The flourish and demise of Dallas's Church Mission
By Mary Kyne
The real reason why Dallas’s mission flourished initially was the long- standing neglect of the region by the Catholic and Protestant churches in the years before the Famine. When Maria Edgeworth made her “Tour of Connemara” 1833, she was appalled by the desolation that she found around Oughterard and “the absence of either clergyman or magistrate was noted”. The Catholics had clergymen stationed in the area but the parishes were large and the curates were hard pressed to serve all the people. This parish stretched from Loughgannon to Rosmuc and to the Islands of Lettermore.
Dr Kirwan, parish priest, was indeed absent on numerous occasions as he lectured in England in order to raise funds towards the building of the local Catholic Church. Dr Davis, a surgeon in the area, praised Dr Kirwan’s dedication to his flock, “all had the rights of church burial and the decency of proper treatment thanks to the unceasing vigilance of the clergymen of this parish”. Dr Kirwan personally distributed food and clothing to the destitute. He also brought a group of French nuns, “The Faithful Companions of Jesus” to Oughterard to minister to the poor. It is believed that in 1846, 411 people died in the parish. Dr Kirwan was also responsible for establishing a Dispensary in the village and most of the deaths that occurred, occurred in the Dispensary where people from the neighbouring villages of Connemara came to seek refuge.
The People of New Village petition the Viceroy of Ireland.
The people of New Village, Glann, in desperation petitioned the Viceroy Marcus Heytesbury. They informed him that there were 300 families in their region – a total of 1,500 persons in all without food. They were obliged to sell their animals and corn to pay the rent. They recommended that relief works be established immediately to relieve their suffering. The relief works they intended were the building of roads, which would give access to Lough Corrib, which would, in time, allow business people to transport goods up and down the lake to Galway City.
The dreadful condition of the locality
Anthony O fflahertie, M.P. visited Glann in 1847 and he witnessed first hand the plight of the people. He was informed that 10 people in one household alone died of hunger that year and the rest were living on turnips. He condemned publicly in the Court House in Galway the sheer neglect of the government. He was also appalled when he discovered that money voted by the government for relief of the poor and hungry was finding its way into the pockets of officials and food exporters of the time. Robert Brown, rector of the Protestant Church wrote a series of letters to the Galway “Vindicator” in which he said, “If such is the dreadful condition of the locality, where so much exertion has been made by Catholic and Protestant clergy as well as the few resident gentry belonging to it, for the protection of the poor against starvation, what must be the dreadful state of the other contiguous districts which, from their remote and isolated situation, render it impossible for the clergy to procure for them the least relief?”
Pestilence and taxation
George Fortescue O fflahertie, Lemonfield wrote to the Poor Law Commission in October 1851 and spoke about, “A district brought to the very verge of pauperism by the united action of six years past of famine, pestilence and taxation.” It was in a climate like this that the Irish Church Mission flourished. Charges of ‘ Souperism’ were made wherever its missionaries went. They made use of the physical weakness of the people for the sake of conversion – “ to strike while the iron is hot”.