Wednesday, November 16, 2011

November 2011 - Celtic Corner

Between 1845 and 1850 more than a million Irish people starved to death while massive quantities of food were being exported from their country. A half a million were evicted from their homes during the Potato Blight and a million and a half emigrated to America, Britain and Australia often on board rotting, overcrowded coffin ships. I am going to start this story with some of the conditions that existed then try to explain why & who created some of the worst human suffering known to man.


1.“A cabin was seen closed one day a little out of town, when a man had the curiosity to open it, and in a dark corner he found a family of the father, mother, and two children lying in close compact. The father was considerably decomposed; the mother, it appeared, had died last, and probably fastened the door, which was always the custom when all hope was extinguished, to get into the darkest corner and die, where passers-by could not see them. Such family scenes were quite common, and the cabin was generally pulled down upon them for a grave.”

2. “Going out one cold day in a bleak waste on the coast, I met a pitiful old man in hunger and tatters, with a child on his back, almost entirely naked, and to appearance in the last stages of starvation; whether his naked legs had been scratched or whether the cold had affected them I knew not, but the blood was in small streams in different places, and the sight was a horrid one.  The old man said he lived seven miles off, and was afraid the child would die in the cabin with the two little children he had left starving, and he had come to get the bit of meal, as it was the day he heard food relief was being given out.  The officer told him he had no time to enter his name in the book and he was sent away in that condition.  A penny or two was given him for which he expressed the greatest gratitude.

WORKHOUSES-Initially, the greatest relief to the starving came through the Poor Law (1838), which aimed to provide housing for the absolutely destitute in workhouses. There were 123 of them in Ireland in 1845. Conditions were very harsh in the workhouses and families were torn apart upon arrival. Children were kept apart from their parents, who were also separated. The food provided consisted of two meals a day and all inmates were forced to work and were forbidden to leave

EVICTIONS-Potato cultivation having ended because of the blight, tenants had nothing to live on and could pay no further rents. Sheep and cattle could pay “rent”, so landlords decided to give the land over to them. During the worst months of the famine, in the winter of 1846-47, tens of thousands of Irish tenants were evicted from their homes. In 1850, over 104,000 people were evicted.

SOUP KITCHENS-In 1847 the government brought in the “Act for the Temporary Relief of Destitute Persons in Ireland Act”, also called the Soup Kitchen Act. The soup given out was called “stirabout”, a mixture of one-third rice and two-thirds Indian meal, cooked with water. In some soup kitchens organized by Protestants, people were only allowed the soup if they gave up the Catholic Faith. The Protestants sometimes served meat soup on Fridays, (when Catholics were forbidden to eat meat) or they refused to give soup unless people came to Protestant church or bible class. The Quakers, who were among the hardest working of the soup kitchen organizers, did not engage in these practices.

Your Corres Secretary & Parade Chair, Frank Darcy