances could not bear even so small an allowance.' They succeeded in breaking down the main gate. Police and troops were called out and the people were forced, after a struggle, to depart."


"by autumn 1846, the full disaster of the failure of the potato crop became apparent. Having endured the partial failure of 1845 and the hungry summer months of 1846, people looked at their blackened and rotting crops and realised that starvation stared them in the face:


'The desolation which a sudden failure of the staple food of the people, in a remote valley like this (Kenmare) must necessarily bring along with it, may be imagined. As the potato melted away before the eyes of the people, they looked on in dismay and terror; but there was no one with energy enough to import corn to supply its place. Half Ireland was stunned by the suddenness of the calamity, and Kenmare was completely paralysed. Begging, as of old, was now out of the question, as all were equally poor; and many of the wretched people succumbed to their fate almost without a struggle.' WS Trench

"Evictions in Dingle"

London Times, Jan. 6, 1849


---The Limerick Chronicle publishes the subjoined 'black list' of evictions in Kerry:

From the lands of Cahirtrant, the property of Lord Ventry and in a parish whence that nobleman's title is derived, 36 families, comprehending 188 souls, have been expelled. From the lands of Dunshean, the property of Lord Ventry, 24 families including 113 individuals, have been exterminated. From the same townland, belonging to the same nobleman, 7 families of con-acre holders, comprehending 37 persons, have been driven forth. From Cahirquin, the property of Lord Ventry, 11 families numbering 49 human beings, have been thrust out by process of law. From Clountys, in the parish of Dunurlin, the property of Lord Ventry, 10 famlies, numbering 40 human beings, have been deprived of house or holding. From the townland of Capagh, in the parish of Clahane, nor far from the shores of Brandon, and belonging, too, to Lord Ventry, 19 families, comprising 97 Christian beings, have been ejected by a posse of bailiffs acting under the power of English law. Total of recent evictions from Lord Ventry's property near Dingle, 170 families, 532 souls."

Thanks to: Margaret Walsh for contributing this excerpt.




April 13, 2010 at 10:07 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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Very lamentable accounts are given from various parts of the county of Cork. From gantry, Skibbereen, Crookhaven, Castletown, and Tracton, the reports present the same gloomy features. The intelligence from these scenes of misery is summed up by the Cork Examiner as follows:--


"SKIBBEREEN.--In the parish of Kilmoe, fourteen died on Sunday; three of these were buried in coffins, eleven were buried without other covering than the rags they wore when alive. And one gentleman, a good and charitable man, speaking of this case, says--'The distress is so appalling, that we must throw away all feelings of delicacy;' and another says--'I would rather give 1s. to a starving man than 4s. 6d. for a coffin.' One hundred and forty have died in the Skibbereen Workhouse in one month; eight have died in one day! And Mr. M'Carthy Downing states that 'they came into the house merely and solely for the purpose of getting a coffin.' The Rev. Mr. Clancy visits a farm, and there, in one house, 'he administered the last rites of religion to six person.' On a subsequent occasion, he 'prepared for death a father and a daughter lying in the same bed.' Dr. Donovan solemnly assures a public meeting that the people are 'dropping in dozens about them.' Mr. Marmion says that work on the public road is even more destructive than fever; for the unfed wretches have not energy enough to keep their blood in circulation, and they drop down from the united effects of cold and hunger--never to rise again.


"In Tracton, deaths, it appears, are occurring too. Mr. Corkoran, P.P., in a letter to Mr. Redington says: 'Over sixteen deaths occurred in my parishes for the last ten days. I am morally certain that each and every one of them was occasioned and accelerated by want of food and fire. Buckley, of Ballyvorane, and Sullivan, of Oysterhaven, died suddenly. Buckley dropped dead on the works, after a journey of three miles before day. His wife will make affidavit, that he had not sufficient food the night before he died, and that she and the rest of her family lived thirty-six hours on wild weeds to spare a bit of the cake for him. (In this case, a Coroner's verdict was given without sight of the body.) This horrifying economy is practiced by scores of families in this district. Similar effects must be expected from similar causes. I fear we must bury the dead coffinless in future. My God! what a revolting idea! Without food when alive, without a coffin when dead.'"


The Rev. Robert Traill, chairman of the Schule Relief Committee, county Cork, states that 15,000 persons in that wide district are destitute; of this 5000 are entirely dependent on casual charity; fifty deaths have resulted from famine and "hundreds" are so reduced that not food or medicine can restore them! The deaths, he adds, now average 25 daily!!


Ten additional deaths by starvation have occurred in the barony of gantry. The Jury at the inquests at Bantry handed in the following remonstrance, by their foreman, Mr. E. O'Sullivan:-- "That we feel it our duty to state, under the correction of the Court, that it is our opinion that, if the Government of the country shall persevere in its determination of refusing to use the means available to it for the purpose of lowering the price of food, so as to place it within the reach of the labouring poor, the result will be a sacrifice of human life from starvation to a frightful extent, and endangerment of property and of the public peace . . .

April 13, 2010 at 10:25 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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The Illustration shows a benevolent attempt to mitigate the suffering in the city of Cork, viz., the Society of Friends' Soup House. There are many similar establishments in operation through the county; but, we prefer the annexed because the idea originated with the Society of Friends. The funds for its support are chiefly raised among this charitable class; and we are happy to state that the establishment is now in a position to supply 1500 gallons of Soup daily, at a loss, or rather cost, of from £120 to £150 per month to the supporters of the design. The present calls are for from 150 to 180 gallons daily, requiring 120 pounds of good beef, 27 pounds of rice, 27 pounds of oatmeal, 27 pounds of split peas, and 14 ounces of spices, with a quantity of vegetables. Tickets, at one penny each, are unsparingly distributed, on presenting one of which, each poor person receives one quart of soup, with half a small loaf of bread; and both are of good quality.


In the making of the Soup, the greatest possible cleanliness is observed; attention is paid to the poor, who throng the place daily, for their cheap supply of food; as well as to the visitors, who go to see the soup made, and who are requested to test its quality, and suggest any improvement. The vats, which are shown in the Sketch, are worked by a steamengine, in an adjoining house; and, to ensure cleanliness, as well as sweetness, they are used alternately. Too much credit cannot be given to this establishment, and to the exertions of the Society of Friends in general; for, not content with originating these Soup Establishments, they have also raised a sum of money for distribution in the west, so as the more effectually to relieve the poor in distant districts.


April 13, 2010 at 10:59 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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The Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers, believed there was a simple answer to starvation. Acting with a directness which would not shame the most modern relief agency, the Quakers set out to feed the people.

In January 1847, as the Great Famine was moving into its third year, the Illustrated London News described the Society of Friends’ Soup House in Cork city providing nourishment 'at a loss, or rather cost, of from £120 to £150 per month to supporters of the design. The present calls are for from 150 to 180 gallons daily, requiring 120 pounds of good beef, 27 pounds of rice, 27 pounds of oatmeal, 27 pounds of split peas, and 14 ounces of spices, with a quantity of vegetables. Tickets, at one penny each, are unsparingly distributed.'

Meanwhile the government’s cumbersome scheme of public works was breaking down – the starving were simply too weak and sick to earn enough to feed their families. An Act for the Temporary Relief of Destitute Persons in Ireland, passed in February 1847, was, in effect, an open admission by Lord John Russell’s Whig government that its policies had failed. Henceforth relief would be provided by the free distribution of soup.

A formidable new bureaucracy had to be created and some 10,000 account books, 80,000 sheets and 3 million ration tickets had to be printed before the new machinery could be set in motion. However, the government soup kitchens saved more lives than any other measure taken during the Famine. By July 1847 more than three million people were being fed every day.

For many, however, the soup kitchens had come too late. People, weakened by starvation, were falling victim to fever and dying in their thousands. Deaths resulted principally from typhus and relapsing fever transmitted by lice; the ‘bloody flux’ or bacillary dysentery; ‘famine dropsy’ or hunger oedema; and scurvy.

Fever not only struck the emaciated frames of the starving but also those who ministered to the sick and dying – in one year, for example, seven doctors died of fever in Cavan town and Lord Lurgan, Chairman of the Board of Guardians of Lurgan Union Workhouse, was a high profile victim of typhus fever. Hordes of the poor brought disease eastwards to Dublin and Belfast in particular.

Dr Andrew Malcolm, who worked day and night to treat those stricken by fever, recalled the influx of the starving into Belfast: 'Famine was depicted in the look, in the hue, in the voice, and the gait. The food of a nation had been cut off; the physical strength of a whole people was reduced; and this condition, highly favourable to the impression of the plague-breath, resulted in the most terrible epidemic that this Island ever experienced.'

The hospitals in the town were overflowing, the Belfast News-Letter reported in July 1847,'yet hundreds…are daily exposed in the delirium of this frightful malady, on the streets, or left to die in their filthy and ill-ventilated hovels…It is now a thing of daily occurrence to see haggard, sallow and emaciated beings, stricken down by fever or debility from actual want, stretched prostrate upon the footways of our streets and bridges.'

The fine summer of 1847 ensured that the grain harvest was excellent and kept the blight at bay. But the acreage planted with what few tubers had survived two years of famine was so small that the poor still faced mass starvation. Nevertheless, the government declared the Famine was over in September 1847. In the same month the distribution of soup stopped in almost all districts.

From now on, the burden of relief was to fall entirely on the workhouses financed by Irish ratepayers. This was, unquestionably, the harshest decision made by Westminster during the Famine.

The destitute were refused relief outside the workhouse. To gain admission, applicants had to agree to accept the harsh discipline and work at breaking stone, etc., and husbands were separated from wives, and mothers from their children. Because nothing else was offered to them, the starving crowded into the workhouses. In the densely packed buildings, fever spread with fearful rapidity.

The condition of Enniskillen workhouse was typical. The roof of the temporary fever hospital fell in on 7th January 1848 and it still had not been fixed when Temporary Inspector d’Arcy reported on 2nd March.

He came upon 29 patients sharing beds in one small room, and, he continued: 'Immediately previous to my visit there had been five children in one bed, three of whom were in fever and two in small-pox…No statement of mine can convey an idea of the wretched condition the inmates of this house were in; I have frequently heard the horrors of Skibbereen quoted, but they can hardly have exceeded these.'

Little wonder then that, for many of the starving, flight from Ireland overseas seemed the only optio

April 13, 2010 at 11:02 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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County Limerick 


Famine Scene by Michael Killeen – Sculptor



The winter of 1846-47, one hundred and fifty years ago, marked the peak of the Great Famine in Cappamore, as elsewhere.The blight of 1845 had destroyed 30% of the potato crop but Robert Peel’s relief measures of imported Indian Corn and public works prevented a disaster.It is said that no one died of hunger during Peel’s administration.However, when he was replaced as Prime Minister by Lord John Russell in June 1846, all relief measures were ended, mainly in the belief that the new crop of potatoes would see an end to the famine.



The winter of 1845-46 was very mild and very wet, as indeed was much of the summer of 1846.As a consequence, the blight fungus stayed in the ground and spread rapidly, leading to an 80% crop failure in the autumn of 1846.By August, Fr. John Ryan, P.P. was describing Cappamore as “one of the most distressed districts in Ireland” with“three quarters of the crop lost and half the labourers idle”.Fr. Thomas Meagher was also writing to the Relief Commissioners suggesting land reclamation projects for the vast unemployed in Cappamore.An expenditure of 12,00 pounds, he wrote would establish 500 or 600 families in the neighbourhood of the Slieve Phelim mountains.“If the government showed a little determination towards the landlords”, he said “4000 acres could be brought into cultivation which is now only a receptacle for wild fowl”.



Despite an active local relief committee headed by Fr. Ryan and the Rev. Mr. Atkinson, and despite government soup kitchens which at peak were feeding 2,781 people in Cappamore daily, the winter of 1846-47 brought famine, fever and death to large numbers in Cappamore.Intensity of the famine locally my be measured by the decline in population of 47% in the rural areas of Cappamore between 1841 and 1851.In the same period, in the Skibbereen Union, acknowledged to have been one of the severely hit regions in Ireland, the population decline was only 36%.





1841 1851


Portnard 611 196


Dromsally 637 393


Dromalty 384 168

April 13, 2010 at 11:07 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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n 1846 there were 237 Baptisms in the parish – five years later, in 1851, there were only 64 Baptisms.



In all, 250 families or 1,500 individuals disappeared off the Cappamore map during the famine years.Worst hit was Portnard with a loss of 64 families, Druomsally with 63, Dromalta with 33, Pallasbeg with 27, Killuragh with 16 and Drumclogher, Tineteriffe and Bilboa with 12 each.



Those who suffered most were those who depended on the potato for their existence; occupiers of cabins and small holdings of one to five acres:labourers living on the land of farmers for whom they worked occupying a cabin with a small plot of potatoes:labourers who had no fixed employment and no land, living in hovels and hiring yearly a scrap of land from some farmer.Out of a total of 647 families in the parish of Cappamore on the eve of the famine, some 496 (77 %) belonged to one or other of these three categories.And that is why the famine was so severe in Cappamore.The parish had an unusually high percentage of labourers.Generally, the families of agricultural labourers were those who died; the families of small farmers were those who emigrated.



The majority of those who died did not die in the Workhouse, although many did.They did not die on the side of the road, though some did.They did not die in the fields or ditches, though some did.The vast majority of those who died, died in their own homes, often in the most appalling of conditions.Decisions had to be made about how to share whatever scraps of food they had.Decisions, more harrowing about a family members with fever, often resulting in people being walled up in room or cabin with only a vent hole for food.Decision to ignore the plight of friends or neighbours in the struggle to survive.



Some indication of the horror of it all may be gleaned from a Skibbereen account of December 1846, addressed to the Duke of Wellington by a Mr. Cummins, a justice of the peace:“I entered some of the hovels, and the scenes that presented themselves were such as no tongue o pen can convey the slightest idea of.In the first, six famished and ghastly skeletons, to all appearances dead, were huddled in a corner on some filthy straw, their sole covering what seemed a ragged horse-cloth.I approached in horrow, and found by a low moaning that they were alive; they were in fever, four children, a woman and what had once been a man.In a few minutes, I was surrounded by at least 200 of such phantoms, such frightful specters as no words can describe.By far the greater number were delirious from famine or fever.Their demonic yells are still ringing in my ears, and their horrible images are fixed on my brain.In another house, the dispensary doctor found seven wretches lying, unable to move, under the same cloak.One had been dead for many house but the others were unable to move either themselves or the corpse”.The famine fever was made up of two distinct species of disease, typhus and relapsing fever.Both were spread by lice, although this was not known until 40 years later.People exhausted by hunger, with rags worn night and day, huddling together for warmth, crowded into filthy conditions, provided conditions ideal for lice to multiply and spread rapidly.The worse the famine the intense the fever, and crowds of screaming people often took to the roads and carried the disease with them.



A Temporary Fever Act, designed to separate the ill from the healthy, provided for local fever hospitals in 1847.One such, the Cappamore Fever Hospital was set up in Dromsally.In the two years of its’ existence up to 1849, it catered for 556 patients, of whom only 84 died.The deaths, according to Dr. Arthur the medical officer were “attributed to many very aged persons being seized with fever, and to the great debility of their conditions from previous want”.



Of the 473 medical officers appointed by the Board of Health to special fever duty, one in every 13 died at his post.The clergy too were also at risk from fever, if only because of their duty to attend to the sick and dying.The Curate in Newport died from fever in 1848.The winter of 1846-47 was one of the worst, with severe frost and snow for prolonged periods.It added to the misery and the deaths, but had one good effect in killing the blight fungus.The crop of 1847 was not affected but only a third had been sown.However, the Blight returned again in 1848 and 1849, prolonging the famine for three more years.



By Dr. Liam Ryan, Professor of Sociology, Maynooth College

April 13, 2010 at 11:08 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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Charles Coote in his statistical survey of County Cavan in 1802 refers to the crop rotation cycle in the Barony of Loughtee …



that ‘flax always followed potatoes and is succeeded by oat’.


Agriculture continued to be the backbone of the economy, still with great reliance resting on the potato crop. It was a prolific crop, capable of feeding a family for up to ten months in the year. In 1823 and again in 1826 there was a partial failure of this crop, the latter due to drought like conditions. So the people were constantly on the edge of starvation. Because of sub-division the average holding was only nine to ten acres and often less. Families tended to be large and people married young. As a result, the population of Co Cavan in 1821 was 195,000. By 1841 it had increased to 243,000. The economy had become reasonably good despite the decline in demand for flax and for home-produced linen cloth. The emerging economy based on factory production had reduced the need for these products and the women who at the time could have earned up to 5d a day for spinning and working the loom were not now as busy as before. According to Margaret Crawford in her essay “Poverty and Famine in Co Cavan” (in “Cavan, Essays in the History of an Irish County” ed by Raymond Gillespie p. 139) the population of our county had reduced by over 69,000 people in the 1851 census. This serious decline was caused by the Great Famine 1845-‘48. In the late summer of 1845 a disease called “the blight” destroyed part of the potato crop.




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 13, 2010 at 11:10 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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In 1846-‘47 the blight was far more extensive. The potato crop was found to be black and rotten. Death from starvation, yellow fever and typhus followed and this, together with emigration, accounted for the huge depletion in our county’s population. The huge loss of life, the misery, the poverty, the emigration, all cut into the psyche of the nation that took decades to recover from. County Cavan was among the worst hit counties by the Famine. In Cavan town, a curate, Fr. Patrick O’Reilly DD, originally from Kilmainhamwood, died of fever at the age 31. He was chaplain to the local workhouse i.e. St Phelim’s.


Back to 1838, a system of Poor Law was introduced into Ireland which saw the establishment of a workhouse system. This was in response to the poverty that was endemic in Ireland at the time. Each workhouse was to cater for an area comprising several parishes and the area in question was called a Union, so called because each area was a union of electoral divisions. Boards of Guardians - some appointed and some elected - were in charge of these areas. Unions were often similar in size to the older areas called 'baronies'. By 1852 there were 162 workhouses in Ireland. The 162 Unions became administrative areas as the role of the Boards of Guardians became more important.



Butlersbridge Auxillary Workhouse


In the Anglo-Celt December 14th 1847 the following report appeared.






"On Tuesday, the 21st, the Master reported to the Vice Guardians, that he had, agreeably to their orders, removed 4 adult paupers and 85 children to the house taken for them at Butlersbridge, who are to be under the controul of a wardsman, their food to be sent daily fromt he workhouse."




I examined the workhouse minute book of 1848 (courtesy of Bernie Deasy Archivist County Cavan Library) and discovered that it was noted on the 4th of Janurary 1848 that "The vice guardians are making further accommodation at the house lately taken at Butlersbridge for 60 more children - which will enable them to receive an equal number of applicants".


The location of this building is not yet known.

April 13, 2010 at 11:11 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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The Famine Mayo 

The famine affected all of Ireland. However, some areas suffered more than others. The Byrnes, who lived in a very rural area, must have been more adversely affected than the Walshes, who, I believe, lived in or close to town.


There was a big surge in the population of Ireland in the early part of the nineteenth century. In fact the population nearly doubled between 1820 and 1841. This huge increase put tremendous pressure on the subsistence economy of the times as land was divided into smaller and smaller plots. By the 1840's the average density on cultivated land in Ireland was about 700 people per square mile, among the highest in Europe.


The major portion of the agricultural population on the land were "cottiers"; farmers who rented small plots of land. The major portion of the cottiers were Catholic who rented from Anglo Irish landlords. Cottiers rented an average of five acres of land and were often forced to seek other employment to supplement their income.


The cottiers cottages were built with local stone or turf and thatched with rush or straw. Many cottages did not have windows and chimneys. Windows, when they existed, were often too small for a man to put his head though. There was often, but not always, a hole in the roof to let out smoke. Ventilation was always bad. Pigs, poultry and other animals lived with the family, often sleeping in the same room. Due to landlord oppression Catholics were reluctant to beautify or improve their houses. The houses could not be over a certain height or the rent was raised. Since the door could not be more than five foot eight inches high, there was a step down into the kitchen to allow for extra space. See Photos of the Old Village of Mochara which contains photos of the ruins of the cottier's cottages in Mochara.


In the cold and damp environment the only form of heat for cooking and warmth was a peat or "turf" fire. See The Bog and Peat, below, for information on peat.


The potato was the major food crop of the impoverished Irish because it was economic, easy to plant, and grew well in the rocky soil. Any wheat, barley, and/or oats that the cottiers grew or pigs that they raised were sold to pay the rent. Everything was used, potato shins and surplus potatoes were fed to the pigs, and pig manure was used to fertilize the potato fields.


By 1820 the potato was the staple the cottiers diet in Mayo. The potatoes was seasoned with salt and eaten three times a day. According to several published reports, adult males ate up to fourteen pounds of potatoes a day. Women and older children ate about eleven pounds. The only other food was cabbage, fish, an occasional fowl, eggs and some dairy products. It is estimated that seven million tons of potatoes a year were required to feed the population of Ireland in the 1840's. As awful as this diet sounds, the potato eating Irish were better nourished and healthier, than other populations in the rest of Europe at the time.


The Irish dependence on the potato as their major food crop was the main reason for the devastation that occurred when the potato crop failed.


There had been localized and minor failures of the potato crops before 1845. However, until 1845 the potato had been more reliable than grain.


The potato blight was a disease that first appeared on the east coast of the United States in 1843. By 1845 it had spread to the mid-west in the United States. The blight was a fungal infection, which thrived in mild and damp climates. The spores were carried by the wind. Guano, imported as fertilized from Peru to the United States was probably the source of the fungus. Infected potato seeds were exported from the United States to Europe. The blight effected potato crops in most of Europe, but was particularly bad in the Low Countries, Germany and Ireland.


In 1845, Ireland lost about a third of its main crop which was usually harvested from October to November. Very few people in Ireland actually died from starvation in the winter of 1845-46. Continental Europe was in a much worse state that winter. No one really knew that first year what had caused the crop to fail. Most botanists thought it was a wet rot brought on by a particularly damp summer. No one really thought there would be a problem with the next year's crop.


The blight reappeared on the west coast of Ireland in the summer of 1846. Propelled by the prevailing winds, it spread at a rate of about fifty miles per week. By August it had devastated about three-quarters of the potato chop. Food prices soared beyond the reach of the poor. Grain, that could have fed the population of Ireland itself, was exported from Ireland to England to pay rents to the landlords.


The first deaths in Ireland were reported in October of 1846. There was no national system for relief. Local systems failed to function adequately. By December people started dying by the thousands. The Irish who had immigrated to America before this period sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the famine relief. The Quakers established relief committees in November of 1846. It was not enough.


Very few people actually died of starvation, but they became so undernourished that they fell prey to all types of diseases, especially "Famine fever". Dysentery, diarrhea, measles, and tuberculosis were epidemic as the population became more and more malnourished. It got worse as the sick and starving crowded into towns seeking relief from the workhouses. According to the Reverent Phew


"About three or four hundred of the most destitute have crawled into Ballinrobe every Friday for the last month, seeking admission to the workhouse or outdoor relief and though they remained each day until night, standing in wet and cold at the workhouse door, craving for admission, they have got no relief"

In June 1847 fever and dysentary raged in Ballinrobe and many of the other towns in the area. Remedies for fever and dysentery were unknown and quarantine was impossible.

The dead were often buried where they lay on the side of the road. Workhouse dead were buried in mass graves.


Soup kitchens were instituted in July 1847. Mortality fell.


The summer crop of 1847 did not fail. However, it was meager because there was very little seed available for planting. Many declared the famine over. There was, in fact, no real recovery. Most of Ireland continued to suffer from disease and starvation.


The potato blight returned in July of 1848. The west of Ireland had a repeat of the disaster of 1846. In November 1848 cholera broke out. By the time the epidemic was spent in 1849, thousand more had perished.


In addition to the lack of food, in 1847 absentee landlords began evicting tenants who were unable to pay their rents. Mass evictions occurred, especially in County Mayo and County Clare. By 1848 Lord Lucan was inforcing wholesale evictions from his estates near Castlebar and Ballinrobe Between 1849 and 1854 nearly 50,000 families were evicted from there homes. Cottages were "tumbled" that is, pulled apart by the landlord's gangs. The absentee landlords looked upon the famine and the cottiers inability to pay the rents as an opportunity to clear the land for more profitable enterprises, like pasture.


In Ballinrobe Parish alone 2000 people were removed from their homes and the cleared land was turned into pasture.


All over Ireland, those who were evicted did not want to enter the disease-ridden workhouses. They turned instead to temporary shelters, begged in the cities or emigrated to England, America or Australia if they could afford it. Many of those evicted in County Mayo died by the roadside.


In Lights and Shades of Ireland, written in 1850, Asenath Nicholson says,


"Perhaps in no instance does the oppression of the poor....come before the mind so vividly, as when going over the places made desolate by the famine, to see the tumbled cabins, with the poor, hapless inmates, who had for years sat around their turf fire, and ate their potato together, now lingering and ofttimes wailing in despair, their ragged barefoot little ones clinging about them, one on the back of the weeping mother, and the father looking in silent despair, while a part of them are scraping among the rubbish to gather some little relic of mutual attachment....then, in a flock, take their solitary, pathless way to seek some rock or ditch, to encamp supperless for the night."

Brian Smith in Tracing Your Mayo Ancestors says,


" The country was significantly affected by the Great Famine of 1845-1847, which resulted in the death or emigration of 30% of the population by 1851."

It is not known for certain how many died and how many emigrated, but the population of Ireland is estimated to have fallen by 2,400,000, more than 25% of the pre-famine population. Deaths were most common among the very old and the very young (children under five). Emigration from Ireland to Great Britain, Australia and the United States had started long before the famine, but by the end of 1846 the numbers greatly increased. Between 1846 and 1856 about 1,800,000 emigrated from Ireland. Most cottiers had never traveled more than 20 miles from their home, so the trip across the ocean must have been extremely traumatic.


The 1852 potato crop was healthy, although the yield was not as high as the pre-famine crops.


American corn meal became a common food staple. While some things, such as diet improved in western Ireland after the famine, there were still reoccurring episodes of potato blight. The blight reappeared in 1860-2, 1879, 1890, 1894 and 1897. These later blights did not cause as much devastation because of the availability of alternative food sources. Wet years caused a scarcity of dry turf for fires and produced outbreaks of typhus, pellagra (a desease causing skin irritations, diarrhea and nervous disorder), famine fever, and other diseases. The workhouses were full and western Ireland remained very poor.


Penelope Byrne Langan, the mother of Maggie Langan, was baptised in 1836 in Shrule parish ten years before the famine started. Penelope's parents, Michael Bryne and Penelope Naughton, lived in the hamlet of Mochara where Penelope (Nappy) Naughton Byrne was listed as the holder of a ¹ share of 64 acres of land and a house in Mocorha in 1856. The people living in Mochara in 1856 fit the discription of "cottiers". Michael Byrne and Penelope Naughton Byrne had at least four children, Penelope, Winifred, Peter and Thomas who lived to be adults.


I don't know where Mathias Langan and his family lived before he moved to the town of Ballinrobe. However, they were most likely originally from somewhere south of the town of Ballinrobe near Shrule or Cong. The Langans were also most likely cottiers before they moved to Ballinrobe.


While the population in the west of Ireland suffered more than other parts of the country, people in towns generally suffered less than those living off the land.


Clearly the town of Ballinrobe grew between the time of the Tithe Applotment in 1827 and the Griffith in 1855. A brief look at any part of the town shows many more dwellings in 1855 than 1827. This was probably a reflection of people moving to town from the countryside during the famine. There were many new names in the town between the Tithe and the Griffith. See Griffith Valuation.


While I do not know exactly where the Walshes lived, they were near the town of Ballinrobe at or before the time of the famine.


John Walsh, the father of Joseph Walsh, had a strong association with people in the town of Ballinrobe who were craftspeople or who ran small bussinesses.


Post Famine Emigration


The great reduction in the population during the famine ironically benefited the survivors, enabling them to greatly improve their standard of living.


Bad harvests returned in 1877, 1878 and 1879. For whatever reasons, between 1881 and 1890 about 400,000 emigrants left the west of Ireland. The great majority of emigrants consisted of noninheriting offspring, single men and women in their teens and twenties. These emigrants included Michael and Thomas Walsh, the sons of John and Fanny Walsh, and Pat, Martin, and Maggie Langan.


Mathias Langan, his wife and two youngest children did not emigrate until 1892 and Joseph Walsh and his sister, Fanny did not emigrate until 1894.


Although there are no actual records for the rate of emigration from Ballinrobe in the latter part of the century, there are indications that it was high. The later Griffiths in Ballinrobe show that there were a significant number of vacancies listed in all parts of town. Since the birth rate seems relatively high, I can only assume that these vacancies were a reflection of emigration.


The 1901 census indicates an even larger decrease in the town's population.






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 20, 2010 at 12:21 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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