Briefly As it Applied to Ireland

[Scottish Potato Clearances Contents]

Ireland was a different case. It wasn’t as if the press were uncomfortable printing the existence of famine, however, as you can see, the Irish had a lot to contend with; 



   The accounts from Ireland to-day, making every allowance for exaggeration, are of a most distressing character. In the counties of Kerry, Limerick, Galway, Mayo, and Clare, the peasantry are suffering under a deplorable want of food; and, to acuminate their sufferings, the typhus fever has made its appearance among them. 

   LIMERICK, April 26. – Our hearts bleed within us at the terrific aspect before us of a scarcity. Potatoes are at present almost at a Famine Price; six-pence a stone in our present distressed and impoverished state, is equal to 1s. 6d. a few years since. It is a well known fact that the neighbouring Counties are in a most deplorable state, far, far worse than our own. – Telegraph

   APRIL 29. – It has been intimated to us that the Directors Chamber of Commerce are disposed to give one thousand pounds towards forming a fund for the relief of the poor of this city, provided a similar sum is contributed by the public for the same purpose. Prompt and effectual means must be immediately taken to procure a suitable supply of food for the people, or the consequences may be calamitous. – News

   The Mayor of Limerick has, in consequence of a Requisition presented to him, called a Meeting of the Inhabitants for Tuesday, the 30th, (this day,) for the purpose of taking measures for the Relief of the Poor, in consequence of the high price of potatoes. – (Ibid.) 

   The Limerick paper contains the names of seventy men who have absconded from their residences in that county, and have thereby rendered themselves liable to the penalties of the Insurrection Act [enacted in 1796 & very similar to the Act of Proscription after the civil wars in Scotland (1715 & 1745 Rebellions) with their own Duke of Cumberland in the form of the two-faced Henry Luttrell.]. It is supposed that several of them either have proceeded to America, or are preparing so to do, as every effort to discover them has hitherto proved ineffectual. 

   The Dublin papers received this morning contain further details of the great misery existing in consequence of the failure of the potatoe crop. Potatoes are selling in Galway at 6d. or 8d. a stone, which in their impoverished state is equivalent to 1s. 6d. or 2s. a few years since. In the county of Kerry not one fourth of the usual quantity of ground has been planted with potatoes, the poor landlords have been obliged to consume those they had allotted for seed. To consummate the misery of the unfortunate sufferers, disease, the constant follower of famine, has made its appalling appearance. A fever of Typhus kind, of the most malignant character, has broken out in Galway, and each day records some death after a short illness. The scarcity of hay has also produced a great mortality among the cattle; one gentleman near Tralee has lost 32 cows in a short time. The Magistrates and county gentlemen are exerting themselves with energy on the occasion. In Mayo the work of charity has already commenced, the gentlemen are buying up bread at three halfpence, and selling it to the poor at a halfpenny a pound… 

– Perthshire Courier, Tuesday, 7th May, 1822, p.4. 


(From the Dublin Journal.) 

   The state of this country is anomalous – every aspect of its affairs presents a striking contrast to the circumstances of other civilized nations. – Famines have arisen from the actual scarcity of subsistence; but in Ireland, a famine rages amidst great abundance. This extraordinary state of things is the result of the general poverty of the people, which has reduced them so low on the scale of existence that they are confined to one species of food raised with little exertion. The labour of two or three weeks will produce potatoes sufficient to support a man for a whole year. To a superficial observer it might seem that this circumstance alone would insure independence – but it is not so – a poor man contracts to lay L.10 for a conacre – an average crop will supply his family for a year – but whence comes the rent? He trusts to the chance of being hired by others for ten or eleven months, and if constantly employed at the rate of one shilling per day, he will pay the rent, as the labour of his wife and children may produce something to defray the small charge for butter milk, salt, and clothes. In this state, the peasant is comfortable, as the force of habit has reconciled him to it, and he will remain a peaceable animal; but reverse the picture – let us suppose that he dies not find employment, and where is the rent? – it lies in the crop, and if distrained, the poor man and his family must beg or steal, and in this state his is a wild ferocious animal. But there is a third state, still worse, and we believe it is the exact state of a great part of the south and west of Ireland at this moment – the crop fails, and there is neither rent nor food. If there were employment for labour, the failure of the crop, we mean the potatoe crop, would imply nothing more than the loss of rent, as there is always in Ireland, or in other countries, abundance of bread-corn, which the wages of labour would purchase – but there is no employment, no wages, and, of course, no means of purchasing food, and thus the poor man must perish amidst abundance, unless relieved by the humanity of the affluent. – Such is the state of Ireland! The generous may shed the tear of pity, or with a lavish hand scatter the means of relief for a season, but is an evil arising from a permanent cause to be removed by a temporary expedient? The crisis has, certainly, been precipitated by the partial failure of the potatoe crop: but the state of things has been degenerating for several years. 

– Caledonian Mercury, Monday, 3rd June, 1822, p.4. 

   … We wish we could say the same of potatoes. Notwithstanding their lateness, they promise to be abundant – and even at present the price is moderate. But we regret to add, that the accounts from the interior, particularly from the west of Ireland, are by no means such as we would wish. The frosts have set in early, and great injury, if they continue, will infallibly be done to these now in the ground. From the West of Galway, we hear there is almost a total failure, and at this moment potatoes in Mayo are 4½., to 5d. a stone, a circumstance unparalleled at this early period, even in the hard year, and in several of the more mountainous districts of the County Clare, the seat and centre of the famine in 1882. The poor are already suffering severely. 

– The Scotsman, Saturday, 25th October, 1823, p.3. 

   John L. Foster, Esq. of Rathescar, having taken into consideration the distress arising to his numerous Tenantry, from the failure of the Potatoe Crop, caused a careful investigation to be made, and wherein it was found that their crops were very bad, he not only forgave them the entire year’s rent, but generously ordered his Steward to present each man with two guineas; and in case of a middling crop, to afford proportionate assistance.Drogheda Journal

– Inverness Courier, Thursday, 27th November, 1823, p.4. 

   Failure of Potatoe Crop. – It may not be generally known that the Potatoe crop has completely failed in many places this season, where the soil was of the finest description and the crop in appearance the most promising to be abundant. This we have from the communication of a correspondent on whose veracity we can rely, who had an opportunity of witnessing within these few days past, in both the neighbouring counties of Meath and Louth, a particular examination, when it was found that in the Cup Potatoe, the kind principally planted in these counties, there was not more than one or two potatoes to the stalk, of a slaggish description, and in many cases not even the formation of one. Should this prove general throughout the country the consequence must be alarming to the lower and industrious part of the community, as on this esculent they chiefly depend for sustenance during the greater part of the year. – Newry Telegraph

   The Evening Post of Saturday says, that the potatoes had risen to 10d. per stone at Kilkenny. Causeless alarm may be as injurious to the country as heedless security. On that day potatoes sold in our market at from 4d. to 6½d. per stone according to the quality. – Leinster Journal

– Fife Herald, Thursday, 22nd September, 1825, p.2. 


In Dublin, business is completely at a stand, whilst the cries of hunger and distress, even at this early period of the year, are already heard from the starving peasantry of the South. The late potato-crop failed to a very great extent. The intense heat of the last summer literally burnt up the root. Whatever affects the destitute Irish peasant, is little talked of by any party, until the season of suffering sets in, and famine, with all its attendant calamities, make their accustomed circuit over this devoted and most unhappy island. Thus it was at the commencement of that famine which swept away so many lives, and which would have depopulated the southern province, if it were not for the munificent charity of the English [read, “British”] people. No one scarcely heard of the distress of the people of Munster, until the appalling fact was stated to the House of Commons, that the famine had already set in, and that numbers had actually died of hunger. The poor people are constrained to steal potatoes by night to support their famishing little children; and some hundreds of them saw the sun go down on Christmas-day without having once tasted food.Irish paper

– Fife Herald, Thursday, 19th January, 1826, p.1. 

   DISTRESS AND FAMINE IN IRELAND. – We have received a circular from the western Committee for the Relief of the Irish Poor, and certainly it presents a picture of aggravated suffering which loudly calls upon us to stand forward in behalf of the starving population. The almost total failure of the potatoe crop, through the incessant rains, and a succession of violent gales of wind; the partial loss of the oats as well as of the hay, and these calamaties [sic] aggravated by the by the destruction of the turf, and the consequent scarcity of fuel, have united in producing a degree of misery which it is appalling to contemplate. The distress extends more or less along the whole of the North West of Ireland, from Galway Bay of Loch Swilly, including the counties of Galway, Mayo, Sligo, and Donegal, comprising a line of 240 miles of coast, and in many parts penetrating into the interior; the population of these counties may be estimated at 600,000 souls, and in Mayo alone it appears, by very recent returns made on oath to the Central Committee of that county, by intelligent and respectable persons, that the greatest distress prevails in forty-two parishes, and that no less than 148,041 persons are now suffering under the agonies of hunger. The total number in a state of actual want and starvation must therefore, at the most moderate computation, be 300,000, and when it is remembered that the new crops will not begin to come into use for nearly two months, it is obvious that there is a loud call for the most prompt and energetic exertions. 

– Inverness Courier, Wednesday, 6th July, 1831, p.3. 

   FAILURE OF THE POTATOE CROP IN IRELAND. – Letter in the Globe, dated Dublin, Nov. 4. – I have seen letters from Mayo and Galway which express fears of a partial famine during the winter in some districts of those counties, in which the potatoe crop has so completely failed as not to be worth the digging from the ground. This calamity is attributed to the deterioration of the seed of this esculent, which forms the sole food of three-fourths of our population. 

– Caledonian Mercury, Monday, 11th November, 1833, p.2. 

   BELFAST. – The oldest inhabitants do not recollect such a cold, bleak, wet, and stormy month of July as at the present has been. Haymaking has been both troublesome and expensive. The crop has failed considerably, perhaps equal to a third. The rain that has fallen will increase the produce of the second crop and after-grass. This will improve the pasturage, and in a material degree supply the deficiency of the first cutting. Fat cattle bring good prices, but they are very scarce; lean cattle and those half fat are low and not in demand, owing to the scarcity of grass. All the grain crops have made rapid improvement; but the potatoes have certainly failed to a great extent. Many farmers are supplying the failure by sowing turnips, which will afford a valuable substitute for milch cows, &c. 

– Perthshire Courier, Thursday, 4th August, 1836, p.3. 

   CRIME IN IRELAND. – When the Tories abuse the Irish for want of morality, do they remember their poverty? When the well-fed Protestants of England accuse Catholicism of being the great cause of the crimes committed by the Irish, do they ever refer to the Catholics being half starved? 

   The Times continually attacks the Catholic priests on account of the ferocity of the Irish. Its own pages of yesterday, from which we take the following extracts, might teach it a different lesson. Never, perhaps, in the world were any people so sorely pinched with continual hunger in the midst of great abundance, and in frequent contact with overflowing wealth. In the report of the Poor Law Commissioners for Ireland, we find several passages like this – the names in brackets being those of the gentlemen on whose authority the statement is made:- 


   “I knew many to be eating cabbage and salt, without so much as one potatoe; but when they saw any one coming in, they would feel ashamed and strive to screen it.” – (King.) “There are nine or ten families in my village whom I know to be without half enough to eat during the summer; I do not mean one summer in particular, but every summer.” – (O’Flaherty.) “They would sooner beg that steal; no man would steal but a drunkard, or a man given to vicious habits.” – (King.) 


   “I never knew a labourer who was able to lay any thing by that was worth speaking of; the majority of them live in the greatest privation, and are supported by pledging and promising, and when they get employment, paying… – (O’Flaherty.) 

   “There is not general employment in this country during half the year; there is no employment given to the labourers except by some few, by one or two gentlemen.” – (D’Arcy.) 

   “They can see the cow come to their door, but they cannot get the comfort of a bit of butter for three months in the year.” – (Cassidy.) 

   “Many men, during last July, had to live on one scanty meal in the 24 hours.” – (Griffith.) 

   “If they eat either the little pig or the butter they must go naked.” – (Kenny.) 


   “The greater portion of the people are always om debt; there is not one in twenty who, if he paid his debts, would have the price of his supper.” – (Coy.) “Starvation does not cause disturbance or outrage; when a man is turned out of his holding, and another put in instead of him, revenge and sickness of heart cause crime.” – (Kenny.) “When everything a man has is canted from him, he is put out; a hungry belly makes a man think of things he ought not, and do what otherwise he would not.” – (Griffin.) 

   The great bulk of the Irish then, are so wretchedly poor, that they dare not consume even a small portion of the eggs, pigs, and butter, which their labour produces; yet we are told that they would sooner beg than steal. As long as the Irish are in so destitute a condition, we ought rather to admire than reproach their religion for the exemplary patience it inculcates – even, indeed, if we should not think that such patience goes beyond the bounds of virtue. 

   A clergy which did not to some extent share the privations of the people, would not, it is plain, be listened to. An opulent clergy, therefore, in Ireland, let their doctrines and faith be what they might, could be of no service to the bulk of the people. Dives, sitting at an overloaded table, will not be respected, when he preaches abstinence to the starving labourer. A poor clergy is essential to a very poor people. It is mighty well in Lord Stanley and his friends to appeal to the Members of the House of Commons, whether they would think of placing an educated gentleman in every parish in Ireland, with a less income than L.300 a-year; but when the condition of the destitute people is considered, a gentleman for a pastor, with a gentleman’s income, is out of place. He cannot successfully inculcate patience and obedience. The intense poverty of the Irish requires that the income of the clergy of the Establishment should be made to accord with their condition. This, of itself, is a strong reason for reforming the Irish Church. Despised and abused as the Roman Catholic priests are by many of our contemporaries, for their low origin and coarse manners, it is plain that, were they better educated and better paid, and of higher birth, they would lose much of their influence, and we should not have to record that patience of the Irish under great sufferings, which, if it be a virtue, does honour to their present teachers.Courier

– Caledonian Mercury, Monday 12th September, 1836, p.1. 

   THE LATE STORM. – Ireland has been the chief victim of the hurricane – every part of Ireland – every field, every town, every village in Ireland, has felt its dire effects, from Galway to Dublin – from the Giant’s Causeway to the island of Valencia. It has been, we repeat it, the most awful, the most extraordinary calamity of the kind with which a people were afflicted. the damage which is has done is almost beyond calculation. Several hundreds of thousands of trees have been levelled to the ground. More than half a century must elapse before Ireland, in this regard, presents the appearance she did last summer. The loss of farming stock of all kinds has been terrible. Many of the most thrifty and industrious husbandmen, whose haggards and homesteads were filled with unthreshed corn on Sunday night, found themselves without a sheaf of grain in the morning. The poor, of course, as being the most numerous, have been the greatest sufferers. Tens of thousands of their wretched cabins have been swept away or unroofed – and many, as we have seen, have become a prey to the flames. On the whole, however, there has not been so great a loss of life as might have been anticipated. But the destitution to which they are reduced, must quicken the operation of the poor laws. In Cork, we perceive that the citizens have already adopted active measures with a view of immediately forming a Union in that city. A similar meeting has been held in Limerick – and we doubt not the example will be followed in other places. Certain it is, that no time should be lost, if we would escape the horrors of famine – and the terrible typhus that in Ireland constantly follows the visitation. typhus, like the cholera, is no respecter of persons – for, though it arises from destitution and want, its ravages are often spread to the mansions and high places. In regard to their own interests, then, and their lives, the better order of people should look about them betimes. None can say that Dublin is more secure than other places – and with all our anxiety to promote the objects of the Mendicity Institution, we must say, that in the times prepared for us, we are afraid it will be found deplorably wanting. It cannot be otherwise. There is no city, we believe, more charitably inclined than Dublin – but there is, notwithstanding, no city which can show so many men of wealth and means, who have turned a deaf ear to the voice of the indigent. Only look at the mendicity reports. A perusal will satisfy every man – a perusal of the names of the non-contributors – that we do not speak at random. However, as this is a disagreeable topic, we shall not press it. All that we shall say upon the subject further is, that every man should pay according to his means – and that this justice cannot be effected until the poor law is in actual operation. 

   We dare not call this hurricane a phenomenon, however rare or unprecedented its occurrence in so temperate a climate. But it will, nevertheless, become a study to our meteorologists. Trees, ten or twelve miles from the sea, were covered with salt brine – and in the very centre of the island, forty or fifty miles inland, such vegetable matter as it occurred to individuals to test had universally a saline taste. The surges of the sea, therefore, must have been whipped up and whirled hundreds of miles upon the land. Such, in a word, was the fury of the storm, that had it lasted six hours longer, it is not houses that would have been prostrated, but streets and towns levelled with the dust. – Dublin Evening Post

– John o’ Groat Journal, Friday 25th January, 1839, p.2. 


(From the Spectator.) 

   Ireland is threatened with famine; not merely that periodical dearth between the potato crops every year which puts a third part of the people into a state of destitution, but a failure of the potato crop itself. The cause is the strange disease which has prevailed this season, both in Europe and America. At first it was thought that Ireland, by a providential singularity, had escaped; but the sole source of that hope seems to have been the general ignorance in the country as to the nature of the disease. A gentleman, who was told by the people that the roots were all right, found that, on the contrary, they were extensively infected. Suspicious having got abroad, inquiries have been instituted far and near; and the result of the examination is very alarming. Mr Dillon Crocker, who appears to have made a tour of inspection under some official authority, reports that in Tipperary and Cork the disease has made fearful ravages. In Wexford, “the failure in the crops has been awful”: “God alone can tell how all this will end.” In Ulster, the state of the crops is reported by the Northern Whig to be “very bad.” The disease is spreading; and in some districts it has destroyed one-fourth or even one-third of the crop. Every day brings to light the ravages of the disease in some district which had been supposed to be exempt. The consequences of such a failure of the staple food in Ireland are terrible to contemplate. 

   Some cast an anxious glance beyond the present season to the next; reflecting how the tainted potatoes can only furnish an infected seed that will propagate the disease. It is suggested, that perhaps the potato has degenerated in Europe since it was introduced from America by Sir Walter Raleigh, and that it would be well to procure fresh seed from the region where it is indigenous. That region can scarcely be ascertained; for the precise spot whence the root was brought is not recorded, and we believe that the plant is not now known to be found wild even in its native continent. The disease, too, which has been taken as a sign of degeneracy, is not unknown in America. Nevertheless, the plant may have degenerated less in the New World; and the experiment of importing fresh seed-roots is no doubt worth a trial. 

   Meanwhile, the pressing consideration is the immediate want which is threatened. the political incidents of a famine in Ireland – the turbulence, violence, and rapine – are by no means the worst part of the picture: the direct physical suffering – the starvation, disease, and death, falling on a people at large – are the real horrors. It is scarcely possible, however, that they can fall unmitigated. Should the fears respecting a failure of the potato harvest prove correct, Government will of course take some steps; and one of the plans that most readily suggests itself is a repeal of the Corn Laws so far as they relate to Ireland. The vast extent of railway projects promises to relieve Ireland of some surplus labour; and the introduction of wheat, flour, and maize, at American prices, might help much to blunt the edge of famine. 

– Fife Herald, Thursday 23rd October, 1845, p.4. 


   One of the official documents referred to in Parliament, was distributed amongst the Parliamentary papers issued on Saturday. it contains abstracts furnished to the Lord Lieutenant, of “the most serious representations made by the several medical superintendents of public institutions, fever hospitals, infirmaries, dispensaries, &c., in the provinces of Ulster, Munster, Leinster, and Connaught.” 

   This is an appalling record – most lamentable, as regards the present condition of the people; but terrible as we contemplate the future, and the inevitable spread of the calamity already in operation, unless the cardinal remedy of food be promptly supplied. These reports are authenticated by the medical functionaries all through the kingdom. The evidence of utter destitution – of sickness and suffering – nay, of pestilence already spreading – owing to the use of diseased potatoes – must appal the stoutest heart. 

   Even in Ulster, where we are told the peasantry are so much better off than in the other provinces, and where, in some places, there is much better cultivation, whilst employments is much more diffused by manufactures – yet in this favoured province, famine stalks abroad, and pestilence is appearing. this is the case, to some extent even in Antrim and Armagh; but to a greater extent in Cavan and Donegal, where the consumption of diseased potatoes is producing dysentery and fever. 

   From Leinster there are many most afflicting reports – the only exception being the county of Carlow, where, we have been assured by competent authority within the present week, the potato blight exists to a less extent than in any other part of Ireland. In Kildare, King and Queen’s County, the food of the poor was rapidly disappearing, and disease had already been caused by the use of the tainted potatoes. 

   In Munster – particularly in the county of Clare – the prospects are most gloomy – scarcity existing – typhus fever and dysentery increasing very rapidly, in the districts where destitution most prevailed. 

   Such are three provinces – the fourth, Connaught, exhibits in those reports a still more alarming and terrible aspect. 

   All through the reports those features appear. Want already sorely felt, five months before the season for the new potato crop, if even that crop can ever again become a staple food for three-fourths of the people of Ireland. During those five months the prospect of famine is before us, with its inevitable concomitant, pestilence. And there is no remedy but food. – From the Dublin Post

– Dumfries and Galloway Standard, Wednesday 25th March, 1846, p.3. 




   A desolating famine, such as one may read of in history, but with the actual horrors of which the present generation were unacquainted, is now raging in several counties of Ireland, whilst extreme destitution prevails all through the country. 

   Fever and dysentery, produced by the want of food, are increasing in all directions, and the extent of mortality is daily becoming more alarming. 

   The deaths in the union workhouses alone amounted to nearly 1,500 in the last week of January! But of those establishments no record of mortality is kept. the coroners are totally unable to hold inquests on the numbers who die daily of starvation and cold. In fine, as a letter from Leitrim expresses it, “the peasantry are fading away from the face of the earth.” 


   The provincial journals are crowded with details of the progress of famine and disease. I have made the following analysis of the accounts from a few of the counties:- 

   “CASTLEBAR, FEB. 10. – DEATHS FROM STARVATION. – The Mayo Telegraph, after giving the particulars of six deaths from starvation, says, “It is not necessary for us to continue the soul-harrowing catalogue of deaths which daily and hourly occur in this town and neighbourhood from actual starvation, and upon which no inquests are held.” 

   The Rev. P. Ward, P.P., Partray, in a letter to the Mayo paper, dated February 7, says, “It is awful to contemplate the heart-rending state of the poor people living in the mountains of Partry. Five have died the last six days of hunger. Famine is making its awful strides of desolation. Fever and pestilence beginning to rage in every village.” 


   The Cork Reporter of Thursday which contains the particulars of eleven more inquests in Mallow, where the verdicts were “death from want of food,” gives the following deplorable account of the state of the west and south of the country:- 

   “In Skibbereen and two adjoining parishes there are 10,000 human beings destitute. In the words of a private letter, ‘famine, disease, and death are rapidly increasing. the uncoffined bodies are carried to the grave in carts, and men are hired to undertake that task; for if friends or relatives survive, they will not touch, if even they could remove masses of putrefaction.’ In Bantry fifteen inquests were held in a single day, and twenty bodies more were lying in the neighbourhood, all dead from famine. In Bere, in the district of Clanlaurence, a correspondence sends us the names of eleven men who have recently perished, either on the roads, or in their houses, from starvation. In the parish of Kilcaskin the very sea weeds are exhausted near the shore, and the bodies of those drowned in the attempt to wade out further for that substitute for food have been seen floater in the bay. In Crookhaven and Kilmoe, the letter of its pastor, who was obliged to leave his impoverished and starving flock and come here personally to beg their food, told the empire that a new grave yard was added to the old, and that putrefying bodies lay from five to ten days without interment. In Coachford the labourers are literally starving.” 

   The Cork paper thus sums up the heart-rending details:- 

   “There were forty-four corpses on last Monday morning, in the room allotted to the dead, at one of the Cork workhouses. Over one hundred bodies were conveyed the morning but one after, and deposited in the small burial ground of one of our populous suburbs. The ordinary grave-yard is too full to receive more coffins. The deaths in the unions of Skibbereen and Bantry may be calculated at four hundred weekly. If a month expires before the temporary Relief Act is in operation, one thousand six hundred victims more, at the rate at which the poor are perishing, will have been added to the appalling catalogue of dead, in the two unions only of Bantry and Skibbereen.” 

   From the nothern county of Fermanagh, the Enniskillen Chronicle gives the following:- 

   “SPREAD OF FEVER. – We never recollect to hear of this infectious disease being so prevalent as at the present moment. In our poor house, in particular, it is alarmingly increasing, and the paupers are falling victims to its influence. Within the last week the schoolmistress, a respectable female, was attacked by this disease; and the medical attendant, whose duties of late have been so arduous, is lying while we write. Really, before long, if the disease spreads as it has done within the past fortnight, the institution will be one vast lazar house. On Tuesday, in consequence of the increasing spread of fever in the workhouse, guardians were afraid to enter the institution, and their meeting was, in consequence, held in the Town Hall.” 

   The Banner of Ulster thus sums up the accounts from the county of Armagh:- 

   “The pestilence is abroad, and its havoc is truly and absolutely fearful.” 

– Evening Chronicle, Monday 15th February, 1847, p.4. 


   Mr SCULLY, in the absence of Mr O’Connell, wished to ask whether, considering the enormous and every day growing increase of destitution in many parts of Ireland, the Government had not some measure ready for the providing of relief by means of food or employment. 

   Sir G. GREY complained of the inconvenience attending upon putting questions of this nature, involving considerations of the whole question of the state and condition of Ireland, at so short a notice. (Hear, hear.) He would, however, state, for the satisfaction of the hon. member, that the Government were not prepared to bring in any measure for the resumption of the public works in Ireland, neither were they prepared to propose any measure to feed the whole of the destitute poor of that country. 

– Arbroath Guide, Saturday 12th February, 1848, p.3. 


   MOST of our readers will remember the harrowing accounts which were given of the distress existing in 1846 in Ireland. In no place was this greater than the district of Skibbereen. The mortality from fever and famine was quite fearful. The district is stated to have been bordering on destitution ever since, and that this year a considerable number will die of starvation, unless aided by a grant wither through private benevolence or from Government. The latter may not be readily granted, particularly from the agitation at present raised against the repayment of the previous loan. The following paper by Hancock shows that the distress of 1846, though greatly increased by the potato rot, was connected with causes of a more permanent nature, and consequently the comparative absence of the potato disease for the past few years has done little to improve the condition of the people, and to prepare them for another visitation. We believe the same remarks apply to the other districts of Ireland where the destitution was the greatest:- 

   This district suffered more than any other during the famine in Ireland. Was the distress entirely caused by the potato failure? This depended on the question, What was the state of the Skibbereen district before 1846? The “Times” Commissioner had visited it in 1845, and described the people as being then in the most abject state of destitution. Hence it followed that the real sources of the calamities which the people suffered were the distress and wretched system of agriculture which prevailed before the famine. Had the people not been reduced to the verge of starvation – had their wages not been at the lowest point consistent with human existence before that time – the failure of the potato would, as in other districts, have caused privation only, and not death. The next inquiry was, To what causes are the wretched agriculture and consequent distress before 1845 to be ascribed? To solve this question, Mr Mill had started the theory that peasant-rents fixed by competition was the foundation of the economic evils of Ireland. He proposed to test Mr Mill’s theory, and to contrast with the conclusion to which he had been led, that the state of the law respecting land was the cause of distress – the facts respecting this district he had collected from a petition in the case of the late Lord Audley, in the Encumbered Estates Court. The Audley estate included a large tract of land lying between Skull and Skibbereen. The entire of this estate was held by a middleman, whose lease would expire in 1854, do that in 1845 and 1846 no occupier had any interest exceeding nine years in the land; so that neither middleman nor occupiers were able to improve the estate. As to interest of the head landlord, it appeared that as far back as 1829 the incumbrances on the Audley estate had far exceeded its value, being £25,000 on a rental of less than £600 a year; that they increased rapidly, so as to amount to £89,400, exclusive of interest and law costs, at Lord Audley’s death in 1837; and that the interest and law costs increased the charges against the property in 1846 to the enormous amount of £167,300, on a rental of £577 a year. It appeared that from Lord Audley’s death in 1837, to the present hour, instead of there being one landlord to deal with the property, there were eighty incumbrancers, whose consent was necessary to enable anything to be done. Hence the folly of speaking of competition in such a case when this state of the property rendered real competition impossible. The economic evils of Ireland, in his opinion, did not arise from peasant rents fixed by competition, and consequently those evils could be removed by having peasant rents fixed by law. Of those causes that were within human control, the chief cause of distress in Ireland, he thought, was the state of the law with regard to land… 

– North British Agriculturist, Wednesday 29th October, 1851, p.4. 

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