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This section will display just a small portion of the thousands of pages of documentation that describe the conditions during the famine. Those wishing to research the subject further will find assistance on our "More Research" page.
Click on the link just below to read a newspaper article from 1848. See it through their eyes!
We wish to note that the Quakers and other church groups did good charitable work in helping the starving Catholics. Some of the clergy died as a result of their efforts to help the victims.
Define Proselytize and the Crowbar
DEFINE PROSELYTIZE AND THE CROWBAR BRIGADES
Proselytize: To offer food or other material goods in order to coerce someone in need to renounce their religion and convert. Also referred to as "souperism" because the food offered in exchange for conversion was often soup.
"In brief, souperism may be defined as the exchange of spiritual allegiance for material benefits of one kind or another: employment, education, food, and clothing, for instance." (Raymond Gillespie, ed: A Various Country -- Essays in Mayo History, p.127)
Adding to the misery were the notorious "Crowbar Brigades." Thugs hired by landlords, they physically destroyed the flimsy homes of tenants who could not pay their rent.
ENOUGH FOOD: No one needed to starve
Before going further, however, two facts should be mentioned: First that by a careful census of the agricultural produce of Ireland for this year, 1847, made by Captain Larcom, as a Government Commissioner, the total value of that produce was £44,958,120 sterling; which would have amply sustained double the entire people of the island. This return is given in detail, and agrees generally with another estimate of the same, prepared by John Martin, of Longhorn, in the County Down. . . . Second, that at least five hundred thousand human beings perished this year of famine, and of famine-typhus; and two hundred thousand more fled beyond the sea, to escape famine and fever. (John Mitchel, History of Ireland, p.573)
"It is true there is no scarcity of food, for the markets are abundantly supplied with foreign corn, and prices are unprecedentedly low; but this is of small consequence to those who have not the money to buy, and who, while one penny would purchase the sustenance of an individual for a day, that individual, unless relieved, must perish, because he cannot dispose of his labour for that penny." (John Lyons: Louisburgh A History, p.62)
It should be noted that some of these people were employed but not paid: "So early as seven oclock on Friday morning a hundred of those wretched beings walking skeletons employed on the public works, crowded our streets in quest of their wages; all declaring they were ready to fall for want of food; that they had not been paid their hard-earned pittance for the last three weeks." (Michael Mullen: The Darkest Years, pp.23-24)
DOCUMENTATION THAT PROSELYTIZING WAS WIDESPREAD
A report from the "General Irish Reformation Society," 1848: " If ever there was a time for England to make a great effort for the evangelizing of Ireland it is the present the poor are ready the great distress has softened the heart of the poor. A famine shows the poor Romanist the incapacity and tyranny of their priest, and the humanity and integrity of the Protestant clergy." (Rt. Rev. Patrick Francis Moran, Bishop of Ossary, Ed: The Letters of Rev. James Maher, D.D., p.135)
Despite his recognition of this awful situation, according to Father Pat Fitzgerald, the Protestant Rev Callanan "would not give the charity placed in his hands to any person except on the condition of his attending his church." Father Fitzgerald further alleged that Callanan threatened a man named Ivers that he, Callanan, would dismiss him from his employment and would pull down his house if the poor family did not go "to church as opposed to Catholic chapel." These are but two instances of the widespread practice of proselytizing: offering charity to the starving in return for converting to Protestantism. (John Lyons: Louisburgh A History, p.78)
Victorian writer Samuel Carter Hall, in 1842: "Out
of a total of 6,000 inhabitants on the island, only ninety-two persons had converted in
the nine years of the colonys existence. Furthermore, he bore witness to the
remarkable forbearance of the Achill people: in a year when misery was at its
height and starvation rampant, not a single sheep belonging to the colony was taken
from the mountain, or its property or produce otherwise attacked or stolen. He charged
Reverend Edward Nangle with having slanderously accused these people of violence, people
who were obliged to watch the colony fattened by the annual harvest at Exeter
Hall while they themselves were starving. The same colony, in Halls words
on the one hand described them as idolators and loaded them with abuse and on the
other hand offered them food, clothing, and comfortable lodgings on the sole and easy
condition of becoming converts." (Raymond Gillespie, ed: A Various Country
Essays in Mayo History, p.126)
The Protestant converts, on renouncing the faith of their fathers, obtain better dress, better covering, better food, than they had before. This, Sir, is a public, notorious factual and it is equally certain that they obtained these things on the express condition of publicly abandoning the religion in which they had lived, and hoped to die. .We arrive at the knowledge of these facts from the confession of the delinquents themselves, who come publicly to express their sorrow for their crime, and to plead starvation as the apology for their fall. (Rt. Rev. Patrick Francis Moran, Bishop of Ossary, Ed: The Letters of Rev, James Maher, p.145)
Michael Gallagher, parish priest in Achill, 1848: "poverty has compelled the greater number of the population to send their children to Nangles proselytizing, villainous schools . . . They are dying of hunger and rather than die, they have submitted to his impious tenets." (Donal A. Kerr, The Catholic Church and the Famine, p.86)
Souperism was strongly associated with evangelical missionary work in the west of Ireland during the famine years, especially with the work of Alexander Dallas and the Irish Church Mission in Connemara. Nangles enterprise on Achill came a close second to Dallass because of the notoriety and publicity aroused by the methods by which famine relief was dispensed, and the huge increase in the number of converts reported in 1848 and 1849. Nangle never denied or apologized for the manner in which the colony dispensed famine relief. The growth of converts he interpreted as a sign of divine favor, in the same way as the catastrophe of famine was taken as a sign of divine disapproval. (Raymond Gillespie, ed: A Various Country Essays in Mayo History, pp.127-128)
DOCUMENTATION OF CLERGY DEATHS
ACCOUNTS OF PARTICULAR EVENTS ILLUSTRATING THE MISERY
George Lynch, Secretary of Kilgeever Parochial Relief Committee, writing from Louisburgh on February 15, 1847:
"It is impossible for me to describe to you the
truly awful condition of the people of this remote parish --- reduced to mere skeletons
the deaths from want daily increasing.
They are burying the dead without any
(coffins) in order to apply the price to the purchase of food." (John Lyons:
Louisburgh A History, p.60)
Excerpts from the notes of an American Quaker sent to Ireland to investigate conditions (winter of 1847):
"As soon as we opened the door, a crowd of haggard creatures pressed upon us, and , with agonizing prayers for bread, flowed us to the soup house. A man with swollen feet pressed closely upon us, and begged for food most piteously. He had pawned his shoes for food which he had already consumed. The soup house was surrounded by a cloud of these famine specters, half naked (it was February) and standing or sitting in the mud, beneath a cold, drizzling rain. The narrow defile to the dispensary bar was choked with young and old of both sexes, struggling forward with their rusty tin and iron vessels for soup, some of them upon all fours, like famished beasts." (Joseph Sturge, Three Days at Skiberreen and its Vicinity, p.3)
"In every hovel we entered, we found the dying or the dead. In one of these straw-roofed burrows, eight persons had died in the last fortnight, and five more were lying upon the fetid, pestiferous straw, upon which their predecessors to the grave had been consumed by the wasting fever of famine. (Joseph Sturge Three Days at Skibbereen and its Vicinity, p.8)
James Berry writes that in the Spring of 1847 "some 600 of the starving peasantry thronged into the town of Louisburgh, looking for food or an admission ticket to the Westport workhouse; the Relieving Officer told them he had no power in these matters, that they should apply to the two paid guardians . . .who were to hold a meeting on the next day at Delphi Lodge . The six hundred, in rags, sat on the street of Louisburgh through the night and many of them were found stark dead where they lay next morning. About 400 set off for Delphi, through the Glankeen River, over the hills and finally arriving only to find that the vice-guardians were at lunch. The people sat among the trees, and there many of them expired. When the two gentlemen appeared, they refused to grant any relief or tickets to the workhouse. The people set off for home in miserable weather, and at Stroppabue many were swept into the lake and drowned. The few who survived the struggle. . .continued to fall and die until the last of them perished on the southern bank of the Glankeen River.
Berry goes on to say that on the next morning, the trail from Glanced to Houstons house was covered with corpses as numerous as the sheaves of corn in an autumn field." (John Lyons: Louisburgh A History, pp.62-63)
February 1847: "Lord Lucans crowbar brigade were out and about. They moved to Gallows Hill in Castlebar and threw the cottier occupants onto the road. They had to make their night shelters in ditches and drains. nature and the landlord was working against them."(Michael Mullen: The Darkest Years, p.33)
"On Easter Saturday morning, a cold and rainy day, the Crowbar Brigade moved through Linenhall Street, fully armed, and made their way to Rathbawn. Soon the houses were tumbling down. One young boy pleaded with the levellers. "My poor mother is dying in the bed. I know not what to do with her. . . After hearing the poor boys pitiful recital of his grievance we advanced with him to his mothers bedside, which was in the kitchen, around the fire place of which were half crouched five children crying with fear and hunger. . . .we hurried out to the superintendent of the levellers, who we addressed on behalf of the skeleton we had just left, requesting for the love of God he would not tumble the house until the priest had performed his office with her."(Michael Mullen: The Darkest Years, p.76)
April, 1847: Now the Crowbar Brigade turns to the islands. The island of Innishturk . . . has been the scene of much lamentation and weeping within the last eight or nine days during a visit to the island by a section of his Lordships Crowbar Brigade, accompanied by the Deputy Sheriff and a posse of the constabulary .Our informant states that out of four cartrons on which stood eight villages, only a few houses were left standing for the accommodation of care-takers, and that between four and five hundred human beings were thus deprived of home and shelter, and left exposed to the cold sea breezes on an island surrounded by the Atlantic and nine miles form the nearest point of land. (Michael Mullen: The Darkest Years, pp.77-78)
Accounts like those above support the contention that the unrelieved starvation and the destruction of homes were part of a systematic attempt to get rid of the Catholics. Their suffering lasted over a long period of time as they and their families died of hunger and disease.
These events took place during a period of time when England ruled Ireland and was one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations on Earth.