Jump to Category Listing
Despair And Death - 1. Black ’47
The Dungarvan Board of Guardians decided at their meeting on 1 January 1847 that no further people could be admitted to the Workhouse as it was overcrowded. It was reported to contain 739 people on that date. 200 people were waiting to enter, eighty of whom were to be chosen and accommodated in the bathrooms and stable. At their next meeting the Guardians were asked to supply extra accommodation as the Workhouse was ‘crowded to excess.’ The Medical Officer, Thomas Christian, recommended that there should be no further admissions because of the overcrowding and the prevalence of bowel complaints. On 16 January there were 766 inmates in the Workhouse.
The Rev. William Wakeham, 1 the curate at Kinsalebeg and secretary to the local relief committee, wrote to the Commissioners in early January enclosing a subscription list and looking for a grant. He informed the Commissioners that the committee had distributed weekly barley meal and Indian-corn in quantities from ½ stone to 2½ stone. Two tons of meal were distributed weekly amongst 250 families (18 lbs. per family per week). ‘Gratuitous aid will have to be afforded to the infirm and those incapable of labour...Such relief it is proposed to give by issuing tickets for soup in those cases with gratuities of meal.’ 2
Richard Musgrave of Tourin House suggested to Sir William Stanley that a new edition of Count Rumford’s book on feeding the poor be printed. Musgrave also informed him that at Grange in the Ardmore relief district he was distributing soup to the destitute. Forty-six families were each given 4½ lbs of soup ‘as thick as a pudding.’ This was achieved at very little expense and he appealed for a grant to continue the work. 3
A. H. Leech the Treasurer of the Ardmore Relief Committee wrote to the Commissioners. He noted the:
’sad distress and destitution which prevails in this district, as well as the state of our funds...The district comprises the parishes of Ardmore Grange and Ballymacart, containing 32,000 acres - a large proportion of which is barren mountain, thickly inhabited by paupers - The population amounts to 15,000, about 8,000 of whom are solely dependent upon the potato crop. Of this latter number...upwards of 1,200 are totally destitute either from age, infirmity or widowhood. There are on average six deaths weekly arising from cold and want. The Poor House...now contains eight hundred and crowds of poor are refused admission, the stables and sheds are already occupied.’
Leech also noted that only one-tenth of the able-bodied poor were employed on the public works. According to him there were no resident gentry in the area, inferring that there was no source of employment. The public works were therefore the only source of employment available. Leech wanted to break with regulations to allow his committee to distribute food at a reduced price. The committee’s funds were down to £200 and he appealed for as much aid as possible. 4
A report in a Waterford paper commented on the suffering of the people in Dungarvan:
’You cannot walk abroad for one moment that you are not appealed to by scores of poor creatures...exhausted from hunger...their tottering steps and emaciated countenances would at once convince you of the truth of their soul-sickening story. On Sunday last there were five funerals almost at the same time in Abbeyside...from morning till night you are alarmed by the cries and miseries of hungry creatures.’ 5
Towards the end of January 1847 the Guardians ordered that ’guard beds’ should be put in the stables and coach house. This would increase the accommodation in the Workhouse to 800. If further room was required galleries would be constructed in the dormitories, based on plans from the Poor Law Commissioners.
On 23 January A.H. Leech, the Clerk at Ardmore Glebe, wrote to the Commissioners on behalf of the Ardmore Relief Fund. A long subscription list was enclosed which amounted to £285.5.3. It was signed by the secretary, William Crawford Poole M.D., and the chairman, Simon Bagge. 6
Lord Stuart de Decies contacted the Commissioners to know what funds were available to the Villierstown Relief Committee to employ the local women in knitting and spinning as there was very little work for women on the public works. The Commissioners agreed to match any funds raised locally. 7
On 27 January the Poor Law Commissioners wrote to the Dungarvan Guardians enclosing plans for temporary sheds for accommodation. They also noted that Mr. Burke, the Assistant Commissioner, had informed them that there was no suitable building available for rent in Dungarvan as an auxiliary Workhouse (see chapter 9). On the same date George Hilla printer in Dungarvan, wrote to Sir Randolph Routh, the Commissary General:
’Sir, I beg to inform you that there is no gratuitous relief given at the soup Depot here. Their boiling is but three times a week, and the quantity only 120 gallons, whilst their funds amount to about £300. The Poor House is crowded to excess, about 168 over its number. Hundreds are starving and several died in this locality from starvation.’
Hill suggested that no further money be given to the Dungarvan Relief Committee until they had used up existing funds by helping the destitute and by giving daily relief. He also warned Routh to beware of fictitious subscriptions. 8
At a meeting of the Guardians on 28 January 1847 Beresford Boate suggested that each pauper who was unable to get into the Workhouse should get a half-pound of Indian-meal daily. He commented on the ‘numbers of paupers, to the amount of some hundreds, during the last three weeks, and 200 on this day, having been refused admittance into the Workhouse, from want of room, and those persons being in a most destitute and starving condition.’
In February it was said that Dungarvan had a greater prevalence of disease than any other part of Ireland:
’In fact it beggars description and outrivals Skibbereen. Every day is seen issuing from the Workhouse gate the dead cart with three, four or five of its dead inmates. The deaths in the Workhouse are nothing, comparatively speaking, to the immense number outside its doors. If something is not done, and that quickly, two thirds of the population must unquestionably perish.’ 9
A member of the Dungarvan soup committee wrote the following letter to the Cork Examiner:
’Allow me in your columns to lament that the necessities of this town and neighbourhood have not been sufficiently brought under public notice, pressing though they be. It is true that private individuals have made, and are making, efforts, in many cases beyond their means, for the salvation of the lives of the people; but their exertions have been unsustained by that aid from without, which has fallen so opportunely in other localities, and in default of which the small fund raised here must soon be expended, with little prospect of renewal from persons themselves suffering under diminished incomes and increased prices. And why are the privations of our famishing people unannounced - borne, too, as they are with a patience and an absence of outrage which are as much beyond example as they are beyond all praise? Do not the Workhouse and the fever hospital acknowledge a frightful mortality, which, unhappily, is not confined to those institutions, but pervades every lane and all the surrounding country? Do not the streets by day and night resound with the wailings of the cold and hungry, who, unable to procure admission even to what were the stables of the over-crowded Workhouse, have been forced out of their lanes and from the neighbouring mountains into public observation? Have not deaths taken place from starvation - and hundreds of deaths from that most prolific cause, disease, engendered and rendered fatal by insufficient and unwholesome food? Is not the fisherman unproductively employed on the public works, a burthen on the food market, instead of a contributor to it?...What have our rulers been doing, for on them will be placed the onus?’ 10
In early February the Medical Officer reported that it was mostly old people and young children who were dying in the Workhouse ‘many of whom entered in a hopeless state.’ He asked the Guardians to introduce rice into the Workhouse diet and one ton was ordered from Liverpool.
On 8 February George Hill wrote a further letter to the Commissary General once again complaining about relief given to the poor in Dungarvan: ‘The destitute receive no relief, unless from persons who have already subscribed their quota to the immense sum collected.’ He also referred to an article in the Waterford Mail of 15 January 1846 as an example of what could happen to the funds of local relief committees: ‘And further bear in mind when Mr. Fisher went, the meal committee closed under an alleged robbery of the money. I printed the reward in which persons’ names were put down without their consent.’ 11
On the same date Charles Trevelyan (Chief Secretary of State in the Treasury Department) wrote to Sir Randolph Routh. He noted that ‘Mr. Shiel has applied for the establishment of a Government depot at Dungarvan, which is of course out of the question; but you could advise the committee to send a cargo to that place.’ 12
James Power of Mount Patrick, Kilmacthomas, wrote to Sir William Stanley secretary of the Relief Committee, informing him that the Bonmahon Relief Committee could not raise sufficient funds and had decided to borrow £300. This money was used to purchase wheat which was ground into whole flour and sold to the poor at cost price. ‘By this means they have been enabled to sell an excellent quality of food, at a price generally 2d and sometimes 3d the stone beneath that charged in the huxter shop.’ 13
A. H. Leech of the Ardmore Relief Committee contacted the Commissioners informing them that they were finding it impossible to obtain sufficient food in the area to meet the demand. He asked if they could purchase Indian-meal at the government depot in Cork. Leech stated that there were 900 families on their books requiring relief, for whom they required 15 tons of meal a week (32 lbs. per family a week).
’This week we were only able to procure six tons of Indian-meal and in consequence of the anxiety of the poor...Yesterday our depot was broken into and the Police assaulted. The people are in general bearing their privations and sufferings with wonderful patience but such cannot be expected to continue.’ 14
On 25 February the Medical Officer reported that the deaths in the Workhouse were almost all from dysentery and diarrhoea and that many suffered from dropsy because of the prevalence of bowel complaints. The Guardians decided that those paupers from the East Division who could not obtain accommodation in the Workhouse could return to their homes and come to the Workhouse each day for rations. Because of the severe overcrowding two of the Guardians were asked to enquire about renting a store in Dungarvan as an auxiliary Workhouse. At this period there were 858 inmates in the Workhouse, 258 over its capacity of 600.
In late February Richard Ussher of Cappagh House and Chairman of the Whitechurch Relief Committee wrote to Sir William Stanley. He enclosed a subscription list for £145.15s, which sum he stated was insufficient to meet the destitution of the area.
’Yellow Indian-meal is now two shillings and ten pence per stone in our markets and many poor creatures are unable to purchase it, and try to exist on meal of turnips daily. Such is their destitution, that about 30 women have been employed in one day grubbing up the roots of turnips, in a field of mine, which my sheep had eaten down for food.’ 15
1. The Rev. Wakeham died of fever during the Famine and is buried at Kinsalebeg.
His sadly neglected tomb carries the following inscription: Erected to the memory of the Rev. William Wakeham for seven years curate of this Parish who died June A.D. 1847. He fell victim to disease brought on by exertions for relieving the wants of the suffering Poor of this parish during the memorable visitation of the Famine.In the 32nd year of his age.
Thanks is due to Seán Ó Criadáin for drawing attention to this inscription.
2. N.A./R.P. 8833.
3. N.A./R.P. 8893.
4. N.A./R.P. 9328. The Rev. Leech was accused of ’souperism’ by the parish priest of Ardmore in a letter to the Waterford Chronicle in May 1847. For further information on this see: Eugene Broderick, ’The Famine and Religious Controversy in Waterford, 1847-1850’, in Decies No. 51 1995, pp. 11-24.
5. Cork Examiner, 22 January 1847.
6. Cork Examiner, 15 February 1847.
7. Cork Examiner, 17 February 1847.
8. N.A./R.P. 9525.
9. N.A./R.P. 9591.
10. N.A./R.P. 9664.
George Hill was a printer who settled in Dungarvan around 1840 where he opened his Printing Office. Hill’s wife, Maria, had to enter the Workhouse and in January 1849 she had a child there called Augustine. The Church of Ireland chaplain noted in a report of 10 January 1849: ’Baptised Augustine, the legitimate child of George M. Hill and visited Robert Hill in hospital.’ The Poor Law Commissioners wrote to the Guardians on 9 January concerning Hill’s daughter, Louisa, an inmate of the Workhouse. The Commissioners pointed out that Hill was living in town while the rest of his family were in the Workhouse which was contrary to the Poor Law rules. In January 1849 Hill wrote to the Guardians to ask permission to bring his printing press into the Workhouse to instruct the boys and do small printing jobs for the Union. The Guardians agreed but the Commissioners objected. Hill was forced to enter the Workhouse the Rev. Doudney in Bonmahon. They were given clothes when leaving but Hill insisted on having the clothes he had worn on entering. They could not be found so Hill took the Guardians to court in March 1852 and obtained compensation. The Rev. David A. Doudney (1811-1893) came to Ireland in 1846 and was appointed curate to Bonmahon soon after. In 1851 he established a printing school and published several books. However, there was tension between him and the local Catholic clergy with Doudney being accused of proselytising. As a result he left Bonmahon in 1858.
11. N.A./R.P. 1057.
12. Parliamentary Papers, Famine Ireland, 1847-49, Vol. 1V.
14. N.A./R.P. 11589.
15. N.A./R.P. 10208.
Site Version : Graphical | Text Only