Rev. Robert Browne, Protestant rector of Kilcummin wrote to the ‘Evening Mail’ on the 23rd March on the condition of the poor in his parish. He had spent almost an entire day examining the state of the poor people of Aughnanure, a townland two miles to the east of Oughterard. He listed ten houses and their occupants by name whom he visited and described their condition. He found the people in a dying state from starvation and disease and some had already died. He did not find three houses among the many he visited that day in which disease and destitution was not to be found and but for the assistance and kindness of friends and relief they provided the whole of the population would be swept clean away with few exceptions. On his return he supplied each of the distressed families with either rice or biscuits.
“The families I visited were: Earners, Purcells, Cottinghams, Hollerans, Keelers, Connollys, Maloneys, Molloys, Mc Donaghs.
The first house I visited was that of Nelly Cottingham whom I found dying. She lay on a little straw on one side of the fire. On the opposite side lay Ellen Davoran who expired while I remained in the house. She was a girl of about 17 years of age and there can be no doubt but her death was caused by want. I entered the wretched abode of William Keeler whom I found dying. No provisions of any kind had been eaten for 36 hours by his wretched family of six. I then came to a house of a man named Connolly. Here I found that the man’s father had died two days before. Three of the children appeared to be dying. I visited the house of Patrick Maloney. This man went to work without his breakfast. I found an infant child dying in the cradle. When the mother stood up she fell in the middle of the floor from weakness. She complained of violent pains of hunger and being unwell. In the house of Festy Mc Donagh, I found them preparing the roots of some herbs to eat boiling them over the fire. They had eaten nothing since the day before. I entered the house of Tom Molloy and found that he had died a few days before. In the house of John Holleran I found his wife very unwell. I never had seen a more frightful scene than this poor man’s family. I cannot conceive anything living so worn and wasted away as the children. In the house of a poor man named Earner, one son had gone and tried to work having eaten nothing. The second son could get no work. The mother and sisters declared that they had not the slightest hope of procuring anything to eat that day.’
The editor of the ‘Galway Vindicator’ wrote that such was the dreadful condition of the locality where so much exertion had been made by the Catholic and Protestant clergy and the few resident gentry for the protection of the poor against starvation.
Ross and Oughterard
In April, James Martin of Ross House was supporting 600 residents from his own private resources. His elected division of Killannin which included Spiddal was too large and had been divided into two Catholic Parishes. As a Poor Law Guaradian of the Galway Union, he was anxious to be rid of the Spiddal district as it was cut of from him by a range of mountains with no road through them. A group of landlords under Patrick W. Blake of Furbough had met in Oughterard in April. They asked the government not to collect the poor rate that year as the heaviest burden of rates fell on the landlords. At the meeting Mr. Anthony O ‘Flahertie of Moycullen accused Dublin Castle of neglegence. They all agreed including Fr Pat Fahy of Moycullen that the present aid from the government was insufficient and that more public works were required. Anthony O Flahertie had called in January of that year for the landlords to meet to protect their own interests and that of their tenants.
Spiddal, Lettermore and Garumna
‘They are dying like birds in the mountains.’ The people on the south coast of the barony of Moycullen were part farmers and part fishermen. The herring fishery had failed during 1846. A correspondent of the Galway Mercury drew attention to the coastal region in March 1847. He pointed out the difficulty of procuring provisions and their exorbitant prices had reduced hundreds to the verge of starvation and sent many to premature graves. A peasant woman told him that ‘people were dying like birds on the mountains’ for want of food. There were no resident gentry to come to the relief of the destitute and the clergy alone both Catholic and Protestant were left to take care of the multitudes who but for their exertions would die not by units but by hundreds from want. Oatmeal was sold in the district at no less than 4s 6d a stone. Out of 60 men employed on the roads 30 at least got only one meal a day in the village of Knock. In the townland of Loughenbeg in the parish of Spiddal, a coroner’s inquest found two victims of starvation – Patrick and Bridget Duffy. They had only sea grass and sea weed to keep life in them for some time before death.
In Garumna Island on the western coast, several deaths had taken place. The people were without food or sufficient work to give them the means to purchase it. The population consisted of 1400 families. Their store of potatoes were consumed and they had no seed potatoes to sow. In order to cultivate the land they had to carry sea weed on their backs for miles over the mountains from the shore as roads were not constructed in the area. Fr Horan P.P. called for a line of road from Park to Tiernee harbour, the repair of the small pier and the enclosing of the graveyard to be carried out – thus providing work in the area.
Rev. Michael Phew C.C. Moycullen wrote to Dublin Castle on the 9th April on behalf of 4,000 parishioners. 45 had died from starvation since the 1st of January, as there was much fever and dysentery among them. A great portion of the land was left uncultivated as there was no seed to sow. He had sold his own horse, bridle and saddle to bring relief.
The reply from Dublin Castle was that there were two boilers at work in the parish for soup kitchens..
Report from Agriculture Instructor
During the Famine Agriculture Instructors were sent from the Royal Dublin Society to teach people better methods of farming and to encourage them to grow green crops such as turnips, mangolds, carrots etc as the potato crop had failed due to blight.
In April 1847 Edward Fullen visited the west of Ireland and stopped in Oughterard. He reported on his findings: he pointed out two things which caused great trouble. During the famine people changed their diet from a potato diet to a grain diet. There were very few millers in the country and most families were unable to properly cook Indian meal and corn due to the lack of cooking utensils. Secondly the transport and distribution of the supply of food from the main centers and from the towns to remote areas in the west would have saved many lives but road conditions were poor.
He wrote that it would take the pen of Dickens or Defoe to describe the distress and destitution that existed between Galway and Clifden and around the sea coast of Mayo. There was little farming done from Oughterard down to the middle of Mayo. There was a shortage of seed to sow and the only relief was public works. From Oughterard to Ballina and down to the middle of Mayo he did not find a pound of whole-meal bread or a stone of wheaten meal but only the finest of white bread made from American flour, selling everywhere at the enormous price of one shilling for a 4lb loaf which made a sad hole on their daily pittance on the public works. ‘So little use was made of bread up to that, as there was hardly a miller or baker in the district. The supplies of flour are now abundant in Cork, Limerick and Galway but this is useless unless ground material is pushed into remote areas and made into bread. Providence had suddenly had changed the people of Ireland from root eating diet into a bread eating population and we must meet this transition with all energy and effort,’ he wrote.
The Poor Inquiry of 1835/36 stated that only one in fifty in the parish of Kilcummin had kitchen cooking facilities to cook their meals.
Death of T.B. Martin Ballyinahinch Castle
Fever struck all classes including the gentry. The death of Thomas B. Martin took place in April 1847 at Ballynanhinch Castle – a M.P for Galway since 1834. His death was due to a fever he caught while visiting the Clifden workhouse as the Poor Law Guardian. The Martins were the owners of the largest estate in Ireland – 200,000 acres. During the Famine they spent large sums of money on food and clothing for the poor and gave employment to hundreds of labourers on their estates. The ‘Tuam Herald’ May 1st described T.B. Martin as a ‘good landlord, a conscientious and upright man.’ His only daughter and heir Mary Martin, Princess of Connemara, inherited a heavily indebted estate and died in poverty in New York in 1850.
Deaths in the Workhouse
At the beginning of 1847 The Galway Workhouse was full and the death toll was high. During March/April deaths averaged 35 to 40 a week. On the week ending March 9th 38 died in the Workhouse mainly from fever and dysentery.
Government Policy 1847
Public Relief works
The Relief works which began in the Spring of 1846 were continued in 1847. The winter of 1846/47 was the worst in living memory in Ireland with snow, frost and icy gales. The labourer had to go out dressed in rags to work on the public works often starving. For a period in December the road works had to be stopped in Galway. Due to the great increase in food prices a labourer would have to earn 21 shillings a week in November 1846 to support an average family but no man could earn more then 6 or 7 shillings a week. Fr. Pat Fahy. P.P. Moycullen wrote in February 1847 that the whole of his parishioners with few exceptions were on the public works. Rev Robert Browne wrote to the Lord Lieutenant on the 7th February and complained that Mr. Clement the county surveyor was not conducting the works at Lemonfield as laid down at a special sessions at Oughterard and was leaving the works half unfinished. He wrote that he was an exceedingly poor incumbent with an income of less than £70 per annum. He lived in a large populous and extremely poor parish with a population of 20,000 souls whose poor rates and other taxes were exceedingly severe…
The inhabitants of Rosscahill, parish of Kilcummin sent a memorial to the Lord Lieutenant, the Earl of Bessborough on the 20th February stating that the townland had a population of 186 persons. At the Presentment Sessions at Oughterard over £300 had been granted to provide employment for the starving inhabitants. Due to the apathy of the engineer or the landlord this money was not offered which caused the death of some and the prospect of the same for others unless given shortly. They called on him to order the line of road to be opened immediately to save the people from starvation. The reply to Fr. Glynn, parish priest on March 3rd from the office of public works was that these requests were granted. The new line had been put into operation at a cost of £153 12s and the works were to begin immediately. The reply added that there were 8,373 employed in the public works in the barony of Moycullen or 23 % of the entire population.
Numbers Employed on the Public Works
On the week ending the 30th January 1847 the average number of persons employed on the public works in Co. Galway was 36,911. On the same date the daily average employed on the roads in the barony of Moycullen were:
Labourers (able bodied) 3,729
Boys 230 – a total of 4,362
Presentment Sessions Oughterard
These sessions were held on the 5th March and on the 27th April for the barony of Moycullen. They were called to apply for a government grant to complete the public works and thus provide employment for the people. The money for the works had to be raised by local taxes (rates).
March 5th Session
Attendance: Robert Martin, Ross, A O’Flahertie, Knocklbane , Moycullen, Captain O’Flahertie Lemonfield, C. St. George, Oughterard, A.W. Blake, Furbo/ Spiddal.
Mr Matier, the engineer in charge of the barony said that the road works had resumed on the 1st October 1846 and there were 8,500 persons or ¼ of the entire population on the public wotks during the last month of February 1847. Fr. Horan P.P. Carraroe said that the £450 presented for Garumna Island was inadequate for the employment of the 1400 families to prevent death from starvation.
The second session held in April in Oughterard, Mr Martin said that 178 miles of road had been undertaken in the barony and there was to be a further grant to continue the works during the summer months. A resolution was passed urging the government to continue a liberal system of public works along with the soup kitchens which were to be established. The average number now employed in the barony on public works was 7,008.
Strict attendance on the Public Works
The ‘Tuam Herald’ on the 20th March reported on the operation of the public works in 1847. Task work was to be continued and labourers were to be employed at the rate of daily wages under that at present given in the surrounding district. Strict and constant attendance by the labourers was to be enforced from 6a.m to 6p.m. The overseer was to call the roll at 6a.m. A quarter of a day’s pay was deducted from any person who did not attend at 6a.m. At 9 o’clock half a days pay. Those who arrived after 9 o’clock were not employed that day. The roll was called again at 6p.m and no payment was given to those who did not appear.
Reduction and End of Public Works
On the 12th March the government announced that on the 20th March the numbers employed on the public works would be reduced by 20% and the remainder would be reduced by further reductions, which would follow. The total number employed on the public works reached a peak of 750.000 in the country in March 1847. The management of the works had broken down and they were out of control. In June 1847 the government closed the works altogether. The ‘Galway Vindicator’ of June 12th reported on, ‘The Cruel Stoppage of the Public Works’. It stated that hundreds of unfortunate men had been at once discharged from employment and left without any immediate provisions for their maintenance – they would die of hunger. In many cases the government soup kitchens were to replace the relief works but they were not properly established and the poor had to depend on charity in the meantime.
Rev Robert Browne wrote to Captain Hellard, Inspection Officer of the Galway Union on the 25th June from Glebe, Oughterard. He said that the public works had ceased and had plunged the large population in the parish into increased suffering for want of relief. He criticized the local relief committee for not assisting the poor starving people. T. H.O’Flahertie of Lemonfield wrote to the Galway Vindicator on June 30th that he had applied to the Commissioner of Public Works not to suspend the public works in the district but to no avail. The people as a result were in a deplorable state. The relief (soup kitchens) promised by the government had not reached the district. He thanked the Society of Friends and The British Association for the relief the two charities had provided.