The Famine Part 2

Memorials (signed petitions) to the Government 1846

Murt Molloy

William à Court, 1st Baron Heytesbury. Lord Lieutenant of Ireland

Memorials or signed petitions were sent in great numbers to the government 1846/47. They called on the government to provide public relief works so that the people could buy enough food to enable themselves and their families to survive. They were generally addressed to the Lord Lieutenant at Dublin Castle. A number of these petitions came from the parish of Kilcummin (spelt Kilcomyn) and from other parishes in the barony of Moycullen. Short replies were given to the letters in most cases.

He feared that plunder and an uprising would follow

John Brice Blake, Castlekirk wrote to the Chief Secretary, Dublin Castle 13th November 1845. He said that the potato crop in his mountainous district was a perfect failure. There were hundreds of people who would not have a sound potato in a month. There was no employment or any means of procuring food unless the government took active measures to supply their wants. He feared that plunder and an uprising would follow unless the poor received relief from the government. J.B. Blake signed himself as J.P. L Justice of the Peace and Captain of the 49th Regiment. He wrote frequently on behalf of the poor of the Maam district in the barony of Ross but also for the poor of Glann and for those on both sides of Lough Corrib. He often warned that peace could not be maintained and violence would break out unless the government took effective action on behalf of the people who were starving.

Petition from Derry West, Oughterard

The inhabitants of the townland of Derry West Oughterard sent a petition to the Lord Lieutenant, The Marquis of Heytesbury dated February 2nd 1846. It stated ‘that due to the rapid and universal progress of the potato rot they feared the prospect of inevitable starvation and famine unless averted by the government. They called for the making of a road from Lough Corrib to Galway post road, 2 miles long which would give employment to the people of the district. They requested a quay or a habour at the end of the road on Lough Corrib which would make possible extensive trading in turf. They were on the verge of famine and desolation unless the district was alleviated.’ The memorial had 53 signatures attached to it.

Rev. Robert Browne, Protestant Rector, Oughterard

On the 24th March 1846 he wrote to the Lord Lieutenant stating that the area was in a bad state through a shortage of potatoes. People were constantly coming to his door and he was doing what he could for them. One village Maghermore had 73 houses another near 40 and another 16. Of these 45 were in great need. 30 villages and the small town of Oughterard were in want. ‘My Glebe house is incessantly surrounded with these poor people appealing to me and entreating me to go and visit their farms and houses to evidence the truth of their statement. I have done so and will continue to so if spared.”

Rev Browne wrote again to Dublin Castle about the distress in Oughterard and the need for public works in May and June 1846.

Memorial on behalf of the poor of the barony of Moycullen

April 16th 1846

This was sent by the magistrates, clergy, gentry and the people of the barony assembled in the Courthouse Oughterard. They stated, ‘as the spring advanced, privation if not absolute destitution must be the fate of a very large number of the poor and the labourers of the district. They feared the coming calamity unless averted by employment. They called for a road to be constructed 12 miles long between Oughterard and Cashlach Bay which would provide employment to a population in distress for want of food. The road would preserve from destruction a large body of persons for the next 4 months…’

New Village Memorial, Oughterard 27th May 1846.

It was sent to The Marquis of Heytesbury. It stated that from early October last, the potato was smitten with rot with their only prospect famine and starvation. There were 300 families in the locality comprising of 1,500 individuals in the greatest destitution and misery. They had killed fowl and other animals as a substitute for food and had pawned many articles of clothing and furniture. They were compelled to sell their corn last season to meet the urgent demands of the landlords. Now sheer famine stared them in the face unless prevented by government aid. They called for the making of a road form Slievenavinnogue to the Quay of Drumnakill which would open up communication with Lough Corrib and Galway and make possible trading in turf, lime and sea manure to Galway, Headford and Cong.

The reply of Sir Randolph Routh, Under Secretary to the Treasurer of the 1st of June was that the memorial had been sent to the Board of Works but no reply was received as there was no signature to the memorial.

Spiddal – Killeen – Garumna

The southern part of the barony of Moycullen along the coast and especially the islands of Garumna and Lettermore suffered greatly during the famine due to the lack of roads and great distance from the Galway market.

The Galway Vindicator 21st February appealed on behalf of a large population on the Western Coast of Galway Bay especially the district of Garumna as they were facing the appalling prospect of famine in a few weeks. All hope of a productive herring fishing season on the Connemara coast had passed away. The paper drew attention to the insular position of Garumna which had a population of 6,000 persons who in rough weather were completely cut off from all communication from the market of Galway.

March 11th The Galway Vindicator published an extract from Rev. Patrick Horan P.P. of the district who called for the employment of the people in useful public works instead of allowing them to starve. He called for a road from Killeen to Lettermore to cater for a population of 6,000 persons. In a list of 13 townlands there was a total of 992 persons without potatoes or any other food. The newspaper stated that based on reliable sources, the number of persons who expected to have sufficient up to the 18th may was a total of 1785 out of 6,000 persons.

Garumna and Lettermullen

On the 13th March a memorial was sent on behalf of the two districts. It stated that 5,000 souls inhabited a large tract of sea-coast and mountain land with no road in any direction for 9 miles. The potato had been exceedingly virulent in that district and they faced a lingering death unless the government commenced public works immediately to afford them subsistence. The memorial was signed on behalf of the inhabitants by Henry Comerford, a Galway merchant who owned land in the district.

The reply was that the application was to be dealt with at the Presentment Sessions due to be held.


Appeals for Spiddal district were made by A. W. Blake of Furbough on the 14th March and Rev. John O Grady P.P. Spiddal on the 20th April.

A.W. Blake said that the potato crop had been destroyed by the blight all along the sea coast. The greater number of the inhabitants would be short of food in six weeks before the new crop came in. He called on the government to employ the people on the roads as quickly as possible and to build a safety harbour for the protection of the fishermen.

The reply was the attention of the Board of Works would be drawn to the improvement of the harbour at Spiddal.

Rev John O Grady P.P. Spiddal who wrote to the Galway Vindicator said that 150 of the inhabitants of the parish were in distress already without a store of potatoes among them either for seed or daily support. In one village of 15 families evictions had taken place two years ago, they had not a single meal of provisions since Christmas Day last. He was certain that the number of parishioners in actual want on the 1st of June would be at least 300-400. He called the attention of the government to his neglected district where the people were crying out for food.

Galway Vindicator 22nd April reported that many parts of Galway and Garumna, Killeen and Lettermullen had on undoubted authority that 300 families at that moment were subsisting on shell fish and sea-weed and the remainder of the population hastening fast to the last deplorable expedient to maintain a famished existence.


These are examples of the condition of the people and their requests to the government to provide public works in the Barony of Moycullen during the first half of 1846. Deaths began to be reported in the parishes of the barony from the middle of 1846.

What would be the response of the government to what was increasingly being referred as the ‘calamity facing them’?

The Provision of Food Depots

The Relief Commission formed by the government was to establish food depots throughout the country where the Indian corn imported by the government was to provide food for the people and was to be sold to the local committees at cost price. At the same time merchants in Galway were importing and selling Indian meal, oatmeal and other foods in their stores advertised at moderate prices.

A food depot was established in Galway on the 30th April under Assistant Commissioner A.C. Wood. At the same time smaller sub depots at the coast guard stations along the south coast of the barony of Moycullen at the Aran Islands, Barna, Spiddal, Killeen and Garumna were opened.

6th July a Constabulary Depot was formed in Oughtetrard to supply the interior of the barony of Moycullen. Galway was the main depot and it was to supply the Coast Guard depot and part of Connemara including Oughterard. The cargoes of Indian corn arrived in Galway by steamers in April and May and were stored in the government depot. By early May the assistant Commissioner A.C. Wood began to sell the Indian corn to the Galway Relief Committee at £11 a ton or 1s 4d a stone – cost price. Supplies of Indian corn were also sold by the government to the coast guard stations in Spiddal, Lettermore and Garumna at cost price. They were supplied with 5-10 tons as their relief committees had raised subscriptions for the purchase of Indian meal.

Problem – No Relief Committee in Oughterard

Rev. Robert Browne the Protestant rector wrote to William Stanley on the 14th and 22nd July on the relief situation in Oughterard. He said – that in the last few days some tons of Indian meal had arrived in Oughterard for the relief of the distressed poor but Major Wainright, the superintendent could not distribute the meal because a Relief Committee had not been formed and thus government regulations had not been complied with. Rev Browne wrote to Dublin Castle again on the 22nd July and said that there was a large population in extreme distress with an abundance of food in a depot, which could not be given to them, because of government regulations. The people had no money to buy provisions even at the lowest price. Rev, Browne added that typhus fever was prevalent around Oughterard and Dr. Davis feared that it would spread. On the 5th August Major Wainright who had been sent to Oughterard and Clifden to take charge of the food depots ordered an issue of free or gratuitous food at the Constabulary Depot in Oughterard against government regulations.

Sir Randolph Routh who was in charge of the Relief Commission in Dublin informed the Treasury in Whitehall of the incident and gave Wainright a stern warning about this. He said that Oughterard had not formed a Relief Committee or raised any subscriptions or made any effort on their own behalf. He said the free or gratuitous issues of food from depots would discourage exertions by inhabitants on their own behalf and lead to mendieancy (reduce to beggeray). However free issue of food was allowed at Oughterard as Mr. Wainright had acted in good faith although in error. The Oughterard depot which was a sub depot of Galway was issued with 3,451 lbs of Indian meal in total while it was opened. The incident of the giving of free food at Oughterard is recorded in ‘The Great Hunger’ by Cecil Woodham–Smith one of the major books on the Famine in Ireland. She wrote that no free issue of food whatever was to be made and that when Major Wainright was detected in giving a quantity of food to starving persons in Oughterard, Co Galway early in August 1846 and he was reprimanded from Whitehall by Sir Charles Trevelyan. Yet free issues of food had been given to a considerable extent at the Coastguard Station in Barna, Spiddal and Lettermore by Sir James Dombrien who was in charge of the station.

Sir Charles Trevelyan

During the Famine Sir Randolph Routh in Dublin was in charge of relief – food depots and public works but the Treasury in London controlled the purse strings on the expenditure on relief. The key figure on government spending during the Famine was Sir Charles Trevelyan who was the assistant secretary to the Treasurer. He believed strongly in free trade, private enterprise and that the provision of food should be left in private hands. He refused to take any steps to prevent the export of food from Ireland as this would interfere with free trade in the market. He felt that the Famine was a punishment sent by God to teach the Irish a lesson that they should depend upon themselves instead of relying on government assistance. Although Trevelyan as a civil servant was carrying out government policy he is chiefly blamed by historians for the worst effects of the Famine as he had so much control over government policy. He is remembered in the popular song ‘ The Fields of Athenry” – ‘Michael they are taking you away for you stole Trevelyan corn so the young might see the morn.’

Closure of the Sub-depots August 28th

The Assistant Commissioner Mr. Wood, in Galway wrote to the Relief Commission in Dublin stating that the supplies of the small coastguard stations and the station at Oughterard should be brought forward to Galway because their demands were greatly reduced and sales at Oughterard were trifling. As a result the stations at Spiddal, Oughterard and Garumna were closed that meant that the people in these districts had to travel the long distance of 20-30 miles to get meal in Galway either from the government depots or from private merchants who often took advantage of the famine and sold meal at exorbitant prices. Despite constant pleas to open the food depots at Spiddal, Lettermore and Oughterard the government refused to do so as they said it would interfere with private traders. The poor suffered as a result.

Rising Prices

The Galway Vindicator reported on the rising prices of food of all types in the Galway market from February to April. Due to a scarcity of potatoes, bread, flour and oatmeal had greatly increased in price. On the 18th April the Galway market potatoes were three times the price they were in January which was 8p a stone (14 lbs).

Relief Committees

During 1846 Relief Committees were formed all over Ireland. They were to raise money by subscriptions and the government gave loans as aid to buy Indian corn imported from America at cost price or from private traders. Relief committees were formed in the barony of Moycullen at Spiddal, Lettermore, Garumna, Moycullen and Oughterard at the end of 1846.

Oughterard Relief Committee members:

Chairman: James Martin, Ross

Secretary: T.H. O’Flaherty, Lemonfield

Members: Dr. Joseph Kirwan P.P., George O Flaherty, Edmund O Flaherty, George Cottingham, Corribview, Rev Robert Browne, Protestant rector.

Moycullen Relief Committee

Chairman: Rev. P. Fahy P.P.

Secretary: George E Burke.

There were particular difficulties in forming a committee in Oughterard because of the great size of the parish and its electoral divisions and it was supposed to act with the Spiddal relief committee for the whole of the barony of Moycullen. The committee, which was not formed until October/ November 1846 remained fairly inactive during 1846/47 but good work was done by individuals both landlords and clergy on behalf of the people of the district. As already noted the absence of a committee created problems for the distribution of food from the depot in July/August 1846.

Committees Garumna, Spiddal, Lettermore May 1846

The committees were active in supporting the poor on the south coast. A.W. Blake, Forbough was the chairman of the Spiddal Relief Ocmmittee as well as Rev. Francis Kenny P.P. Spiddal and Rev John O’Grady P.P. Spiddal and Minna, Rev John Cather, Protestant Rector and Rev. P. Moran P.P. Carraroe were active members of the Lettermore, Garumna Relief Committee.

Between May 16th and June 22nd the Lettermore Relief Committee raised £112 in subscriptions and were donated £83 by the government. From June 1st to July 4th the Spiddal committee raised £80 in subscriptions and were donated £71 by the government.

Public Relief Works March – December 1846

The government decided to establish public relief works in March 1846 although work did not begin until July in the barony of Moycullen. Their purpose was to provide labourers with enough money to buy food to survive the crisis of the famine. The relief works mainly consisted in the building of roads but also piers and habours along the coast of Connemara to assist fisheries.

This page was added on 26/11/2015.

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