'An tOcras Mór' The Great Hunger.

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SWIFTY
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Posts: 1033

 

The Workhouse in Ireland

 


Given the abject poverty in Ireland in the 1800's the Government responded with The Irish Poor law Act of 1838 to set about dividing the Country into Unions based on existing Electoral Divisions. There was a board of Guardians for each Union, and a Workhouse to be built in each Union. A poor-rate was to be collected to finance the running of each poor house.

 

Many types of people entered the workhouse. Some were to old or ill to be

able to support themselves in the outside work. Others might loose there

farm and means of income and be forced to enter the Workhouse. Having a baby outside of Marriage was something society shunned at the time, and unmarried mothers were more often than not forced to see refuge in the Workhouse. The mentally ill were also often housed here.

 

 

 

 

Workhouse Life during the famine

 

With the arrival of the famine in 1846 conditions that were already poor,

rapidly deteriorated. Entire families, whose potato crop had failed, would

be evicted from their holding. So, with nowhere to live and no food, entire

families went to the workhouse. They became filled much higher than there

capacity. The situation worsened with some Unions unable to collect

sufficient rates for the increased demand in food. And many collapsed under the financial strain.

 

 

Typhus spread in cramped conditions, so those that may have entered healthy seeking some sort of refuge would ironically be killed through the disease.

 

A large number of children ended up alone in the Workhouse. Some families were so desperately low on food that the only hope for the survival of the child was for them to enter the Work House. In some cases there family had emigatred and would leave children behind until they had a chance to establish themselves in a new country before arranging for the passage of the child to a new land.

 

A quarter acre clause was introduced whereby anybody with more than 1/4

acre had to surrender their land before entering the Workhouse.

 

 

 

So what type of records exist, if you are researching family you belive may have spent time in a Workhouse.

 

Workhouse Registration Books:

Those receiving relief would be recorded here giving; Name, Sex, age,

details of famaily, Date admitted and Date they died or left the workhouse.

 

Any births and deaths were also recorded.

 

Vaccination Register:

As disease was rampant in the workhouse, especially during famine times

vaccinations were used to try and control the situation. Records exist for

those vaccinated including such as name and date of the event.


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WHEN GENOCIDE BECAME "FAMINE" : IRELAND, 1845 - 1850

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 1:19 PM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

The Workhouse System in Ireland

 

The "workhouse" system was imposed on Ireland despite opposition across the board. During the Famine years, thousands died within the workhouses. Other unfortunates, denied admission, died outside.

 

The Poor Law of 1838 had been aimed at providing accommodation for the absolutely destitute, and by 1845, there were 123

workhouses in Ireland, paid for by a poor tax levied on local landlords and, like other taxes in Ireland, passed on to their tenants. Conditions for entry were so strict, as was life inside, that the workhouses were the very last resort of a destitute people. Able-bodied adults had to work: knitting for women, breaking stones for men. Food was poor--even by mid-19th-century standards set for the Irish--and accommodation was cold, damp, and cramped.

 

By December 1846, over half the workhouses were full and were having to refuse admittance to new applicants. Few workhouses could cope with such a sharp increase in the intake of paupers, especially sick paupers, and there were widespread shortages of bedding, clothing, and medicine. This led to the practice of giving the clothes of inmates who died of fever or any other disease to new inmates, without first washing the garments. There was even a shortage of coffins, and many

burial sites were situated within the grounds of the workhouse, sometimes next to the water supply.

 

Despite all these problems, in many unions [administrative districts for providing relief for the poor] the guardians and the workhouse officers attempted to provide relief despite their lack of capital and the various regulations imposed on them. In the winter of 1846-'47, over half of the Boards of Guardians were giving food to paupers who were not residents of the workhouse. This was actually illegal under England's law and was strongly condemned by the Poor Law Commissioners.

 

The introduction of soup kitchens in 1847 took much of the pressure off the workhouses. As conditions worsened, however, the workhouses became crammed. By February 1847, some 100,000 persons were getting workhouse relief, 63,000 of them children. A report of one workhouse that year states:

 

"The building we found most dilapidated, and fast advancing to ruin, everything out of repair, the yards undrained and filled, in

common with the cesspools, by accumulation of filth--a violation of all sanitary requirements; fever and dysentery prevailing throughout the house, every ward filthy to a most noisome degree, evolving offensive effluvia; the paupers defectively clothed, and many of those recently admitted continuing in their own rags and impurity; classification and separation set at nought; a general absence of utensils and implements; the dietary not adhered to, and the food given in a half-cooked state--most inadequate, particularly for the sick.


April 20, 2010 at 1:20 PM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

The survivors of the workhouses had this to say about the system:

 

"Eagoir agus batarail agus cos ar bolg agus ocras a ba saol na mbochtan sa Phoorhouse. Bhiodh na ceanna ag slad chucu feinig

agus chun a lucht leanuna, agus ni raibh le fail ag na 'paupers' bhochta ach an caolchuid -- 'an ceann ba chaoile den bheatha

agus ceann ba ramhaire don bhata'."

 

With thousands still trying to gain entry into the already over-full workhouses, the newly-elected English government in the summer of 1847 seized its chance. Responding to the usual impatience with the affairs of Ireland on the part of the British middle and upper classes, and to the declining sympathy for the starving which was replaced by the cultural stereotyping of the Irish, the legislators removed the financial "burden" of famine relief from the English electorate's shoulders.

 

The government announced that the famine was over and stopped financial aid from the Treasury. The poor unions which ran the workhouses were now made responsible for outdoor relief despite the fact that many were already bankrupt. The collection of taxes was nearly impossible, and the richest landlords seemed to be paying least.

 

The Catholic Dean of Mayo estimated that in his diocese it cost a pound to collect every shilling, a one for twenty return. In 1844 it had been necessary to send 700 soldiers as well as constabulary to collect the poor tax in Galway, and in Mayo the authorities sent a warship, two cruisers, two companies of the 69th Regiment, a troop of the 10th Hussars, 50 police, two inspectors and two magistrates.

 

The English Chancellor of Exchequer, Charles Wood, justified the tight-fistedness (toward the Irish) on the grounds that

"except through a purgatory of misery and starvation, I cannot see how Ireland is to emerge into anything approaching either quiet or prosperity." Pax Britannica, in other words.

 

The new poor law saw the demise of the government's experiment in soup kitchens. Though only in place since February 1847, the two thousand or so soup kitchens were at the peak of their operations, feeding over three-million persons a day. Only £50,000 was advanced as a start-up grant; the rest was to be made up by the cash-starved poor unions, which were of course unable to collect appropriate taxes from wealthy absentee landlords. The kitchens gave at best minimal relief and were a haphazard response to the Famine, but at least they were something.

 

The new law required that those seeking relief must be "destitute poor" and, in a move reminiscent of Penal Days, the Gregory Clause of the act barred those with holdings of more than a quarter of an acre [a patch of about a hundred by a hundred ten feet] from receiving any form of aid. Thus the London government facilitated the clearances of estates for landlords and wiped out a way of life and an entire class of farm laborers. Desperate to hold onto the little they had, thousands died of starvation rather than bow to this new oppression which had been added to their misery.


April 20, 2010 at 1:22 PM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

When it was suggested to William Gregory that the provision would destroy the class of small farmers in Ireland, he replied that

"he did not see of what use such small farmers could possibly be." Palmerston, an influential member of the government and an

Irish landlord himself, said: "Any great improvement in the social system in Ireland must be founded upon an extensive change in

the present state of agrarian occupation, and that this change necessarily implied a long, continued and systematic rejectment of

small holders and of squatting [sic] cottiers."

 

Even to those who accepted the Gregory Clause conditions, entry into a workhouse was not guaranteed and was often arbitrary, and your stay could be terminated at a whim: "Ranged by the side of the opposite wall [of Nenagh workhouse in County Tipperary], which afforded some shelter from the wind, were about 20 cars, each with its load of eight or ten human beings, some of them in the most dangerous stages of dysentery and fever, others cripples, and all, from debility, old age, or

disease, unable to walk a dozen steps... In the evening some 30 or 40 'paupers' were turned out to make room for an equal number of the crowd, while the rest returned weary and dispirited to the cheerless homes they left in the morning."

 

The road to the workhouse became known as Cosan na Marbh (pathway of the dead). Up to 25% of those admitted died.

Yet, by 1851, 309,000 persons were in workhouses throughout Ireland, with many more seeking entry or emigrating.

 

"If the government of Ireland insists upon being a government of dragoons and bombardiers, of detectives and light infantry,

then up with the barricades and invoke this God of Battles-Young Irelander Thomas Francis Meagher, March 18, 1848.

 

By Aengus O Snodaigh

© 1997 The Irish People. Article may be reprinted with credit.


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WHEN GENOCIDE BECAME "FAMINE" : IRELAND, 1845 - 1850

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 1:22 PM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

 

By August 1846 there were 128 work houses built. They were only half full. With the onset of the famine, by 1847 they were crammed beyond capacity with 115,000 poor living in the work houses. By 1851 the numbers reached 215,000. Work houses built to handle hundred held thousands. . A work house in Femoy, for example, constructed to house 800 swelled to 1,800 inhabitants in inhumane, squalid conditions. By the end of the famine, there were 163 work houses in Ireland, with over a quarter million destitute people.

 

By 1872 a series of laws were proposed which were aimed at gradually phasing out the work houses. By the time of Irish independence, only a few remained.

 

from Tony Riordan

Co. Antrim:

Antrim: Indoor workhouse registers - PRONI

Ballycastle: Indoor workhouse registers - PRONI

Ballymoney: INdoor workhouse registers - PRONI

Larne: INdoor workhouse registers - PRONI

The records in LDS for the Ballymena Workhouse exist for 1843 to 1947

The FHLC film covering the Famine years is 0259181 coded

Indoor relief register, BG IR 1-3, 1843-1857.

From 1899-1947: Outdoor Relief Register BG OR 1 1899-

1947 on FHLC film 0259185.

 

 

Co. Armagh

Armagh: Outdoor workhouse books - PRONI

Armagh: Indoor WOrkhouse registers - PRONI

Lurgan: Indoor workhouse books - PRONI

Newry: Outrelief lists for Ballymoyler

 

Co. Cork

Cork: Indoor workhouse register - Cork Archives Institute

Kinsale: Indoor workhouse register - CAI

Middleton: Indoor workhouse books - CAI

 

Co. Donegal

Glenties: Indoor workhouse register - Co. Library

Inishowen: Indoor workhouse register - Co. Library

Letterkenny: Outdoor register - Co. Library

 

Co. Dublin

Dublin North: Indoor workhouse registerts - National Archives

Dubin south: Indoor workhouse registers - NA

Rathdown: Indoor workhouse registers - NA

 

Co. Fermanagh

Enniskilen: Out relief registers - PRONI

Enniskillen: Indoor workhouse registers - PRONI

Lowtherstown (Irvinestown): Out relief register - PRONI

Lowtherstown (Irvinestown): Indoor workhouse registers - PRONI

FHLC film #0259187-90 Indoor Relief Register 1845-1918 and

Record of Births 1846-1918 and Deaths 1899-1918

(part of Lowtherstown is in Co's Tyrone and Donegal)

 

Co Derry 

Magherafelt: Indoor workhouse register - PRONI

 

Co Monaghan

Castleblayney:

FHLC film #1279323 records on a film containing other

documents relating to County Monaghan.

 

Co. Offaly (King's co.)

Parsonstown (Birr): Indoor workhouse register - Co. Library

(part of this covers part of co. Tipperary)

 

Co. Tipperary

Thurles: Indoor workhouse rgisters - Co. Library

 

Co Tyrone

FHLC film # 0259164 and 0259165

Indoor Relief Registers 1862-1883

Strabane Poor Law Union which was partly in County Tyrone and partly in County Donegal.

 

Co. Wicklow:

Rathdrum: indoor workhouse registers - Courthouse, Wicklow


--

 

WHEN GENOCIDE BECAME "FAMINE" : IRELAND, 1845 - 1850

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 1:27 PM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

Whilst Workhouses existed in Ireland in the 18th Century, they were few and far between. It was not until the Poor Law Act in 1838, that a proper Framework for the provision of accommodation and care of the Destitute was introduced on a widespread basis.

 

Poor Law Act, 1838

 

The Poor Law Act of 1838 made provision for the following:

 

That Poor Law Unions be created throughout Ireland – each Union to be responsible for a large number of Townlands within its care;

Each Union to form a Board of Guardians, and to erect and maintain its own Workhouse; and

That Each Workhouse be financed by imposing a “Poor Tax” on Landlords in each Union.

That Each Union make provision for the assistance of those wishing to emigrate.

 

 

Poor Law Unions & Board of Guardians

 

By 1841, approximately 130 Poor Law Unions had been established throughout Ireland. Each Poor Law Union comprised its own board of Governors (or Guardians as they were more commonly known). Two thirds of the Guardians were elected by the Community, and one third comprised unelected Members who usually held significant posts within the Community – such as Justices of the Peace, Doctors, but excluding members of the Clergy. Elections to the Board of Guardians took place annually.

 

During the 19th and early 20th Century the Board of Guardians met Weekly to discuss the administrative affairs of the Workhouse. Their activities often involved approving local tenders for Workhouse Dietary Provisions, and works needed on the structure/decoration of the workhouse, to dealing with unruly inmates, approving decisions to Board-Out Children with local residents, and so forth.

 

The Workhouse and Its Staff

 

All Workhouses were built to the same standard specification and were built to comprise either 400 or 800 inmates. They were always situated outside a Main Union Town, and the Workhouse and its grounds were surrounded by high Stone Walls on all sides, with Iron Gates at the entrance, separating the Workhouse and its inmates from the rest of Society.

 

Workhouse staff consisted of the Master, responsible for the general running of the Workhouse, dealing with admittances, discharges, boarding outs, and general domestic affairs of the Workhouse. The Matron was responsible for the Women Inmates in the Workhouse. Other staff included Workhouse Chaplains (of all denominations), One Teacher, a Laundry Maid, Cook, and One Medical Officer.


April 20, 2010 at 1:33 PM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

Life in the Workhouse, 1839-45

 

Admission to the local Workhouse was based on very strict criteria. Priority went to the old and/or infirm, and destitute children who were unable to support themselves. The Guardians were also given discretion to admit the destitute poor.

 

People entered the Workhouse for a variety of reasons - unemployment and the famine were the main reasons for admittance in the 19th Century, however the Workhouse also provided a safe-haven for unmarried pregnant girls, married women whose husbands had deserted them, and Orphaned Children whose relatives were too old or too poor to care for them.

 

The Workhouse was a last resort for most people, who would take on any work, rather than face the gruelling Workhouse regime. The Guardians also applied the strictest of Work regimes to ensure that only the desperately poor would seek admission.

 

Upon Admission what few personal effects and clothing the inmates came in with, were washed and put into storage, and Inmates were given a Standard Issue Workhouse Uniform to wear.

 

Inmates were then categorized into male/female, able-bodied, old/infirm, infants/children. All Classes of Inmates were separated from each other, and communication between Classes was strictly forbidden. In the case of Families having been admitted, this meant that husbands and wives were banned from seeing each other, and mothers were banned from seeing their children (although this latter prohibition was later relaxed so that mothers were able to book appointments to see their children on a weekly basis).

 

 

 

Inmates' Duties

 

Once admitted, Inmates were required to work a minimum 11 hour day. Inmates were put to work on a variety of jobs. Some Workhouses established Local Trade Workshops for eg. Weaving/Sewing/Knitting/Cobbling/Tailoring/Carpentry etc. Able-bodied Female Inmates would either be given Sewing Duties or Kitchen Duties (preparing and cooking Workhouse Meals, and Washing Up) Cleaning of the Workhouse, Nursery duties, or Laundry Duties.

 

Able-bodied Male Inmates worked much harder, quarrying and smashing stones, building workhouse boundary walls, chopping wood, and grinding corn, tending the Workhouse Vegetable Gardens/Farms, digging cess pools, burying the dead, stoking the Workhouse fires, etc.

 

The Daily Routine for Adult Inmates was as follows:

 

Inmates were awoken by the sound of the Workhouse Bell at 6am each day. The Workhouse Master then took a "Roll-Call" at 6.30am just before breakfast.

Breakfast usually consisted of a bowl of the cheapest porridge/grain with buttermilk (which was cheaper than normal milk).

Work commenced at 7am and inmates were required to work through to 12 noon when they were allowed between 1/2 and one hour for lunch.

Lunch usually consisted of a pint of Buttermilk and a piece of black bread.

Inmates would continue working from 1pm until 6pm.

Dinner was served between 6.30-7pm and often consisted of potatoes and Indian Meal. As you may have gathered, Buttermilk was given with everything. Soup was also given during the Winter months. Fruit may have only been given at Christmas/Easter, and was usually a gift from one of the Key Residents of the Local Town (eg. the Doctor's Wife). Meat was bought, but was usually kept for the Workhouse Master, Matron and his key staff.

Lights out at 8pm.

Children were sent to the Workhouse School, and those children over the age of 12 were usually "Boarded-Out" with local Members of the Community. Usually Local Residents would write to the Workhouse Master asking for a child to be boarded out with them. Children were often boarded out with a local tradesman's family, where they would work as apprentices, and attend the Local School.


April 20, 2010 at 1:34 PM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

Workhouse Punishments

 

Punishments for any breach of Workhouse Rules were very harsh. An inmate who refused to carry out their Work Duties would be given 24 lashes plus no Dinner for one week. An inmate who used abusive language would be put into solitary confinement plus no Dinner for One Week, or more. Female Inmates who breached rules could often be forced to break stones for One Week, and so forth. After all, Workhouse Life was not meant to be pleasant.

 

Leaving the Workhouse

 

Whilst there were no restrictions on inmates leaving the Workhouse, the old inmates, with no immediate family able to take care of them, remained in the Workhouse until their death. For many families who entered the Workhouse, their stay was often on a temporary basis, and usually ended when the father (breadwinner) found work.

 

The Workhouse during the Famine Years – 1845-51

 

When the Poor Law Act was passed in 1838, it was not envisaged that Ireland would fall victim to a Potato Famine less than 10 years later. August 1845 saw the first reports of blighted potato crops across Ireland. Whilst Ireland had suffered from blighted potato crops on a number of occasions in the early 1800s, these had affected only one year’s crop, with all crops returning to normal the following year. When crops failed in successive years from 1845-1847, the affects were devastating for rich and poor alike.

As Potatoes formed the staple part of the Irish Diet, the shortage resulted in dramatically increased Food Prices. Wheat & Oatmeal were sought as alternatives to Potatoes but were being priced out of everyone’s reach. As People became desperate for food, riots and looting were regularly reported in the local press.

 

As the Famine continued to tighten its grip, those families that had scraped enough money together, emigrated in their thousands and the Famine Years saw the highest emigration rates in Ireland's history. Of those who remained in Ireland, faced with mass starvation, the Workhouse was the only survival option.

 

By 1846 however, most Workhouses across Ireland were vastly over-subscribed, with thousands of people being refused admittance. For those fortunate to be admitted, their plight was far from over.

 

Workhouses had not been created with a Famine in mind. Living Accomodation which was normally damp, cramped and unsanitary, became even more dangerous to live in. Whooping Cough, Influenza, Typhus and Dysentry were rife, seeing the death of thousands of inmates across Ireland. Workhouse clothing was in such short supply, that clothing from deceased inmates would be given to new inmates without washing or de-contaminating them first. This led to the further spread of disease. Those who died in the Workhouse during the Famine Years were buried within the Workhouse grounds in unmarked graves.

 

It an attempt to cull the spread of disease, Fever Hospitals were quickly erected, often in makeshift buildings: The Fever Hospitals were run by One Medical Officer and One Nurse, with Inmates helping too.

 

By 1847, with most Workhouses on the verge of bankruptcy, an Amendment to the Poor Law Act was passed, enabling Poor Law Unions to provide “Outdoor Relief”(which consistuted food rather than money) for a maximum period of 2 months, to destitute families living within their Union - provided they owned less than 1/4 acre of land. Outdoor reliefe enabled families to continue to live in their homes, rather than seek shelter in the already oversubscribed Workhouses.


April 20, 2010 at 1:36 PM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

The Workhouse & Emigration

 

As already stated, one of the Provisions of the Poor Law Act empowered the Board of Guardians to use Emigration as a means of tackling the scale of poverty & destitution within their Union.

 

In the early years Many Boards of Guardians used this provision to send Destitute Inmates to Canada.

 

By 1848, during the height of the Famine, with Workhouse Inmates reaching approximately 1/4 million throughout Ireland, in an attempt to reduce Workhouse numbers, a System was introduced to send Female Orphans to Australia where they would work as Domestic Servants. (The System was restricted to Female Orphans to prevent families seeking admission to Workhouses simply to obtain Free Passage abroad.) The first Ship, the Earl Grey arrived in Sydney on 16th October 1848, and the System, which proved very unpopular, continued until 1850.

 

The Workhouse, 1850s-1948

 

By 1851 the Potato crops were beginning to return to normal, however it took many years for normality to return to Ireland. After the Famine, Workhouses continued to fulfill an important role in Society, providing shelter and food to the destitute until 1948 when Workhouses were replaced by the Welfare State System.

 

Many Workhouses/Fever Hospitals were converted into Community Hospitals, and many of those still exist today - some, such as that in Co. Derry, has been turned into a Museum, to remind us of the harsh times that our Ancestors endured.

 

 

 

Workhouse Records

 

Workhouse records are an invaluable tool when undertaking Irish Family Research, and especially so during the Famine Years. We have listed below the Records that were usually kept by each Workhouse, however, whether all records still exist very much depends on each particular Union. Remember that all Board of Guardian Meetings were reported in the local press on a weekly basis during the 19th Century and usually on a bi-monthly basis from c.1915 onwards, so if you are unsuccessful in locating original minute books, etc, you may be able to find what you are looking for in the local press instead.


April 20, 2010 at 1:37 PM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

RECORDS THAT MAY HELP IN YOUR RESEARCH

 

Minute Books

Register of Admissions & Discharges

Register of Orders made – eg. For Removal of an inmate to another Institution, for Medical Relief, or for Child Maintenance.

Register of Births, baptisms, deaths, burials occurring in the Workhouse

Register of Inmates' Next-of-kin – details of names & addresses

Register of Children in Workhouse & those Boarded Out

Fever Hospital Records

Where to find Workhouse Records

 

Depending on where your Ancestors came from, many Northern Ireland Workhouse Records, can be found at the Public Records Office (PRONI) –www.proni.gov.uk, and some may still be in the custody of the local council responsible for that Union. Records for Workhouses in the Republic of Ireland, can be found at the National Archives in Dublin – www.nationalarchives.ie, or again, may be in the custody of the local council.

 

PRONI has its own special page devoted to Poor Law Unions:


www.proni.gov.uk/records/poor_law.htm


County Clare Library has its own Webpages devoted to the history of the Co. Clare Workhouse: http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/history/workstaff.htm

--

 

WHEN GENOCIDE BECAME "FAMINE" : IRELAND, 1845 - 1850

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 1:38 PM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

Workhouse Famine Records

 

(Note: The two articles appearing on this site under the heading "Workhouse Famine Records" were compiled by a local history group under the guidance of Mr. Anthony Begley, West Rock, Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal. Mr. Begley's approval to release them on the Internet is gratefully acknowledged.)

Number 1

 

A Local History Group's Findings

Ballyshannon, situated at the most southerly point in Donegal, was relatively unaffected by potato blight in 1845. In 1846, however, "The Ballyshannon Herald" reported:

 

"The weather continues extremely fine and the crops are stacking in good condition, with the exception of potatoes, which no one thinks of digging except to search through whole fields to make out a basketful which those who have no other employment do. The Indian meal which a few merchants have brought here from Sligo, has been the means of keeping hundreds from starvation - but why don't the merchants get in cargoes of it as is done in Sligo and elsewhere?"

 

Workhouses were ill-equipped for the catastrophe which now struck. Ballyshannon Workhouse, built for 500 inmates, was fairly typical being, as Tuke reported, no better than others in the county.

 

On 12 September 1846 the Poor Law Commissioners called the attention of the Board of Guardians of the Ballyshannon Union to the great increase of poverty and distress due to the failure of the potato crop, asking them to make relief available "to the utmost practicable extent". They also warned them to base their estimates on the assumption that "the whole accommodation which the Workhouse affords will be placed in requisition during a considerable period". At that date there were approximately 135 paupers in the Ballyshannon Workhouse.

 

By November the number of paupers stood at 255 and the cost of keeping a pauper had risen by fourpence farthing per week.

 

There is a reference on 14 November 1846 concerning the "vast increase in the number of paupers in the last week". The following week the pressure of numbers was so great that the Guardians decided that no pauper be admitted provisionally in the course of the next week. By 5 December 1846 the number of inmates stood at 511, rising to 596 by 27 March 1847.

 

Numbers in the workhouse fell temporarily in the summer of 1847. On 2 October there were vacancies for 200 paupers in the house and the Guardians ruled that there should be no outdoor relief while there were vacancies in the house. However, on 30 October the Master of the Workhouse informed the Board that there was no more accommodation available as numbers had risen to 540 in the house and asked, if there were to be any new admissions, "How I am to manage respecting them?" By 27 November, however, in spite of fever in the house, the numbers rose again to 561.

 

On 1 January 1848 there were 769 inmates in the Workhouse. By the following week the number stood at 626, with many elderly and infirm paupers living on outdoor relief of 8d per week.

 

Up to this point the Guardians refused admission to persons from other unions. However, on 8 January 1848 the Poor Law Commissioners gave instructions that all paupers from any union were to be admitted to the Workhouse. The Guardians then ordered "provisional admission of all at gate".



May 29, 2010 at 6:31 AM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
Site Owner
Posts: 1033

 

Before the failure of the potato crop, workhouse diet was frugal but wholesome, based on oatmeal porridge, potatoes and buttermilk. When potatoes became unobtainable, Indian meal was substituted. Its nutritional value was low and the poor found it unpalatable. Early in 1847 the price of meal rose dramatically from £18 per ton to £27. There was also an increase in the price of oatmeal. While the increase in oatmeal may have been partly due to a general price-rise in Europe, the price increase in Indian meal was principally due to profiteering by those involved in its transport and sale.

 

Merchants tried to prevent government sales of cheap meal as this would have reduced their profits. The Government succumbed to this pressure. Indian meal imported by the British Government late in 1846 for distribution along the more impoverished regions of the west coast was, on the recommendation of Trevelyan, held in storage until all other sources of food should have failed. This meal was purchased at £13 per ton, but for fear of undercutting the prices charged by local merchants it was sold at the Government depots for £19 per ton at the end of December.

 

When supplies of meal became totally unobtainable in Ballyshannon, the Board of Guardians applied to a Mr Hamilton to obtain meal for the Workhouse. This was probably Mr John Hamilton of St. Ernan's, who imported Indian meal and other provisions into Donegal Town for distribution to his tenants. Mr Hamilton is described by James Hack Tuke as "one who was devoting his whole energies to the service of the poor".

 

Tuke found that in Ballyshannon the gentry, far from being indifferent to the plight of the poor, were strenuously involved in relief efforts. Colonel Connolly, and his family, contrary to their custom, remained at their residence for the winter in order to provide relief.' When the Society of Friends offered "money in proportion to the amount raised in the town for the establishment of a soup-kitchen", Colonel Connolly subscribed one third of the amount, £600, to the Ballyshannon Poor Relief Committee. He also reduced his Donegal rents by 25%'.

 

With the resumption of Indian meal as the staple food in the Workhouse, the cost of keeping a pauper fell to 1/2d, but a Committee of the Board observed that there was "great attenuation among the children" and it was proposed that each pauper be allowed "a good and sufficient meal of rice and milk" daily.

 

Dr. Kelly, Medical Officer of the Workhouse, recommended removing children under 12 to a separate house. This resulted in an improvement in the health of the children and a reduction in dysentery.

 

Doctor Kelly attributed deaths from dysentery to the diet of the house and want of clothing of men exposed to work in open sheds "in this inclement weather". The Master reported that he was obliged to take the men from their work due to the extreme cold of their feet '"or want of shoes and stockings".


May 29, 2010 at 6:32 AM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
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Pestilence followed famine.

 

In November 1846 the Ballyshannon Board read a letter from the Poor law Commissioners calling attention to the danger which must arise "from admitting into the Workhouse a greater number of inmates than the institution was intended to contain". The Board promptly resolved to admit no more paupers until those in the house at that time were provided with necessary clothing and accommodation. At this time numbers had risen from 184 to 469 in the space of a month.

 

"The Ballyshannon Herald" expressed alarm at the spread of fever in the Workhouse, and on 2nd April 1847 reported as follows: "We regret to state that the poorhouse of the Union is crowded to excess which has caused fever and dysentary to spread among the inmates to an alarming extent."

 

In July a temporary fever ward was erected. It contained only 50 beds although there had already been 100 fever cases in June.

 

The enormity of the crisis did not prevent petty bickering. Disagreement between the Board of Guardians and the Relief Committee centred on the question of financing and control of the temporary fever hospital. The Board queried the financial records of the Rev I McMenamin, treasurer of the Relief Committee, and in September refused to provide further funding.

 

On 4 November 1847, Dr. Barclay Sheil, a prominent Ballyshannon physician and relative of Dr. Simon Sheil who had charge of the fever hospital, wrote to the Poor Law Commissioners to complain that the Union Board of Guardians refused to pay the expenses of the temporary fever hospital. The Poor Law Commissioners found in favour of the Relief Committee.

 

Deaths from fever continued in 1848, with thirteen dead from fever in the last week of January. Doctor Stephens, one of the dispensary doctors, contracted fever from a patient and died. The Workhouse master caught fever in April but recovered. By now the epidemic was on the wane, falling from 66 cases in February to 13 in December.

 

In Inishowen fever made its appearance early in 1846. The secretary of the Moville Relief Committee reported "Fever has set in, in many cases fatally."

 

Fever in Carndonagh Workhouse was reported a year later in March 1847 with 8 inmates affected and the Guardians taking steps to segregate the sick. Treatment was almost non-existent. The Guardians were ordered to treat the patients by giving them alcohol but the record shows that only one bottle of wine was actually purchased. An anonymous ballad comments:

 

'Tis for the doctor, he says he has skill,

He'll push around the wards the law to fulfill;

If a pauper be dying or ready to drop,

He says "Hold out your tongue",

And there is not more than that.


May 29, 2010 at 6:33 AM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
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The large number of workhouse dead caused difficulties with burials. In Ballyshannon Workhouse the problem reached a crisis on 8 May 1847 when the Master reported: "Resistance has been offered to the interment of the dead at several burying grounds in the neighbourhood, the consequence of which is that an accumulation of dead bodies to the number of seven are at present in the deadhouse, one having died of spotted fever, the others of dysentary; some of these deaths occurred four days ago." It was decided to locate a pauper's graveyard at Mullaghnashee in the town.

 

While records of the number of dead are missing in Ballyshannon and some other Unions for this period, the cost of coffins recorded in the Ballyshannon Board of Guardian minutes gives some indication of the rising number of dead, and the use of two covered barrows in January 1848 for conveying the dead across the town suggests that coffins were dispensed with. The act, 10 Vic., cap. 22, empowered the relief committees to make arrangements for "the proper and decent interment" of the dead, and to defray the cost from their funds, a euphemism for the burying of uncoffined dead in mass graves.

 

A record of a payment by the Ballyshannon Board of Guardians of£13-15s, which was half of the amount demanded by Mr Flanagan for the conveyance of deceased paupers to the burial ground, during the fever epidemic, indicates that Ballyshannon Workhouse had adopted the new procedures permitted under the Act.

 

Payment by the authorities for such burials was usually per corpse, and according to oral tradition in Tipperary, this was "a shilling or so per body". If the Ballyshannon Guardians paid a similar rate, then the sum paid to Mr Flanagan indicates approximately 550 burials.

 

Water and sanitation were inadequate for the increased numbers in the Workhouse. In September 1847 there is mention in the minutes of an overflowing cess pool outside the women's yard. This may well have been the source of the "manure on Workhouse ground" which is ordered "to be spread at front of House for cropping" in October 1847, since use of sewage as fertiliser was permitted by workhouse regulations. In November, Mr D'Arcy, the Temporary Inspector, complained to the Poor Law Commissioners of "the sewers leading from it without a sufficient discharging power: the smell arising from this cause is most offense, and distinctly to be perceived through the house itself." The problem persisted, and in November 1847 the Master reported that the sewerage was backing into the water tank. Water was in short supply.

 

Early in January 1848 the master reported that there was an insufficient supply of water in the well to supply the house. At the end of the month he reported that bedding and clothing were unwashed for three weeks due to water shortage. The Guardians ordered 2 casks with handles for carrying water from the river. Subsequently a contract was accepted for water to be provided at 5d per puncheon.


May 29, 2010 at 6:34 AM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
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The question of poor-house funding was regarded by the Government as the responsibility of the ratepayers, and any advances made from Government resources were given grudgingly and on the understanding that they would be repaid. The Poor Law Commissioners circularized the Unions in September 1846, recommending that "the means of affording relief which the law has put at the disposal of the Guardians, should be made available to the utmost practical extent." On 24 October the Guardians were obliged to make an increase in Union Rates above that struck in July "to provide for the increased pressure on the Union due to the failure of the potato crop". However, there was considerable difficulty in collecting the rate due to the great distress which prevails in the Union".

 

In January an appeal was made directly to the Lord Lieutenant for some assistance "toward the support of the poor in the Ballyshannon Workhouse, otherwise the House will have to be immediately closed for want of funds".

 

At the end of February 1847 the Poor Law Commissioners lent £60 to the Guardians, who expressed "surprise at the smallness of the sum". These loans continued weekly during the year until the Poor Law Commissioners refused, in July, to pay any more advances. In addition, in March the Poor Law Commissioners agreed to lend £240 for paupers' clothing.

 

June finds the Poor Law Commissioners urging Guardians to collect rates before the harvest and not to depend on Government. However, collection of rates continued to be difficult, and there was considerable waiving of rates due to the fact that the houses in question were "down" and no longer subject to rates - e.g. "Mr. Kitson relieved of paying further rates in Division of Devenish in which houses Nos 2, 11, 16, 23 & 28 have been shown to be down", such applications indicating extensive evictions.

 

One account of eviction in the Ballyshannon Union is preserved in oral tradition:

 

"The usual procedure after an eviction was to burn the thatched roof to prevent the tenant from entering the house again after the bailiff and his assistants had left the scene. A man named Diver, who lived in this townland, was among those who were evicted out of their homes. The landlord himself was present on this occasion and he offered the sum of one pound to anybody who would set fire to the house.

 

Diver who was standing out on the street with a number of neighbours, stepped forward and said he would earn the money. He thereupon stepped into the kitchen where some turf was still smouldering on the hearth, brought them out on a shovel and placed them among the thatch of the roof. In a few moments it was ablaze, fanned by a strong south-westerly breeze, and in a short time his home was gone ...When the landlord tendered Diver the money which he had thus so strangely earned, he coolly put it in his pocket, turned on his heel, nodded to the neighbours and disappeared from the scene."

 

By 1847 ratepayers were violently resisting paying a rate. The Inspector, Mr D'Arcy, reported that "all the collectors, without exception, stated that if the assistance of police was not afforded them in the wild districts, and where violence might be apprehended, they would under no circumstances be concerned in it. There is a feeling of general insecurity abroad, some of the ex-officio Guardians left the Board-room early, not wishing to be out after dark." Little of the outstanding rate was collected.

 

In spite of shortage of funds, the Workhouse maintained provision for education and religion . Ballyshannon Workhouse had two chaplains, one Catholic and one Protestant. The Protestant chaplain requested an increase in his £20 pa salary because of the increase in his duties which required him to keep a horse. The increase in the numbers of Protestants in the workhouse is also reflected in the purchase of 18 small and 6 large Prayer Books, the same number of Bibles, and catechisms for the use of the Protestant children.

 

Sacramental bread and wine was provided out of Workhouse funds for the Protestant inmates, and in August 1847 an additional 30 Prayer Books were required.

 

For secular studies, there was a schoolmaster and a schoolmistress. The report of the Superintendent of Workhouse National Schools reported on 16 January 1847 that "the female teacher is well qualified to teach reading, spelling and sewing and that the male can teach reading, arithmetic and writing and that the moral character of both is good". The male schoolroom was equipped in the course of the year with one desk and a set of tablets. The female school was provided with 12 Carpenter's spelling books.

 

The staff, apart from the schoolteachers, included the Master, Matron, Porter and Clerk. Their salaries were Master £20 pa, Matron £15 pa, Porter £6 pa.

 

The Gate Porter was a newly created position. A sentry box was erected for him and he was provided with a great coat and a pair of shoes, to be returned if he left the workhouse


May 29, 2010 at 6:35 AM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
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There appears to have been hostility between the Master and Matron. While the workhouse was in crisis with overcrowding, food shortages and fever, the Board of Guardians and the Poor Law Commissioners were devoting their attention to allegations that the Master had made a female pauper pregnant. The investigation into the affair resulted in the dismissal of Mrs. Keenan, the Matron, for her collusion in making what was deemed a false allegation. However, the Poor Law Commissioners found that the investigation had been conducted in an illegal manner. Doubtless today a different verdict might have been reached.

 

An increase in disorderly behaviour in the Workhouses was to be expected under the overcrowded conditions prevailing. Punishment for disorderly behaviour or breach of rules ranged from confinement or withholding of food, to discharge from the house. The Board discussed the behaviour of "incorrigible boys who threw stones at the assistant master" and concluded that corporal punishment was "not wholly prohibited by the regulations".

 

There were continuous attempts in all the Donegal Workhouses to keep able bodied inmates employed since it was a fundamental rule of the workhouse system that "no individual capable of exertion must ever be permitted to be idle in a workhouse and to allow none who are capable of employment to be idle at any time". Consequently, the minutes of Boards of Guardians throughout the county record orders being placed for "sledges, scrapers, picks and barrows".

 

In Ballyshannon each adult male was expected to break half a ton of stones per day. Women did domestic work, and sprigging and spinning wheels were available in some workhouses.


Apart from the Poor Law Relief which made provision both within and outside the Workhouse, Relief Committees composed principally of gentry and clergy also administered funds. Some of the earliest of these committees came into existence in Inishowen in response to the failed potato harvest of 1846. By the end of the year local relief committees were raising subscriptions which were matched by Government contributions, but by that time the numbers of starving and destitute had increased so dramatically that the finance available was inadequate. Only a fifth of those eligible were able to avail of employment. The wage was 9d per day. When funds ran out, causing "great distress", the roads were left "in a totally impassible condition". Early in 1847 the Moville Famine Relief Fund sent an appeal to the government, "Amongst the numerous cottier inhabitants of the interior, and in the densely peopled hamlets of our extensive sea-coast, destitution to an alarming extent exists, and is on the increase. With multitudes of our people, their supplies and resources are exhausted and they are hastening to the same awful consummation. The causes of destitution are too obvious to be questioned; the traces of it, on the countenances and in the persons of the poor, are too palpable not to be recognised. By the inscrutable will of an all-wise providence, all things seem, at the present crisis, conspiring against our Poor. Reduced to debt and want by the partial failure of the Potato Crop last year - this year the whole crop, upon which their subsistence depended, has been utterly lost; the fishing which at other times, would have been a fortunate resource, has, this season, become totally unproductive; and provisions stand at prices hitherto unprecedented." The Ballyshannon Relief Committee came into existence in October 1846 with the aim of soliciting donations and selling meal at cost price. They had a store in College Street, and raised a large sum to purchase meal which was sold in November 1846 to the distressed poor.

May 29, 2010 at 6:37 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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Public works were proposed by a Presentment Session held in September 1846, but these were hampered by bureaucratic delays and bad weather. Tuke was particularly dismayed by the conditions of workers on relief works: "The severity of the weather and the deep snow add greatly to the sufferings of the poor, and we felt deeply for the poor creatures at work upon the roads (amongst whom were several women), who in their ragged, miserable garments, are totally unfitted for exposure to the cold."

 

Delays in paying wages caused further hardship, and on arrival in Ballyshannon Tuke reports: "We again heard complaints that the men employed on the public works were irregularly paid, they not having received any pay for ten days or a fortnight, although the money was waiting in the bank." This type of incompetence is confirmed by oral tradition: "Relief was slow in coming owing to the slow methods of transport and the long distance from Dublin from which relief methods were directed and money sent to pay the men on relief works, which largely consisted of road-making."

 

In January 1847 the Temporary Relief of Destitute Persons Act, otherwise known as the Soup Kitchen Act, came into operation. The distribution of meal or soup was in the hands of the local relief committees and was generally unwelcome. There was an appeal from Clonmany Relief Committee "not to establish a soup kitchen in Clonmany" but instead "to set up a depot for the sale of cheap meal to the destitute".

 

The soup kitchens proceeded, providing a thin gruel for the starving, but in August the Poor Law Commissioners, assuming the potato blight to be ended, ordered that all boilers be returned to the Workhouse. They were subsequently sold.


--

 

WHEN GENOCIDE BECAME "FAMINE" : IRELAND, 1845 - 1850

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


May 29, 2010 at 6:37 AM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
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(Note: This is the second of two articles appearing on this site under the heading "Workhouse Famine Records". They were compiled by a local history group under the guidance of Mr. Anthony Begley, West Rock, Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal. Mr. Begley's approval to release them on the Internet is gratefully acknowledged.)

Number 2

Workhouse Famine Records

A Local History Group's Findings

 

Large numbers emigrated from Donegal, principally to America and Canada, from the ports of Derry and Sligo, Ballyshannon and Donegal Town.

 

The Earl Grey scheme to send orphan girls to Australia was availed of by most Donegal Workhouses.

 

In Ballyshannon sixteen female orphans were selected in 1847 for emigration to Australia. Lieutenant Henry, the Emigration Commissioners agent, visited the workhouse and selected 16 orphan girls aged between 14--18 whom he felt would be suited to employment in Australia. It was agreed that each girl should be equipped with six shifts, two flannel petticoats, six pairs of socks, two pairs of shoes and two gowns. It was envisaged that it would cost £5 per head to equip the girls, and they were to have free passage from Plymouth to Sydney.

 

The orphans from Ballyshannon set out on their long journey from Ballyshannon to Plymouth under the stewardship of Sergeant Healy, the Assistant Master of the Workhouse. On Monday, 30th October, 1848, the 16 girls set sail from Plymouth on board The Inchinan, in the company of 148 orphan girls from other Irish workhouses.

 

They landed in Sydney on the 13th January 1849, but what became of them has not been recorded. Did they view their arrival in Australia as a great adventure? Did they feel disorientated? The government orphan scheme, which was a short lived experiment, ended in 1850.

 

The Ballyshannon orphans who sailed on The Inchinan were: Jane Carleton, Margaret Sweeney, Mary Maguire, Mary McCrea, Ellen Feely, Jane Carberry, Sally McDermott, Rose Reid, Ann McBride, Margaret McBride, Letty McCrea, Anne Rooney, Mary Anne McDermott, Mary Allingham, Sally Lennon and Biddy Smith.

 

Details of the dock-side procedures for emigrants can be found in the diary of William Allingham, Ballyshannon poet, who was appointed customs officer to Donegal Town in 1846. He describes his official duties as: "Outdoors, there came the occasional visiting of vessels, measurements of logs and deals, and 'bread-stuffs' (chiefly maize) and - by far the most troublesome, but the most interesting - the examination of the fittings and provisions of emigrant ships, and the calling over, when ready for sea, of the lists of Passengers, who came forward one by one, men, women, and children, to pass the doctor and myself."

 

Strangely, during this period the poet was preoccupied not with famine but with love and poetry. "My inner mind was brimful of love and poetry," he wrote, "and usually all external things appeared trivial save in their relations to it." He complained of suffering from over-clouding anxieties arising from his "longing for culture, conversation and opportunity". However, he had the consolation of corresponding with Leigh Hunt to whom he wrote in February 1847: "fuel as well as food is much harder to the poor in this unfortunate time".



May 29, 2010 at 6:40 AM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
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This is the only acknowledgment of the famine to be found in Allingham's writings of the period, apart from a description of a workhouse inmate whom the poet met in Ballyshannon Workhouse: "November 30 1847: Visit Poorhouse. Tom Read, crazy man with small sharp black eyes; sometimes keeps a piece of iron on his head to do his brain good; plays on a fiddle, the first and second strings only packthread, "Ain kind Dearie," "Pandun O'Rafferty," grunting and groaning all the while and groaning fiercely when he struck a note out of tune. I promise him strings. 'Does your Honour live far away?' "

 

One would not deduce from a reading of Allingham's letters and diary that he is living in the midst of starvation and death or that the Allingham family were involved in all Relief Committees set up during the Famine and, despite the poet's apparent aloofness, played a practical role in Famine Relief.

 

Allingham is not alone in this literary denial of the reality of famine. Chris Morash, in his introduction to "The Hungry Voice", discusses the failure of so many Irish poets to find expression for the experience of famine. He attributes their silence to the fact that there was no precedent in English literature for expression of such a catastrophe. Whereas the native Gaelic tradition "embraced a long history of famine, exile and destitution", there was no such tradition in English.

 

"Famine, perhaps more than any other agent of change, forces the poet to make difficult choices; for while the sight of so many of his fellow creatures driven to the limits of existence cries out for some sort of response, famine does not sit comfortably in any of the established poetic idioms of the English tradition....Had the same number died in battle as died from hunger and disease, there would have been a tradition on which to draw....Famine, however, left the poets of the 1840s abandoned by tradition." It took Allingham another thirteen years to find expression for the tragedy in his narrative poem "Lawrence Bloomfield", a widely acclaimed indictment of landlordism and eviction.

 

Meanwhile another Ballyshannon diarist, Mary Anne Sheil, is less reticent. She reports: "The fever carries off all it attacks, it is most fatal", and details local disturbances: "21 April 1848--A great confusion in the town this day about the arrest of some people called Ribbonmen", and later in July 1848--"The markets are well stocked, so are the jails. I do not know what folly the people are going on with. I think they would do well to wait till times would mend".

 

The unsettled state of the country resulted in the billeting of British officers at her husband's home at Willybrook in Ballyshannon.

 

A breakdown in social order is to be expected as a consequence of a catastrophic event such as famine. In many parts of Ireland serious crime increased dramatically during and after the famine years .

 

 


May 29, 2010 at 6:40 AM Flag Quote & Reply

SWIFTY
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While Donegal experienced some increase in crime, this was on a relatively minor scale. James Hack Tuke wrote with admiration of the "patience and resignation of the simple peasantry of Donegal....Never have I witnessed so much good feeling, patience and cheerfulness under privation, of the existence of which there can no longer be any doubt....Out of the scores of families which we visited and the many poor people with whom we conversed in Donegal, I hardly remember an instance of their murmuring or begging, although they were at same time suffering from hunger and disease."

 

Nevertheless, as the winter of 1846 drew in, distress in the Ballyshannon Union was evident in a series of crimes reported in The Ballyshannon Herald--two tons of meal taken from the Abbey Mill and conveyed across the Erne under cover of darkness; the severed head of a cow left in the chain where it had been tethered, and the remainder carried off; meal stolen from the local Poor Relief Committee's meal store in College Lane; and, on Christmas Eve, an act of piracy when bacon and ham were taken from a schooner leased by Mr Chism, a Ballyshannon merchant, which was lying inside the river bar.

 

Also reported was a pathetic procession of poor through Ballyshannon, led by a man carrying a loaf speared on a pole.

 

The attempted collection of the poor rate from farmers who were already destitute, led to violent resistance. In November 1847 the Poor Law Inspector at Ballyshannon forwarded a report from a rate collector: "I have met with opposition, and a forcible rescue at Connanger, where the opposing party was armed with a scythe and a grapes, from which I providentially escaped being killed."

 

Nevertheless, serious crime, reflected in the numbers sentenced to transportation to Australia, falls to six during 1846. This compares favourably with the previous two years when the numbers were 17 and 21. The adjoining County Fermanagh, with a population which was half that of Donegal, has 24 references in the transportation records in 1846.

 

During 1847 Donegal experienced a minor crime wave. Transportation sentences rose to 31 for crimes relating principally to theft, cow-stealing, sheep stealing, larceny and receiving stolen goods. In Fermanagh, in the same year, the number sentenced to transportation was 114.

 

In 1848 there were 32 persons sentenced to transportation in Donegal, once again for thefts which, in this year, included food and clothing.

 

Allingham witnessed one of these sentencings and allowed reality to intrude briefly into his diary: "December 29 1848 : To Session Court: girl convicted of stealing a purse and sentenced to seven years' transportation; she is removed shrieking violently. It seems a severe sentence." The Transportation archive also records the occasion: "Surname: Raddins; Other names: Mary; Age: 17; Crime Description: Larceny; Sentence: Transportation 7 years."

 

 

 

While these figures indicate an increase in Donegal in what the courts chose to regard as serious crime, the figures compare favourably with adjoining counties, with the exception of County Sligo which also had a low rate of transportation. On the other hand, an examination of the records often reveals that "serious crime", by 1849 included vagrancy, which carried a 7-year transportation sentence. Five such sentences were handed down by Donegal courts in that year. Four of the convicted were female, and the ages of the guilty parties ranged from 16 years to 20.

 

Today, in Donegal, there are many famine roads bearing names such as "brachan road" or "line".

 

The expression "taking the soup" is remembered, and also the term "malebag" (meal-bag) which, applied to a family, expresses the same concept. These expressions are sometimes linked to speculation as to how families came into prosperity.

 

There are many sites of paupers' graves, and in 1995, in Ballyshannon, a monument was unveiled to mark the burial place of the town's famine dead.

 

The massive iron boilers provided for famine soup and gruel are to be seen at many locations in the county.

 

Donegal Historical Society has received, on permanent loan, a large gruel pot which was previously kept at Coolmore House, Rossnowlagh, once the home of the unpopular agent and landlord, Alexander Hamilton. In famine times the pot was installed for use at Brachan Bray, the highest point in the neighbourhood, a site chosen so that only those strong enough to climb the steep hill would be fed. This pot will now be placed on a site at the Franciscan Friary, Rossnowlagh, to commemorate the famine.

 

Dunfanaghy Workhouse has already been restored as a museum and heritage centre, while in Ballyshannon plans are afoot to restore one wing of the Workhouse which has remained in a state of remarkable preservation, unaltered since famine times. These once-dreaded buildings now stand to remind us of the long agony of our ancestors 150 years ago.

(The End)


--

 

WHEN GENOCIDE BECAME "FAMINE" : IRELAND, 1845 - 1850

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


May 29, 2010 at 6:42 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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