The Famine Part 7

Soup Kitchens

Murt Molloy

As the Public Works ended in June 1847, the government brought in a Temporary Relief Act to replace them. It was designed to provide directly cooked food or soup as a form of relief and it was to be given freely to the people. Soup kitchens were to be established in each workhouse district or electoral division. It was in operation from June to September during the summer of 1847. There were to be no preferences on religious grounds. The recommended daily ration per person was one quart of soup or 11/2 lbs of bread. Each member of the family had to troop every day to the soup kitchen carrying a bowl or can and waited for their name to be called, which was very demeaning. Relief under the Soup Kitchen Act did not begin in Oughterard until July. In most places there was a gap from 6 weeks to 2 months from the close of the public works to the beginning of relief under the Soup Kitchen Act. Dr. Mary Daly of UCD who had written a book on the Famine in Ireland says that the sudden change in policy was handled in almost a criminal manner by the government.

Society of Friends

In some places soup kitchens were formed before the government act came into operation. The Society of Friends was active in setting up soup kitchens. Mr. Forster of the Society of Friends who had visited Oughterard at the end of January 1847 said that he had arranged to set up a soup kitchen there to serve the area of Glann where death and starvation were particularly bad. During January and February Rev John Cather the Protestant rector got £50 for the soup kitchen of Lettermore and one ton of Indian Meal from the relief committee in Dublin. At the same time Rev. Robert Browne got one ton of Indian meal and one ton of rice for the poor of Oughterard. Rev. Francis Kenny P.P. Spiddal informed the Relief Commission in Dublin in March that they required 6 boilers of 60 gallons in his district as it was densely populated. Two boilers were in operation in Moycullen in April and the soup kitchens were deemed to be doing good work. Lord James Butler of the British Association for relief of distress, a charitable body, reported on the 17th March that he had arranged for the sale of Indian meal and wheaten meal to be retailed at cost price – £18 per ton, for the parishes of Oughterard, Killannin and Mopycullen from the Galway Central Relief Committee . While on a tour of Connemara on April 4th he said that the Oughterard Relief Committee were doing nothing but that Rev Mr. Browne, the clergyman and Rev Dr. Kirwan, the Roman Catholic Clergyman carried on a soup kitchen and meal store to which he was able to assist as the district was very poor. Food was transported by steamer ‘Tartarus’ to Lettermore, Roundstone and the Aran Islands by charitable bodies. Both the British Association and the Society of Friends charities reported that there was an abundant supply of food in the country and that the supplies in Galway and in other parts was very large.

Martin’s of Ross Soup Kitchen

The family opened a soup kitchen at their gate in 1847. Violet Martin gave a short description of it: ‘A soup kitchen was established by my father and mother at the gates of Ross. The cattle the people could not feed were bought from them and boiled down. The gates were locked to keep back the crowds who pressed for rations. The starving tenants were impossible to feed and impossible to see unfed.’


Fr. Pat Fahy being close to Galway was able to get supplies. He wrote in his diary on the 5th May that he had bought 3 tons of meal as provisions for the poor from Galway which he was selling in the school house at cost price. There were attacks on the people near Galway and no poor person could go up or down the road without being robbed either of meal or money. He wrote that the state of the parish would have been frightful if not for the timely relief given by these three tons of meal. 4 deaths from starvation had taken place that week and about 200 that year – a frightful mortality rate in a once healthy parish.

Oughterard June – July

There was an exchange of letters in the Galway Vindicator between Rev. Robert Browne and T. H. O’Flahertie, Lemonfield, chairman of the Relief Committee. Rev. Robert criticized the relief committee in the public press for its failure to provide relief to the starving poor of the parish. He wrote on the 2nd of June as the public works had ceased there was a growing excitement in the parish at the tardy measures of the relief committee and the wretched inhabitants were without government aid and great numbers were dying from famine. Rev. Browne said that he could no longer be a member of the relief committee as it was dominated by O’Flaherties and was formed without public notice. T. H. O’Flahertie in reply denied the charges of Rev. Browne and defended his own reputation and the relief committees. He charged Rev. Browne of throwing every possible obstruction in the way of those willing to carry out the provisions of the Temporary Relief Act or Soup Kitchen Act. As regards the charge that the Relief Committee had failed to relieve the poor he said that Rev. Browne knew that the government relief had not yet reached the Oughterard committee.

Castle Kirk Oughterard

In one of his frequent letters to Dublin Castle, John Brice Blake wrote to the under secretary on the 16th July, saying that although he was a resident in the barony of Ross, he felt it necessary to draw attention to the starving condition of the people of upper Glann in the barony of Moycullen. No relief of any description had been given to them yet. Hundreds of them came across the lake to him ecah day seeking food and he relieved them as far as the supply of the Society of Friends allowed. Some had spent whole nights lying under the walls of his house for food the next day. The people of Glann were neglected and were now without food or money.

A reply was given to the letter through Captain Hellard, Inspecting Officer of the Galway Union. He said that the district of Glann was in great distress due to the neglect of the first relief committee at Oughterard but the Oughterard electoral division had begun giving food under the Relief act since the 19th July.

Large numbers of the poor availed of the relief under the Soup Kitchens Act. In some areas far more people were listed as needing food than had ever lived in the area. At its peak in July/August 1847, 3.000.000 were being feed in the soup kitchens each day. The following figures show the number of persons who accepted the soup rations from May to September in the barony of Moycullen and its parishes.

18th May to 12th September 1847:

Population of Oughterard 1841: 10,601

The maximum number supplied with food in any one day in 1847 – 10,901 – more than the total population of the parish.

Killannin Population 1841: 11,501

Maximum supplied with food 8,952.

Moycullen: Population: 1841 – 7,343

Maximum supplied with food 6,610

The number of those receiving soup began to decline from July to September. On the 3rd July 56,003 soup rations were issued in the Galway Union and on the 11th September 11,642 were issued.

Result of Soup Kitchens

The Soup kitchens were regarded as the most successful form of famine relief. Most accounts of the famine praise the soup kitchens and condemn the public works. The government ended its assistance to the soup kitchen scheme in September 1847 in preparation for out door relief through the workhouses.

Fever and Deaths

During the summer of 1847 deaths continued to increase due to the spread of fever, typhus, relapsing fever and dysentery often caused by eating poorly cooked maize. Far more people died of various fevers than of hunger and starvation during the famine. The Galway Vindicator wrote on July 24th that fever was very prevalent in Oughterard and throughout the entire district but through the skill and zealous attention of Dr. Davis physician of Oughterard deaths were very few.

Temporary Fever Hospitals

By June 1847 the Central Board of Health had established a temporary fever Hospital at Oughterard, Moycullen and Spiddal for Killannin. The Oughterard was formed on the 20th September with accommodation for 50 patients. Both Killannin and Moycullen held 50 patients each. The temporary hospitals had two nurses and two ward-maids. The hospital for Killannin was situated near Spiddal as the electoral division for Kilannin included the Spiddal district. A. W. Blake of Furbough said that the hospital was established on the 25th August, beyond Spiddal and was doing an immense service in the district. These hospitals continued until late 1848 except for the Moycullen hospital, which continued until November 1849 when it was converted into an auxiliary workhouse for children. The dispensary at Oughterard had been established in 1831 by Rev Dr Kirwan P.P. The dispensary extended over the parishes of Kilcummin, Killannin and part of Moycullen with a population of about 20,000. Dr. John Davis, a member of the College of Surgeons, London was its medical officer and was expected to visit a distance of 18 miles. He also attended the military barracks at Camp St. The nearest medical institutions were in Galway where there was a county infirmary and a fever hospital since 1820.

This page was added on 08/02/2016.

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