NELLIGAN-L ArchivesArchiver > NELLIGAN > 2006-11 > 1164106970
From: "Carolanne" <>
Subject: [NELLIGAN/NELIGAN] The Famine Years
Date: Tue, 21 Nov 2006 06:04:49 -0500
Thanks to Jean Rice for this
Famine, Disease and Evictions -- Relief
SNIPPET: Like all famines, most victims in Ireland did not actually starve
to death -- they didn't live long enough to die of starvation. Disease
carried the malnourished, weakened majority away -- fever, dysentery,
smallpox, influenza, tuberculosis, measles - later, in 1849 Asiatic cholera.
Crowded work programs and workhouses were breeding grounds for disease. At
the same time, foodstuffs were being exported out of the country. Faced
with a mounting disaster of their own making, British officials abandoned
public works programs and authorized the opening of soup kitchens to provide
free soup to all. By July 1847, the kitchens were serving a simple yet
nourishing soup called 'stirabout' to three million people, 37% of the
population. By the end of September 1847, the British, increasingly
concerned about the cost of Irish relief and worried that the Irish might
become dependent on the care, declared the Famine to be 'over' and
terminated the soup kitchens. Their u!
nderlying goal was to shift all the costs of relief from the British
government to individual Irish landlords under a provision called the Poor
Law Extension Act.
The taxes on landlords to pay for this policy hit them hard, causing many to
evict their tenants; thousands more sold their land or terminated their
leases in order to get food, causing still greater distress and
homelessness. Evictions increased in every year of the Famine up to 1850
and remained high through the early 1850s. All told, approximately half a
million people were evicted from their homes during the Famine Years, often
in a cruel and callous manner. Frequently, landlords called in armed guards
to serve eviction notices and to keep people away while men pulled down the
houses and set them ablaze. Evicted tenants often built simple shacks
called 'scalpeens' along roadsides nearby.
Some notable exceptions included the EDGEWORTHs of Co. Longford and Henry
MOORE of Galway, both of whom nearly went bankrupt feeding their tenants.
It should also be pointed out that some Catholic landlords resorted to
evictions in order to save their farms. Families who had supplemented their
diet by fishing were forced to pawn their nets and small boats called
"coracles," the herring population was greatly diminished and most river and
lakes were bounded by private property whose owners refused to allow people
Unable to purchase expensive grain and dairy foods, unable to fish, the poor
first ate their seed potatoes, greatly limiting future plantings,
slaughtered pigs, bled cows to drink blood, ate horses, birds, dogs, cats,
mice, rats, frogs and then insects and thistles. When these were gone, they
turned to grass. Corpses were found alongside roads with green-stained
mouths. Resistance to eviction and other forms of injustice were common,
especially in the early years of the Famine - mainly against property -
usually stealing food. Occasionally, attacks against landlords, rent
collectors, evictors, and police did occur. The most sensation of these was
the assassination of Roscommon landlord, Major Denis MAHON, in late 1847.
The Quakers took an early interest in the Irish crisis and provided some of
the most important relief. As early as October 1846 they were serving free
soup in Ireland, a policy later adopted by the British government. The many
Quakers who went to Ireland to directly assist the relief effort wrote some
of the most important first-hand accounts of the suffering and lackluster
British measures. With an eye to the future, Quakers also distributed seeds
and set up workers in small business ventures. Per author Edward T.
O'DONNELL, at least 18 Quakers died of disease and exhaustion while in
Ireland. The Quakers also raised 200,00 pounds both in Britain and the U.
All added up, the British spent approximately 10 million pounds on Irish
Famine relief. More than half of this money came in the form of a loan for
which repayment was due. Most of the money was spent on the misguided,
punitive public works phase of relief in 1846 and 1847 - ironically, the
period of greatest mortality - because the British government could not bear
the idea of giving food away without having to work for it. Clothed in
rags, often shoeless, malnourished men worked at hard labor 12 hours a day
six days a week on work projects such as building roads, even in snow, to
earn food for their families. As a result, they had no time to plant any
crops for themselves.
Funding after that was sharply curtailed as a means of forcing Irish
landlords to bear the cost of relief. Although the British press and
government accused Irish landlords of shirking their duty, the latter
actually spent 9 million in pounds in poor relief. Historian Christine
KINEALYsays that famine relief was small when one considers the fact that
the Treasury expected repayment for approximately 5 million pounds of the
funds, and when compared to other large-scale expenditures by the Treasury.
For example, compensation to British slave owners when slavery was abolished
in 1833 was 22 million pounds and after the Famine, British would spend 69
million pounds in the disastrous Crimean War.
Queen Victoria's donation of 2,000 pounds was seen as a pittance compared to
her wealth and indicative of British indifference. The Queen visited
Ireland in August of 1849, in part to demonstrate that the Famine was
'over.' She visited Cork, Dublin, Belfast, and Cobh (which was renamed
Queenstown in her honor), but stayed far from the suffering. Many Irish
mocked her visit by singing "Arise ye dead of Skibbereen/And come to Cork to
see the Queen."
The efforts of America and other countries such as Russia's endeavour to
provide a shipment of rye to Ireland once the waterway had been cleared of
ice were well published in the press. So too were expressions of gratitude
by the Irish famine victims. Upon arriving in Cove (Cobh), County Cork with
a load of relief supplies, the officers and crew of the unarmed sloop-of-war
'USS Jamestown' were given an official reception by a grateful Irish
delegation. The 'Cork Constitution,' reporting on this humanitarian mission
pronounced blessings on the heads and hearts of those who sent and brought
supplies declaring it 'the noblest offering that Nation ever made to
Many small grants were given by 'A General Central Relief Committee for All
Ireland' organized in 1847 to collect funds for relief by Daniel O'CONNELL
and the Young Irelander William Smith O'BRIEN, which, like most relief
agencies, disbanded prematurely at the end of 1847. A second major
organization was the British Relief Association. It raised and distributed
400,000 pounds before disbanding in the summer of 1848. Its most notable
achievement, the result of its chief agent Count Paul Edmund de STRZELECKI,
a Polish nobleman, were schools that fed 200,000 children a day in western
Ireland. When STRZELECKI appealed to the Treasury for money to continue the
program, however, Secretary Charles TREVELYAN refused.
Countless priests and nuns worked tirelessly throughout Ireland to relieve
suffering and administer last rites to the dying. They were overwhelmed in
these efforts and an untold number of them perished with the masses. The
Irish Catholic Church raised money from abroad and expended a great deal of
its own meager resources on relief. Pope Pius IX sent one thousand Roman
dollars in Jan 1847 and issued an encyclical instructing Catholics all
around the world to pray for Ireland and to raise money. This served to
gain international attention for the crisis and brought in much-needed
donations totally 400,000 pounds.
The term "souperism" relates to the practice in rare instances of small
groups of private relief workers in Ireland demanded that starving Irish
peasant renounce their Catholic faith and convert to Protestantism as a
qualification for receiving soup. One group wrote in ao Belfast newspaper
that the Famine provided a great opportunity "for conveying the light of the
Gospels ot the darkened mind of the Roman Catholic Peasantry."
Besides the Quakers, private donations totaling more than 2 million pounds
poured into Ireland from six continents. The first from India, a collection
taken up by British soldiers. Donations also came from the Sultan of
Turkey, the Czar of Russia, ex-slaves in the Caribean, two Jewish
congregations in NYC. In America, the Senate passed in Feb 1847 a bill
authorizing $500,000 in aid to Ireland and Scotland. When that was deemed
unconstitutionall, Congress approved the use of the warships 'Jamestown' and
'Macedonia' to bring privately raised supplies to Ireland and Scotland.
Destined for Ireland, the 'Jamestown' began loading in Boston on St.
Patrick's Day 1847 and arrived in early April. The American Indian Choctaw
tribe sent $170 to Ireland through the Quakers. No strangers to oppression
and starvation, themselves, they had been forced to travel the Trail of
Tears to OK in 1831 by President Andrew JACKSON. Total aid to Ireland from
America during the years of the fa!
mine in donations, foodstuffs and clothing was massive.
More than one million fled Ireland during the Great Famine. . Some
emigrants managed to sell a few possession to buy cheap steerage tickets.
Others with only a few pounds bought tickets on ferries and coal barges to
Liverpool. Many were given free tickets by landlords and British officials
eager to rid Ireland of its 'surplus' population. For their destinations,
some went only as far as London or Liverpool. Others booked passage on
ships to the continent, Australia, Latin America, and Canada. An estimated
80% shipped out for the United States. Most of them landed in the principal
ports of NY, Boston, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. .
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