The History of the Great Irish Famine of 1847 (3rd ed.) (1902) - With Notices Of Earlier Irish Famines
by John O'Rourke
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The Author of this volume has, for a considerable time, been of opinion, that the leading facts of the Great Irish Famine of 1847 ought to be put together without unnecessary delay. Several reasons occurred to him why such a work should be done: the magnitude of the Famine itself; the peculiarity of its immediate cause; its influence on the destiny of the Irish Race. That there should be no unnecessary delay in performing the task was sufficiently proved, he thought, by the fact, that testimony of the most valuable kind, namely, contemporary testimony, was silently but rapidly passing away with the generation that had witnessed the Scourge.

Having made up his mind to undertake such a work, the Author's first preparation for it was, to send query sheets to such persons as were supposed to be in possession of information on the subject. And he has here to express his gratitude and thanks to his numerous correspondents, for the kindness and promptness with which his queries were answered. He cannot recall even one case in which this was not done. But there is a dark side to the picture too. In looking over the query sheets now, it is sad to find how many of those whose signatures they bear have already passed from amongst us.

Other materials of great importance lay scattered over the Public Journals of the period; were buried and stowed away in Parliamentary Blue Books, and Parliamentary debates;—were to be sought for in pamphlets, in periodicals, and more especially in the Reports of the various Societies and Associations, which were appointed for dispensing the alms given with such free hand, to aid in saving the lives of the famishing people. Those Records will be found quoted and referred to in the course of the work.

Amongst them, it is but just to acknowledge, how much the Author owes to the Report of the Census Commissioners for 1851; to the "Transactions" of the Society of Friends; and to the Irish Crisis, by Sir Charles E. Trevelyan, Bart.; which originally appeared as an article in the Edinburgh Review for January, 1848, but was reprinted in a small volume of two hundred pages. Although far from agreeing with many of Sir Charles's conclusions (he was Secretary to the Treasury during the Famine), still the Author cheerfully acknowledges, that the statistical information in the Irish Crisis is very valuable to a student of the history of the Famine period.

It was to be expected, that the alarm about the Potato Blight and the Famine would be first raised through the public Press. This was done by letters from various localities, and by Special Reporters and Commissioners, who travelled through the country to examine the state of the people, as well as that of the potato crop. There was a Commissioner from the London Times in Ireland at this period. His letters written to that Journal were afterwards collected, and they made an octavo volume of nearly eight hundred pages.

The English people, and many in Ireland, long adhered to the opinion, that there was much exaggeration in the Irish Newspapers regarding both the Blight and the Famine; but subsequent investigation showed, that there was very little, if any, exaggeration; nay, that the real facts were often understated. As to the Famine, several of the gentlemen sent by the Charitable Societies to make Reports, wrote back, that there was no exaggeration whatever, and, for a very sufficient reason, namely, that, in their opinion, it was impossible to exaggerate the dreadful condition in which they found the people.

Another mode of acquiring information adopted by the Author was, to visit those parts of the country in which the Famine had raged with the greatest severity. On such occasions he not only had the advantage of examining the localities, but of conversing with persons whose knowledge of that awful Calamity made them valuable and interesting guides.

As to the rest, it is left to the kindness of the Reader.


1st December, 1874.



The Potato—Its introduction into Europe—Sir Walter Raleigh—The Potato of Virginia—The Battata, or sweet Potato—Sir John Hawkins—Sir Francis Drake—Raleigh's numerous exploring expeditions—Story of his distributing Potatoes on the Irish coast on his way from Virginia groundless—Sir Joseph Banks—His history of the introduction of the Potato—Thomas Heriot—His description of the Opanawk a correct description of the Potato—That root in Europe before Raleigh's time—Raleigh an "Undertaker"—The Grants made to him—The Famine after the War with the Desmonds—Introduction of the Potato into Ireland—Did not come rapidly into cultivation—Food of the poorest—Grazing—Graziers—Destruction of Irish Manufactures—Causes of the increasing culture of the Potato—Improvement of Agriculture—Rotation of Crops—Primate Boulter's charity—Buys Corn in the South to sell it cheaply in the North—Years of scarcity from 1720 to 1740—The Famine of 1740-41—The Great Frost—No combined effort to meet this Famine—Vast number of Deaths—The Obelisk at Castletown (Note)—Price of Wheat—Bread Riots—Gangs of Robbers—"The Kellymount Gang"—Severe punishment—Shooting down Food-rioters—The Lord Lieutenant's Address to Parliament—Bill "for the more effectual securing the payments of rents and preventing the frauds of tenants"—This Bill the basis of legislation on the Land Question up to 1870—Land thrown into Grazing—State of the Catholics—Renewal of the Penal Statutes—Fever and bloody flux—Deaths—State of Prisoners—Galway Physicians refuse to attend Patients—The Races of Galway changed to Tuam on account of the Fever in Galway—Balls and Plays!—Rt. Rev. Dr. Berkeley's account of the Famine—The "Groans of Ireland"—Ireland a land of Famine—Dublin Bay—The Coast—The Wicklow Hills—Killiney—Obelisk Hill—What the Obelisk was built for—The Potato more cultivated than ever after 1741—Agricultural literature of the time—Apathy of the Gentry denounced—Comparative yield of Potatoes a hundred years ago and at present—Arthur Young on the Potato—Great increase of its culture in twenty years—The disease called "curl" in the Potato (Note)—Failure of the Potato in 1821—Consequent Famine in 1822—Government grants—Charitable collections—High price of Potatoes—Skibbereen in 1822—Half of the superficies of the Island visited by this Famine—Strange apathy of Statesmen and Landowners with regard to the ever-increasing culture of the Potato—Supposed conquest of Ireland—Ireland kept poor lest she should rebel—The English colony always regarded as the Irish nation—The natives ignored—They lived in the bogs and mountains, and cultivated the Potato, the only food that would grow in such places—No recorded Potato blight before 1729—The probable reason—Poverty of the English colony—Jealousy of England of its progress and prosperity—Commercial jealousy—Destruction of the Woollen manufacture—Its immediate effect—William the Third's Declaration—Absenteeism—Mr. M'Culloch's arguments (Note A.)—Apparently low rents—Not really so—No capital—Little skill—No good Agricultural Implements—Swift's opinion—Arthur Young's opinion—Acts of Parliament—The Catholics permitted to be loyal—Act for reclaiming Bogs—Pension to Apostate Priests increased—Catholic Petition in 1792—The Relief Act of 1793—Population of Ireland at this time—the Forty-shilling Freeholders—Why they were created—Why they were abolished—the cry of over-population, 1


The Potato Blight of 1845—Its appearance in England—In Ireland—Weather—Scotland—Names given to the Blight—First appearance of the Blight in Ireland—Accounts of its progress—The Royal Agricultural Improvement Society of Ireland—Its action—The Dublin Corporation—O'Connell—His plan for meeting the Crisis—Deputation to the Lord Lieutenant—How it was received—Lord Heytesbury's Reply—It displeases the Government—The Times' Commissioner—His suggestions—Mr. Gregory's Letter—Mr. Crichton's—Sir James Murray on the Blight—Action of the Clergy—the Mansion House Committee—Resolutions—Analysis of five hundred letters on the Blight—Partial cessation of the Rot caused by the Blight—Report of Professors Lindley and Playfair—Estimated loss—Query Sheets sent out—Corporation Address to the Queen—Her Reply—Address of the London Corporation asking for Free Trade—The Potato Blight made a party question—Dean Hoare's Letter—Failure of remedies, 48


Lord Heytesbury and Sir Robert Peel—The Potatoes of last year!—Is there a stock of them?—Sir R. Peel and Free Trade—Strength of his Cabinet—Mr. Cobden proposes a Committee of Inquiry—His speech—Its effect—Committee refused—D'Israeli's attack on Sir R. Peel (Note)—Sir Robert puts forward the Potato Blight as the cause for repealing the Corn Laws—The extent of the Failure not exaggerated—Sir James Graham and Sir R. Peel—Appointments of Drs. Lindley and Playfair to investigate the Blight—Sir R. Peel announces that he is a convert to the repeal of the Corn Laws—States his views, but does not reason on them—The Quarterly Review—Special Commissioners—Mr. Buller's letter—Sir James Graham and the Premier—Proceeding by Proclamation instead of by Order in Council—Sir James's sharp reply—Agitation to stop distillation—County Meetings proposed by the Lord Lieutenant—Cabinet Council—The Premier puts his views before it in a memorandum—The Corn Laws—Some of the Cabinet displeased with his views—On the 6th November he submits another memorandum to the Cabinet—Lord Stanley dissents from the Premier's views—The Cabinet meet again next day and he concludes the memorandum—On the 29th November he sends to each of his colleagues a more detailed exposition of his views—Several reply—Another mem. brought before them on the 2nd December—The Cabinet in permanent session—On the 5th of December Sir Robert resigns—Lord John Russell fails to form a Government—The old Cabinet again in power—Mr. Gladstone replaces Lord Stanley, 75


Meeting of Parliament—Queen's Speech—The Premier's speech on the Address—Goes into the whole question of Free Trade—The protectionists—Lord Brougham's views (Note)—The twelve nights' debate on the Corn Laws—No connection between it and the Famine—Stafford O'Brien's speech—Sir James Graham's reply—Smith O'Brien's speech—His imprisonment (Note B.)—O'Connell's motion—His speech—Sir Robert Peel replies—Substantially agrees with O'Connell—Bill for the protection of life in Ireland—Its first reading opposed by the Irish members—O'Connell leads the Opposition in a speech of two hours—Mr. D'Israeli mistaken in calling it his last speech—His account of it—He misrepresents it—The opinions expressed in it were those O'Connell always held. Break up of the Tory party—Lord George Bentinck becomes leader of the Protectionists—Their difficulty in opposing the Coercion Bill—Ingenious plan of Lord George—Strange combination against the Government—Close of Debate on Coercion Bill—Government defeated by a majority of 73—Measures to meet the Famine—Delay—Accounts from various parts of the country—Great distress—"Are the Landlords making any efforts?"—Notice for rent—The bailiff's reply—Number of Workhouses open—Number of persons in them—Sir Robert Peel's speech on his resignation—Accident to him—His death—The Peels—Sir Robert's qualities and character—His manner of dealing with the Famine—His real object the repeal of the Corn Laws, 93


John Russell Prime Minister—He confers important offices on some Irish Catholics—His address to the electors of London—Its vagueness—Addresses of some of the other new Ministers—The Irish difficulty greater than ever—Young and Old Ireland—The Times on O'Connell and English rule in Ireland—Overtures of the Whig Government—O'Connell listens to them—The eleven measures—Views of the advanced Repealers—Lord Miltown's letter to O'Connell—Dissensions in the Repeal Association—The "Peace Resolutions"—O'Connell's letters—He censures the Nation newspaper—Debate in the Repeal Association—Thomas Francis Meagher's "Sword speech"—The Young Ireland party leave Conciliation Hall in a body—Description of the scene (Note)—Reflections—Sir Robert Peel's speech after his resignation—Lord John Russell's speech at Glasgow—His speech on the Irish Coercion Bill—His speech after becoming Prime Minister—The Potato Blight reappears—Accounts from the Provinces—Father Mathew's letter—Value of the Potato Crop of 1846—Various remedies, theories, and speculations—State of the weather—Mr. Cooper's observations at Markree Castle—Lord Monteagle's motion in the House of Lords for employing the people—Profitable employment the right thing—The Marquis of Lansdowne replies—It is hard to relieve a poor country like Ireland—Lord Devon's opinion—The Premier's statement about relief—The wonderful cargo of Indian meal—Sir R. Peel's fallacies—Bill for Baronial Sessions—Cessation of Government Works—The Mallow Relief Committee—Beds of stone!—High rents on the poor—The Social Condition of the Hottentot as compared with that of Mick Sullivan—Rev. Mr. Gibson's views—Mr. Tuke's account of Erris (Note)—Close of the Session of Parliament, 131


The Labour-rate Act passed without opposition: entitled, An Act to Facilitate the Employment of the Labouring Poor—Its provisions—Government Minute explaining them—Heads of Minute—Rate of wages—Dissatisfaction with it—Commissary-General Hewetson's letter—Exorbitant prices—Opinion expressed on this head by an American Captain—The Government will not order food as Sir R. Peel did—Partial and unjust taxation—Opposition to the Labour-rate Act—Reproductive employment called for—Lord Devon's opinion—Former works not to be completed under the Act—Minute of 31st of August—Modified by Mr. Labouchere's letter of 5th of September—People taxed who paid a rent of L4 a year—In many cases a hardship—Barren works the great blot of the Labour-rate Act—Arguments against the Act—Resources of the country should have been developed—Panic among landowners—Rev. Mr. Moore's letters—Level roads a good thing—Food better—A cry of excessive population raised—Ireland not overpeopled—Employ the people on tilling the soil—Sir R. Routh takes the same view—Relief Committee of Kells and Fore—Reproductive employment—Plan suggested—Address to the Lord Lieutenant—True remedy—O'Connell on the Famine—Writes from Darrynane on the subject—Money in the hands of Board of Works—Compulsory reclamation of waste lands—Drainage Bill—Mr. Kennedy's opinion—Who is to blame?—The Government, the landlords, or the people?—O'Connell for united action—Outdoor relief will confiscate property—Proposed Central Committee—Several Committees meet in Dublin—Mr. Monsell's letter—His views—Against unproductive labour—Money wasted—Appeal to the Government—Cork deputation to the Prime Minister—His views—He now sees great difficulties in reclaiming waste lands—Platitudes—Change of views—Requisition for meeting in Dublin—Unexpected publication of the "Labouchere Letter" authorizing reproductive works—Verdict of the Government against itself, 167


The Measures of Relief for 1846-7—Difficulties—Shortcomings of the Government—Vigorous action of other countries—Commissary General Routh's Letter on the state of the depots—Replies from the Treasury—Delay—Incredulity of Government—English Press—Attacks both on the Landlords and People of Ireland—Not the time for such attacks—View of the Morning Chronicle—Talk about exaggeration—Lieutenant-Colonel Jones—Changes his opinion—His reason for doing so—Mr. Secretary Redington's ideas—Extraordinary Baronial Presentments—Presentments for the County Mayo beyond the whole rental of the county!—The reason why—Unfinished Public Works—Lord Monteagle—Finds fault with the action of the Government, although a supporter of theirs—Expenses divided between landlord and tenant—Discontent at rate of wages on public works being 2d. per day under the average wages of the district—Founded on error—Taskwork—Great dissatisfaction at it—Combination—Attempt on the Life of Mr. W.M. Hennessy—True way to manage the people (Note)—Stoppage of Works—Captain Wynne—Dreadful destitution—Christmas eve—Opposition to Taskwork continues—Causes—Treasury Minute on the subject—Colonel Jones on Committees—Insulting his officers—Insult to Mr. Cornelius O'Brien, M.P.—Captain Wynne at Ennistymon—A real Irish Committee—Major M'Namara—His version of the Ennistymon affair (Note)—Charges against the Gentry of Clare by Captain Wynne—Mr. Millet on Ennistymon—Selling Tickets for the Public Works—Feeling of the Officials founded often on ignorance and prejudice—The Increase of Deposits in the Savings' Banks a Proof of Irish Prosperity—How explained by Mr. Twistleton, an official—Scarcity of silver—The Bank of Ireland authorized to issue it—The Public Works of 1845-6 brought to a close in August, 1846—The Labour-rate Act—Difficulty of getting good Officials—The Baronies—Issues to them—Loans—Grants—Total—Sudden and enormous Increase of Labourers on the Works under the Labour-rate Act—How distributed over the Provinces—Number of Officials superintending the Public Works—Correspondence—Number of Letters received at Central Office—Progress of the Famine—Number employed—Number seeking employment who could not get it—The Death-roll, 196


Operations of the Commissariat Relief Department—Not to interfere with Mealmongers or Corn Merchants—Effects of this Rule—Deputation from Achill (Note)—Organization of the Commissariat Relief Department—Reports on the Potato Crop—The Blight in Clare—Commissary-General Hewetson's opinion—Commissary-General Dobree's Report—Depots—Universality of the Blight—Rules with regard to Food Depots—Fault of the Treasury—Scarcity of Food—Depots besieged for it in the midst of harvest—Depots to be only on the West Coast—What was meant by the West Coast—Coroner's Inquests at Mallow—Rev. Mr. Daly—Lord Mountcashel—Famine Demonstration at Westport—Sessions at Kilmacthomas—Riot at Dungarvan—Captain Sibthorpe's Order—Mr. Howley's Advice—Attempt to rescue Prisoners—Captain Sibthorpe asks leave to fire—Refused by Mr. Howley—Riot Act read—Leave to fire given—People retire from the town—Two men wounded—The carter's reason for fighting—Lame Pat Power—Death of Michael Fleming, the carter—Formidable bands traverse the country—Advice of the Clergy—Carrigtuohill—Macroom—Killarney—Skibbereen—March on that town by the workmen of Caheragh—Dr. Donovan's account of the movement—The military, seventy-five in number, posted behind a schoolhouse—Firmness and prudence of Mr. Galwey, J.P.—Biscuits ordered from the Government Store—Peace preserved—Demonstration at Mallow—Lord Stuart de Decies—Deputation from Clonakilty to the Lord Lieutenant—Ships prevented from sailing at Youghal—Sir David Roche—Demonstrations simultaneous—Proclamation against food riots—Want of mill-power—No mill-power in parts of the West where most required—Sir Randolph Routh's opinion—Overruled by the Treasury—Mr. Lister's Account of the mill-power in parts of Connaught—Meal ground at Deptford, Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Rotherhithe; also in Essex and the Channel Islands—Mill-power at Malta—Quantity of wheat there—Five hundred quarters purchased—The French—The Irish handmill, or quern, revived—Samples of it got—Steel-mills—Mill-power useless from failure of water-supply—Attempt to introduce whole corn boiled as food, 221


The Landlords and the Government—Public Meetings—Reproductive Employment demanded for the People—The "Labouchere" Letter—Presentments under it—Loans asked to construct Railways—All who received incomes from land should be taxed—Deputation from the Royal Agricultural Society to the Lord Lieutenant—They ask reproductive employment—Lord Bessborough answers cautiously—The Prime Minister writes to the Duke of Leinster on the subject—Views expressed—Defence of his Irish Famine policy—Severe on the Landlords—Unsound principles laid down by him—Corn in the haggards—Mary Driscoll's little stack of barley—Second Deputation from the Royal Agricultural Society to the Lord Lieutenant—Its object—Request not granted—The Society lectured on the duties of its Members—Real meaning of the answer—Progress of the Famine—Deaths from starvation—O'Brien's Bridge—Rev. Dr. Vaughan—Slowness of the Board of Works—State of Tuam—Inquest on Denis M'Kennedy—Testimony of his Wife—A fortnight's Wages due to him—Received only half-a-crown in three weeks—Evidence of the Steward of the Works; of Rev. Mr. Webb; of Dr. Donovan—Remarks of Rev. Mr. Townsend—Verdict—The Times on the duties of Landlords—Landlords denounce the Government and the Board of Works—Mr. Fitzgerald on the Board and on the farmers—Meeting at Bandon—Lord Bernard—Inquest on Jeremiah Hegarty—The Landlord's "cross" on the barley—Mary Driscoll's evidence; her husband's—Post-mortem examination by Dr. Donovan—The Parish Priest of Swinford—Evictions—The Morning Chronicle on them—Spread and Increase of Famine—The question of providing coffins—Deaths at Skibbereen—Extent of the Famine in 1846—Deaths in Mayo—Cases—Edward M'Hale—Skibbereen—The diary of a day—Swelling of the extremities—Burning beds for fuel—Mr. Cummins's account of Skibbereen—Killarney Relief Committee—Father O'Connor's Statement—Christmas Eve!—A visit to Skibbereen twenty years after the great Famine, 243


The Landlords' committee—A new Irish party—Circular—The "Great Meeting of Irish Peers, Members of Parliament and Landlords" in the Rotunda—The Resolutions—Spirit of those Resolutions—Emigration—great anxiety for it—Opening of Parliament—Queen's Speech—England on her Trial—Debate on the Address—Lord Brougham on Irish Landlords—Lord Stanley on the Famine—Smith O'Brien's speech—Defends the Landlords—Mr. Labouchere, the Irish Secretary, defends the Government—The Irish Agricultural population were always on the brink of starvation, and when the Blight came it was impossible to meet the disaster—The views of the Morning Chronicle on the Government of Ireland—Mr. Labouchere quotes the Poor-law Enquiry of 1835 and the Devon Commission—Change of the Government's views on the Famine—Griffith's estimate of the loss by the Blight—Extent of Irish Pauperism—Lord George Bentinck points out the mistakes of the Government—The people should have been supplied with food in remote districts—He did not agree with the political economy of non-interference—Mr. D'Israeli's manipulation of Lord George's speech—Letter of Rev. Mr. Townsend of Skibbereen—Fourteen funerals waiting whilst a fifteenth corpse was being interred—Quantity of corn in London, Liverpool and Glasgow—Lord John Russell's speech—He regarded the Famine as a "national calamity"—Absurd reason for not having summoned Parliament in Autumn—Sir Robert Peel's view—The Prime Minister on the state of Ireland—His views—His plans—Defends the action of the Government—Defends unproductive work—Reason for issuing the "Labouchere Letter"—Quotes Smith O'Brien approvingly—Mr. O'Brien's letters to the Landlords of Ireland (Note)—Confounding the questions of temporary relief and permanent improvement—Fallacy—Demoralization of labour—The Premier's "group of measures"—Soup kitchens—Taskwork—Break down of the Public Works—Food for nothing—Mode of payment of loans—L50,000 for seed—Impossibility of meeting the Famine completely—The permanent measures for Ireland—Drainage Act—Reclamation of waste lands—Sir Robert Kane's "Industrial Resources" of Ireland—Emigration again—Ireland not over-peopled—Description of England and Scotland in former times by Lord John Russell—His fine exposition of "the Irish question"—Mr. P. Scrope's Resolution—A count out—Bernal Osborne—Smith O'Brien—The good absentee landlords—The bad resident landlords—Sir C. Napier's view—Mr. Labouchere's kind words—Confounds two important questions—Mr. Gregory's quarter-acre clause—Met with some opposition—Irish liberals vote for it—The opponents of the quarter-acre clause—Lord George Bentinck's attack on the Government (Note), 280


Lord George Bentinck's Railway Scheme; he thought the finishing of the railways would be useful; he was a practical man, and wished to use the labour of the people on useful and profitable work—The state of England in 1841-2—The remedy that relieved England ought to have the same effect in Ireland—Under certain arrangements, there could have been no Irish Famine—Tons of Blue books—No new Acts necessary for Railways—1,500 miles of Railway were passed—Only 123 miles made—Lord George Bentinck's speech—Waste of power—Traffic—Great Southern and Western Railway—Principles of the Railway Bill—Shareholders—What employment would the Railway Bill give?—Mode of raising the money—L20,000,000 paid to slave-owners—Why not do the same thing for Ireland?—Foreign Securities in which English money has been expended—Assurances of support to Lord George—The Irish Members in a dilemma—The Irish Party continue to meet—Meeting at the Premier's in Chesham Place—Smith O'Brien waits on Lord George—The Government stake their existence on postponing the second reading of Lord Bentinck's Bill—Why? No good reason—Desertion of the Irish Members—Sir John Gray on the question—The Prime Minister's speech—The Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech a mockery—Loans to Ireland (falsely) asserted not to have been repaid—Mr. Hudson's speech—The Chancellor going on no authority—Mr. Hudson's Railway Statistics—The Chancellor of the Exchequer hard on Irish Landlords—His way of giving relief—Sir Robert Peel on the Railway Bill—The Railway Bill a doomed measure—Peel's eulogium on industry in general, and on Mr. Bianconi in particular—Lord G. Bentinck's reply—His arguments skipped by his opponents—Money spent on making Railways—The Irish vote on the Bill—Names, 335


State of the Country during the Winter of 1847—State of Clare—Capt. Wynne's Letter—Patience of the suffering people—Ennis without food—The North—Belfast—great distress in it—Letter to the Northern Whig—Cork—rush of country people to it—Soup—Society of Friends—The sliding coffin—Deaths in the streets—One hundred bodies buried together!—More than one death every hour in the Workhouse—Limerick—Experience of a Priest of St. John's—Dublin—Dysentery more fatal than cholera—Meetings—"General Central Relief Committee for all Ireland"—Committee of the Society of Friends—The British Association for the Relief of Extreme Distress in Ireland and Scotland—The Government—Famine not a money question—so the Government pretended—Activity of other countries in procuring food—Attack on Divine Providence—Wm. Bennett's opinion.—Money wages not to be had from farmers—Was it a money or food question?—The Navigation laws—Freights doubled—The Prime minister's exposition—Free Trade in theory—protection in practice—The Treasury says it cannot find meal—President Polk's message to Congress—America burthened with surplus corn—could supply the world—Was it a money question or a food question?—Living on field roots—Churchyards enlarged—Three coffins on a donkey cart—Roscommon—no coffins—600 people in typhus fever in one Workhouse?—Heroic virtue—The Rosary—Sligo—forty bodies waiting for inquests!—Owen Mulrooney—eating asses' flesh—Mayo—Meeting of the county—Mr. Garvey's statement—Mr. Tuke's experiences—Inquests given up—W.G.'s letters on Mayo—Effect of Famine on the relations of landlord and tenant—Extermination of the smaller tenantry—Evictions—Opinion of an eyewitness—A mother takes leave of her children—Ass and horse flesh—something more dreadful! (Note)—The weather—its effects—Count Strezelecki—Mr. Egan's account of Westport—Anointing the people in the streets!—The Society of Friends—Accounts given by their agents—Patience of the people—Newspaper accounts not exaggerated—Donegal—Dunfanaghy—Glenties—Resident proprietors good and charitable—Skull—From Cape Clear to Skull—The Capers—Graveyard of Skull—Ballydehob—The hinged coffin—Famine hardens the heart. Rev. Traill Hall—Captain Caffin's narrative—Soup-kitchens—Officials concealing the state of the people—Provision for burying the dead—The boat's crew at a funeral—State of Dingle—Father Mathew's evidence—Bantry—Inquests—Catherine Sheehan—Richard Finn—Labours of the Priests—Giving a dinner away—Fearful number of deaths—Verdict of "Wilful murder" against Lord John Russell—The Workhouse at Bantry—Estimated deaths—The hinged coffin—Shafto Adair's idea of the Famine, 364


The Irish Relief Act, 10th Vic., c. 7—Rapid expansion of Public Works—They fail to sustain the people—Clauses of the new Relief Act—Relief Committees—Their duties—Union rating. Principal clergy members of Relief Committees—Duties of Government Inspectors—Finance Committees—Numbers on Public Works in February, 1847—Monthly outlay—Parliament gives authority to borrow L8,000,000—Reduction Of labourers on Public Works—Task work condemned—Rules drawn up by new Relief Commissioners—Rations to be allowed—Definition of soup—First Report of Commissioners—Remonstrances—Quantity of stationery used—Cooked food recommended—Monsieur Soyer comes to Ireland—His coming heralded by the London Journals—His soup—Jealousy—M. Jacquet on Soyer—The Lancet on him—Professor Aldridge, M.D., on Soyer's soup—Sir Henry Marsh on it—M. Soyer's model soup kitchen—A "gala day"—Ireland M. Soyer's "difficulty"—Last appearance!—Description of his "Model Soup Kitchen" (Note)—Reclamation of waste lands—Quantity reclaimable—Sir Robert Kane's view—Mr. Fagan on Reclamation—Mr. Poulette Scrope on the Irish question—Unreclaimed land in Mayo—The Dean of Killala—Commissary General Hewetson on reclamation and over-population—Opposition to reclamation—No reason given for it—Sir R. Griffith on it—Mr. Fetherstone a reclaimer of bog—Reclamation of bog in England—Second Report of Relief Commissioners—Relief Works closed too rapidly—The twenty per cent. rule—Mr. Labouchere's reply to Smith O'Brien—Letter from Colonel Jones—The Premier's promise—The Claremorris deanery—Effect of the dismissals in various parts of the country—Soup kitchens attacked—Third Report of the Relief Commissioners—Questions from Inspectors—O'Connell's last illness—His attempt to reach Rome—His death—His character—Remaining Reports of the Relief Commissioners—The Accountant's department—Number of rations—Money spent, 420


The Fever Act—Central Board of Health—Fever Hospitals—Changes in the Act—Outdoor Attendance—Interment of the Dead—The Fever in 1846—Cork Workhouse—Clonmel—Tyrone—Newry—Sligo—Leitrim—Roscommon—Galway— Fever in 1847—Belfast—Death-rate in the Workhouses—Swinford—Cork—Dropsy—Carrick-on-Shannon—Macroom— Bantry Abbey—Dublin—Cork Street Hospital—Applications for Temporary Hospital accommodation—Relapse a remarkable feature—Number of cases received—Percentage of Mortality—Weekly Cost of Patients—Imperfect Returns—Scurvy—The cause of it—Emigration—Earlier Schemes of Emigration—Mr. Wilmot Horton—Present State of Peterborough (Note)—Various Parliamentary Committees on Emigration—Their Views—The Devon Commission—Its Views of Emigration—A Parliamentary Committee opposed to Emigration—Statistics of Emigration—Gigantic Emigration Scheme—Mr. Godley—Statement to the Premier—The Joint Stock Company for Emigration—L9,000,000 required—How to be applied—It was to be a Catholic Emigration—Mr. Godley's Scheme—Not accepted by the Government—Who signed it—Names (Note)—Dr. Maginn on the Emigration Scheme—Emigration to be left to itself—Statistics of Population—The Census of 1841—Deaths from the Famine—Deaths amongst Emigrants—Deaths amongst those who went to Canada—Emigration to the United States—Commission to protect Emigrants—Revelations—Mortality on board Emigrant Ships—Plunder of Emigrants—Committee of Inquiry—Its Report—Frauds about Passage Tickets—Evidence—How did any survive?—Remittances from Emigrants—Unprecedented—A proof of their industry and perseverance, 474


The Soup-kitchen Act—The harvest of 1847—Out-door Relief Act—Great extension of out-door relief—Number relieved—Parliamentary papers—Perplexing—Misleading—Sums voted—Sums expended—Sums remitted—Total Treasury advances under various Acts—Total remissions—Sum actually given as a free gift to meet the Famine—Charitable Associations—Sums collected and disbursed by them—Two Queen's Letters—Amount raised by them—Assisting distressed Unions—Feeding and clothing school children—Feeling about the Irish Famine in America—Meetings throughout the Union—Subscriptions—Money—Food—Number of Ships sent to Ireland with Provisions—Freight of Provisions—Ships of War—The "Jamestown" and "Macedonian"—Various Theories about the Blight—The Religious Theory—Peculiar—Quotations—Rev. Hugh M'Neill—Charles Dickens—The Catholic Cantons of Switzerland—Belgium—France—The Rhenish Provinces—Proselytism—Various causes for Conversions assigned—The late Archbishop Whately's Opinions—His Convert—He rejects the idea that Converts were bought—Statement of the late Archdeacon O'Sullivan—Dr. Forbes on the Conversions in the West—Mr. M'Carthy Downing's Letter—The Subscription of L1,000—Baron Dowse—Conclusion 505

(NOTE A.)—Absenteeism: Mr. M'Culloch's defence of it examined, 522

(NOTE B.)—Smith O'Brien's refusal to serve on a Committee of the House of Commons, 556

(NOTE C.)—Treasury Minute, dated August 31st, 1846 541

(NOTE D.)—The "Labouchere Letter," Authorizing Reproductive Employment, 549




The Potato—Its introduction into Europe—Sir Walter Raleigh—The Potato of Virginia—The Battata, or sweet Potato—Sir John Hawkins—Sir Francis Drake—Raleigh's numerous exploring expeditions—Story of his distributing Potatoes on the Irish coast on his way from Virginia groundless—Sir Joseph Banks—His history of the introduction of the Potato—Thomas Heriot—His description of the Opanawk a correct description of the Potato—That root in Europe before Raleigh's time—Raleigh an "Undertaker"—The Grants made to him—The Famine after the War with the Desmonds—Introduction of the Potato into Ireland—Did not come rapidly into cultivation—Food of the poorest—Grazing—Graziers—Destruction of Irish Manufactures—Causes of the increasing culture of the Potato—Improvement of Agriculture—Rotation of Crops—Primate Boulter's charity—Buys Corn in the South to sell it cheaply in the North—Years of scarcity from 1720 to 1740—The Famine of 1740-41—The Great Frost—No combined effort to meet this Famine—Vast number of Deaths—The Obelisk at Castletown (Note)—Price of Wheat—Bread Riots—Gangs of Robbers—"The Kellymount Gang"—Severe punishment—Shooting down Food-rioters—The Lord Lieutenant's Address to Parliament—Bill "for the more effectual securing the payments of rents and preventing the frauds of tenants"—This Bill the basis of legislation on the Land Question up to 1870—Land thrown into Grazing—State of the Catholics—Renewal of the Penal Statutes—Fever and bloody flux—Deaths—State of Prisoners—Galway Physicians refuse to attend Patients—The Races of Galway changed to Tuam on account of the Fever in Galway—Balls and Plays!—Rt. Rev. Dr. Berkeley's account of the Famine—The "Groans of Ireland"—Ireland a land of Famines—Dublin Bay—The Coast—The Wicklow Hills—Killiney—Obelisk Hill—What the Obelisk was built for—The Potato more cultivated than ever after 1741—Agricultural literature of the time—Apathy of the Gentry denounced—Comparative yield of Potatoes a hundred years ago and at present—Arthur Young on the Potato—Great increase of its culture in twenty years—The disease called "curl" in the Potato (Note)—Failure of the Potato in 1821—Consequent Famine in 1822—Government grants—Charitable collections—High price of Potatoes—Skibbereen in 1822—Half of the superficies of the Island visited by this Famine—Strange apathy of Statesmen and Landowners with regard to the ever-increasing culture of the Potato—Supposed conquest of Ireland—Ireland kept poor lest she should rebel—The English colony always regarded as the Irish nation—The Natives ignored—They lived in the bogs and mountains, and cultivated the Potato, the only food that would grow in such places—No recorded Potato blight before 1729—The probable reason—Poverty of the English colony—jealousy of England of its progress and prosperity—Commercial jealousy—Destruction of the Woollen manufacture—Its immediate effect—"William the Third's Declaration—Absenteeism—Mr. M'Cullagh's arguments—See Note in Appendix—Apparently low rents—Not really so—No capital—Little skill—No good Agricultural Implements—Swift's opinion—Arthur Young's opinion—Acts of Parliament—The Catholics permitted to be loyal—Act for reclaiming Bogs—Pension to Apostate Priests increased—Catholic Petition in 1792—The Belief Act of 1793—Population of Ireland at this time—The Forty-shilling Freeholders—Why they were created—Why they were abolished—The cry of over-population.

The great Irish Famine, which reached its height in 1847, was, in many of its features, the most striking and most deplorable known to history. The deaths resulting from it, and the emigration which it caused, were so vast, that, at one time, it seemed as if America and the grave were about to absorb the whole population of this country between them. The cause of the calamity was almost as wonderful as the result. It arose from the failure of a root which, by degrees, had become the staple food of the whole working population: a root which, on its first introduction, was received by philanthropists and economists with joy, as a certain protection against that scarcity which sometimes resulted from short harvests. Mr. Buckland, a Somersetshire gentleman, sent in 1662 a letter to the Royal Society, recommending the planting of potatoes in all parts of the kingdom, to prevent famine, for which he received the thanks of that learned body; and Evelyn, the well-known author of "The Sylva," was requested to mention the proposal at the end of that work.

The potato was first brought into this country about three centuries ago. Tradition and, to some extent, history attributes its introduction to Sir Walter Raleigh. Whether this was actually the case or not, there seems to be no doubt about his having cultivated it on that estate in Munster which was bestowed upon him by his royal mistress, after the overthrow of the Desmonds.[1] Some confusion has arisen about the period at which the potato of Virginia, as I shall for the present call the potato, was brought to our shores, from the fact that another root, the batatas, or sweet potato, came into these islands, and was used as a delicacy before the potato of Virginia was known; and what adds to the confusion is, that the name potato, applied to the Virginian root, is derived from batatas, it not bearing in Virginia any name in the least resembling the word potato. Up to 1640 it was called in England the potato of Virginia, to distinguish it from the sweet potato, which is another evidence that it derived the name potato from batatas.[2] The latter root was extensively cultivated for food in parts of America, but it never got into anything like general cultivation here, perhaps because our climate was too cold for it. It is now only found in our hot-houses, where it produces tubers from one to two pounds in weight.

It has been asserted that Sir John Hawkins brought the potato to Ireland in 1565, and his kinsman Sir Francis Drake to England in 1585. Although this is not improbable, writers generally assume that it was the sweet potato which was introduced by those navigators.

Whether or not Raleigh's third expedition, which sailed from England in 1584, was the first to bring into these countries the potato of Virginia, there can be no reasonable doubt of its having been brought home by that expedition. The story of Raleigh having stopped on some part of the Irish coast on his way from Virginia, when he distributed potatoes to the natives, is quite groundless. Raleigh was never in Virginia; for although by his money and influence, and perhaps yet more by his untiring energy, he organized nine exploring expeditions, he did not sail with any of them except the first, which was commanded by his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert. But this had to return disabled to England without touching land.[3]

Sir Joseph Banks, the well-known naturalist, and President of the Royal Society from 1777 till his death in 1820, was at great pains to collect the history of the introduction of the potato into these countries. His account is, that Raleigh's expedition, granted to him under patent "to discover such remote heathen and barbarous lands, not yet actually possessed by any Christian prince, nor inhabited by Christian people, as to him shall seem good," brought home the potato of Virginia. This Charter bears date 25th March, 1584, and was a new and more extensive one than the first granted to him, which was in June, 1578. With this expedition sailed one Thomas Heriot, called the Mathematician, who was probably sent out to examine and report upon the natural history of such countries as they might discover. He wrote an account of Virginia, and of the products of its soil, which is printed in the first volume of De Bry's collection of Voyages. Under the article "Roots," he describes a plant which he calls Opanawk. "These roots," he says, "are round, some as large as a walnut, others much larger; they grow in damp soil, many hanging together as if fixed with ropes. They are good food either boiled or roasted." This must strike anyone as a very accurate description of the potato. Gerarde, in his Herbal, published in 1597, gives a figure of the potato under the name of the potato of Virginia. He asserts that he received the roots from that country, and that they were denominated Naremberga.

Raleigh's expedition, which seems to have been already prepared, sailed in April, and having taken possession of that portion of America which was afterwards named Virginia, in honour of Queen Elizabeth, and by her own express desire, returned to England about the middle of September of the same year. Although, as already stated, in all likelihood the potato of Virginia was introduced into England and Ireland by that expedition, Sir Joseph Banks was of opinion that the root had come to Europe earlier. His reasons for thinking so are: 1. Clusius, otherwise L'Ecluse, the great botanist, when residing in Vienna, in 1598, received the potato from the Governor of Mons, in Hainault, who had obtained it the year before from one of the attendants of the Pope's Legate under the name of Taratoufle,[4] and learned from him that in Italy, where it was then in use, no person knew whether it came from Spain or America. From this we may conclude that the root was in Italy before it was brought to England; for this conversation happened only three years after the sailing of the expedition of 1584. It is further very probable that the root found its way from Spain into Italy, as those parts of America, where the potato was indigenous, were then subject to Spain. 2. Peter Cicca, in his Chronicle of 1553, says, the inhabitants of Quito and its vicinity have, besides mays (maize), a tuberous root which they eat and call papas; which Clusius with much probability guesses to be the same sort of plant that he received from the Governor of Mons.

There is one obvious difficulty in this reasoning: we are not at all sure that it was the potato of Virginia that Clusius obtained from the Governor of Mons, it may have been the sweet potato. However, the conclusion which Sir Joseph Banks draws from these details is, that potatoes were brought from the mountainous parts of South America in the neighbourhood of Quito, and that, as the Spaniards were the sole possessors of that country, there can be little doubt of their having been first carried into Spain. Further, that as it would take a considerable time to introduce them into Italy, and make the Italians acquainted with them to the extent of giving them a name, there is good reason to believe, that they had been several years in Europe before they had been sent to Clusius.

About 600,000 acres of land in Munster were declared forfeited to the Crown on the fall of the Desmonds. This was parceled out to "Gentlemen undertakers" on certain conditions; one being that they were bound, within a limited time, to people their estates with "Well-affected Englishmen." Raleigh became an undertaker, and by a legal instrument, bearing the Queen's name, dated from Greenwich, last of February, 1586, he had given to him 42,000 acres of this land, and by a further grant the year after, the Monastery of Molanassa and the Priory of Black Friars, near Youghal.[5]

Famine followed close upon the war with the Desmonds. "At length," says Hooker, "the curse of God was so great, and the land so barren both of man and beast, that whatsoever did travel from one end to the other of all Munster, even from Waterford to Smerwick, about six score miles, he should not meet man, woman, or child, saving in cities or towns, nor yet see any beast, save foxes, wolves, or other ravening beasts."[6] Such was Munster when the great colonizer planted the potato there, in the hope, perhaps, of averting future famines!

It is generally assumed by writers on Ireland that, soon after the introduction of the potato, it became a general favourite, and was cultivated in most parts of the country as an important crop. This seems to be far from correct. Supposing the potato which we now grow, the Solanum tuberosum of botanists, to have come to Ireland in 1586, the usually accepted date, it does not seem to have been in anything like general favour or cultivation one hundred and forty years later, at least in the richer and more important districts of the country. In a pamphlet printed in 1723, one hundred and thirty-seven years after the introduction of the potato, speaking of the fluctuation of the markets, the writer says: "We have always either a glut or a dearth; very often there are not ten days distance between the extremity of the one and the other; such a want of policy is there (in Dublin especially) on the most important affair of bread, without a plenty of which the poor must starve." If potatoes were at this time looked upon as an important food-crop, the author would scarcely omit noticing the fact, especially in speaking of the food of the poor. At page 25 of the same pamphlet, after exposing and denouncing the corruptions of those who farmed tithes, the writer adds: "Therefore an Act of Parliament to ascertain the tithe of hops, now in the infancy of their great growing improvement, flax, hemp, turnip-fields, grass-seeds, and dyeing roots or herbs, of all mines, coals, minerals, commons to be taken in, etc., seems necessary towards the encouragement of them."[7] No mention of the potato.

In the next year, 1724, this pamphleteer was answered by an anonymous M.P., who mentions potatoes twice. Arguing against what he calls "extravagant stocks," he says: "Formerly (even since Popery) it was thought no ill policy to be well with the parson, but now the case is quite altered, for if he gives him [sic] the least provocation, I'll immediately stock one part of my land with bullocks and the other with potatoes ... so farewell tithes."[8] The fact of potatoes not being titheable at this period seems to have encouraged their cultivation. The next passage goes to show that they were becoming the food of those who could afford no better. Speaking of high rents, and what he calls "canting of land" by landlords, he says: "Again, I saw the same farm, at the expiration of the lease, canted over the improving tenant's head, and set to another at a rack-rent, who, though coming in to the fine improvements of his predecessor, (and himself no bad improver,) yet can scarce afford his family butter to their potatoes, and is daily sinking into arrears besides."[9] From the tone of this passage, and from the context, the writer seems to regard the potato as food to be used only by the very poorest; for he adduces its use to show to what a state rack-renting can bring even an industrious farmer.

The burthen of all the pamphlets of this period dealing with the land question, was an attack on landowners for their excessive desire to throw land into grass. One published in 1727 has this passage: "By running into the fancy of grazing after the manner of the Scythians, they [the landowners] are every day depopulating the country."[10] In another, printed in the same type, and apparently by the same hand, we read: "To bestow the whole kingdom on beef and mutton, and thereby drive out half the people, who should eat their share, and force the rest to send sometimes as far as AEgypt for bread to eat with it, is a most peculiar and distinguished piece of public economy of which I have no comprehension."[11] At this time there was extreme want in the country, on account, it was thought, of the great quantity of land which, within a short period, had been put out of tillage; graziers (whom the writer calls "that abominable race of graziers") being mad after land then as they are now. But there were other causes. William the Third, at the bidding of the English Parliament, annihilated the flourishing woollen manufacture of Ireland; her trade with the Colonies was not only cramped, but ruined, by the navigation laws in force; which, amongst other things, enacted that no colonial produce could come to Ireland until it had at first entered an English port, and had been landed there. Thus, whilst the fact that vast tracts of the soil had been put out of cultivation compelled the country to buy food abroad, the unjust and selfish destruction of her trade and commerce by England left her without the money to do so.

The people being in a state of great destitution, the author of the "Memorial" quoted above, said, there should be raised by taxes on a few commodities, such as tea, coffee, etc., L110,000. L100,000 to buy 100,000 barrels of wheat, and L10,000 premium to those who would import it. To this the Author of the Answer replies:—"By talking so familiarly of L110,000 by a tax upon a few commodities, it is plain you are either naturally or affectedly ignorant of our present condition, or else you would know and allow, that such a sum is not to be raised here without a general excise; since, in proportion to our wealth, we pay already in taxes more than England ever did in the height of the war. And when you have brought over your corn, who who will be the buyers? Most certainly, not the poor, who will not be able to purchase the twentieth part of it.... If you will propose a general contribution in supporting the poor on potatoes and buttermilk till the new corn comes in, perhaps you may succeed better, because the thing at least is possible."

Potato culture was clearly on the increase; the corn crop, however, was still looked to as the food of the nation. But if the growing of potatoes was on the increase, it seems to have partly arisen from the very necessity of the case. There was not land enough under tillage to give food to the people, it was laid down for grazing. Mountains, poor lands, and bogs were unsuitable to graziers, nor yet would they yield wheat, nor, in many instances, oats, or any white crop whatever; but the potato was found to succeed very well in such places, and to give a larger quantity of sustenance than such land would otherwise yield. Its cultivation was therefore spreading, but spreading, it would seem, chiefly amongst the poor Celtic natives, who had to betake themselves to the despised wastes and barren mountains. In the rich lowlands, and therefore amongst the English colony (for whom alone all the publications of those times were intended), the potato was still a despised article of food. And to this the latter part of the above-cited passage points. The proposal to sustain the people on potatoes and buttermilk until the new corn should come in, is evidently an ironical one, really meant to convey the degradation to which grazing had brought the country. Seventy or eighty years later the irony became a sad and terrible reality.

Meantime increased attention was given to the improvement of agriculture, arising, in a great measure, from the widespread panic which the passion for grazing had caused. Good and patriotic men saw but one result from it, a dangerous and unwise depopulation, and they called aloud for remedies against so terrible a calamity. The Author of the "Answer to the Memorial" quoted above, says, with bitter sarcasm:—"You are concerned how strange and surprising it would be in foreign parts to hear that the poor were starving in a rich country.... But why all this concern of the poor? We want them not as the country is now managed; they may follow thousands of their leaders, and seek their bread abroad. Where the plough has no work, one family can do the business of fifty, and you may send away the other forty-nine. An admirable piece of husbandry never known or practised by the wisest nations, who erroneously thought people to be the riches of a country."

This anxious desire to prevent the country from "running into grazing," called forth many treatises and pamphlets on the improvement of agriculture. Some writers undertook to show that agriculture was more profitable than grazing; others turned their attention to improve the implements of husbandry, and to lay down better rules for the rotation of crops. Potatoes must have been pretty extensively grown at this time, and yet they do not get a place in any of the rotations given. We have fallow, wheat, oats, rye, turnips, saintfoin, lucerne, barley, peas, beans, clover, rye-grass, and even buck-wheat, tares and lentils rotated in various ways, but the potato is never mentioned. The growth of turnips is treated with special importance. Hops, too, receive much consideration, and the Royal Dublin Society published in 1733 careful and elaborate instructions for their growth and management. The reason the growing of potatoes gets no place in any of the rotations of this period seems to be, that their culture was chiefly confined to the poor Celtic population in the mountainous and neglected districts; or, as the author whose pamphlet has a short introduction from Swift[12] says, "to the Popish parts of the kingdom." Those who wrote in favour of tillage instead of grazing, set great importance on the increase of population, and bewailed emigration as the effect of bad harvests and want of tillage. All such observations made at this period must be taken as referring to the English colony, or Protestant population, exclusively, for there was no desire to keep the Catholics from emigrating; quite the contrary; but they were utterly ignored in the periodical literature of the time, except when some zealot called for a more strict enforcing of the laws "to prevent the growth of Popery." And this view is supported by the writer quoted above, who says it would be for the "Protestant interest" to encourage tillage. Primate Boulter, bewailing the emigration which resulted from the famine of 1728, "the result of three bad harvests together," adds, "the worst is that it affects only the Protestants, and reigns chiefly in the North."[13] He, in his tender anxiety for the Protestant colony, purchased corn in the South to sell it cheaply in the North, which caused serious food riots in Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Clonmel, and other places. These riots were of course quelled, and the rioters severely punished. The broad rich acres of the lowlands were in the hands of the Protestants; and these being specially suited to grazing were accordingly thrown into grass, whilst the Catholic Celts planted the potato in the despised half-barren wilds, and were increasing far more rapidly than those who were possessed of the choicest lands of the kingdom.

But a terrible visitation was at the threshold of Celt and Saxon in Ireland; the Famine of 1740 and '41. There were several years of dearth, more or less severe between 1720 and 1740. "The years 1725, 1726, 1727, and 1728 presented scenes of wretchedness unparalleled in the annals of any civilized nation," says a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine.[14] A pamphlet published in 1740 deplores the emigration which was going forward as the joint effect of bad harvests and want of tillage: "We have had," says the author, "twelve bad harvests with slight intermission." To find a parallel for the dreadful famine which commenced in 1740, we must go back to the close of the war with the Desmonds.[15] Previous to 1740 the custom of placing potatoes in pits dug in the earth, was unknown in Ireland. When the stems were withered, the farmer put additional earth on the potatoes in the beds where they grew, in which condition they remained till towards Christmas, when they were dug out and stored.[16] An intensely severe frost set in about the middle of December, 1739, whilst the potatoes were yet in this condition, or probably before they had got additional covering. There is a tradition in some parts of the South that this frost penetrated nine inches into the earth the first night it made its appearance. It was preceded by very severe weather. "In the beginning of November, 1739, the weather," says O'Halloran, "was very cold, the wind blowing from the north east, and this was succeeded by the severest frost known in the memory of man, which entirely destroyed the potatoes, the chief support of the poor."[17] It is known to tradition as the "great frost," the "hard frost," the "black frost," etc. Besides the destruction of the potato crop it produced other surprising effects; all the great rivers of the country were so frozen over that they became so many highways for traffic; tents were erected upon the ice, and large assemblies congregated upon it for various purposes. The turnips were destroyed in most places, but the parsnips survived. The destruction of shrubs and trees was immense, the frost making havoc equally of the hardy furze and the lordly oak; it killed birds of almost every kind, it even killed the shrimps of Irishtown Strand, near Dublin, so that there was no supply of them at market for many years from that famous shrimp ground.[18] Towards the end of the frost the wool fell off the sheep, and they died in great numbers.[19]

On Saturday, the 29th of December, there was a violent storm in Dublin, which did much damage to the shipping in the river; and the cruiser, "Man of War," which was at the North Bull, being in great danger, "cut her cables, and ran up between the walls as far as Sir John's Key,[20] where," adds the chronicler, "she now lies frozen up."[21] Another curious incident is recorded which proves the intensity of the frost at this time: the pressgang was very busy on the river catching sailors to man the navy for the war with Spain, and under the above date we are informed that more than one hundred pressed men walked on shore on the ice with several of the crews; but, it is added, "they gave their honour they would return."[22]

The frost continued about eight or nine weeks, during which all employment ceased; the potato crop was destroyed, and the mills being frozen up no corn could be ground. The effect on the population was general and immediate. In the middle of January the destitution was so great, that subscriptions to relieve the people were set on foot in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Clonmel, Wexford, and other places. Some landlords distributed money and food to their starving tenants; but, I am sorry to have to say, that the number of such cases on record is very limited.[23] There was no general combined effort to meet the calamity, the Government taking no action whatever, except that the Lord Lieutenant (the Duke of Devonshire) gave to the starving citizens of Dublin L150 in two donations, and forbade, by proclamation, the exportation of grain, meal, bread, etc., except to England, "apprehending," says his Excellency, "that the exportation of corn will be bad for the kingdom during this extreme season." Later on in the Famine, and when about two hundred thousand of the people had died of hunger and pestilence, there was another proclamation ordering a general fast for the success of his Majesty's arms against the King of Spain! But the fasting does not seem to have had much effect; Admiral Vernon, commander of the fleet at the seat of war in the West Indies, took Portobello, but had to give it up again; he attacked Carthagena with all his forces, was repulsed, and so the war ended.

To add to the miseries of the people there was a great drought all the winter and spring.[24] A person writing from the West on the 15th of April, says: "There has not been one day's rain in Connaught these two months." The price of provisions continued to rise. Wheat, quoted towards the end of January in the Dublin market at L2 1s. 6d. the quarter, reached L2 15s. 6d. in April, L3 14s. in June, and L3 16s. 6d. in August. About the end of May there was a very formidable bread riot in the city. Several hundred persons banded themselves together, and, proceeding to the bakers' shops and meal stores, took the bread and meal into the streets, and sold them to the poor at low prices. Some gave the proceeds to the owners, but others did not. They were evidently not thieves, and at least a portion of them seem to have been even respectable, yet they were punished with much severity, several having been whipped, and one transported for seven years. Some days after the riot the Lord Mayor issued a proclamation giving permission to "foreign bakers and others" to bake bread in Dublin; he also sent to all the churchwardens of the city to furnish him with information of any persons who had concealed corn on their premises; he denounced "forestallers," who met in the suburbs the people coming in with provisions, in order to buy them up before they reached the market; thus in a great measure justifying the rioters who were whipped and transported. The bakers began to bake household bread, which for some time they had ceased to do, and prices fell.[25]

Throughout the country there were numerous gangs of robbers, most of them undoubtedly having sprung into existence through sheer starvation; some, probably taking advantage of the Famine, pursued with more profit and boldness a course of life to which they had been previously addicted. The most noted of these was "the Kellymount gang." Their head-quarters seem to have been Coolcullen Wood, about seven miles from Kilkenny, but they extended their operations into the King and Queen's Counties, and even to Galway. They were so formidable that a strong military force had to be sent against them. This gang committed no murders, disdained to take anything but money, horses, and sheep; sometimes divided their plunder with the starving people; and had in the outset pledged their honour not to rob any of the gentlemen of the County Kilkenny. They were dispersed, after giving much trouble to the military; many were taken prisoners, tried by a Special Commission, and of course hanged; for, while the Government did nothing to alleviate the horrors of the Famine, it put the law in force with a bloody severity. The number of persons condemned to death at the Spring Assizes of 1741 was really appalling. There was a sort of small food riot at Carrick-on-Suir, where a boat laden with oats was about sailing for Waterford, when the starving people assembled to prevent the food they so much needed from being taken away. Their conduct was clearly illegal, but they were at death's door with hunger, and ought to have been treated with some consideration and patience. A justice of the peace, with eighteen foot soldiers and a troop of horse, came out and ordered them to disperse; they would not, or at least they did not do so with sufficient alacrity. One account, published a fortnight or so after the occurrence, asserts with a feeble timidity akin to falsehood, that stones were thrown by the people. Be that as it may, they were fired upon; five starving wretches were shot dead on the spot, and eleven badly wounded. To give the finishing touch to this wicked slaughter, the Lords Justices, Primate Boulter and Lord Chancellor Jocelyn, in the absence of the Lord Lieutenant, came out with a proclamation, offering a handsome reward for the apprehension of any of those who had escaped the well-directed fire of the soldiery.

The Famine continued through the year 1741 and even deepened in severity, provisions still keeping at starvation prices. The Duke of Devonshire met the Parliament on the 6th of October, and in the course of his address said: "The sickness which hath proved so mortal in several parts of the kingdom, and is thought to have been principally owing to the scarcity of wholesome food, must very sensibly affect His Majesty, who hath a most tender concern for all his subjects, and cannot but engage your serious attention to consider of proper measures to prevent the like calamity for the future, and to this desirable end the increase of tillage, which would at the same time usefully employ the industrious poor, may greatly contribute." In answer to this portion of the speech, they promise to "prepare such laws as, by encouraging tillage, and employing the industrious poor, may be the means for the future to prevent the like calamity." A Committee was appointed to inquire into "the late great scarcity," and some matters connected with tillage. They met many times; now and then reported to the House that they had made some progress, and at last the heads of a bill were presented by Mr. Le Hunte, the Chairman, which were ordered to be sent to England. Nothing, as far as I can discover, resulted from this proceeding, unless indeed it was a bill passed in 1743 "to prevent the pernicious practice of burning land," which is probable enough, as the heads of this bill were presented to the House by the same Mr. Le Hunte. During the time this Committee was sitting and reporting, and sitting again, Mr. Thos. Cuffe, seconded by Mr. George M'Cartney, presented the heads of a bill "for the more effectual securing the payment of rents and preventing the frauds of tenants," which was received and read and committed by a Committee of the whole House on presentation, and was hurried through its other stages, apparently without discussion, but certainly without opposition; and this in the second year of a Famine, now combined with pestilence, which slaughtered one-eighth of the whole population.[26] The Act was a temporary one, but was never afterwards allowed to die out. It was renewed in various reigns, and is the foundation of the Acts which were in force up to 1870 "for the more effectual securing the payment of rents."

The land had been thrown into grazing to an alarming extent for years, so that the acreage for producing grain and other such food was very limited; the people fell into listless despair from what they had endured in 1740, and did not cultivate the ground that was still left for tillage. The Catholics were paralyzed and rendered unfit for industrious pursuits, by an active renewal of the worst penal statutes. The prospect of a war with Spain, which was actually declared in October, 1739, was made the pretext for this new persecution, and all the severities recommended by Primate Boulter were put into rigid execution. These measures plunged the people into the deepest distress: horror and despair pervaded every mind.[27]

Such was the state of Ireland in 1741, when bloody flux and malignant fever came to finish what the Famine had left undone. These scourges, unlike the Famine, fell upon the castle as well as on the hovel, many persons in the higher ranks of life having died of them during the year; amongst whom we find several physicians; the son of Alderman Tew; Mr. John Smith, High Sheriff of Wicklow; Mr. Whelan, Sub-Sheriff of Meath; the Rev. Mr. Heartlib, Castle Chaplain; Mr. Kavanagh, of Borris House, and his brother; the son of the Lord Mayor-Elect; two judges, namely, Baron Wainright and the Right Hon. John Rogerson, Chief Justice of the King's Bench. The prisoners died in thousands in the jails, especially poor debtors, who had been long incarcerated. In November, 1741, the prisoners in Cork jail sent a petition to Parliament, in which they say, that "above seven hundred persons died there during the late severe seasons, and that the jail is now so full that there is scarce room for their lying on the floors." The fever was so general in Limerick that there was hardly one family in the whole city who had not some member ill of it. Galway was cruelly scourged by the Famine, to meet which little or nothing seems to have been done by those whose bounden duty it was to come to the relief of their starving brethren. When fever appeared on the terrible scene, the town became one great lazaretto. Under date of July the 8th, the following intelligence comes from that unhappy place: "The fever so rages here that the physicians say it is more like a plague than a fever, and refuse to visit patients for any fee whatever."[28] "The gentlemen of the county" met, in a way peculiar to themselves, this twofold calamity which threatened utter annihilation to their historic capital. To counteract the inevitable results of famine, they announced that they would give the reward of L30 for the first, and L10 for every other robber that would be prosecuted to conviction, and this in addition to whatever the Government would allow. What excessive liberality! They must have had plenty of money. The plague, which no physician would attend, they dealt with by a proclamation also, of which they seemed proud, for they published it repeatedly in the journals of the time. Here is an extract: "The town of Galway being at this time very sickly, the gentlemen of the county think proper to remove the races that were to be run for at Park, near the said town of Galway, to Terlogh Gurranes, near the town of Tuam, in the said county." What humane, proper-thinking "gentlemen" they were, to be sure; and such precise legal phraseology! But their enticing bill of fare contained more than the "races that were to be run for;" it announced balls and plays every night for the entertainment of the ladies.

The learned and kind-hearted Dr. Berkeley, Protestant Bishop of Cloyne, under date 21st May, 1741, writes to a a friend in Dublin:—"The distresses of the sick and poor are endless. The havoc of mankind in the counties of Cork, Limerick, and some adjacent places, hath been incredible. The nation probably will not recover this loss in a century. The other day I heard one from the county of Limerick say, that whole villages were entirely dispeopled. About two months since I heard Sir Richard Cox say, that five hundred were dead in the parish, though in a county I believe not very populous. It were to be wished people of condition were at their seats in the country during these calamitous times, which might provide relief and employment for the poor. Certainly if these perish the rich must be sufferers in the end." The author of a letter entitled "The Groans of Ireland," addressed to an Irish. Member of Parliament, thus opens his subject:—"I have been absent from this country for some years, and on my return to it, last summer, found it the most miserable scene of universal distress that I have ever read of in history: want and misery in every face; the rich unable almost as they were willing to relieve the poor; the roads spread with dead and dying bodies; mankind of the colour of the docks and nettles they fed on; two or three, sometimes more, going on a car to the grave for want of bearers to carry them, and many buried only in the fields and ditches where they perished. This universal scarcity was ensued by fluxes and malignant fevers, which swept off multitudes of all sorts: whole villages were left waste by want, and sickness, and death in various shapes; and scarcely a house in the whole island escaped from tears and mourning. The loss must be upwards of 400,000, but supposing it 200,000, (it was certainly more) it was too great for this ill-peopled country, and the more grievous as they were mostly of the grown-up part of the working people." "Whence can this proceed?" he asks; and he answers, "From the want of proper tillage laws to guide and to protect the husbandman in the pursuit of his business." [29]

This writer further says, the terrible visitation of 1740 and '41 was the third famine within twenty years; so that in view of these and other famines, since and before, Ireland might be not inaptly described as the land of Famines. Almost the first object one sees on sailing into Dublin Bay is a monument to Famine. This beautiful bay, as far-famed as the Bay of Naples itself, has often been put in comparison with it. More than once has it been my lot to witness the tourist on board the Holyhead packet, coming to Ireland for the first time, straining his eyes towards the coast, when the rising sun gave a faint blue outline of the Wicklow mountains, and assured him that he had actually and really before him, "The Holy Hills of Ireland." Nearer and nearer he comes, and Howth at one side and Wicklow Head at the other define what he, not unjustly, regards as the Bay. And surely on a bright clear morning, with just enough of sunlight, it is as fair a scene as mortal eye can rest on. The Dublin and Wicklow hills, which at first seemed to rise from the shore, recede by degrees, and with their undulating graceful outlines, become a charming background. Wicklow Head drops quietly out of the landscape, and Howth to the north, and Bray Head to the south, now become the bold gigantic flanking towers of what is more strictly regarded as Dublin Bay. The traveller's eyes, beaming with enjoyment, survey the fine perpendicular rock of Bray Head, with the railway marking a thin line upon its side nearly midway above the sea, and almost suspended over it. And then there is that beautiful cone, the Sugarloaf mountain; further still away, the loftier Djous, overhanging a dark, misty valley, which marks the spot where the waters of Powerscourt tumble down the rock a height of three hundred feet; on, on across the Dublin range to Montpelier, the valley of the Liffey, the city—notable to the north-west by its dusky-brown atmosphere; then the historic plains of Clontarf; Howth once again, and the panorama is complete. But he nears the shore rapidly, and the harbour grows more distinct, Kingstown, rising from it with its terraces, and spires, and towers, looking important and aristocratic. The rich and varied fringe of gardens, and lawns, and villas from Dalkey to Seapoint, mark at once the fashionable watering-place; whilst Dalkey Castle, standing over the great precipitous quarry from which Kingstown harbour was built, and the Obelisk on Killiney Hill indicate points from which commanding views can be obtained.

The morrow, and let us suppose the tourist ascends to the massive but friendly gate which admits to that same Obelisk hill. Was ever such an ascent open to him before? The broad, winding avenue, literally carpeted with its firm green satin sward, defined by a belt of graceful planting at either side, whilst in nooks and cozy places are inviting seats for the weak and weary to rest awhile, and gain breath to enable them to pursue their journey upwards. The Obelisk, as it is called, stands on the highest point; the view from it on every side is unrivalled for beauty—the sublime it has not—but the beautiful is perfect. The mountains, which yesterday morning at sea, gave the first glimmering indication of the Irish coast, assume new shapes, and are thrown into new combinations. Inland, the landscape stretches on till it touches the sky in all directions except where the mountains intervene. Looking north, over the flat plain of Clontarf, he beholds the lofty Mourne range, relieved against the sky; glancing along the Dublin mountains he has that wooded and villaed slope, far as the eye can reach, which forms the southern suburb, a rival for which no city in Europe can boast: to the east are the deep clear waters of the sea, four hundred feet beneath; and he gazes with delight on the tranquil and gracefully curved strand, stretching three or four miles on to Bray, which fringes that charming inlet known as Killiney Bay; its waves sending upwards, in measured cadence, their soft, distinct, suggestive murmurs, whilst they spend themselves on the shore of the ever new, ever delightful, ever enchanting Vale of Shangannah, immortalized by our Irish poet, Denis Florence M'Carthy. But this old Obelisk itself, what is it?—What brought it here? The tourist reads: "Last year being hard with the POOR, the walls about these HILLS, and THIS, etc., erected by JOHN MALPAS, Esq., June, 1742." The story of Ireland is before him; it is told in the landscape, and the inscription, it may be expressed in two words—Beauty and Starvation.

The famine of 1741 did not deter farmers from the culture of the potato; on the contrary, it increased rapidly after that period, and we now find it, for the first time, recognised as a rotation crop. They preferred to turn their attention to improve its quality and productiveness, and to take measures for its protection from frost, rather than to abandon its culture. And, indeed, it was as much a matter of necessity as choice that they did so. The potato, on a given area, supplied about four times as much food as any other crop; and, from the limited breadth of land then available for tillage, the population would be in continual danger of falling short of food, unless the potato were cultivated to a large extent. The agricultural literature of the country from 1741 until the arrival of the celebrated traveller, Arthur Young, in Ireland, consisted chiefly of fierce attacks upon graziers—of a continual demand for the breaking up of grass lands into tillage—of plans for the establishment of public granaries to sustain the people in years of bad harvests, and of the results of experiments undertaken to improve the culture of the potato. The writers on these subjects also frequently denounced the rich for the wretchedness and misery to which they allowed the labouring poor to be reduced. The author of a pamphlet, which went through several editions, thus attacks them, in the edition of 1755:—"The want of trade and industry causes such inequality in the distribution of their (the people's) property, that while a few of the richer sort can wantonly pamper appetites of every kind, and indulge with the affluence of so many monarchs, the poor, alas! who make at least ninety-nine of every hundred among them, are under the necessity of going clad after the fashion of the old Irish, whose manners and customs they retain to this day, and of feeding on potatoes, the most generally embraced advantage of the inhabitants, which the great Sir Walter Raleigh left behind him."[30] This writer's remarks apply chiefly to Cork, Waterford, Kerry, and Limerick. He proceeds: "The feeding of cattle on large dairies of several hundred acres together, may be managed by the inhabitants of one or two cabins, whose wretched subsistence, for the most part, depends upon an acre or two of potatoes and a little skimmed milk."[31]

Many think that the yield per acre of potatoes has greatly increased with time in Ireland. This opinion, although true, is not true to the extent generally supposed; for, when Arthur Young travelled in this country, and even before it, the yield, as far as recorded, seems nearly equal to the quantity produced at present, except in some peculiar cases. A well-known agriculturist, John Wynne Baker, writing in 1765, says, in a note to his "Agriculture Epitomized," that he had in the past year (1764) of apple potatoes (not a prolific kind) in the proportion of more than one hundred and nine barrels an acre.

Arthur Young came to Ireland in 1776, and he brings his account of the country down to 1779. Thirty-six years had elapsed since the great Famine, only one generation, and he found the famous root of Virginia a greater favourite than ever. From Slane, in Meath, he writes that potatoes are a great article of culture at Kilcock, where he found them grown for cattle; store bullocks were fed upon them, and they were even deemed good food for horses when mixed with bran. In Slane itself, the old custom, which was the chief cause of the famine of 1740, still prevailed; for he says, the people there were not done taking up their potatoes till Christmas. The potato culture, he elsewhere remarks, has increased twenty-fold within the last twenty years, all the hogs in the country being fattened on them. They were usually given to them half-boiled. Wherever he went he almost invariably found the food of the people, at least for nine months of the year, to be potatoes and milk, excepting parts of Ulster, where they had oatbread, and sometimes flesh meat. In the South, for the labourers of Sir Lucius O'Brien and their families, consisting of two hundred and sixty-seven souls, the quantity of potatoes planted, as appears from a paper given to him, was forty-five acres and a quarter, ranging from a quarter of an acre to four acres for each family. As to yield, the lowest he gives is forty barrels per acre, Irish of course; and the highest reported to him was at Castle Oliver, near Bruff, namely, one hundred and fifty barrels (Bristol).[32] The average produce of the entire country he gives at three hundred and twenty-eight bushels per acre—about sixty-six barrels. "Yet, to gain this miserable produce," he says, "much old hay, and nineteen-twentieths of all the dung in the kingdom is employed." Potatoes grown on the coast were frequently sent to Dublin by sea; and Lord Tyrone told Arthur Young at Curraghmore, that much of the potatoes grown about Dungarvan were sent thither, together with birch-brooms. The boats were said to be freighted with fruit and timber!

Amongst the endless varieties of the potato which appeared from time to time, that known as the "apple" was the best in quality, and stood its ground the longest, having been a favourite for at least seventy or eighty years. The produce recorded above as raised by Mr. Wynne Baker was as we have seen from this species, what kind gave the still greater yield at Castle Oliver is not recorded. Thus it is perfectly clear that in 1780, and even before that time, the staple food of the Irish nation was once again the potato. In fact, it was cultivated to a far greater extent than before 1740, which caused the population to increase with wonderful rapidity.[33]

The prolific but uncertain root on which the Irish people became, year after year, more dependent for existence, once again dashed their hopes in 1821, and threw a great part of the South and West into a state of decided famine. The spring of that year was wet and stormy, retarding the necessary work, especially the planting of potatoes. The summer was also unfavourable, May was cold and ungenial; in June there was frost, with a north wind, and sometimes a scorching sun. The autumn, like the spring, was wet and severe, rain falling to a very unusual extent. The consequent floods did extensive injury; not merely were crops of hay floated off the lowland meadows, but in various places fields of potatoes were completely washed out of the ground and carried away. The crops were deficient, especially the potato crop, much of which was left undug until the ensuing spring, partly on account of the inclement weather, partly because it was not worth the labour. The low grounds were, in many instances, inundated to such a depth that even the potatoes in pits could not be reached. About the middle of December "the Shannon at Athlone," says an eye-witness, "looked like a boundless ocean," covering for weeks the potato fields, souring the crop, and preventing all access to the pits. The loss of the potato in this year, and its cause, are thus epitomised in the following extract from the Report of the London Tavern Committee:—"From the most authentic communications, it appeared that the bad quality and partial failure of the potato crop of the preceding year (1821)—the consequence of the excessive and protracted humidity of the season—had been a principal cause of the distress, and that it had been greatly aggravated by the rotting of the potatoes in the pits in which they were stored. This discovery was made at so late a period that the peasantry were not able to provide against the consequences of that evil."[34] From the letters published in their own Report, the Committee would have been abundantly justified in adding, that the distress was greatly increased by the almost total want of employment for the labouring classes, arising from the fact, that very many of the landlords in the districts that suffered most were absentees. A writer on this Famine, who, in general, is inclined to be severe in his strictures upon the people, thus opens the subject:—"The distress which has almost universally prevailed in Ireland has not been occasioned so much by an excessive population as by a culpable remissness on the part of persons possessing property, and neglecting to take advantage of those great resources, and of those ample means of providing for an increasing population, which Nature has so liberally bestowed on this country."[35]

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