The Famine Part 9

The Galway Workhouse

Murt Molloy


The numbers that died in the Workhouse from August to December 1847 were much lower than the first part of the year.13 died in the week ending December 29th. The Workhouse was full during November and December. 0n the 25th Nov. there were 1190 paupers in the house and only 60 could be admitted out of 200 applicants. 140 destitute persons were left at the gate. On that date a man form Glann, Oughterard with his wife and three children applied for admission. The poor man stated that he had four more children. When asked where they were he replied that they had died from starvation. He and his family were accordingly admitted as fit subjects for the Workhouse.

Relieving Officer

The Poor Law act June 1847 established new officials for the first time called Relieving Officers. The relieving officer had the duty of examining each applicant for relief by visiting the home of the applicant. He then sent the list of applicants to the Guardians of the workhouse. There was one relieving officer for Moycullen and two for Oughterard and Killannin because of its size. Thomas Cottingham was the officer for Oughterard and Francis O’Connor for Killannin on a wage of £30 per annum while Morgan Darcy officer for Moycullen received £35 per annum.

Memories of the Famine by Violet Martin (1862-1915)

Violet Martin gave an account of the Famine in her diary based on what she had been told by those who lived through it. ‘It was the winter of 1847, Black ’47 that the horror was at its worst before hope had kindled again. There was the weak voice of hunger and the moan of illness among the despairing creatures who flocked for aid into the yard and the long domestic passages of Ross House. Many stories of that time remain among the old tenants; for the corpses were buried where they fell by the roadside near Ross Gate; of the coffins made of loose boards tied with hay-ropes. None perhaps were more pitiable than that of the woman who walked 15 miles across the desolate moor with a child in her arms and a child by her side to get relief that she heard was to be had at Ross. Before she reached the house the child in her arms was dead. She carried it into the kitchen and sank on to the flags. When my aunt spoke to her she found out that she had gone mad. Reason had stopped in that over- whelming hour like the watch of a drowned man.’

Daisy Burke’s Account Moycullen

Daisy Burke later Countess of Fingall gave an account given to her by her father who lived through the Famine. She grew up in the 1860’s and belonged to the Burke landlord family of Moycullen. ‘My father remembered the last famine and the scenes at the door of Danesfield when he had helped to lift sacks of flour and Indian meal on to the backs of men who staggered under the weight. Everything the landlords had they shared with the people. I am speaking of the good landlords of course, not of the absentees whose sins were to be paid by all of us. My father witnessed the people dropping by the roadside on their way to the Big House for help, the coffin ships going out from Galway Bay. Those emigrants who reached America alive were to establish a race sworn to implacable hatred of England. He remembered the smell in the air that foretold the blight and sometimes he stood looking at the land without seeing it. He would lift his head and would sniff the air looking for the warning signs and would understand if it was coming again.’

Evictions 1847

The most notorious evicting landlords in Co. Galway were Mrs. Gerrard, Mountbellew, Patrick Blake of Tully and Spiddal and C. St. George of Kilcolgan and Oughterard.

Frightful Influx of Evicted Paupers

On December 15th at a meeting of the Galway Union the attention of the Board was drawn to the fact that 11 large boatloads of paupers had been imported to the town of Galway from Connemara in the past few days. At the gate of the Workhouse there were over 300 paupers seeking admission and were all in great need. They had been evicted from the St George estate at Lettermore and Garumna.The editor of the Galway Vindicator wrote on 18th December under the title’ Frightful Influx of Evicted Paupers’ that the town of Galway would be inundated with rural paupers from Connemara due to the extermination and evictions of the landlords. The streets were swarming with these wretched outcasts, unable to gain admission to the workhouse. Capt. Hellard, Inspecting Officer of the Galway Union, reported to the Commissioners in Dublin on the 30th December that whole families were to be seen on the roads of Connemara, flocking into the town of Galway. He had been informed at Oughterard that the tenantry had been driven from the villages of Gortrevagh and Cloosh by C. St George M.P. and that evictions were enforce by him also against the tenants of Pouleny near Furbough.

Dissolution of the Board of Guardians of the Galway Union

The Galway Board of Guardians refused to strike a rate of 3shillings in the pound and they were unable to meet their expenses. As a result the Poor Law Commissioners in Dublin dissolved the Board and appointed paid officers called Vice Guardians to take over the Union in their place. The order to dissolve the Board took effect on January 1848. At the same time the Guardians of Clifden, Loughrea and Gort Workhouses and about 1/3 of all the unions in Ireland were dissolved and replaced by paid full time officials called Vice Guardians.

This page was added on 08/02/2016.

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