Appendix O The Irish Potato Famine

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Irish Town During the Potato Famine
      Between the Decks

Illustration taken from The Illustrated London News, July 6, 1850. "Scene between decks" of an emigrant ship. Many Irish fled famine and poverty at home to emigrate to England, the United States, Canada, Australia and other countries.


The Times of London wrote a lead editorial about the plight of famine immigrants on Friday, September 17, 1847:

The great Irish famine and pestilence will have a place in that melancholy series of similar calamities to which historians and poets have contributed so many harrowing details and touching expressions. Did Ireland possess a writer endued withthe laborious truth of Thucydides, the graceful felicity of Virgil, or the happy invention of DeFoe, the events of this miserable year might be quoted by the scholars of the age to come together with the sufferings of the pent-up multitudes of Athens, the distempered plains of northern Italy, or the hideous ravages of our own great plague. But Time is ever improving on the past. There is one horrible feature of the recent, not to say the present, visitation which is entirely new. The fact of more than a hundred thousand souls flying from the the very midst of the calamity into insufficient vessels, scrambling for a footing on a deck and a berth in a hold, committing themselves to these worse than prisons, while their frames were wasted with ill-fare and their blood infected with disease, fighting for months of unutterable wretchedness against the elements without and pestilence within, giving almost hourly victims to the deep, landing at length onshores already terrified and diseased, consigned to encampments of the dying and of the dead, spreading death wherever they roam, and having no other prospect before them than a long continuance of these horrors in a still farther flight across forests and lakes under a Canadian sun and a Canadian frost -- all these are circumstances beyond the experience of the Greek historian or the Latin poet, and such as an Irish pestilence alone could produce.

By the end of the season there is little doubt that the immigration into Canada alone will have amounted to 100,000; nearly all from Ireland. We know the condition in which these poor creatures embarked on their perilous adventure. They were only flying from one form of death. On the authority of the Board of Health we are enabled to state that they were allowed to ship in numbers two or three times greater than the same vessels would have presumed to carry to a United States port. The worst horrors of the slave trade which it is the boast of the ambition of this empire to suppress at any cost have been reenacted inthe flight of British subjects from their native shores. In only ten of the vessels that arrived at Montreal in July, four from Cork and six from Liverpool, out of 4,427 passengers, 804 had died on the passage, and 847 were sick on their arrival; that is, 847 were visibly diseased, for the result proves that a far larger number had inthem the seeds of disease. "The Larch," says the Board of Health on August 12, "reported this morning from Sligo, sailed with 440 passengers, of whom 108 died on the passage, and 150 were sick. The Virginius sailed with 496 -- 158 died on the passage, 186 were sick, and the remainder landed feeble and tottering -- the captain, mates, and crew were all sick. The Black Hole of Calcutta was a mercy compared to the holds of these vessels. Yet simultaneously, as if in reproof of those on whom the blames of all this wretchedness must fall foreigners, Germans from Hamburgh and Bremen, are daily arriving, all health, robust and cheerful." This vast unmanageable tide of population thus thrown upon Montreal, like the fugitives from some bloody defeat, or devastated country, has been greatly augmented by the prudent, and, we must add, most necessary precautions adopted in time by the United States, where more stringest sanitary regulations, enforced by severer penalties, have been adopted to save the ports of the Union from those very horrors which a paternal Government has suffered to fall upon Montreal. Many of these ships have been obliged to alter their destination, even while at sea, for the St. Lawrence. At Montreal a large proportion of these outcasts have lingered from sheer inability to proceed. The inhabitants have of course been infected. From the offficial return of burials at Montreal, for the weeks ending August 7, it appears that in the city there died during that period 924 residents and 896 emigrants, making a totalof 1,730 deaths. Besides these, 1510 emigrants died there at the sheds, making a grand total of 3240 in the city of Montreal and its ex tempore Lazaretto; against only 488, including residents and emigrants, for the corresponding weeks last year. A still more horrible sequel is to come. The survivors have to wander forth and find homes. Who can say how many will perish on the way, or the masses of houseless, famished, and half-naked wretches that will be strewed on the unhospitable snow when a Canadian winter once sets in?

Of these awful occurences some account must be given. Historians and politicians will some day sift and weigh the conflicting narrations and documents of this lamentable year, and pronounce, with or without affectation, how much is due to the inclemency of heaven, and how much to the cruelty, heartlessness or improvidence of man. The boasted institutions and spirit of this empire are on trial. They are weighed inthe balance. Famine and pestilence are at the gates, and a conscience-stricken nation might almost fear to see the "writing on the wall." We are forced to confess that whether it be the fault of our own laws or our men, this new act in the terrible drama has not been met as humanity and common sense would enjoin. The result was quite within the scope of calculation and even of cure. For our own part, before one emigrant left our ports, and when thoughtless and selfish men were first beginning to talk of a great systematic plan of emigration, we called the attention of the Legislature to the dreadful scenes that would be witnessed on board the emigrant fleet, crowded with wretches already at death's door, predisposed to almost any malady, and certain victims to the first existing cause of disease. We subsequently exposed the wickedness of transporting our pauperism to shores where no provision was made for its reception, and to a climate where the necessities of life were at least as indispensable as our own.

The simple and infallible character of the precautions proper for the safe transport of such a multitude, will be seen from the letter written at our suggestion by the late lamented Dr. Combe, and unfortunately interrupted by his death. By the kindess of a friend our readers are permitted to hear "his voice from the grave," and it will, we trust, be heard where such warnings are certainly needed. But simple as precaution was, what has been done? In the first place, our usual regulations as to the proportions of passengers to tonnage are lax enough. Then, it appears that British vessels bound to Canada, owing to the recent repeal of a former enactment, need not, and do not, take out surgeons. Then, as a correspondent informs us, the inspectors appointed to see that emigrant ships chartered from British ports observed such regulations as there are, have generally failed in their duty. Into this part of the business we hope that Parliament will not omit to inquire. Further, notwithstanding the assurances given to the Legislature last session, it is quite clear that due preparation has not been made at the colony. As the Montreal Board of Health justly complains, there have been no adequate funds,or even competent authority, provided for the crisis; the estimate at Gross Isle has been ridiculously insufficient, nor have any measures whatever been adopted or though of for the transmission of the helpless and destitute crowd beyond Montreal, much less for their employment and settlement. Such neglect is an eternal scandal to the British name; nor do we see any way to escape the opprobrium of a national inhumanity, except by taking the earliest and most effectual means to rectify past errors, and prevent their recurrence.

The Tide of Emigration to The United States and to The British Colonies.
The Illustrated London News.
July 6, 1850.
The great tide of Emigration flows steadily westward. The principal emigrants are Irish peasants and labourers. It is calculated that at least four out of every five persons who leave the shores of the old country to try their fortunes in the new, are Irish. Since the fatal years of the potato famine and the cholera, the annual numbers of emigrants have gone on increasing, until they have become so great as to suggest the idea, and almost justify the belief, of a gradual depopulation of Ireland. The colonies of Great Britain offer powerful attractions to the great bulk of the English and Scottish emigrants who forsake their native land to make homes in the wilderness. But the Irish emigration flows with full force upon the United States. Though many of the Irish emigrants are, doubtless, persons of small means, who have been hoarding and saving for years, and living in rags and squalor, in order to amass sufficient money to carry themselves and families across the Atlantic, and to beg their way to the western states, where they may "squat" or purchase cheap lands, the great bulk appear to be people of the most destitute class, who go to join their friends and relatives, previously established in America. Large sums of money reach this country annually from the United States. Through Liverpool houses alone, near upon a million pounds sterling, in small drafts, varying from £2 or £3 to £10 each, are annually forwarded from America, for poor persons in Ireland, to enable them to emigrate; and the passage-money of many thousands, in addition, is paid in New York. Before the fatal year 1847, the emigration was very considerable; but, since that time, it has very rapidly increased. The following document, issued on the authority of her Majesty's Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners, shows the progressive increase in the numbers of British subjects who have annually quitted our shores as Emigrants, from 1825 to January 1st 1850:

Emigration from the United Kingdom during the twenty-five year, from 1825 to 1849 inclusive.
Years. North American Colonies. United States. Australian Colonies and New Zealand. All other Places. Total.
1825 8,741 5,551 485 114 14,891
1826 12,818 7,063 903 116 20,900
1827 12,648 14,526 715 114 28,003
1828 12,084 12,817 1,056 135 26,092
1829 13,307 15,678 2,016 197 31,198
1830 30,574 24,887 1,242 204 56,907
1831 58,067 23,418 1,561 114 83,160
1832 66,339 32,872 3,733 196 103,140
1833 28,808 29,109 4,093 517 62,527
1834 40,060 33,074 2,800 288 76,222
1835 15,573 26,720 1,860 325 44,478
1836 34,226 37,774 3,124 293 75,417
1837 29,884 36,770 5,054 326 72,034
1838 4,577 14,332 14,021 292 33,222
1839 12,658 33,536 15,786 227 62,207
1840 32,293 40,642 15,850 1,958 90,743
1841 38,164 45,017 32,625 2,786 118,592
1842 54,123 63,852 8,534 1,835 128,344
1843 23,518 28,335 3,478 1,881 57,212
1844 22,924 43,660 2,229 1,873 70,686
1845 31,803 58,538 830 2,330 93,501
1846 43,439 82,239 2,347 1,826 129,851
1847 109,680 142,154 4,949 1,487 258,270
1848 31,065 188,233 23,904 4,887 248,089
1849 41,367 219,450 32,091 6,590 299,498
Total 808,740 1,260,247 185,286 30,911 2,285,184

Average Annual Emigration from the United Kingdom for the last twenty five years: 91,407

The emigration of the present year bids fair to exceed even the unprecedentedly large emigration of 1849. This human stream flows principally through the ports of London and Liverpool; as there is but little direct emigration from Scotland or Ireland. In the year 1849, out of the total number of 299,498 emigrants, more than one-half, or 153,902 left from the port of Liverpool. We learn from a statement in a Liverpool newspaper, that in the months of January, February, March and April of the present year, the total emigration was 50,683 persons; and as these four months include two of the least busy months of the year, it is probable that the numbers during the months of May, June, July and August, the full emigrational season, will be much more considerable, and that the emigration for the year will exceed that for 1849. Her Majesty's Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners publish in the spring of every year a useful little pamphlet, entitled the "Colonisation Circular", which contains the names and duties of the Emigration offices in the ports of The United Kingdom and in the Colonies--the cost of passage to the various colonies--a statement of the demand for labour--the rate of wages, and the price of provisions in each colony--an explanation of the mode of disposal of Crown lands-- the privileges granted to naval and military settlers--the victualling scale on board ships-an abstract of the Passengers Act, and other valuable particulars. The Government however, gives no information relative to the United States-- so that its admirable little circular is of comparatively little service to at least one-half of the great crowds of emigrants.

The majority of emigrants take a steerage passage, and go out at the cheapest rate. Out of the 153,902 mentioned above as having left the port of Liverpool in 1849, the number of first and second cabin passengers was only 4639. The information likely to be most valuable to the great bulk of the emigrants is, therefore, that relative to the demand for their labour in the United States and the British Colonies. We shall, accordingly, extract from the Government Circular a good deal of the official information bearing upon this point, premising, i nthe case of each colony, a few practical hints and observations as to their characteristics and capabilities as emigration fields:

Emigration from Liverpool.
We now proceed to detail the process of emigration, beginning with the arrival of the emigrants at Liverpool, the great port of intercourse with the United States. The first care of the emigrants, if their passage have not previously been paid for them by their kind friends in New York, is to pay their passage-money, and make the best bargain they can with the passenger-brokers. The competition in this trade is very great, and fares, accordingly, vary from day to day, and even from hour to hour, being sometimes as high as £5 per passenger in the steerage, and sometimes as low as £3 10s.

All persons contracting to convey passengers to North America are required to take out a license; and, under the new act, have also to give bonds by themselves and two sureties to the colonial land and Emigration Commissioners, to the amount of £200. There are at present twenty-one licensed passenger-brokers in Liverpool. The following list appears in the Liverpool Journal:-- George Percival, representing the house of Messrs. Harden and Co; Wilson, representing Messrs. Pilkington and Wilson, 55 Waterloo-road; Daniel P. Mitchell, representing Messrs. Train and Co; Josiah Thompson, representing Messrs. Grimshaw and Co; 11, Goreepiazzas; J. T. Crook, 2, Tower-chambers, Old Churchyard, and 115, Waterloo-road; George Saul, 36, Waterloo-road; J. W. Shaw, 90, Waterloo-road; Robert Dunn, 1, Cook-street; Orson Pratt, 15, Wilton-street; Thomas Elliott, 11, Waterloo-road; W. Robinson, 48, Waterloo-road; William Tapscott, Regent-road; Frederick Sabell, 28, Moorfields; Eleazar Jones, 25, Union-street; G. C. Beckett, 116, Waterloo-road; J. S. Holmes, 120, Waterloo-road; D. O'Donovan, 117, Waterloo-road; Edward Matthew Norris, 6, Regent-road; William Russel Grace, 120, Waterloo-road; Thomas Lockhart, 192, Great Howard-street; Williame Maume, 6, Regent-road; and Michael M'Connell, 47, Union-street.

Amongst these twenty-one, says the Liverpool Journal, are the names of parties well known in Liverpool, of high honour and strict integrity; but, on the other hand, it must be confessed that there are some to whom this character will not apply; and Lieut. Hodder, the Government Emigration Agent, whose duty it is to see the poor emigrant protected, and the act carried out, is, with his officers, kept in a state of constant combativeness. If a summons be taken out, the chances are ten to one that the poor people whom it was intended to victimise are treated with; and, to save the exposure which would otherwise result, the case is compromised at any price. The magistrates may, for any irregularity or delinquency, withdraw a licence--a power sometimes exercised; but no cases are yet on record of the forfeiture of a bond.

The walls of Liverpool are thoroughly placarded with the notices of the days of sailing of the various packets, for which many firms act as passenger-brokers, and set forth in large letters the excellent qualities of such well known and favourite packets as the Yorkshire, the New World, the Isaac Webb, the West Point, the Constitution, the Isaac Wright, the London, the Star of the West, the Queen of the West, and scores of others. The average number of steerage passengers that can be accommodated in these fine vessels (which are mostly owned in New York) is 400; but some of them, such as the Isaac Webb, can comfortably make room for double that number.

After the emigrant has chosen the ship by which he will sail, and perhaps run the gauntlet through scores of designing and unscrupulous "man-catchers"--a class of persons who get a commission from the passenger-brokers for each emigrant that they bring to the office-- his next duty is to present himself at the Medical Inspector's Office

By the terms of the New Passenger Act, 12 & 13 Vict., c.33, no passenger-ship is allowed to proceed until a medical practitioner appointed by the emigration office of the port shall have inspected the medicine-chest and passengers, and certified that the medicines etc are sufficient, and that the passengers are free from contagious disease. The master, owner, or charterer of the ship is bound to pay the medical inspector the sum of £1 sterling for every 100 persons thus inspected. When the emigrant and his family have undergone this process, their passage-ticket is stamped, and they have nothing further to do, until they go on board, but to make their own private arrangements and provide themselves with outfits, or with such articles of luxury or necessity as they may desire over and above the ships allowance.

All persons who may be discovered to be affected with any infectious disease, either at the original port of embarkation or at any port in the United Kingdom into which the vessel may subsequently put, are to be re-landed, with those members of their families, if any, who may be dependent upon them, or unwilling to be separated from them, together with their clothes and effects. Passengers re-landed are entitled to receive back their passage-money, which may be recovered from the party to whom it was paid, or from the owner, charterer, or master of the ship, by summary process, before two or more justices of the peace.

The embarkation.

The scene in the Waterloo dock, at Liverpool, where all the American sailing packets are stationed, is at all times a very busy one; but, on the morning of the departure of a large ship, with a full complement of emigrants, it is peculiarly exciting and interesting. The passengers have undergone inspection, and many of them have taken up their quarters on board for twenty-four hours previously, as they are entitled to do by terms of the act of Parliament. Many of them bring, in addition to the boxes and trunks containing their worldly wealth, considerable quantities of provisions, although it must be confessed that the scale fixed by the Government to be supplied to them by the ship is sufficiently liberal to keep in health and comfort all among them, who, in their ordinary course of life, were not accustomed to animal food. The following is the scale, in addition to any provisions which the passengers may themselves bring:
3 quarts of water daily.
2 and 1/2 lb of Bread or biscuit (not inferior to navy biscuit)
1 lb wheaten Flour
5 lb oatmeal
2 lb rice
2 oz tea
1/2 lb sugar
1/2 lb molasses Per week. To be issued in advance, and not less often than twice a week.

5 lb. of good potatoes may, at the option of the master, be substituted for 1 lb. of oatmeal or rice; and in ships sailing from Liverpool, or from Irish of Scottish ports, oatmeal may be substituted, in equal quantities, for the whole or any part of the issues of rice.

Vessels carrying as many as 100 passengers must be provided with a seafaring person to act as passenger's cook, and also with a proper cooking apparatus. A convenient place must be set apart on deck for cooking, and a proper supply of fuel shipped for the voyage. The whole to be subject to the approval of the emigration officer.

Dancing between decks.

The scenes that occur between decks on the day before the sailing of a packet, and during the time that a ship may be unavoidably detained in dock, are not generally of a character to impress the spectator with the idea of any great or overwhelming grief on the part of the emigrants at leaving the old country. On the contrary, all is bustle, excitement, and merriment. The scene of a party of emigrants, male and female, dancing between decks-- to the music of the violin-- played for their amusement, by some of their fellow-passengers, is not a rare one. Sometimes a passenger is skilful upon the Irish bagpipe, and his services are freely asked and freely given for the gratification of his countrymen and countrywomen-not simply while in dock, but, according to the reports of captains and others, during the whole voyage. Any person who can play the violin-- the flute-- the pipe, or any other instrument, becomes of interest and importance to the passengers, and is kept in constant requisition for their amusement. The youngest child and the oldest man in the ship are alike interested; and grey headed men and women are frequently to be seen dancing with as much delight, if not with as much vigour, as if Seventeen, not Seventy, was the number that would most nearly express their age.

But, as the hour of departure draws nigh, the music ceases. Too many fresh arrivals take place every moment, and the docks become too much encumbered with luggage to admit of the amusement. Although notice of the day and hour of departure may have been given for weeks previously, there are a large class of persons-- not confined to emigrants it may be observed en passant-- who never will be punctual, and who seem to make it a point of duty and conscience to postpone everything to the last moment, and to enjoy the excitement of being within a few minutes or even moments of losing their passage. These may be seen arriving in flushed and panting detachments, driving donkey-carts laden with their worldly stores, to the gangway, at the ship's side. It often happens that the gangway has been removed before their arrival, in which case their only chance is to wait until the ship reaches the dock-gate, when their boxes, bails, barrels and bundles are actually pitched into the ship, and men, and women, and children have to scramble up among the rigging, amid a screaming, a swearing, and a shouting perfectly alarming to listen to. Not infrequently a box or barrel falls overboard, and sometimes a man or a woman suffers the same fate, but is speedily re-saved by men in a small boat, that follows in the wake of this ship for the purpose, until she have finally cleared the dock.

The departure.

There are usually a large number of spectators at the dock-gates to witness the final departure of the noble ship, with its large freight of human beings. It is an interesting and impressive sight; and the most callous and indifferent can scarcely fail, at such a moment, to form cordial wishes for the pleasant voyage and safe arrival of the emigrants, and for their future prosperity in their new home. As the ship is towed out, hats are raised, handkerchiefs are waved, and a loud and long-continued shout of farewell is raised from the shore, and cordially responded to from the ship. It is then, if at any time, that the eyes of the emigrants begin to moisten with regret at the thought that they are looking for the last time at the old country--that country which, although, in all probability, associated principally with the remembrance of sorrow and suffering, of semi-starvation, and a constant battle for the merest crust necessary to support existence is, nevertheless, the country of their fathers, the country of their childhood, and consecrated to their hearts by many a token. The last look, if known to be the last, is always sorrowful, and refuses, in most instances, to see the wrong and the suffering, the error and the misery, which may have impelled the one who takes it, to venture from the old into the new, from the tried to the untried path, and to recommence existence under new auspices, and with new and totally different prospects.

"Farewell, England! Blessings on thee
Stern and niggard as thou art.
Harshly, mother, thou hast used me,
And my bread thou hast refused me:
But 'tis agony to part:"
-is doubtless the feeling uppermost in the mind of many thousands of the poorer class of English emigrants at the moment when the cheers of the spectators and of their friends on shore proclaim the instant of departure from the land of their birth. Even in the case of the Irish emigrants, a similar feeling-though possibly less intense-can scarcely fail to be excited. Little time, however, is left to them to indulge in these reflections. The ship is generally towed by a steam-tug five or ten miles down the Mersey; and during the time occupied in traversing these ten miles, two very important ceremonies have to be gone through: the first is "the Search for Stowaways;" and the second is the "Roll-call of the Passengers."

The search for stowaways.

The practice of "stowing away," or hiding about a vessel until after the passage tickets have been collected, in order to procure, by this fraudulent means, a free passage across the Atlantic, is stated to be very common to ships leaving London and Liverpool for the United States. The "stowaways" are sometimes brought onboard concealed in trunks or chests, with air-holes to prevent suffocation. Sometimes they are brought in barrels, packed up to their chins in salt, or biscuits, or other provisions, to the imminent hazard of their lives. At other times they take the chance of hiding about the ship, under the bedding, amid the confused luggage of other passengers, and in all sorts of dark nooks and corners between decks. Hence, it becoming expedient to make a thorough search of the vessel before the steam-tug has left her, in order that, if any of these unhappy intruders be discovered, they may be taken back to port and brought before the Magistrate, to be punished for the fraud which they have attempted. As many as a dozen stowaways have sometimes been discovered in one ship; and cases have occurred, though not frequently, of men, women, and young boys, having been taken dead out of the barrels or chests in which they had concealed themselves, to avoid payment of £3 or £4 passage money. When the ship is fairly out, the search for stowaways is ordered. All the passengers are summoned upon the Quarter-Deck, and there detained until the search has been completed in every part of the ship. The Captain, Mate, or other Officer, attended by the clerk of the passenger broker, and as many of the crew as may be necessary for the purpose, then proceed below, bearing masked lanterns or candles, and armed with long poles, hammers, chisels, etc, that they may break open suspicious looking chests and barrels. Occasionally, the pole is said to be tipped with a sharp nail, to aid the process of discovery in dark nooks; and sometimes the man armed with the hammer hammers the bed-clothes, in order that if there be a concealed head underneath, the owner may make the fact known, and thus avoid a repetition of the blows. If a stowaway be concealed in a barrel, it is to be presumed that he has been placed with his head uppermost, and the searchers, upon this hint, whenever they have a suspicion, deliberately proceed to turn the barrel bottom upwards--a process which never fails, after a short time, if the suspicion be well founded, to elicit an unmistakable cry for release. Although this search is invariably made with the upmost care, it is not always effectual in discovering the delinquent; and instances have occurred in which no less than eight, ten, or even a larger number, including both men and women, have made their appearance after the vessel has been two or three days at sea. Some captains used to make it a rule to behave with great severity, if not cruelty, to these unfortunates; and instances are related of their having caused them to be tarred and feathered, or to walk the decks through the cold nights with nothing on but their shirts: but this inhumanity does not now appear to be practised. As there is a great deal of dirty work that must be done on ship-board, the stowaways are pressed into that service, and compelled to make themselves useful, if not agreeable. They are forced, in fact, to work their passage out, and the most unpleasant jobs are imposed upon them. After the search for them in every corner of the ship, the next ceremony, that of the Roll-call, is commenced. This is one that occupies a considerable space of time, especially in a large ship, containing seven or eight hundred emigrants. The passengers-those in the state cabin excepted-being all assembled upon the Quarter-Deck, the clerk of the passenger-broker, accompanied by the ship's surgeon, and aided in the preservation of order by the crew, proceeds to call for the tickets. The clerk, or man in authority, usually stands upon the rail, or other convenient elevation on the Quarter-Deck, so that he may be enabled to see over the heads of the whole assemblage-- usually a very motley one-- comprising people of all ages, from seven weeks to seventy years. A double-purpose is answered by the roll-call-- the verification of the passenger-list, and the medical inspection of the emigrants, on behalf of the captain and owners. The previous inspection on the part of the governor was to prevent the risk of contagious disease on board. The inspection on the part of the owners is for a different object.

The ship has to pay a poll-tax of one dollar and a half per passenger to the State of New York; and if any of the poor emigrants are helpless and deformed persons, the owners are fined in the sum of seventy five dollars for bringing them, and are compelled to enter in a bond to the city of New York that they will not become a burden on the public. To obviate this risk, the medical officer of the ship passes them under inspection; and if there be a pauper cripple among the number who cannot give security that he has friends in America to take charge of him of arrival, and provide for him afterwards, the captain may refuse to take him.

The business of verification and inspection generally occupies from two to four hours, according to the number of emigrants on board; and, during its progress, some noteworthy incidents occasionally arise. Sometimes an Irishman, with a wife and eight or ten children, who may have only paid a deposit of his passage-money, attempts to evade the payment of the balance, by pleading that he has not a farthing left in the world; and trusting that the ship will rather take him out to New York for the sum already paid, than incur the trouble of putting him on shore again with his family. Sometimes a woman may have included in her passage-ticket an infant at the breast, and may be seen, when her name is called, panting under the weight of a boy of eight or nine years of age, whom she is holding to her bosom as if he were really a suckling. Sometimes a youth of nineteen, strong and big as a man, has been entered as under twelve, in order to get across to America for half the fare of an adult; and sometimes a whole family are without any tickets, and have come on board in the hope that, amid the confusion which they imagine will be attendant upon the congregation of so many hundred people on a ship, they may manage to evade notice, and slip down unperceived amid those whose documents are found en règle. These cases, as they occur, are placed on one side; and those who have duly paid their passage money, and produced their tickets, are allowed to pass down and take possession of their berths. Those who have not paid, either in whole or in part, and are either unable or unwilling to satisfy the claim against them, are then transferred on board the tug, with bag and baggage, to be reconveyed to port. Those who have money, and have attempted a fraud, generally contrive, after many lamentations about their extreme poverty, to produce the necessary funds, which, in the shape of golden sovereigns are not unfrequently found to be safely stitched amid the rags of petticoats, coats, and unmentionable garments. Those who have really no money, and who cannot manage to appeal to the sympathy of the crowd for a small subscription to help them to the New World, must resign themselves to their fate, and remain in the poverty from which they seek to free themselves, until they are able to raise the small sum necessary for their emancipation. The stowaways, if any, are ordered to be taken before the magistrates; and all strangers and interlopers being safely placed in the tug, the emigrant ship is left to herself. May all prosperity attend her living freight!

"Far away-- oh far away--
We seek a world o'er the ocean spray!
We seek a land across the sea,
Where bread is plenty and men are free,
The sails are set, the breezes swell--
England, our country, farewell! farewell!"

"The Embarkation, Waterloo Docks, Liverpool." Many Irish immigrants traveled to Liverpool first before emigrating to the United States and Australia.

From The Illustrated London News, July 6, 1850.
The Embarkation
Waterloo Docks, Liverpool, England

Gerald Keegan's Summer of Sorrow, 1847 (Published 1895)

In 1847, Gerald Keegan crossed the Atlantic in from County Sligo, Ireland to Grosse Ile, Quebec, Canada, which at that time was still part of Great Britain. His diary of that journey, titled Summer of Sorrow, was published in Huntingdon, Quebec in 1895. In 1982, James J. Mangan wrote a fictionalized account based this diary called The Voyage of the Naparima, later republished in 1991 as Famine Diary: Journey to a New World.

Mangan's edition does not make the entire text of Keegan's diary available; however he does include a handful of excerpts from the original manuscript alongside his fictionalized version. A modern fictionalizes version of the ocean crossing is obviously of no use to us. On the other hand, the original 1895 edition, even if creatively embellished by the author, is still useful to scholars interested in eye witness accounts. The editorial choices Keegan makes in retelling his journey for a reading audience are perhaps as valuable as a historically accurate account.

More troublesome, however, is the fact that Wolfhound Press, which published Mangan's fictional account, notes that the authenticity of Keegan's diary has been called into question. Some scholarsbelieve the diary is the work of two or more writers, possibly Keegan and an editor.

Keegan's diary entries make for absorbing reading. The editor wishes to warn her readers, however, that their authenticity is still in dispute. With that caveat, I present these excerpts from the 1895 diary for whatever their worth.


(The diary begins in February, 1847, but no dates are given for these excerpts from the original text.)

With doubt thrown on the landlord's good faith, the poor people went on arguing among themselves until a majority decided to stand out and demand better terms. On hearing this, the agent sent word they must decide within a week. If they rejected the offer, it would be withdrawn and no new one would be submitted. My uncle had coem to get my advice, 'For sure,' he said, 'you are the only scholard in the family.' I comprehended the infamous nature of the offer. The people did not own the land, but they owned the improvements they had made on it, and had a right to be compensated for them. I knew my uncle when a boy had rented a piece of worthless bog and by the labor of himself, and afterward of his wife and children, had converted it into a profitable field. Should I advise him to give it up for a receipt for back rent a free passage to Canada? I tried to find out what he thought himself. Are you for accepting the offer, Uncle?

'That depends,' he answered. 'Give me a crop of spuds as we had in the ould times, an niver a step (Mangan, 23.)


One of our many tacks brought us close to me English coast. It was my first and likely to be my last view of that country. Aileen has made our cabin snug and convenient beyond belief. Her happy disposition causes her to make the best of everything.

19.-- The westerly breezes that kept us tacking in the channel gave place, during the night, to a strong east winds, before which the ship is bowling at a fine rate. Passing close to the shore we had a view of the coast from Ardmore to Cape Clear. Aileen sat with me all day, our eyes fixed on the land we loved. Knowing, as it swept past us, it was the last time we would ever gaze upon it, our hearts were too full for speech. Towards evening, the ship drew away from it, until the hills of Kerry became so faint that they could hardly be distinguished from the clouds that hovered over them. When I finally turned away from eyes from where I knew the dear old land was, my heart throbbed as it if would burst. Farewell, Erin.

22. -- Why do we exert ourselves so little to help one another, when it takes so little to please! Aileen coaxed the steward to let her have some discarded biscuit bags. These she is fashioning into a sort of gown to cover the nakedness of several girls who could not come on deck. The first she finished this afternoon, and no aristocratic miss could have been prouder of her first silk dress than was the poor child of the transformed canvas bag, which was her only garment.

23. -- This is Sunday. The only change in the routine of the ship that marks the day is that the sailors gave an extra wash down to the decks and after that they did not work except trim the sails. They spent the forenoon on the forecastle mending or washing their clothes. During the afternoon it grew cold with a strong wind from the north-east, accompanied by driving showers. Towards sunset the sea was a lather of foam, and the wind had increased to a gale. When the waves began to flood the deck, the order was given to put the hatches on. God help the poor souls shut in beneath my feet!

Another came, it caught in our cable, and before the swish of the current washed it clear, I caught a glimpse of a white face. I understood it all. The ship ahead of us had emigrants and they were throwing overboard their dead. Without telling Aileen, I grasped her arm, and drew her to our cabin.

Leaving the cemetery with the priest, I thanked him from my heart and ran to he quay. My heart was in my mouth when I saw on it Aileen, standing beside our boxes, and the ship, having tipped her anchor, bearing up the river. 'What makes you look so at me, Gerald? I have come as you asked.'

'I never sent for you.'

'The steward told me you had sent word by the sailors for me to come ashore, that you were going to stay here. They carried the luggage into a boat and I followed.'

I groaned in spirit. I saw it all. By a villainous trick, the captain had got rid of me. Instead of being in Quebec that day, here I was left at the quarantine station. 'My poor Aileen, I know not what to do; my trouble is for you.' I went to see the head of the establishment, Dr Douglas. He proved to be a fussy gentleman, worried over a number of details. Professing to be ready to oblige, he said there was no help for me until the next steamer came. 'When will that be?' Next Saturday. A week on an island full of people sick with fever! Aileen, brave heart, made the best of it. She was soaking wet, yet the only shelter, apart from the fever sheds, which were not to be thought of, was an outhouse with a leaky roof, with no possibility of a fire or change of clothing. How I cursed myself for making captain and mate my enemies, for the penalty had fallen not on me, but on Aileen. There was not an armful of straw to be had; not even boards to lie on.

I went to the cooking booth and found a Frenchman in charge. Bribing him with a shilling he gave me a loaf and a tin of hot tea. Aileen could not eat a bite, though she tried to do to please me, but drank the tea. The rain continued and the east wind penetrated between the boards of the wretched sheiling. What a night it was! I put my coat over Aileen, I pressed her to my bosom to impart some heat to her chilled frame, I endeavored to cheer her with prospects of the morrow. Alas, when morning came she was unable to move, and fever and chill alternated. I sought the doctor, he was not to be had. Other emigrant ships had arrived, and he was visiting them. Beyond giving her water to assuage her thirst when in the fever it was not in my power to do anything. It was evening when the doctor, yielding to my importunities, came to see her. He did not stay a minute and writing a few lines told me to go to the hospital steward, who would give me some medicine. Why recall the dreadful nights and days that followed? What profit to tell of the pain in the breast, the raging fever, the delirium, the agonizing gasping for breath -- the end? The fourth day, with bursting heart and throbbing head, I knelt by the corpse of my Aileen. There was not a soul to help; everybody was too full of their troubles to be able to heed me. The island was now filled with sick emigrants, and death was on every side. I dug her grave, the priest came, I laid her there, I filled it in, I staggered to the shed that had sheltered us, I fell from sheer exhaustion, and remember no more. When I woke, I heard the patter of rain, and felt so inexpressibly weary I could think of nothing, much less make any exertion. My eye fell on Aileen's shawl, and the past rushed on me. Oh, the agony of that hour; my remorse, my sorrow, my beseeching of the Unseen. Such a paroxysm could not last long, and when exhausted nature compelled me to lie down, I turned my face to the wall with the earnest prayer I might never awaken on this earth.


(Written by Father Tom O'Hare.)

I lifted him in my arms and carried him out of the shed. I was powerful strong when I was young, and tho' he was tall and broad-shouldered he was wasted to skin and bone. I laid him down in the shade of a tree, for the sun was hot. He didn't look at the river or the hills beyant, but fixed his eyes on a spot that I took to be a burying place. 'Go back,' he whispered, ' and bring the bag below my berth.' I went, and found a woman had already been put in the poor bed I had lifted him out of. I reached for the bag and took it to him. Pointing to a spot in the burying-place he ttold me to go there and I would see a grave with a cross at its head and the name Aileen cut on it. 'You can read?' 'Yes' says I. I did his bidding and coming back told him I had found the grave. 'Promise me, you'll bury me beside that grave.' I promised him. 'Open that bag and you'll find in it a little book.' I reach it to him. 'Take it,' says he, 'there are pages in it I would tear out were I able. Let it go. Save the book; ut will tell to those now unborn what Irish men and women have suffered in this summer of sorrow.'

In addition to the diary excerpts, the 1991 edition of Keegan's story contains two newspaper accounts of the quarantine station where many emigrants disembarked.


The Montreal Gazette, September 5, 1847:

In the hastily erected emergency sheds the people were dying by the score in the crowded sheds, in the stench and the heat, desperately neglected. When there were enough attendants they were hastily tossed into shallow pits nearby when they succumbed to the fever. In all the history of Montreal there is no story so poignant. There were hundreds of orphaned children. Many of the little ones had to pulled from the arms of a parent who had suddenly died. Older ones were wandering around frantically looking for parents who were already buried in the pits. The scene in the chidlren's shed was beyond description.

From the Montreal Immigrant Society Bulletin in 1848:

From Grosse Ile, the great charnel house of victimized humanity, up to Port Sarnia and all along the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes, wherever the tide of immigration extended, are to be found the final resting places of the sons and daughters of Erin -- one unbroken chain of graves where rest fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, without a stone to mark the spot. I do not know that the history of our times has a parallel for this Irish exodus. . . . It was the forced expulsion and panic rush of a stricken people and it was attended by frightful scenes of suffering and death.
"Bridget O'Donnell and Her Children,"
from The Illustrated London News, 1849:
"The Sketch of a Woman and Children" represents Bridget O'Donnell. Her story is briefly this: 'I lived,' she said, 'on the lands of Gurranenatuoha. My husband held four acres and a half of land, and three acres of bog land; our yearly rent was L7 4s; we were put out last November; he owed some rent. We got thirty stone of oats from Mr. Marcus Keane, for seed. My husband gave some writing for it; he was paid for it. He paid ten shillings for reaping the corn. As soon as it was stacked, one 'Blake' onthe farm, who was put to watch it, took it away in his own haggard and kept it there for a fortnight by Dan Sheedey's orders. The then thrashed it in Frank Leille's barn. I was at this time lying in fever. Dan Sheedey and five or six men came to tumble my house; they wanted me to give possession. I said that I would not; I had fever, and was within two months of my down-lying (confinement); they commenced knocking down the house, and had half of it knocked down when two neighbors, women, Nell Spellesley and Kate How, carried me out. I had the priest and the doctor attend me shortly after. Father Meehan annointed me. I was carried into a cabin and lay there for eight days, when I had the creature (the child) born dead. I lay for three weeks after that. The whole of my family got the fever, and one boy thirteen years old died withwantsand with hunger while we were lying sick. Dan Sheedey and Blake took the corn into Kilrush and sold it. I don't know what they got for it. I had not a bit for my children to eat when they took it from me. . . . '

The Great Famine:

Few topics of Irish history have attracted as much popular interest as the Great Famine of 1845 to 1849. Wherever the Irish diaspora reached, the Famine is never far beneath the surface. Over the years, various people have argued that the famine had a single cause: whether that be a Malthusian overpopulation by the Irish working class or a genocide by the government. However these approaches over-simplify the fact that there are few topics of Irish history with a more fundamentally multidisciplinary cause as the Great Famine. A full understanding of the causes and consequences of the Famine requires a study of political science, economics, demography, dietary science, sociology and agriculture. Research is made all the more difficult (or colourful, depending on your viewpoint) by the lack of reliable statistics from the era.
It is worth quoting the foreword to the 1956 book "The Great Famine: Studies in Irish History 1845-52" (Dudley-Edwards and Williams) which was written to commemorate the centenary of the Famine. "It is difficult to know how many men and women died in Ireland in the famine years between 1845 and 1852. Perhaps all that matters is the certainty that many, very many died. The Great Famine was not the first nor the last period of acute distress in Irish history. The Great Famine may be seen as but a period of greater misery in a prolonged age of suffering, but it has left an enduring mark on the folk memory because of its duration and severity. The famine is seen as the source of many woes, the symbol of the exploitation of a whole nation by its oppressors. If only because of its importance in the shaping of Irish national thought, the famine deserves examination. But it was much more than a mere symbol. The economic and social influences of the famine were considerable; many of the most persistent trends in modern Irish life emerge with the famine, while the years of distress also saw the end of a phase in the agitation for national self-government. In Irish social and political history the famine was very much of a watershed. The Ireland on the other side of those dark days is a difficult world for us to understand, the Ireland that emerged we recognise as one with problems akin to our own."

Prelude to Famine 1: Irish Agriculture
In order to understand why the famine affected different parts of Ireland in so many different ways, it is necessary to understand the different types of agriculture that existed across the island. Ireland was certainly not homogeneous. In fact, five main agricultural regions can be identified in mid 19th century Ireland. (Note that the boundaries between these regions were extremely blurred, and there were many areas where two or more forms of agriculture competed).
Ireland was famous for its linen in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the country became one of the top producers worldwide. Ireland had a key advantage over Scottish rivals in that it could grow its own flax. Due to flax's particular adaptability to the inferiour drumlin country of Ulster, it was grown almost exclusively there. Linen exports soared from 500,000 yards in 1712 to 46,000,000 in 1796. Most linen weaving was done by hand. By 1820 there were 70,000 weavers in Ulster. The industrial revolution hit Ulster first, and the area around Belfast became festooned with mills. This allowed even more linen to be produced. The linen industry was so prosperous that the rural population density of Ulster soared to the highest levels in Europe (reaching 190/km2 in county Armagh by the start of the famine; it was 102 in 1991). Ulster's economy was therefore export-oriented and dependent mostly on flax. The Ulster flax-farmers purchased a lot of their food (mainly oats and potatoes) from north Leinster and Connaught. You can see a large collection of Linen machinery and tools in the Ulster Museum in Belfast.
On the good lands of eastern Leinster, the farmers engaged in commerical agriculture, growing food to be sold rather than for subsistence. In 1770, their chief trade was in flour sold to the growing Dublin city. By the start of the famine this also included growing produce for breweries. The commercialisation of the tillage economy caused a rapid population increase in the early 19th century. Farm labourers (who made up about half the population in the region) were given a small cabin and around 0.4 hectares of land. These plots were used for potatoes and cereal crops year about, as one prepared the soil for the other.
With the growth of importance of the potato, butter, which was perviously an essential nutrient in the diet, was freed up for selling on the market. Since the 1690s, Cork had been the centre of Ireland's dairy producing regions and this tradition was still as strong in the early 19th century. A large landowner owned several hundred cows which were rented to 'dairymen' on a per-cow basis. The dairymen were allowed to keep the calves and were given a small cabin and a plot of land on which to grow potatoes for subsistence. The upland areas were used to grow hay to feed the cattle in winter. As the region prospered in the years before the famine, many farmers sub-let their land, farm sizes decreased and population increased.
Cattle Fattening
Ireland's climate and rich limestone pastures made it ideal for cattle rearing. As discussed above, Munster used cows for dairying but the central areas fattened them to be sold. Some were sold to other farmers, some to other parts of Ireland and some were exported to Britain and the USA, neither of which was yet self-sufficient in cattle. As cows required large pasture lands, these regions did not become so densely populated as other areas of Ireland. In the lowland areas, some sheep grazing was also undertaken.
Small Farms
Between 1700 and the famine, Ireland's population increased rapidly. As land became more crowded, many farmers were forced to seek new lands for growing food on, and the only available areas were the scantly populated but poor lands of the Atlantic coast. Thousands of farmers settled in those areas, and there grew food mostly for subsistence, using the egalitarian 'Rundale' system of periodic land redistribution among the families. The land around the houses was used primarily for growing oats or potatoes while the higher ground was used for cattle grazing. The burgeoning population in these areas and lack of good soil prompted some ingenious solutions to problems, such as seaweed fertiliser and burning turf rather than wood or coal. It was soon discovered that potatoes thrived on seaweed and the potato soon became one of the main staple foods. The thin soil also prompted the invention of 'lazy beds': a potato is placed atop a sod, and adjoining sods folded over it. Traces of these furrows can still be seen in western Ireland (do not confuse natural soil creep with lazy beds. Lazy beds are vertical lines. Soil creep is made up of horizontal lines). In short, the west of Ireland was a densely populated area of small farms, many of which relied on the potato. Although it was never the dominant form of agriculture in Ireland, this region was to suffer most from the effects of the famine.
As was shown in the previous section, the potato gained importance as a crop in Ireland in the period running up to the famine. However, the potato was not a native of Ireland. It had been found by Spanish conquistadors in south America in the 1500s was shipped to Europe, and reached Ireland around 1590. For the next 80 years it was grown in small numbers, mainly in Munster, as a garden crop or stand-by. Farmers found that potatoes could grow double the food in the same land. They also realised that if they planted some of their land with potatoes, they would have enough to eat, and still have land to grow oats or engage in dairying. This surplus could then be sold, allowing the farmers to make money. By 1750, the potato had been acclimatised to the Irish climate and spread into Connaught (where the lazy-bed was invented) and Leninster, where it became the main food for the farm labourers.
The two main problems that were found were (a) potatoes could not be stored for longer than 9 months or so, meaning that there was a lean period in the summer before the new crop was harvested. This was solved by growing a small number of green crops and by feeding scraps to pigs who could be eaten or sold in the summer. (b) potatoes were hard to transport so they developed as a subsistence crop except for the regions near large markets such as Dublin.

In the east, the farmers were converting to tillage (oats, grain) while Ulster's land was turned over to growing flax for the Irish linen industry. Coupled with the growth of Dublin as an urban centre, the potato economy surged and soon many farmers were selling excess potatoes to those food-deficit regions. New potato varieties that yielded even better harvests were introduced: the Apple Potato around 1760 and the Cup Potato around 1800. As Leinster's oat-driven cash-crop economy developed, oats went out of reach for the poorest people of Connaught and Leinster, who became increasingly dependant on the potato.

By the early 1800s, the population had reached such a level (over 8 million by the start of the famine) that many of the farmers and farm labourers became almost wholly dependant on the potato. By the 1830s, 30% to 35% of Irish people depended on the potato as their main source of food. After 1810, another new breed of potato was introduced by farmers in the south-west. Called the Lumper Potato, it required little manure and could tolerate poorer soils. It spread from Munster into Connaught. On the eve of the famine, the Lumper had made inroads into western Leinster, although it had not yet spread into eastern Leinster or Ulster.

Nutritionally, the potato was excellent. If one added milk, it provided enough protein, carbohydrates, energy and minerals to lead a balanced and healthy diet. In 1700, a Connaught farmer would perhaps have eaten one meal with potatoes in a day. By 1800 this had increased to two. As the potato spread, the ability of a farmer to get milk or oats diminished, so many ate little but potatoes. By 1840, a Connaught farmer would have eaten three potato meals a day, containing a total of around 5 to 6kg (12 to 14lb) of potatoes.

In conclusion, on the eve of the famine around a third of Irish people, concentrated in Munster and Connaught, depended on the potato almost exclusively. As it could not be stored or transported well, a new crop had to be grown each year.

Prelude to Famine 3: Economics

The Industrial Revolution, which was eventually to sweep the world, began in England in the late 1700s. Yet despite the proximity to her island neighbour, Ireland generally did not industrialise. The only exception was the eastern part of the north-east flax growing area, where industrial processes improved the productivity of the linen industry. Although Ireland's economy had almost flourished during the last half of the 18th century, the Napoleonic Wars of 1803 to 1815 plunged the country into a recession. Not only did agricultural prices fall but wages too. It could be argued that the availability of cheap labour in Ireland would have encouraged industrialists to set up factories, but this did not happen. The reasons for the lack of industrialisation in Ireland are not fully understood, but is probably due to export economics.
The industrialisation in England forced Ireland to move more towards agriculture in order to produce viable export crops to make money. In fact, although economics forced the move, Ireland benefitted by an improvement in her terms of trade. Once English merchants began buying Irish grain in 1806, large flour mills were built, and communication routes and agricultural technology both improved. Cottage industry declined in favour of agriculture. Nevertheless, the poorest classes did not see much of this money because the benefit of higher export prices was cancelled out by the rise in food prices. In some ways, this polarisation towards food production increased the poor's vulnerability to crop failure. As the farmers got poorer they were forced to sell more of their crops (usually oats) for money while eating more potatoes (a crop that couldn't be transported easily).

In the 1830s the government decided to tackle poverty in Ireland. A number of inquiries were carried out, the most famous being the Irish Poor Inquiry which was based largely on the experience of a similar scheme in Britain. The British report determined that public workhouses, rather than charity, were the best solution to the problem of poverty. The Irish report rejected this policy, but was itself rejected due to the radical nature of its recommendations. Instead, the workhouse policy was extended to Ireland. Other policies introduced included free primary education and subsidised emigration, usually to Britain or the United States.

Workhouses were buildings designed for the poorest in society, who could no longer afford to live outside. They were run on the principles of discipline, work, separation from family members and dull food. A total of 130 workhouses, with a capacity for 100,000 people, were commissioned in the 1830s, the last being completed in 1843. Although conditions were harsh, they were never intended to be the over-crowded, disease-ridden pits that they became during the famine. Before the famine they were usually run at around 40% of capacity and, in fact, comparatively fewer Irish people entered the workhouses than in Britain. Funny as it may seem now, the designers had originally worried that non-needy cases would enter the workhouses in order to live off the taxpayers. In reality, those who entered the workhouses were genuinely needy (although entering a workhouse was a matter of choice, there was in reality no other option for the poorest people). In 1844, 40% of inmates were not of working age, and a third were sick on entry.

Figures and Maps showing Pre-Famine Demographics and Poverty

The table below gives some statistics for the immediate pre-famine period (figures for 1841).

County Population Population Density
per km2 (per mile2) Literacy
% People in 4th class
(worst) housing %
Antrim 360,875 127 (329) 41 23
Armagh 232,393 185 (480) 30 28
Carlow 86,228 96 (249) 36 27
Cavan 243,000 141 (366) 23 34
Clare 286,394 91 (236) 25 51
Cork 854,118 115 (297) 27 47
Donegal 296,448 62 (160) 19 43
Down 361,446 148 (383) 40 21
Dublin 372,773 405 (1049) 54 9
Fermanagh 156,481 93 (240) 29 35
Galway 440,198 72 (185) 15 49
Kerry 293,880 62 (160) 23 60
Kildare 114,488 68 (175) 35 27
Kilkenny 202,420 98 (254) 29 26
Laois1 146,857 85 (221) 34 27
Leitrim 155,297 98 (253) 24 43
Limerick 330,029 123 (318) 34 46
(London)derry 222,174 107 (278) 32 32
Longford 115,491 106 (274) 27 29
Louth 128,240 156 (405) 25 35
Mayo 388,887 70 (180) 13 60
Meath 183,828 78 (203) 27 35
Monaghan 200,442 155 (401) 25 27
Offaly2 153,930 77 (199) 30 26
Roscommon 253,591 100 (258) 20 43
Sligo 180,886 99 (255) 19 46
Tipperary 435,553 101 (262) 30 34
Tyrone 312,956 99 (257) 27 33
Waterford 196,187 107 (277) 23 26
Westmeath 141,300 77 (199) 27 33
Wexford 202,003 86 (223) 34 24
Wicklow 126,143 62 (161) 37 28

1. Called "Queens County" at the time
2. Called "Kings County" at the time

The following map indicates the level of poverty in Ireland on the eve of the famine in 1841. The index that it measures is based 50-50 on literacy levels and the levels of class 4 (worst) housing in each county. There is a close correlation between this graph and the types of agriculture in Ireland in 1841 and with the effects of the famine. This indicates that both poverty and famine severity were linked with the type of agriculture being undertaken. This is discussed in parts 1 and 2 of the 'Causes of Famine'.


The research of Professor Kevin Whelan as published in "The Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape", Cork University Press, 1997.
Ó Gráda, Cormac (University College, Dublin) "The Great Irish Famine", Cambridge, 1995.
Walsh DW, "Ireland History in Maps", (population figures)
Dudley-Edwards, R; Williams, T: "The Great Famine: Studies in Irish History 1845-52", Lilliput Press, 1997 (reprint of original published in 1956).

Prelude to Famine 4: Demographics

There are no reliable population figures for Ireland before 1841, however estimates (often based on Hearth Money Returns) have been carried as far back as 1700. These figures show that Ireland's population rose slowly from around 3 million in 1700 until the last half of the 18th century when it had reached 4 million. It then entered a rapid period of increase (around 1.6% per annum) which appears to have slowed to 0.6% by 1830. By 1841, the population had reached 8.2 million (according to the census, but the actual figure may be nearer 8.5 million). The population would probably have levelled off at a value of 9 million had it not been for the famine that began in 1845. The following graph shows Ireland's population since 1700.

Emigration has been a feature of Irish history more than almost any other country in the world. This is shown by the fact that, apart from the 5 million people in Ireland, there are an estimated 55 million people worldwide who can trace their ancestry back to Ireland. Although the most awesome levels of emigration were to occur during and immediately after the famine, it would be a mistake to think that emigration began in 1845. In fact, there had been mass emigration from Ireland long before the famine. In this period, the Irish accounted for a third of all voluntary traffic across the Atlantic. These emigrants were mainly from Ulster and Leinster, with fewer coming from the poorer areas of Connaught and Munster.

Between 1815 and 1845, 1.5 million Irish emigrated, mainly to Britain (c0.5 million) and to north America (c1 million). Of those who went to north America, the majority settled in Canada. Between 1825 and 1830, 128,200 Irish emigrated to north America, 61% of which went to Canada and 39% to the USA. In the decade 1831 to 1840, 437,800 Irish emigrated (almost double the number of the previous decade). Of these, 60% went to Canada and 39% to the USA. The remaining 1% went to Australia. (Note that these figures are for emigration outside the UK only. They do not include emigrations to Britain.) Irish emigration to Australia was to rise over the next 40 years, reaching a peak of 11% of all emigration in the 1870s. Emigration to Canada was to fall sharply after the famine and soon the USA would be the dominant destination. This was all in the future, however. The Great Famine was to happen first.

Cormac Ó Gráda, "The Great Irish Famine", Cambridge University Press, 1989
KH Connell, "The Population of Ireland 1750-1845", Greenwood Press, Connecticut
DH Akenson, "The Irish Diaspora", PD Meany Publishers, Ontario, 1993

The Famine 1: Potato Blight

In September 1845 a strange disease struck the potatoes as they grew in fields across Ireland. Many of the potatoes were found to have gone black and rotten and their leaves had withered. In the harvest of 1845, between one-third and half of the potato crop was destroyed by the strange disease, which became known as 'potato blight'. It was not possible to eat the blighted potatoes, and the rest of 1845 was a period of hardship, although not starvation, for those who depended on it. The price of potatoes more than doubled over the winter: a hundredweight (50kg) of potatoes rose in price from 16p to 36p. It is now known that the same potato blight struck in the USA in 1843 and 1844 and in Canada in 1844. It is thought that the disease travelled to Europe on trade ships and spread to England and finally to Ireland, striking the south-east first.

The following spring, people planted even more potatoes. The farmers thought that the blight was a one-off and that they would not have to suffer the same hardship in the next winter. However, by the time harvest had come in Autumn (Fall) 1846, almost the entire crop had been wiped out. A Priest in Galway wrote "As to the potatoes they are all gone - clean gone. If travelling by night, you would know when a potato field was near by the smell. The fields present a space of withered black stalks." The Prime-Minister, Sir Robert Peel, set up a commission of enquiry to try to find out what was causing the potato failures and to suggest ways of preserving good potatoes. The commission was headed by two English scientists, John Lindley and Lyon Playfair. The farmers had already found that blight thrived in damp weather, and the commission concluded that it was being caused by a form of wet rot. The scientists were unable, however, to find anything with which to stop the spread of the blight. It was in 1846 that the first starvations started to happen.

In 1847, the harvest improved somewhat and the potato crop was partially successful. However, there was a relapse in 1848 and 1849 causing a second period of famine. In this period, disease was spreading which, in the end, killed more people than starvation did. The worst period of disease was 1849 when Cholera struck. Those worst affected were the very young and very old. In 1850 the harvest was better and after that the blight never struck on the same scale again.

The precise number of people who died is perhaps the most keenly studied aspect of the famine: unfortunately, this is often for political rather than historical reasons. The only hard data that has survived is the 1841 and 1851 censuses, but the accuracy of these has been questioned. The reason for this is that the censuses recorded deaths by asking how many family members died in the past 10 years, but after the famine whole families had often left Ireland thus leaving many deaths unreported. It was argued by Edwards et al. that the precise number of deaths is of secondary concern to simple fact that a very many people died. Suffice it to say that estimates of deaths in the famine years range from 290,000 to 1,500,000 with the true figure probably lying somewhere around 1,000,000, or 12% of the population. We shall probably never know exactly how many lost their lives. It was undoubtedly the greatest period of death in Irish history, but its long term effects were to involve even more people than this.

In the years after the famine, scientists discovered that the blight was, in fact, caused by a fungus, and they managed to isolate it. They named it Phytophthora Infestans. However it was not until 1882, almost 40 years after the famine, that scientists discovered a cure for Phytophthora Infestans: a solution of copper sulphate sprayed before the fungus had gained root. At the time of the famine there was nothing that farmers could do to save their crop.


Edwards, RD. Williams, TD "The Great Famine: Studies in Irish History 1845-52", Lilliput Press, 1956 (reprinted 1997)
Collins, ME. "Ireland Three", The Educational Company, 1972
Rees, R; Hodge, AM; "Union to Partition: Ireland 1800-1921", Colourpoint Books, 1995

The Famine 2: Distribution of Famine Effects

The famine did not affect all of Ireland in the same way. Suffering was most pronounced in western Ireland, particularly Connaught, and in the west of Munster. Leinster and especially Ulster escaped more lightly. The following map shows the severity of the famine across Ireland in 1847; the height of the Famine.

There are a number of reasons for this pattern:

As discussed in Prelude to Famine 1: Irish Agriculture, there were several distinct kinds of agriculture present in Ireland at the time of the famine. The farmers in the east depended upon cereal crops, while those in Ulster grew flax. Only in the small farms of west of Ireland, and in parts of Munster, was the potato in a monopolistic position. It is estimated that at the eve of the famine 30% of Irish people were largely or wholly dependant on potatoes for their food. Thus, when the Blight struck it was these people who had nothing to fall back on. In Connaught some have estimated that as many as 25% of the population died.
Those who lived nearer to large cities had more access to imported goods. Although food was exported as usual from Leinster in 1844 and 1845, there was a net import of almost a million tons of grain by 1847. However, these imports naturally reached those nearer to the cities and these are in the east and south. Dublin, Belfast and Derry escaped with almost no effects at all, while Cork and Wexford were relatively better off than their rural environs. It was the inland and especially the western areas that could benefit least from the food of the cities. Given the fact that potatoes are notoriously hard to transport in any case, it would be difficult to get potatoes to Connaught even in a non-famine situation.
More people were killed by malnutrition-related diseases (such as dysentry and scurvy) as well as cholera that swept through the famine-ravaged countryside, than by actual starvation. While already prevalent in the west, many of these diseases spreads most effectively in damp conditions where people live closely together. Dysentry is not caused by hunger, and its incidence was not significantly higher during the famine as before. However, recovery from Dysentry depends upon good nutrition and in many cases this was unavailable. The Cholera epidemic was coindicental to the famine, but was responsible for a large number of deaths. It was the closely packed west that suffered most from these effects.
Note: While this explains the pattern of suffering, the reasons for the severity of the suffering is an entirely different issue. See later chapters.


Professor Kevin Whelan, writing in the "Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape", Cork University Press, 1997.
"Seventh Report of the Relief Commissioners", London, 1847, (Appendix)

The Famine 3: Peel's Relief Programme to July 1846

In United Kingdom politics at the time of the famine, there were two main political parties. The Tories were liberals who supported the Monarchy, and enjoyed the support of most Irish landlords. The Whigs were strong believers in free trade and had a policy known as laissez-faire, which stated that government should interfere as little as possible in affairs of trade and that the free market would deal with any crises. The UK government at the start of the famine was a Tory government led by Sir Robert Peel.
A third of the potato crop was wiped out in 1845. Crop failures were relatively common in Ireland (there had been famines in 1741, 1745, 1755, 1766, 1783, 1800, 1816, 1822 and 1830, although only that of 1741 was comparable to the Great Famine (1)). Because of this, it took some time before the government realised that this failure was more serious than usual. In mid September 1845, a week after the fungus first appeared, a government inquiry concluded that, although there had been failures, the crop was also unusually heavy and that the extra crop would compensate for the loss. (2) A month later another government inquiry revealed that the crop losses were more serious in 17 of the 32 counties. The image on the left shows a family searching for unblighted potatoes in a blighted field. The government responded to this second inquiry by setting up a commission to seek cures for the blight. (This has already been discussed in The Famine 1: Potato Blight.) The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, offered to give away free any chemical that would cure the blight, but the commission failed to find one.

The government soon realised that more food was needed from somewhere to make up the shortfall. Peel had two options. The first was to stop exports. The landlords of Leinster, many of whom cultivated grain, often sold to the large markets in Britain. In 1844 there was a net export of grain of 294,000 tons and 485,000 in 1845. Private individuals in Ireland met the Lord Lieutentant of Ireland in Dublin to push for this solution.

The other solution was to import more food. There were two problems with this. Firstly, many other European countries were also fearing famines and had banned exports of food, reducing the markets from which to buy. Secondly, there was a law called the 'Corn Law' which sought to protect local farmers by banning cheap foreign imports of food. The Corn Law was a key Tory policy, so by considering removing it Peel was going to invite the wrath of his party.

Sir Robert Peel, after much deliberation decided that merely preventing grain exports was not enough. Ó Gráda (1) comments that "...about three million extra acres of grain would have been needed annually to meet the food shortfall caused by the blight. This was out of the question". Peel instead decided to push for an import of food from America to make up the shortfall. Nevertheless, some (1) have argued that Peel would have been better to both ban exports and import food.

In Westminster, the seat of government, Peel's opponents accused him of using the blight as a ploy to get rid of the Corn Law. Some even accused him of making up the blight or at least of exaggerating its likely effects. The repeal of the Corn Law was to cost him and the Tory party the next election, in July 1846. In November 1845, £105,000 worth of Maize was imported from the USA and £46,000 from Britain. This was enough food to feed a million people for a month, although there were few people actually starving in 1845. A law from 1838 meant that aid could only be given out in Workhouses organised by local boards called Poor Law Unions. However, Peel felt that the workhouses did not have sufficient capacity to do this effectively, so he set up a temporary Relief Commission to organise relief. The Commission organised the distribution of food at cost price (although some people still had to pawn clothes and furniture to buy it). At first, many Irish people disliked accepting this charity, but in the end many accepted. He also set up (locally funded) work schemes which, at their peak, employed around 140,000 people (2). These measures sustained 700,000 people and, although the salaries they paid were very low, were the main reason that there were very few deaths in 1845. The measures stayed in this form until the unseating of the Tory government in July 1846.


(1) Ó Gráda, Cormac; "The Great Irish Famine", Cambridge University Press, 1989.
(2) Dudley-Edwards, R; Williams, TD; "The Great Famine, Studies in Irish History 1845-52", Lilliput Press, 1956, (Reprinted 1997)

The Famine 4: The Winter of 1846 to 1847

In the Spring of 1846, the people had planted even more potatoes than ever before to ensure that there was no repeat of the 1845 failure. However, in July the Relief Commission sent a report to England stating "I am sorry to state that... the prospect of the potato crop this year is even more distressing than last year- that the disease has appeared earlier and its ravages are more extensive" (2). As it was to turn out, the crop of Autumn (Fall) 1846 had failed completely across the island.
As stated previously, the Whigs who gained power in July 1846 believed that government should interfere as little as possible in matters of trade. This laissez-faire policy stated that capitalism would take care of any shortcomings. Lord John Russell, the new Prime Minister, had previously accused Peel of an over-reaction when few had died after dire predictions of widespread death in Ireland. Russell thought that enough of the crop must have been unaffected that any shortcoming would not be evident until late in the year. So he simply instructed his Commission to monitor the situation and to review the relief efforts of 1845 with a mind to implementing a new scheme later in the year.

In mid August, Russell put forward his plan to Parliament of what relief measures should be put in place. The Whigs believed that the import of food could be left up to local merchants ("the supply of the home market may safely be left to the foresight of private merchants" (2 p223)), while government would be responsible for providing employment to give people the money to buy this food. This was at least in part due to threats from merchants who objected to the 1845 food imports. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said "It was not the intention at all to import food for the use of the people of Ireland. In fact many merchants had declared that they would not import food at all if it were the intention of the government to do so, and unless the government would give such an assurance" (2 p223). Only in west Cork, Kerry and Donegal, where merchants were few, did the government relent and agree to allow the Relief Commisioners to give out food; again imported maize.

But the government's efforts were concentrated primarily into creating employment. They continued Peel's work schemes (the Board of Works) although with the restriction that the cost had to be entirely met through local rates. The pay was low: 8 to 10 pence per day, which was not nearly enough to support a family, and the payment was often delayed. Despite these failings, three quarters of a million people had signed up to the work schemes by March of 1847. The workhouses, set up in the previous decade for those who could no longer afford to live, were strongly disliked by the people. Nevertheless, many had no other option and by the end of 1846 they had been filled to their design capacity of 100,000 people, and numbers continued to rise. Conditions worsened and 'famine fever' began to take lives.

Meanwhile, the government's confidence that merchants would provide food was not borne out. By December 1846, lack of food and money meant that people were starving to death in the rural potato-growing areas of Ireland. A harrowing report from Cork at this time said: "The famine grew more horrible towards the end of 1846, many were buried with neither inquest nor coffin. An inquest was held by Dr Sweetman on three bodies. The first was that of two very young children whose mother had already died of starvation. His death became known only when the two children toddled into the village of Schull. They were crying of hunger and complaining that their father would not speak to them for four days; they told how he was 'as cold as a flag'. The other bodies on which an inquest was held were those of a mother and child who had both died of starvation. The remains had been knawed by rats." Despite this, the government refused to allow the Relief Commissioners to extend the food scheme out of western Munster and Donegal, insisting that their policy would work in time. The picture on the left is from the Illustrated London News in 1847. This newspaper, which sent illustrators to Ireland and began publishing pictures of famine victims in 1847, was largely responsible for raising awareness of the unfolding catastrophe in Britain.

Many people travelled to the towns in the hope of getting help (3). At first the townsfolk were generous, but then the famine-fever began to strike and the hospitality gave way to fear. Father Matthew of Cork observed: "These poor creatures, the country poor, are now homeless and without lodgings; no one will take them in; they sleep out at night. The citizens are determined to get rid of them. They take up stray beggars and vagrants and confine them at night in the market place, and the next morning send them out in a cart five miles from the town and there they are left and a great part of them perish for they have no home to go to." Others attacked places where food was stored, such was their desperation. The levels of property crime doubled between 1846 and 1847.
Private charity was responsible for keeping hundreds of thousands of people alive in the winter of 1846 to 1847. Catholic Priests organised food for local people. The Society of Friends raised money in America and Britain, and gave it to local areas to allow them to buy food boilers. In London, a group of businessmen collected money (including £2,000 from Queen Victoria) and bought and shipped maize to western Ireland. They also supplied clothes: many of the local people had pawned their winter clothes to buy food. This left them dangerously exposed in the winter months. One observer wrote "Among the thousands I meet, I have seen no one who had clothing corresponding to the bitter cold which is experienced; on the contrary what is beheld is emaciated, pale, shivering, worn-out farming people, wrapt in the most wretched rags, standing or crawling in the snow, bare-footed" (3). Landlords were split into varying extremes. Some refused to help, taking the opportunity to evict small cottiers from their estates. Some did not even live in Ireland. Others landlords bankrupted themselves trying to help their tenants. The picture shows Captain Kennedy, a Poor Law Inspector, and his daughter giving clothes to famine victims in Kilrush, county Clare. He said "I was so maddened by the sights of hunger and misery... that I (wanted) to take the gun from behind my door and shoot the first landlord I met". In the end, as we shall see, the famine was the catalyst that destroyed landlordism in Ireland (5).

Over the winter of 1846 to 1847, many tens of thousands of people died. There is an endless list of contemporary reports of people starving or dying of disease. By the spring of 1847, the government finally accepted that its policy had failed disastrously. In a report to the government, it was stated "The tide of distress has for some time past been steadily rising and appears now to have completely overflowed the barriers we endeavoured to oppose it... The question I have to ask you therefore is whether the time has not arrived for having recourse in a direct and effectual manner to what we have been aiming to arrive at by indirect means, namely, the outdoor relief of every distitute person" (2 p235).

For many people, it was all too much. On average, 50,000 people emigrated per year before the famine. In 1845, this was unchanged; the crop failure did not strike until the Autumn (Fall). However, in 1846, 100,000 people emigrated to America alone. 250,000 people were to leave during the year 1847: by far the largest exodus. Unlike the pre-famine exodus, which was mainly the better-off peasants, these were mostly the poorer people in Ireland. Only about 3% or 4% had their passages paid by the government or by their landlord, although charities paid for more passages.

So many people had been employed by the Board of Works that no seed potatoes were being sowed for the next year's harvest. The work projects concentrated more on employement than doing any co-ordinated work, so most of the work undertaken made little sense (1), for example building roads that led nowhere. (Although not all were pointless; the length of railways increased tenfold during the decade.) By Spring 1847, the Board of Works had spent £5,000,000 on relief measures, with little hope that the local taxpayers would ever be able to repay it. The map on the left (4) shows the Poor Law Unions (subdivisions for the relief of poverty that predate the famine) that were in such a level of distress that they got special treatment in 1847-48. The scheme which had employed three-quarters of a million people over the winter was finally scrapped in March 1847 to be replaced by a version of Peel's original scheme of food distribution.


(1) Ó Gráda, Cormac; "The Great Irish Famine", Cambridge University Press, 1989.
(2) Dudley-Edwards, R; Williams, TD; "The Great Famine, Studies in Irish History 1845-52", Lilliput Press, 1956, (Reprinted 1997)
(3) Collins, ME; "Ireland Three" The Educational Company, 1972.
(4) Kinealy, C; "This great calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-52", Dublin, 1994.
(5) Hodge, AM; Rees, R; "Union to Partition: Ireland 1800-1921", Colourpoint Books (, 1995.

The Famine 5: The Summer of Black '47

At first, the government was reluctant to sell cooked food to the poor; they thought that this would make the poor too reliant. They wanted to give away ingredients and get the poor to cook their own food. But the Relief Commission pushed for it. In a report to the government, the leader, Sir Randolph Routh, said "The soup system promises to be a great resource and I am endeavouring to turn the views of the Committees to it. It will have a double effect of feeding the people at a lower price and economising our meal."

The government knew that once the 1847 harvest came in, their Relief Programme would be completed. So they devised a twofold plan. Firstly, they would pass a temporary act to establish soup kitchens. These would feed the people until the harvest that Autumn (Fall). Originally, Peel had set up the Relief Commission as an organisation over and above the workhouses and Poor Law Unions. So the government's second plan, for later in the year, was to amalgamate the relief with the Poor Law system in a new commission.

The first of these policies was passed into law in March 1847 in the Destitute Poor (Ireland) Act. Within a few months, the Public Works schemes were disbanded. Soup kitchens were set up in all but three of Ireland's 130 Poor Law Unions and the rations were being given to 780,000 people by May. By the start of June, this number had increased to 2,700,000. At their peak, in mid August, over three million people were being fed daily by the scheme. Much of this food was imported to Ireland by the government. Food exports from Ireland reached their lowest level in 1847, and net grain imports reached three-quarters of a million tons in the same year. The graph on the left shows wheat imports. Large quantities of American maize were also imported.

The food was not of particularly good nurtitional quality; and there was not much of it. A recommended adult ration was a pound of meal, with half that for a child. But the decisions on exact numbers of rations and quantity of food were delegated to the local committees. In some areas, people were turned away simply because they "looked" healthy, and some did not even get their full ration. Cruelly, some people ended up in court to fight for the right to rations. In other areas, the committees and/or local landlords increased the ration size. Some committee members even gave two ration cards to the most needy. It is reported that in some areas, the number of rations given out exceeded the total population (2).

It does seem clear that, despite the imports, the government did not spend nearly enough money on the soup kitchens. One distributor of relief at Belmullet, county Mayo, said in May 1847: "Between today and yesterday, I saw the corpses of a girl, a man and an old woman who died of hunger. This day I saw a woman sinking into a faint, while I was giving out relief at Pullathomas to some peculiarly wretched families." But he insisted that they were doing everything they could with very limited resources: "Placed in the midst of a starving and mendicant population, whom... they (the Relief workers) are unable to supply with enough even to support nature, they are liable to continual charges of unfairness, partiality, indifference or want of judgement. It should be remembered that those who thus labour for the poor do so at a great sacrifice of time and trouble, and are in continual danger of being attacked by the pestilence which rages around them." (2 p243).

As this writer has observed, disease was an increasing problem. In the summer of 1847, the number of deaths from starvation decreased, but the number of deaths from disease increased. It was common for doctors and the relief workers themselves to die from disease. This disease was to spread and, in the end, disease killed far more people during the Famine than direct starvation did. As was stated previously, a quarter of a million people emigrated from Ireland in 1840. However, they brought their diseases with them and, on average, 40% of people who boarded the 'coffin ships' would die either en-route or immediately after arrival .


(1) Ó Gráda, Cormac; "The Great Irish Famine", Cambridge University Press, 1989.
(2) Dudley-Edwards, R; Williams, TD; "The Great Famine, Studies in Irish History 1845-52", Lilliput Press, 1956, (Reprinted 1997)

The Famine 6: The Famine after 1847

The harvest of 1847 was a success. Tragically, however, so many people had been on the Public Works schemes and not on their farms, that too few potatoes had been planted that Spring. So it turned out that the relief measures were going to have to be extended into the winter of 1847-48 to make up the food deficit.

The government had felt that, with the anticipated harvest due in Autumn (Fall) 1847, the worst was now over. They decided that the workhouses, which operated as part of the pre-famine Poor Law system, should be made primarily responsible for relief, with soup kitchens only provided if absolutely necessary. Recall that the workhouses had been built with a capacity of 100,000. At the end of January 1847, they were housing 108,000. However, this was not evenly distributed: one of the worst examples was Kanturk workhouse in county Cork which, with a capacity of 800, was housing 1,653 people at one point. The government embarked on a scheme of expansion of the workhouses. They encouraged the local Poor Law Unions to build extra shelters and rent buildings for use as 'temporary' workhouses. They also built extensions to the workhouses. By March 1847, design capacity had increased to 114,000. In July 1849, 200,000 people were living in workhouses, with 800,000 getting relief outside. The design capacity reached 309,000 in 1851.

Throughout the rest of the famine period, which is generally regarded as ending in 1849, the workhouses never managed to keep up with demand, so overcrowding was always present. A charity worker who visited one workhouse wrote "In the bedrooms we entered there was not a mattress of any kind to be seen; the floors were strewed with a little dirty straw, and the poor creatures were thus littered down as close together as might be, in order to get the largest possible under one miserable rug - in some cases six children, for blankets we did not see" (2 p245). An inspector to Lurgan workhouse, in county Armagh, in February 1847 wrote: "the supply of clothes was quite inadequate, and it had hence become necessary to use the linen of some of those who had died of fever and dysentery, without time having been afforded to have it washed and dried; and that, from the same cause, damp beds had in many instances been made use of" (2 p246). Clearly, workhouses were terrible places to end up.

The new relief measures were passed under the Irish Poor Law Extension Act in June 1847. They were to derive all their money from local funds, in the form of accumulating debt. (In the end, most of this money was never repayed.) One provision of the Act, the so-called Gregory Clause (named after William Gregory, an MP for Dublin who suggested it) exempted from relief anybody who owned more than a quarter of an acre of land. This clause was widely misinterpreted, and some who should have qualified for relief were refused. Many unscrupulous landlords used the Gregory Clause as an excuse to evict thousands of unwanted cottiers from their estates. Those made homeless by these evictions were forced to join the workhouses or to built woefully inadequate shelters on other people's land.

To the anguish of the people, the Potato Blight struck the harvest of 1848, wiping out most of the crop. With the continued improvements to the workhouses, deaths from starvation were not as great in 1848 as they had been in 1847. Nevertheless, the winter of 1848 to 1849 was a hard one and disease helped to wipe out tens of thousands more people. Even doctors themselves were infected. The Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medical Science wrote "From several districts of Ireland, where the late epidemic committed fearful ravages, no reports have been received. In many cases we regret to say that this has been caused by the lamentable mortality amongst our professional brethren" (2 p310).

The diseases, mainly fever and dysentry, finally began to wane after the winter. In Dublin, it was declared over in February 1848, but in most areas it lingered for another one or two years. Many of these people died merely because they had been weakened by hunger. If they had not been suffering from malnutrition, many may well have survived. The government began a campaign to try to get farmers to grow green vegetables and other root crops other than potatoes and, while they met success in some areas, most farmers could not be persuaded to give up their traditional methods. The Society of Friends purchased and operated a 'model farm' to teach farmers new methods of agriculture.

The Potato Blight struck yet again in the harvest of Autumn (Fal)] 1849, but not at the same intensity that it had in 1848. Things were complicated when an epidemic of Cholera broke out in the winter of 1848 to 1849. It reached its peak in May and died away by the summer. The disease was coincidental to the famine, and struck in Britain as well. It did not differentiate between rich and poor. At the time it was not known how Cholera spread, and there were fierce arguments about whether or not victims should be segregated from those who were not ill. (We now know that Cholera spreads through contaminated water, not by contact.) The epidemic was heaviest in the towns, with the worst effects being Drogheda, Galway, Belfast, Limerick, Waterford, Kilkenny and Cork. We have no reliable way of knowing how many died in the epidemic, but it acted as the final insult of the Famine period.

The workhouses continued to manage the relief effort, and herein lies the difficulty in determining when exactly the 'end' of the famine was. Many of the destitute had ended up with nothing, and therefore found it very difficult to get out of the workhouses again. The famine ended gradually, with recovery spreading from east to west, as the capacity of the workhouses increased and the number of inmates decreased. By 1849-1850 the workhouses had enough capacity to take appropriate care of all the destitute. Emigration also continued, although not quite at the levels of 1847. Approximately 200,000 per year left between 1848 and 1852 inclusive. Most of these travelled to America.

The Extension Act of 1847 indicated that the government believed that the famine was over, and this view was not reversed in the light of the crop failure of 1848. This premature decision no doubt contributed to the deaths that continued to occur in both the winters of 1847-48 and 1848-49. During the famine, total relief expenditure was £8 million by the government, £7 million from Irish taxes and well over £1 million from landlords (1). This still only amounted to 2 to 3% of the total government expenditure during those years, and academics argue over whether, given the UK's poor financial state at the time, any more could have been spent. Nevertheless, this value of 2-3% does seem anomalous given that the government found £100 million to spend on a war with Turkey.


(1) Ó Gráda, Cormac; "The Great Irish Famine", Cambridge University Press, 1989.
(2) Dudley-Edwards, R; Williams, TD; "The Great Famine, Studies in Irish History 1845-52", Lilliput Press, 1956, (Reprinted 1997)

Effects of the Famine 1: Agriculture

As mentioned in the previous section, the "Gregory Clause" of the Poor Law Extension Act (June 1847) denied aid to anybody owning over a quarter of an acre of land. Another clause, the £4 clause, made the landlord responsible for the all landholding tax on any holding valued at under £4. This latter clause covered most landholdings in Connaught. These two clauses effectively defined smallholders as parasites. For many Landlords it was a ticket to clear their estates. While many cleared the tenants so as to avoid paying these duties, many were nearly bankrupt anyway, due to the effects of the famine. It is estimated that during the entire famine period 500,000 people were evicted.
It was the small farmers, such as cottiers, that virtually vanished in the years after the famine. As the graph shows, farms under 5 acres accounted for 45% of all farms in 1841, but only 15% a decade later. Many of those who had been evicted emigrated or became paid labourers for other farmers. Many other farms were purchased by large-scale farmers. In general, living conditions seem to have improved, (although it should be stated that some researchers disagree). Before the famine, a third of people lived in fourth-class (the worst) housing. By 1851, it was 10%. Literacy and personal savings also increased.

At the opposite end of the social scale, the famine ultimately sounded the deathknell of the Landlord. Many landlords had seen their incomes fall during the famine and, having removed many of their tenants, many more went bankrupt due to lack of rentals. Over the next half century, most of these estates were sold, their owners encouraged by agrarian laws. The Encumbered Estates Act of 1949 was one law which encouraged farmers to buy land from Landlords. By 1914, two-thirds of Irish tenants owned their own land. Some Landlords survived by diversifying away from potato-growing tenancies and rented out land to graziers. By the end of the 19th century, large parts of Connemara had become grazing areas. As the population continued to fall, agriculture could become less and less intensive, until previously high-yield areas needed only to yield low crops. The potato yields per acre before the famine were never again achieved.

The strong farmer became the ultimate beneficiary of the famine. With both a weakened cottier class and a weakened Landlord class, they were able to acquire lands and add them to their holdings. The number of farms over 15 acres increased from 19% in 1841 to 51% of all holdings a decade later. In retrospect, this can be regarded as a non-violent Peasant revolution, spurred by the famine, and resulting in most farmers changing from being tenants to being landowners.

The very nature of the agricultural divisions in Ireland, as existed before the famine, became meaningless in the years afterwards. The pastoral (grazing) sector overtook the arable sector in this period. Between 1851 and 1911, arable land in Ireland halved from 1.8 million hectares to 0.9 million. Simultaneously, grazing increased dramatically. Many railways had been built in the famine period, as part of work schemes, and these allowed live cattle exports to Britain to increase. From 50,000 animals in the 1820s, exports reached 200,000 during the 1840s. This rose to 400,000 by the 1860s and 800,000 by the 1900s.Whelan says: "By 1908, the hen and the duck were more important in the agrarian economy than wheat and oats together." (1)

In the littoral regions of the west coast, the government set up schemes to help those living in high-population, low-quality areas. The Congested Districts Board was set up to do this. Initially they pioneered new farming methods and improved land, but later they bought up and redistributed land. They had strong powers to purchase inland estates and redistribute the land in the form of dispersed farms to those from the congested areas. Upon its dissolution in 1923, the CDB had purchased and redistributed 1000 estates into 60,000 holdings, built 6000 new houses and renovated 4000 more. Together, the famine and the CDB totally changed the structure of the western landscape. After less than two centuries of intensive human influence, large parts of Connaught returned to the wild. The farms on the hillsides were slowly reclaimed by nature, leaving only the odd ruined cottage and the tell-tale vertical lines of former lazy-beds. Many of these lazy beds can still be seen in deserted areas today; haunting signs of the once-dense human population.


(1) Whelan, Keving; Writing in "The Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape", Cork University Press, 1997.
(2) Hodge, AM; Rees, R; "Union to Partition: Ireland 1800-1921", Colourpoint Books,, 1995
(3) Ó Gráda, Cormac; "The Great Irish Famine", Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Effects of the Famine 2: Emigration

One of the most obvious effects of the famine was emigration. Although the famine itself probably resulted in about 1 million deaths, the resultant emigration caused the population to drop by a further 3 million. About 1 million of these are estimated to have emigrated in the immediate famine period, with the depression that followed continuing the decline until the second half of the 20th century. These migrants largely ended up in North America, with some in Australia and in Britain.
Between 1845 and 1855, 1.5 million people left for good. In 1845, emigration was at the pre-famine rate of 50,000 per year. In 1846 100,000 left. It peaked in 1847, when 250,000 left. Over the next 5 years it averaged 200,000 per year, before the numbers fell off. By 1855, the rate was down to 70,000 per year (6).

In the period over the famine decade 1841-1850, 1.3 million people emigrated overseas (1). Of these, 70% went to the USA, 28% to Canada and 2% to Australia. Most people paid their own fares to make the trip, although perhaps 3% had their fares paid by their Landlords (6). The cheapest fares were to Canada, around 55 shillings, while a fare to the USA cost between 70 shillings and £5 (100 shillings)(3). There were two ways one could travel; either in a standard class or steerage. Standard passengers had berths and could walk on the deck. Steerage passengers were crowded together below decks and often could not use the deck. For many emigrants, steerage was the most they could afford.

With many of the emigrants suffering from fever, coupled with the cramped and insanitary conditions on board what became known as the "coffin ships", disease was rampant. It is estimated that perhaps as many as 40% of steerage passengers died either en-route or immediately after arrival. Although they were regulated, many of the ships were privately owned, and some captains grossly overcrowded them in order to get more fares. Only the slave ships of the previous century would have had worse conditions. One witness commented on a voyage "This vessel left with 476 passengers, of whom 158 died before arrival, including the Master, mate and nine of the crew... Three days after her arrival there remained of the ship's company only the second mate, one seaman and a boy, able to do duty; all others were dead or ill in hospital (4)".

Another witness, Stephen de Vere, sailed to America in steerage in 1847; the year that saw the greatest emigrations of the immediate famine period. He wrote afterwards: "Hundreds of poor people, men, women and children of all ages huddled together without light, without air, wallowing in filth and breathing a fetid atmosphere, sick in body, dispirited in heart; the fevered patients lying beside the sound, by their agonised ravings disturbing those around. The food is generally ill-selected and seldom sufficiently cooked in consequences of the insufficiency and bad construction of the cooking places. The supply of water, hardly enough for cooking and drinking, does not allow for washing. No moral restraint is attempted; the voice of prayer is never heard; drunkenness, with all its consequent train of ruffianly debasement, is not discouraged because it is found profitable by the captain who traffics in grog (watered-down Rum) (2)".

The authorities in America soon realised how disease-ridden the emigrants were, so they set up quarantine centres which held the emigrants until they were deemed fit to continue. Some settled the new territories of the west which were being colonised at the time, but most stayed in the cities of the east coast where they took some of the poorest jobs. Only over a matter of years did some manage to rise up to prominence. Emigration continued to the USA for almost a century. However, after the First World War, America was much more closed and so overseas emigrants increasingly went to Canada or Australia. Many of the American emigrants brought with them a deep hatred of the government back in the UK, which they blamed for the famine and for their suffering.

Of course, Irish emigrants did not all go overseas. Although not as many as went to America, hundreds of thousands of Irish emigrated to Britain. Some went on from Britain to America, but many settled there. Because Ireland and Britain were then part of the same country, no migration figures were recorded on Irish Sea traffic. However, the 1851 census in Britain shows around 400,000 Irish-born living in Britain (5). The map shows where these emigrants were concentrated. As you can see, most settled in the port regions around Liverpool, Glasgow and London. Even today, people in Liverpool and Glasgow have a higher-than-average interest in Irish affairs.

At first local officials did what they could to help the mass of fever-ridden and hungry Irish who were disembarking. Soon, however, the famine fever spread to the local residents of the English and Scottish ports and the authorities began to panic. Eventualy, the government passed a law saying that any emigrants who arrived without means for support would be returned to the authorities in Ireland. Nevertheless, as the map shows, many stayed and even today a large proportion of the population of Britain has some connection to Ireland.

The emigration which continued for the next century or more had a profound effect on Ireland's demography. The next section looks at the effects of emigration on the land that was left behind.


(1) Akenson, DH; "The Irish Diaspora", PD Meany Company Inc, Ontario, 1993
(2) Collins, ME; "Ireland Three", The Educational Company, 1972
(3) Edwards, RD; Williams, TD; "The Great Famine; Studies in Irish History 1845-52", Lilliput Press, 1956, Re-released 1997.
(4) Speed, PF; "The Potato Famine and the Irish Emigrants", 1976
(5) Hodge, AM; Rees, R; "Union to Partition: Ireland 1800-1921", Colourpoint Books,, 1995
(6) Ó Gráda, Cormac; "The Great Irish Famine", Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Effects of the Famine 3: Demographics

The country left behind by the emigrants was transformed by the famine. The map (1)] shows the drop in population islandwide between 1841 and 1851. Only three areas (the metropolitan areas of Belfast, Dublin and Cork) managed to increase their population. This was partly due to an influx of famine victims from rural areas and the fact that the famine had comparatively little effect in urban areas. Elsewhere, the coastal counties of Ulster and Munster suffered the smallest falls, with the inland, southern and western areas suffering the greatest falls.

It must be pointed out that the map does not show the 'final' state of the famine years; the decline it depicts continued until after the mid 20th century. The table below shows the population of selected counties (and the two present states) since 1841. In the case of Dublin, the population is ever-increasing. In other cases, eg Waterford, the population fell and recently began to rise. In others, eg Leitrim, the decline has not yet stopped. In the Republic of Ireland, it was only after 1960 that the natural population increase exceeded emigration, and the population has been rising slowly since then. In Northern Ireland, the population decline was reversed around 1900 and has been increasing since then.

Year Mayo Louth Dublin Tipperary Waterford Leitrim Rep of Ireland Northern Ireland
1841 389 128 373 436 196 155 6529 1649
1861 255 91 410 249 134 112 4402 1396
1881 245 78 419 200 113 90 3870 1305
1901 199 66 448 160 87 69 3222 1237
1926 173 63 506 141 79 56 2972 1257
1946 148 66 636 136 76 45 2955 *1338
1961 123 67 718 124 71 33 2818 1425
1981 115 89 1003 135 89 28 3443 1536
1991 110 91 1025 133 92 25 3526 1578
Population of selected Irish counties, in thousands. Figures for Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland before 1921 are of the counties that later constituted those areas. *estimate.

The Irish language was another thing to decline in the post-famine years. It must be pointed out that the Irish language was already in decline at the start of the famine, but the famine must surely have accelerated the process. In the early part of the 1800s, around 40% of the population spoke Irish, compared to around 30% in 1845, the eve of the famine (2). Those who died or emigrated in the famine were disproportionately Irish speakers, mainly because the famine hit rural areas hardest and that is where Irish had survived the longest. In 1861, the number of Irish speakers had fallen to 24%. This decline continued for some years, reaching a low of 18% (figure for Republic of Ireland only) around 1926, when it was revived by the new Irish government. Ó Gráda comments "Neither O'Connellite nor Fenian brands of nationalism did anything to foster Irish, and by the time a more advanced nationalist ideology adopted the old tongue it was too late (2)".

Thanks to a concerted educational policy in the Republic of Ireland, Irish language proficiency is increasing again. From the low of 18%, the number of Irish speakers in the Republic stood at 33% in 1991 (3). In Northern Ireland, where Irish has not been compulsory in schools, proficiency is less. In 1991, 88% of the population of Northern Ireland claimed to have no knowledge of Irish. Note, however, that these census figures refer to any knowledge of Irish. The number of fluent Irish speakers in the Ireland today probably stands at around 3%. And it has been reported that in Northern Ireland today, more people speak fluent Chinese than speak fluent Irish!

The famine seems to have helped the church expand in Ireland. Before the famine, there is evidence that a large proportion of the population did not take any interest in the church. In fact, in rural Ireland, attendance figures show that only around half the population attended Mass regularly (2). After the famine, the population became much more dedicated to the Catholic church, and this remains the case today (although there has been a limited fall-off in recent years). There was a boom in church-building after the famine, but it is not clear whether the rise in devotion to Catholicism was due to this increased church building or vice-versa.

Before the famine, it was fairly common for farmers to sub-divide their lands between their sons. The birth rate was reasonably high (around 33/1000 according to the 1841 census), so there were often several sons to divide the farm between. In some areas, this policy was carried to rediculous extremes, with thousands of tiny fields often dividing an area of land. Many historians believed at the time, and still do today, that these subdivisions exacerbated the famine by leaving families very dependant on very small fields. In the post famine period farmers had learned the lesson, and this system of "impartible land inheritance" largely disappeared. In general, parents passed the farm, intact, to a single son while giving educational or financial assistance to siblings, sometimes to settle elsewhere or to emigrate. It also increased the occurrence of "arranged" marriages with dowries, and these marriages occurred later than they would have before the famine. While this did reduce the number of extended families living together, it did increase the opportunities available to children.

In conclusion, therefore, the famine marked a watershed in Irish history, not only for politics but for culture, religion, demographics, agriculture and industry. It is a testament to these effects that the famine is still studied in depth over 150 years after it took place.


(1) Edwards, RD; Williams, TD; "The Great Famine; Studies in Irish History 1845-52", Lilliput Press, 1956, Re-released 1997.
(2) Ó Gráda, Cormac; "The Great Irish Famine", Cambridge University Press, 1989.
(3) Central Statistics Office, Skehard Rd., Cork, Republic of Ireland.
The Journey of an Irish Coffin Ship.
Robert Whyte

Robert Whyte's immigrant diary, The Ocean Plague: The Diary of a Cabin Passenger, appeared in print in 1848, one year after the author said he made his journey from famine-stricken Ireland to Canada. Whyte later crossed the boarder into the United States. Nothing is known about Robert Whyte, including whether such a person even existed; the name could very well be a pseudonym. All that is left is this diary, published in 1994 by Mercier Press and edited by James Mangan under the title Robert Whyte's 1847 Famine Ship Diary. Mangan also edited the fictionalization of Gerald Keegan's famine journal. Unlike this earlier work (1991), however, Robert Whyte's 1847 Famine Ship Diary is an authentic reproduction of the original text, rather than a dramatization. One could assume, therefore, that Whyte's diary is a relatively more trustworthy account of the ocean crossing.


Each moment plays
His little weapon in the narrower sphere
Of sweet domestic comfort, and cuts down
The fairest bloom of sublunary bliss.
Bliss - sublunary bliss - proud words and rain,
Implicit treason to divine decree,
A bold invasion of the rights of heaven
I clasp'd the phantoms, and I found them air.
O, had I weighed it ere my fond embrace,
What darts of agony had miss'd my soul.
-- Young


30 May 1847

Many and deep are the wounds that the sensitive heart inflicts upon its possessor, as he journeys through life's pilgrimage but on few occasions are they so acutely felt as when one is about to part from those who formed a portion of his existence; deeper still pierces the pang as the idea presents itself that the separation may be for ever, but when one feels a father's nervous grasp, a dear sister's tender, sobbing embrace and the eye wanders around the apartment, drinking in each familiar object, until it rests upon the vacant chair which she who nursed his helpless infancy was wont to occupy, then the agony he wishes to conceal becomes insupportable. But as the skilful surgeon tears off the bandage which the hand of affection gently withdraws from the wound, thereby unconsciously inflicting greater pain, so it is better not to linger upon the affecting scene but rush suddenly away.

It was a charming morning on which I left dear old Ireland. The balmy new-born day in all the freshness of early summer was gladdened by the beams of the sun which rose above the towers of the city, sunk in undisturbed repose. It


Page 13

was a morning calculated to inspire the drooping soul with hope auguring future happiness.

Too soon I arrived at the quay and left my last footprint on my native land. The boat pushed off and in a few minutes I was on board the brig that was to waft me across the wide Atlantic.

There was not a soul on deck but presently the grizzled head of the captain was protruded from the cabin and from the uninviting aspect of his face I feared that he would prove an unsocial companion for a long voyage. He received me as kindly as his stubborn nature would allow and I was forced to admire the manly dignity of the rude tar when, from the bent attitude he was obliged to assume while ascending the companion ladder, he stood upright on the deck. The sailors now issued from the forecastle and the mate came up and introduced himself to me.

The captain having given the word to weigh anchor, a bustle immediately arose throughout the vessel; the seamen promptly proceeded to their work with apparent pleasure although (being the Sabbath) they did not accompany the action with the usual chant. The chain having become entangled in the cables of some fishing boats, it was a considerable while before the anchor was hoisted. At length the top-sails were unreefed and our bark glided through the beauteous bay.

In a short time we rounded the promontory of Howth having taken the north channel as the wind was southerly.

The captain then led me down to the cabin for breakfast and introduced me to his wife who he informed me always accompanied him to sea and whom I shall for the future designate as the mistress, as by that term she was known to both crew and passengers. Feeling an inclination towards squeamishness and being much more sick at heart, I retired to my stateroom and lying down upon the berth, fell into a dreamy slumber, in which I remained until aroused when I found it was late in the afternoon and tea was ready. I felt



somewhat revived by the grateful beverage and accompanied the captain on deck. We were off Carlinford and the mountains of Mourne. The passengers were cooking their evening meal at their fires upon the foredeck and the sailors discussing their coffee in the forecastle. I endeavoured to enter into conversation with the captain but he was provokingly taciturn; however, we were soon joined by the mistress, who was not unwilling to make up for her husband's deficiency. The sun set and twilight subsided into darkness. A cold night breeze also told that it was time to go below.

Monday, 31 May

I rose early and inhaled the fresh morning air. We made good progress during the night and the bold cliffs of,the coast of Antrim were visible on one hand, the Scotch shore on the other. At 8 a.m. the bell rang for breakfast and I took my seat opposite the captain. The mistress sat in an armchair and the mate on a stool next to me, completing the cabin circle. We were attended by Simon the cabinboy whom at first sight I took to be a 'darky'.

His face was coated with smoke and soot, streaked by the perspiration that trickled from his brow which was surmounted by a thicket of short, wiry black hair standing on end, his lustreless brown eyes I cannot better describe than by borrowing a Yankee illustration: they were Dike two glass balls lighted by weak rush lights'; his lips were thick, straight and colourless; his complexion (when unveiled) was a grimy yellow and the expression of his wide flat face, idiotic. He wore a red flannel shirt and loose blue pilot trousers but neither shoes nor stockings. His movements were slow, except at meals, when he seemed to regain his suspended animation and it was a goodly sight to see him gulping coffee, bolting dodges of fat pork and crunching hard biscuit as ravenously as a hungry bear.

No two specimens of human nature could possibly present


Page 15

more striking contrasts than Simon and his fellow apprentice, Jack. The latter was about 15 years of age, remarkably small and active. Squirrel never climbed a tree more nimbly than Jack could go aloft, and in the accomplishment of chewing and smoking he might compete with the oldest man aboard. His fair skin was set off by rosy cheeks and his sparkling blue eyes beamed with devilment. He was a favourite of everyone - except the mistress, with whom his pranks did not pass - being therefore exempt from the menial of fices of cabin boy which devolved upon Simon. His principal amusement consisted in persecuting that genius.

The mate was a very little man not more than five feet high but in excellent condition, as seamen generally are. He was lame in one leg which deformity he took great pains to hide, causing a constrained limp that was extremely ludicrous. He was well-looking and sported a capacious pair of black whiskers, the outline of which he frequently altered. He had been a 'captain' but unfortunately, loving the bottle, he lost his 'cast'. There existed little confidence between him and the captain and, both being of a warm temperament, there were occasional symptoms of collision but they were prevented from ending in open rapture by the timely interference of the mistress, on whom the captain would let loose his wrath, which though expressed in no gentle terms she bore with exemplary patience.

The mistress was small, ruddy and sun-burnt, having seen some sixty winters, forty of which she had spent at sea, generally in the home trade but varied occasionally by voyage to Russia or to America. She was in the habit of keeping a private log, in which she noted the incidents of her travels. I was allowed to look into this interesting production, which amused me no less by the originality of the orthography, than its elegance of diction. Being a native of Cumberland her pronunciation was not particularly euphonious. She also, when addressing her husband, the mate and all familiar acquaintances, used the terms 'thee' and 'thou'



invariably reversing their grammatical order.

Tuesday, 1 June

After breakfast, the mate invited me to see the depot of provisions. I accordingly followed him, descending by a ladder into an apartment partitioned off from the hold, and dividing it from the cabin.

By the light from the lantern I perceived a number of sacks, which were filled with oatmeal and biscuit. The mate having proceeded to prepare the passengers' rations for distribution, I sat down upon one of the sacks, from beneath which suddenly issued a groan. I jumped up, quite at a loss to account for the strange sound and looked at the mate in order to discover what he thought of it. He seemed somewhat surprised but in a moment removed two or three sacks and lo! there was a man crouched up in a corner. As he had not seen him before, the mate at once concluded that he was a 'stowaway', so giving him a shake to make him stand upright, he ordered him to mount the ladder, bestowing a kick upon the poor wretch to accelerate his tardy ascent.

The captain was summoned from below and a council immediately held for the trial of the prisoner, who confessed that, not having enough of money to pay for his passage, he bribed the watchman employed to prevent the possibility of such an occurrence. He had been concealed for three days but at night made his way into the hold, through a breach in the partition; His presence was therefore known to some of the passengers. He had no clothes but the rags he wore nor had he any provisions. To decide what was to be done with him was now the consideration, but the captain hastily terminated the deliberation by swearing that he should be thrown overboard. The wretched creature was quite discomfited by the captain's wrath and earnestly begged for forgiveness. It was eventually settled that he should be landed upon the first island at which we should touch, with which



decision he appeared to be quite satisfied. He said that he was willing to work for his support but the captain swore determinedly that he should not taste one pound of the ship's provision. He was therefore left to the tender mercies of his fellow passengers.

In consequence of this discovery, there was a general muster in the afternoon, affording me an opportunity of seeing all the emigrants - and a more motley crowd I never beheld; of all ages, from the infant to the feeble grandsire and withered crone.

While they were on deck, the hold was searched, but without any further discovery, no one having been found below but a boy who was unable to leave his berth from debility. Many of them appeared to me to be quite unfit to undergo the hardship of a long voyage, but they were inspected and passed by a doctor, although the captain protested against taking some of them. One old man was so infirm that he seemed to me to be in the last stage of consumption.

The next matter to be accomplished was to regulate the allowance of provisions to which each family was entitled, one pound of meal or of bread being allowed for each adult, half a pound for each individual under fourteen years of age, and one-third of a pound for each child under seven years. Thus, although there were 110 souls, great and small, they counted as 84 adults. That was, therefore, the number of pounds to be issued daily. On coming on board, provisions for a week were distributed but as they wasted them most improvidently, they had to be served again today. The mate consequently determined to give out the day's rations every morning.

Wednesday, 2 June

We made but little progress during the night and were still in the channel, within sight of the Mull of Kintyre and the northern shore of Ireland.


Having but a few books with me, I seized upon a greasy old volume of sundry magazines, which I found in the cabin. I also commenced the study of a book of navigation. These, varied with the Book of books, Shakespeare and Maunder's Treasuries, kept me free from ennui. When tired of reading, I had ample scope for observation.

The mistress spent the forenoon fishing, and the afternoon in curing the mackerel and gurnet she caught. We had some at tea when I met with a deprivation I had not anticipated - there was no milk! and I did not at all relish my tea without it. One cup was quite enough for me, but I soon became habituated to it. Having rounded the long promontory of Donegal, the outline of the shore became indistinct and, making our calculations not to see land again for some time, the mate took his 'departure' from Malin Head.




Roll on, thou dark and deep blue blue ocean, roll!


Thursday, 3 June

When I came on deck this morning I found that we were sailing upon the bosom of the broad Atlantic, no object being visible to relieve the vast expanse of water and sky, except the glorious sun and as I turned my eyes from the survey of the distant horizon and fixed them upon the little bark that wafted us, a sensation akin to that of the 'Ancient Mariner' possessed my mind.

Alone, alone, all, all alone

Alone on a wide, wide sea.

As the boy who was unable to attend the muster still continued ill, and was reported to be feverish, the mistress and I reviewed the medicine chest. We found it to contain a jar of castor oil, Epsom salts, laudanum, hartshorn, etc; also a book of directions, which were by no means explicit, and they so perplexed the mistress, even with the aid of her spectacles, that as she was nothing the wiser of the study she resolved to trust to her own experience in the concoction of a dose. The mate took his first observation at noon and as he stood peering through the eye-hole of the quadrant, he reminded me forcibly of poor old Uncle Sol's little midshipman.

The passengers' fireplaces, upon either side of the foredeck furnished endless scenes, sometimes of noisy merriment, at others of quarrels. The fire was contained in a large wooden case lined with bricks and shaped something like an old-fashioned settee - the coals being confined by two or three iron bars in front. From morning till evening they were surrounded by groups of men, women and children; some



making stirabout in all kinds of vessels, and others baking cakes upon extemporary griddles. These cakes were generally about two inches thick, and when baked were encased in a burnt crust coated with smoke, being actually raw in the centre. Such was the unvaried food of the greater number of these poor creatures. A few of them, who seemed to be better off, had herrings or bacon. The meal with which they were provided was of very bad quality - this they had five days and biscuit, which was good, two days in the week.

Friday, 4 June

The sailors and apprentices were (as the mate expressed it l in his log) variously employed mending sails, tarring ropes, spinning yarns, etc. Sailors sit and sew very differently from tailors; instead of doubling up their legs under them they stretch them out straight before them as they sit upon the deck. Their thimble is also peculiar, not being worn on the top of the finger, but upon the ball of the thumb, to which it is fastened by a leather strap, buckled round the wrist. I was surprised at the expedition and neatness with which they sewed with their coarse needles and long threads.

Jack created some diversion by daubing a gossoon's face with tar, and shaving him with a rusty knife. It was exhilarating to hear the children's merry laughter - poor little things, they seemed quite reconciled with their situation! I learned that many of these emigrants had never seen the sea nor a ship until they were on board. They were chiefly from the County Meath, and sent out at the expense of their landlord without any knowledge of the country to which they were going, or means of livelihood except the labour of the father of each family. All they knew concerning Canada was that they were to land in Quebec and to go up the country; moreover they had a settled conviction that the voyage was to last exactly three weeks. In addition to these, there were a



few who were going to try their fortunes on their own account. One of the latter was a Connaught 'boy', who having lived upon the coast and spent his time partly in fishing, made himself useful about the brig and thereby ingratiated himself into favour with the captain and won the consequent jealousy of his fellow passengers, who, thinking him rather soft, took pleasure in teasing him. Two young men from Kilkenny and one from the County Care completed the list. The former used to astonish the Meathmen with the triple wonders of their native city.

Saturday, 5 June

As the passengers had a great inclination to infringe upon the after-deck, the captain drew a line, the penalty for crossing which was the stoppage of a day's water.

I observed the sea to be crowded with myriads of slimy looking objects, which the sailors called 'slobbs'. They varied in size, form, and colour, some of them resembling a lemon cut in half. How beautiful also was the luminous appearance of the water at night, which I delighted to watch, as we glided through the liquid fire.

Nor was it less pleasing to observe the 'Portuguese men of war', with their tiny sails set to the breeze, and surmounting the crests of the rolling billows. I had a rummage through the charts and enjoyed a practical lecture upon them, with illustrative lectures by the mistress, enlivened by way of episode with occasional contradictions by the captain who with rule and compass traced our progress daily upon the great chart of the North Atlantic ocean. We had two ships in company with us all the day; they were too distant to distinguish their names. One of the passengers having thrown the Connaughtman's hat overboard, the captain gave him a blue and white striped night-cap, with which on his head he strutted about, much to the amusement of the youngsters, one of whom attached a rope to the tail of his



coat; this he dragged after him for some time, until Jack changed the scene by cutting the tail off. When Paddy discovered his loss, he was outraged and made a grievous complaint to the mate who doctored the coat by abstracting the other tail, thereby transforming the garment into a jacket. When the matter came to the captain's ears he presented Paddy with an old pilot jacket, which made a great coat for him; he was, therefore, no loser by the affair.

Sunday, 6 June

The favourable breeze that carried us out of the channel 1 having forsaken us, the little progress we made was gained by tacking, which kept the sailors constantly employed. The passengers were dressed in their best clothes and presented a better appearance then I expected. The sailors also donned their holiday toggery in the afternoon.

A group of young men, being at a loss for amusement, began to wrestle and play 'pitch and toss' but the mate soon put a stop to their diversions at which they grumbled, saying that they 'didn't think that Mr Mate would be so hard'.

Very few of them could read; neither did they seem to have any regard for the sanctity of the Sabbath. In the evening they had prayers in the hold and were divided into two parties - those who spoke Irish, and those who did not; each section having a leader who gabbled in his respective language a number of 'Paters and Aves', as quickly as the devotees could count their beads.

After these religious exercises they came upon deck and spent the remainder of the day jesting, laughing and singing.

We had a clear and beautiful sunset from which the captain prognosticated an easterly wind.
Both the Head and the Reilly families immigrated to the United States during the time of the Irish potato famine, the Heads through Canada and the Reillys to New Orleans. It appears that the Healy and Irvine families also immigrated at about the same time, probably through New York. The severe conditions in Ireland as the result of the potato famine and the accompanying diseases at that time caused a mass exodus to the United States, Canada, England and Australia. The emigration to Australia was primarily prisoners expatriated to prison colonies.

Before The Famine

In the 60 years before the famine, the population of Ireland had doubled from four million to eight and a half million people. This increase was largely made possible by the potato; an acre of ground could produce enough potatoes for a family for most of the year. The increase in population resulted in a need for much more land and the population moved into much less desirable land such as reclaimed bogs and hillsides. Over one-third of the population lived at the poverty or subsistence level, relying almost completely on the potato for their food supply.

A typical days food for a working class man or woman consisted of
Breakfast - 5 ½ pounds potatoes, 1 pint skim milk.
Lunch - the same, herrings and water in place of milk in the winter.
Dinner - the same but was not always eaten, mostly eaten in the more seasons when food was more plentiful.

Of the eight and one-half million population of Ireland before the famine, over one and a half million rural workers and their families (farm laborers) had no other source of food and three million cottier and smallholding families (tenant farmers) were largely dependent on the crop for survival.
As the poor had only small plots of land they required a variety of potatoes that would produce a high yield so they abandoned the traditional red potatoes that were disease resistant in favor of white potatoes, especially the 'Lumper' or horse potato, which was of inferior quality but produced a high yield. Unfortunately the Lumper was also less immune to disease, a serious defect when the potato was the sole or primary source of food for almost one-half of the population.
There had been periodic partial failures of the potato crop over the years causing many hardships, including deaths from starvation and accompanying diseases. These only lasted a single growing season and the crops and the people quickly recovered

The Famine

In 1845 a new disease commonly called potato blight attacked the crop. It was caused by a fungus, phytophthora infestans; probably introduced to Europe from the American continent. It affects the stalks and the tubers (the actual potato) and thrives in humid conditions. It unfortunately did not show any signs of the damage until the harvest. In 1845, the blight caused a loss of one-third of the crop, three-fourths in 1846 and 1847, and two-thirds of the crop in 1848. The blight continued attacking the potato crop until about 1880 when a cure was found.


The major port of debarkation for Canada and the U.S. was Liverpool. Unscrupulous agents crowded the Irish emigrants into poorly maintained and provisioned ships. Many did not survive the difficult voyage. Passage to British North America (Canada) was difficult in the winter when the St. Lawrence River was frequently iced over however the passing of the United States Passenger Acts of 1847 imposed more severe regulations on immigration and a seven-pound per head fee. This made the Canadian route more popular even if the United States was the ultimate destination. Apparently the Head family chose this immigration route before settling in Ohio and Missouri. A second destination was New Orleans, especially for the poor as ships carrying cotton to Liverpool would take passengers at low fares on the return trip for "cheap ballast." The Reillys chose this route.

Figure 1 - Irish immigrants leaving home - the priest's blessing (the Illustrated London News 10 May 1851)

Results of the Famine

Over one million deaths resulted from the famine and accompanying diseases, one-eighth the entire population of Ireland. Even though all classes were to some extent stricken by the famine and resulting diseases, the rural population and especially the poor accounted for most of the deaths. Of even more long term significance to the Irish Republic was the effect of emigration: over 1.2 million emigrated from 1845-1851. Immigration continued at a high rate throughout the remainder of the century with almost half of each generation leaving the country. By 1910 over 5 million had emigrated. It has been estimated that in just the United States over 40 million people are directly descended from the famine-emigrated Irish.

Figure 2 - Relief commission papers, County Caven.

Eleanor Fritz1

F, #15523, b. 1913, d. July, 1988
Father*Eugene M. Fritz1 b. 1881, d. March, 1952
     Eleanor married Raymond Hezel, son of Albert J. Hezel and Mathilda S. Fritz.1 Eleanor Fritz, daughter of Eugene M. Fritz, was born in 1913.1
Eleanor died in July, 1988.1 She was buried on July 27, 1988 in Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery in St. Louis County, Missouri, in section 6, lot 46.1


Raymond Hezel b. December 4, 1907, d. February 5, 1992


  1. [S2220] Internet Site: The Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis Web Site).

Eugene M. Fritz1

M, #15524, b. 1881, d. March, 1952
Father*Max Fritz1 b. 1843, d. December, 1931
Mother*Barbara (?)1 b. 1849, d. February, 1908
     Eugene M. Fritz, son of Max Fritz and Barbara (?), was born in 1881.1
Eugene died in March, 1952.1 He was buried on March 13, 1952 in Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery in St. Louis County, Missouri, in section 6, lot 46.1




  1. [S2220] Internet Site: The Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis Web Site).

Max Fritz1

M, #15525, b. 1843, d. December, 1931
     Max married Barbara (?)1 Max Fritz was born in 1843.1
Max died in December, 1931.1 He was buried on December 5, 1931 in Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery in St. Louis County, Missouri, in section 6, lot 46.1


Barbara (?) b. 1849, d. February, 1908


  1. [S2220] Internet Site: The Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis Web Site).

Barbara (?)1

F, #15526, b. 1849, d. February, 1908
     Barbara married Max Fritz.1 Barbara (?) was born in 1849.1
Barbara died in February, 1908.1 She was buried on February 18, 1908 in Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery in St. Louis County, Missouri, in section 6, lot 46.1


Max Fritz b. 1843, d. December, 1931


  1. [S2220] Internet Site: The Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis Web Site).

(?) Fritz1

?, #15527, b. February, 1902, d. February, 1902
Father*Eugene M. Fritz1 b. 1881, d. March, 1952
     (?) died in February, 1902.1 (?) Fritz, child of Eugene M. Fritz, was born in February, 1902.1 (?) Fritz was buried on February 2, 1902 in Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery in St. Louis County, Missouri, in section 6, lot 46.1


  1. [S2220] Internet Site: The Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis Web Site).

Adelhaid Hezel1

F, #15528, b. 1875, d. 1875
Father*Charles Hezel1 b. April 24, 1843, d. April 14, 1903
Mother*Elizabeth Johanning1 b. November 16, 1849, d. August 26, 1926
     Adelhaid Hezel was buried in 1875 in Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery in St. Louis County, Missouri, in section 26, lot 6.1
Adelhaid died in 1875.1 Adelhaid Hezel, daughter of Charles Hezel and Elizabeth Johanning, was born in 1875.1


  1. [S2220] Internet Site: The Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis Web Site).

(?) Kaletta1

F, #15529, b. March, 1922, d. March, 1922
Father*Andrew C Kaletta1
Mother*Hilda M. Hezel1 b. April 29, 1889
     (?) died in March, 1922.1 (?) Kaletta, daughter of Andrew C Kaletta and Hilda M. Hezel, was born in March, 1922.1 (?) Kaletta was buried on March 7, 1922 in Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery in St. Louis County, Missouri, in section 26, lot 22.1


  1. [S2220] Internet Site: The Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis Web Site).

(?) Kaletta1

F, #15530, b. March, 1922, d. March, 1922
Father*Andrew C Kaletta1
Mother*Hilda M. Hezel1 b. April 29, 1889
     (?) died in March, 1922.1 (?) Kaletta, daughter of Andrew C Kaletta and Hilda M. Hezel, was born in March, 1922.1 (?) Kaletta was buried on March 7, 1922 in Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery in St. Louis County, Missouri, in section 26, lot 22.1


  1. [S2220] Internet Site: The Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis Web Site).

Frances (?)1

F, #15531, b. 1877, d. July, 1929
     Frances married Charles Fischer.1 Frances (?) was born in 1877.1
Frances died in July, 1929.1 She was buried on July 18, 1929 in Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery in St. Louis County, Missouri, in section 26, lot 29.1


Charles Fischer b. 1877, d. August, 1916


  1. [S2220] Internet Site: The Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis Web Site).

Louis J. Meier1,2

M, #15532, b. 1869, d. July, 1943
     Louis married Catherine Ellen Sullivan.1 Louis J. Meier was born in 1869.1
Louis died in July, 1943.1 He was buried on July 21, 1943 in Calvary Catholic Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, in section 25, lot 2160.1


Catherine Ellen Sullivan b. 1872, d. September, 1939


  1. [S2220] Internet Site: The Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis Web Site).
  2. [S2566] Chris Heilig e-mail to Bob Berg.

Catherine Ellen Sullivan1,2

F, #15533, b. 1872, d. September, 1939
     Catherine married Louis J. Meier.1 Catherine Ellen Sullivan was born in 1872.1
Catherine died in September, 1939.1 She was buried on September 27, 1939 in Calvary Catholic Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, in section 25, lot 2160.1


Louis J. Meier b. 1869, d. July, 1943


  1. [S2220] Internet Site: The Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis Web Site).
  2. [S2566] Chris Heilig e-mail to Bob Berg.

Glennon C. Svoboda1

M, #15535, b. February 22, 1955, d. May 23, 1955
Father*Robert B. Svoboda1
Mother*Virginia Frese1 d. December 13, 2006
     Glennon C. Svoboda, son of Robert B. Svoboda and Virginia Frese, was born on February 22, 1955 in Urbana, Champaign County, Illinois.1,2
Glennon died on May 23, 1955 in a car accident.1,2 He was buried on May 24, 1955 in Mt. Olive Catholic Cemetery in Lemay, St. Louis County, Missouri, in section 1, lot 53.1


  1. [S2220] Internet Site: The Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis Web Site).
  2. [S6403] Glenn Svoboda, e-mail comment on data in Berg, Frank Web Site.

John Howard Svoboda1

M, #15536, b. February 21, 1954, d. February 27, 1954
Father*Robert B. Svoboda1
Mother*Virginia Frese1 d. December 13, 2006
     John Howard Svoboda, son of Robert B. Svoboda and Virginia Frese, was born on February 21, 1954.1,2
John died on February 27, 1954.1,2 He was buried on March 1, 1954 in Mt. Olive Catholic Cemetery in Lemay, St. Louis County, Missouri, in section 1, lot 53.1


  1. [S2220] Internet Site: The Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis Web Site).
  2. [S6403] Glenn Svoboda, e-mail comment on data in Berg, Frank Web Site.

Louis Eckelmeier1

M, #15537, b. 1848
Father*Henry Eckelmeier1 b. 1815
Mother*Elisabeth Bergmann1 b. 1814
     Louis Eckelmeier, son of Henry Eckelmeier and Elisabeth Bergmann, was born in 1848 in Missouri.1
He lived with his parents, Elisabeth and Henry, in 1860 in St. Charles, St. Charles County, Missouri.1
Louis was enumerated with his parent Henry Eckelmeier on the 1860 U. S. Census for Missouri. He was listed as a 12-year-old boy born in Missouri, he was attending school.1


Census YearPlaceHead of Household
1860St. Charles, St. Charles County, MissouriHenry Eckelmeier1


  1. [S562] 1860 U.S. Federal Census (Population Schedule), Henry Eckelmeyer household.

MO St. Charles 1930 Census

?, #15538
     ••••••••• Households Listed •••••••••.

John H. Stoltze.1


Census YearPlaceHead of Household
1930Ward 1, St. Charles, St. Charles County, MissouriMO St. Charles 1930 Census1


  1. [S567] 1930 U.S. Federal Census (Population Schedule), John Stoltze household.

Charles Stoltze1

M, #15539, b. 1875
Father*Adolph Stoltze1 b. June, 1831, d. August 1, 1899
Mother*Fredericke Eckelmeier1 b. July 27, 1835, d. December 13, 1920
     Charles Stoltze, son of Adolph Stoltze and Fredericke Eckelmeier, was born in 1875 in Missouri.1
He lived with his parents, Fredericke and Adolph, in 1880 in St. Charles, St. Charles County, Missouri.1
Charles was enumerated as the son of Adolph Stoltze under the name of "Charles Stolze" on the 1880 U. S. Census of Missouri. He was listed as a five-year-old male born in Missouri.1


Census YearPlaceHead of Household
1880St. Charles, St. Charles County, MissouriAdolph Stoltze1


  1. [S565] 1880 U.S. Federal Census (Population Schedule), Adolph Stolze household.

Josephine Kenyon1,2

F, #15540, b. January 16, 1868, d. November 18, 1922
Father*John B. Kenyon3
Mother*Polly Ann Cook3
     Josephine married Sidney O. Simons, son of (?) Simons.1 Josephine Kenyon, daughter of John B. Kenyon and Polly Ann Cook, was born on January 16, 1868 in Okawville, Washington County, Illinois.3 Conflicting evidence placed her birth in 1866 (1920 census.)4
Josephine and Sidney O. Simons lived in 1910 at Bess Avenue in Marissa, St. Clair County, Illinois. Residing with them were, their children Hattie, Margaret, Sarah and Flora, their widowed or divorced daughter Nettie L. Simons, their grandchild John H. Huber..5
Josephine and Sidney O. Simons lived in 1920 at 910 Bessie Street in Marissa Village, St. Clair County, Illinois. Residing with them were, their children Flora..4
Josephine was enumerated as the wife of Sidney O. Simons under the name of "Josephine Simons" on the 1920 U. S. Census of Marissa Township, Marissa Village, St. Clair County, Illinois. She was listed as a married 54-year-old female born in Illinois as were both of her parents.4
Josephine died on November 18, 1922 in Marissa, St. Clair County, Illinois, at age 54 cause of death was diabetes accompanied by influenza.6,3 She was buried in Marissa Cemetery in Marissa, St. Clair County, Illinois.1


Sidney O. Simons b. May 9, 1855


  1. [S2225] Chris Larareo e-mail to Robert Berg.
  2. [S8928] Edie Snow (submitter e-mail withheld) member family tree titled "Edie Snow Family Tree" (Online: The Generations Network, Incorporated, Last accessed on April 6, 2016.
  3. [S2555] Mrs. Josephine Simons Death Certificate.
  4. [S2239] 1920 U.S. Federal Census (Population Schedule), Sidney O. Simons household.
  5. [S8927] 1910 U.S. Federal Census (Population Schedule), Sidney Simonds household.
  6. [S869] Internet Site: July 30, 2002Illinois Statewide Death Index, 1916-1950).