Article from the Grange Parish Book suggested for reading this week (week 48)
The Great Famine
Much has been written over the years and centuries about 'The Great Famine' in Ireland (1845-1852). Irish people endured unspeakable hardships during the famine, when the potato crop, the staple diet of the masses, failed from blight throughout Ireland over a number of consecutive years. Huge numbers of people died of hunger and related diseases, and many, many more, often whole families, were compelled to take the emigration ships from Ireland to faraway places, particularly to the USA. Over one million people died and almost one and a quarter million emigrated.
Many of those emigrants died over the course of those journeys by sea, while others, having reached foreign shores, did not survive for very long. Yet, we know from historical records that
large numbers of immigrants survived and went on to settle down and thrive in their adopted countries. The Irish are synonymous with the development of the USA in becoming one of the great nations of the world. In many instances, the descendants of those famished Irish, who immigrated to America, went on to great successes in life, whether in business, public life or political life - even today, the Irishness of prominent surnames that appear in the media from time to time is unmistakable.
It is appropriate that we should frequently recall this calamity and remember all of those who suffered so much or died at home or on route to what they hoped would be lands of plenty and prosperity.
Brian Gallagher wrote the article, The Great Famine, for the Grange book, and it succinctly described the Great Famine or the 'Great Hunger', as Brian preferred to call it for good reason. A reading of Brian's article is a great way of gaining an understanding of that sad time in Ireland's history, and for us to pause and think about the suffering endured by so many, perhaps by our own individual ancestors in many cases.
The following are extracts from Brian's article:
Grange suffered from arguably the greatest tragedy to befall the nation through the
Great Famine of 1845-1851, as did every other locality throughout Ireland. Perhaps the ‘Great Hunger’ is a more apt description owing to the fact that food, in the form of grain, including oats, was still being exported from Ireland while, at the same time, people were dying of hunger everywhere. While the potato, the staple diet of the Irish people, was rotting in the ground, grain in sufficient quantity to feed the nation was being exported by unscrupulous and uncaring landlords.
The British Government of that time commenced public work schemes throughout the country, hoping employment would ease the plight of the people. Building work
and repairing of roads and drains commenced. Even today, the remains of “famine roads” may be seen in parts of Ireland (roads leading to nowhere in many cases). However, many people were too weak to work and were forced to enter the dreaded “workhouse” for basic food and shelter in return for work done. Families were usually torn apart; they were separated into male and female groupings. Often, they were never to see each other again. Frequently, workhouses harboured disease and death due to overcrowding and impoverished living conditions. There was one such workhouse in nearby Kilmallock, where County Council offices are now situated. Immediately behind this building is a “famine graveyard”, which was neglected for many years. In 1998, this graveyard was rightfully restored, and a monument was erected to the memory of all those who perished and were buried there during those tragic times.
The graveyard in Grange contains many stones known as “marking stones”. These are usually associated with famine burials and are widely found in graveyards throughout the country. Due to the number of deaths at the time, the situation of the people and local conditions, people were often buried in graves such as these.
A major and sorrowful effect of the Irish famine was emigration. Many immigrated to Canada and America and some to Australia and farther afield. On those journeys by ship, travellers were often so weak that the journey was to be their last. Conditions were crowded, and disease and hunger were, more often than not, their companions. It was the last time for many to see their native shores, even if the journey to far-away places was survived.
Godfrey Massy (1803-1852), Church of Ireland Vicar of Bruff, was an outspoken and controversial character, indefatigable in the cause of Protestantism and hostile to the
practise of Roman Catholicism; a man of strong and deep convictions and a great humanitarian. He was renowned for his efforts during the famine years to assuage the starvation of the poor, irrespective of religious beliefs, and in this regard, he worked tirelessly to collect funding from the well-off and Government and in order to obtain food supplies from whatever sources possible. The Memoirs of Godfrey Massy ("Footprints of a Faithful Shepherd" by his brother, Rev Dawson Massy, published in 1855) provide horrifying insights to the suffering inflicted by famine.
His [Godfrey Massy] district extended over forty square miles. So awfully rapid was the career of the famine, that on his first inquiry, he discovered 14,783 persons –
nearly all Romanists – of whom 7,000 were absolutely “dying by inches, and almost naked for they had pawned or sold their little rags of clothes, to keep the breath of life in themselves!” They looked like living mummies – their figures were attenuated – their faces greenish – their eyes glassy and hollow – their hands like birds’ claws – their voices sepulchral – while their skeleton bodies exhaled “the smell of the grave”. [From The Memoirs of Godfrey Massy, "Footprints of a Faithful Shepherd" by his brother, Rev Dawson Massy, published in 1855]
Brian concluded his article with a poignant poem, as follows:
THE LAND OF LIBERTY
By Garry McMahon, Newcastlewest
In black forty-seven the Famine drove him out
He’d seen his brother dying, the green grass in his mouth,
He packed his few belongings, went to meet his destiny
And took the road to Queenstown and the Land of Liberty.
The landlord and the grabber came to break his cabin door,
The golden thatch they burnt, it fell blackened to the floor,
His parents to the workhouse, from the tyrant had to flee,
And so he turned westward to the Land of Liberty.
He’d watched the starving thousands which cut him to the core
And the corn ships departing which grieved him ten times more,
His heart in two was breaking as he sailed across the sea
But hope springs eternal in the Land of Liberty.
He just survived the coffin ship unlike many hundreds more
And with haunted eyes at Boston Port he quietly slipped ashore,
He soon found work, got married, and raised his family
And that is how you’re here today in the Land of Liberty.
He was your great grandfather, my little Yankee boy,
So remember where you came from and hold your head up high
And don’t forget old Ireland, let her flag fly proud and free,
With the Stars and Stripes forever in the Land of Liberty.
She welcomed us with open arms, downtrodden and unfree,
God bless Ireland and America – the Land of Liberty.
Next week (week 49) we will suggest another book article for reading.
Kind Regards to All.
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