The potato crop did not fail due to blight in 1847. The yield of the crop was very small as there was very little seed available for planting. The Galway Vindicator on the 10th July reported that the potato presented no traces of disease in any part of the county. On the 6th of October the same paper wrote that the potato had escaped the rot of the previous years. As the potato crop was blight free in the summer of 1847 the Government said that the Famine was over.The soup kitchens had been closed since September and the Public works ended, not to be resumed.
The Poor Law Act June/July 1847
The government passed the Poor Law Extension Act in June 1847which laid down that all relief was to be provided by the Poor Law or by the Workhouse Union. The poor had to enter the workhouse or receive out door relief – which was permitted of the first time. Those entitled to relief under the Poor Law were those not capable of supporting themselves that is the aged, infirm, sick, orphans and widows with children. Able-bodied persons who were destitute could receive out door relief but they had to work at least eight hours a day breaking stones on the roads to be entitled to it. The cost was to be met by the poor rates levied on each workhouse union. Each electoral division with its own Workhouse was made responsible for the relief of its own poor.
Quarter Acre Clause
The most notorious part of the Poor Law act was the Gregory or Quarter Acre Clause. It was introduced by William Gregory – a landlord in South Galway and M.P. for Dublin. It stated that anyone who occupied more than a quarter of an acre of land could not receive any relief under the Poor Law unless that person surrendered his land to the landlord. The act was passed in the Westminster Parliament for the benefit of the landlords and in some cases the landlords used the clause to evict tenants of the land.
Fr. Pat Fahy P.P. continued to keep an accurate record of of his own parish. July 5th he wrote that The Central Relief Committee in Dublin had sent him £50 with which he purchased meal and distributed it cheaper than the Galway price. This had revived the spirits of the people and gave considerable relief to them for as long as it lasted. The school house was opened as a store house for provisions and this banished the heavy gloom of his parishioners. The potatoes were 28s a cwt and Indian meal 2s 5d a stone. The average wage on the public works was 1s per day. The patience and order of the parishioners was edifying under all the circumstances.
No Shortage of Food
By now there was sufficient food in the country to feed the people. Merchants from Galway had imported a variety of foods especially Indian meal and Indian corn from America and Europe. August 28th the Galway Vindicator reported that the docks were crowded with vessels discharging cargoes of Indian corn. The price of the corn had fallen to almost the lowest level it could reach. However it was only available at cost price and beyond the reach of the poor people who had no money. Yet in spite of the fall in prices and the large supply of food in Galway and at other ports many were starving and dying in the barony of Moycullen.
Plea from Leam Village
Michael Dignan of the townland of Leam,famine Oughterard sent a memorial to the Lord Lieutenant, the Earl of Clarendon on the 18th August, seeking help for himself and his family who were suffering from the extreme want of food. His potatoes had been smithen with the blight and he had no tillage. He had received no relief and his only refuge was to die with his wife and eight children. His children were in a sick state for two months and his means were totally exhausted. He called on the Lord Lieutenant to relieve his distress. The reply of T.H. Redington of Dublin Castle on the 25th August was that he could not take any action in relation to his memorial.
Collection of the Poor Rates
During the Famine all relief both in door and out door in the Workhouses depended on the poor rates and there was no other source of finance. The poor rates increased greatly during the Famine as the Workhouses became over crowded by early 1847. In three western divisions of the Galway Union –Oughterard, Moycullen and Killannin the collection of the poor rates proved a very difficult problem. Mr George Mc Donald was sent by the Dublin Government as a poor rate collector to the three parishes. He had to be kept in the Police Barracks in Oughterard for his own protection. From 1844 there were many letters sent by Mr. Mc Donald to the authorities seeking police and military protection during the collection of the poor rates. The resistance to the collection of the rates often led to violence as the rate collectors seized cattle or grain in lieu of the poor rates from those who defaulted on their payments. On March 21st 1847 Mr. Bermingham, a poor rate collector, said that there was no possibility of collecting the rates in Killannin as the people in all the villages were starving. There might be a chance of getting a little in Oughterard. The editor of the Galway Vindicator wrote in September that the people had no money to pay the rates, because of the universal bankruptcy and ruin of the country.
Shall we Perish or Live?
On the 29th September the editor of the Galway Vindicator wrote a strongly worded article that criticized the English Government for its demand that Ireland promptly repay all the advances of money given under the Temporary Relief Act of 1847 – that is the grants for the soup kitchens schemes. He called on the country to resist this demand, as it was unjust. This would ruin the country and lead to greater starvation and destitution. He referred to the griping avarice and callous indifference of Great Britain in making this demand. He wrote, ‘Ireland wasted, ruined, the writhing victim of two years of the most awful famine … with her people decimated, her resources exhausted, her gentry impoverished and merchants bankrupt, is now required at swords point to relinquish to the avaricious grasp of Britain, the only remaining stay for the existence of her people, the produce of the late harvest … yet of this our last resources would England deprive us of?
Shall we submit to be plundered and permit ourselves to perish? Let Ireland resist this demand as it is not made in equity…”
Fr Pat Fahy P.P. described the position of hi s parish in October. He wrote that the year promised to be as equally as bad as the previous year. Very little potatoes had been set. He thought the turnip crop would support the people until Christmas and perhaps some people would have enough until March. The potato blight was as destructive as the two previous years. They had a fever hospital to support out of the poor rates which took in about 50 patients. The people were now within one stop of a visitation of the most awful kind. About 200 died in the parish the previous year of famine and its effects. In Oughterard and Oranmore he thought the death toll was far greater – not less than 1,000each. The people had given up the old custom of ‘altars’ which supported the clergy as they had no money. The clergyman had treble the labour at this difficult time.
Oughterard – Rev Robert Browne
Rev. Robert Browne the Protestant rector was so dissatisfied that he wrote to the Prime Minister Lord John Russell at 10 Downing St. London on the 3rd November.
He said that the public good was his aim. He accused T.H. O’fflahertie who was chairman of the relief Committe of evicting a poor widow Mrs. Ann O Sullivan who was paying 10s 6d per annum and letting her house to the Relief Committed at £4 yearly and that the Relief Committee had bought £200 worth of meal from one of its own members. He said that both he and Mr. Martin of Ross House had both protested at the dishonesty and inactivity of the local gentry, while the people were dying. He also criticized Fr. Peter Daly of Galway and Capt. Hollard, inspecting officer of the Galway Union.
Dublin Castle responded that they did not want any ‘ angry discussions’. There was an investigation and no abuse by the local committee was revealed. In December 1847 Anthony O’ fflahertie M.P. wrote to the under secretary at Dublin Castle. He explained that he had been friendly with Rev Browne when he came to the area a few years before. O’fflahertie strongly defended Fr Daly for his work for the poor in the parish of Rahoon and Capt. Hollard as an honest officer. He said that the Rev Browne had imitated the conduct of Fr. Peter Daly against whom he made charges, to join the labour of the distressed and much of the suffering would have been averted of which he justly complained. Instead his aim had been to obstruct the efforts of those who kept themselves for the relief of the poor of the district. After this letter of Mr O’fflahrtie Dublin Castle ignored Rev. Browne – it would appear that Oughterard Relief Committee 1847 was doing its best to relief the poor of the district by the purchase and the distribution of meal to the needy. Yet there was much criticism of its inactivity during the Famine of 1846/47.
A friend of the poor wrote about the district to the Galway Mercury on the 16th November. He said that although there had been several cases of malignant illness in the district, due to the skill of Dr. Davis there was not a single death due to fever. Yet there was great destitution prevalent among the labouring people of the district. Mr. Edward Fitzgerald, and agricultural instructor for the Royal Dublin Society had arrived in the district and several of the peasantry had put down their names for the digging scheme but the poor creatures had not got the necessary implements to avail of the scheme as due to the hardness of the times they were compelled to part with their spades, shovels and other farming implements. Mr. Fitzgerald arrived from Dublin on the 27th November and visited Glann and Glengowla, Oughterard. In each area he found the same situation – very little farming or preparation for the sowing of the next crop. He was told that the small holders never made any preparation for the spring crops until after Christmas. In Glann, on the shores of Lough Corrib, which belonged to the Martins of Ballynahinch the land was nearly all in a state of nature. Most of the small tenants of Mr. Griffith a local landlord in Glann were in arrears of rent and several expected to be dispossessed and as a result did nothing. In the estate of Mr O’fflahertie of Lemonfield he saw a field Aberdeen and white globe turnips that were tolerably well cultivated – unlike many of the district that were not thinned – so the crop was not worth anything.
The electoral division of Killannin was the same extent as the parish. It included the district of Spiddal on the coast. D.W. Blake of Spiddal in a letter to the Relief Commission in Dublin on the 18th November showed the district that existed on the sea coast. He wrote ‘that we behold with the utmost sorrow and dismay the fearful return of the Famine to this district. No language can express and the mind can scarce conceive the awful privations which more than half of our people are now calmly and patiently enduring. Many families are trying to prolong their existence on one meal a day of turnips alone, sometimes plundered at the risk of their lives from the gardens of more fortunate neighbours. Human life could not be long sustained on such a precarious subsistence.”
The reply from Dublin Castle to his request for aid on the 23rd November was that he should apply to the agent of the British Association, a charitable body for aid in their distress.