Ireland - Subject Cards A-G

Agriculture and Land

Agricultural Migrant Work

Work at Harvest Across Irish Sea [in England]

The grain harvest came a month later than in England, & potatoes might be left in the ground until early winter. There was thus offered an opportunity to work the English harvest. It was not unknown before 1825, but the journey across the Irish Sea was uncomfortable & costly. After 1825 steam practically annihilated the Channel. With 42 packets plying between the two islands in 1830 the competition beat down the fare to as low as 6 or 9 pence.

In July the bands would gather - thousands of tenants & their sons who left the potato fields to their women & children & trekked to the ports. Crossing to Liverpool, they fared forth in groups of 8 or 10, armed with sickles to bargain with the farmers to cut the grain or mow the meadow. 6 pounds was a small return for the trip; most managed to clear 8 pounds or more. With this little fortune hidden in their ragged garments the workers went home.

- Marcus Hansen, The Atlantic Mig., p. 208

Annual Migration

"Frequently one or more members of the family were sent to adjoining counties in Ireland or to England to pick up whatever during the harvest season - 'spalpeening' it was dubbed."

- Wayne G. Broehl, Jr., The Molly Maguires, p. 8[1]

Agriculture - Western Counties

"Western counties such as Donegal, Mayo, & Kerry, where there was almost complete dependence on the potato & where subdivision had been carried to the greatest extremes, constituted the core of the agricultural problem. Because of their remoteness, primitive methods of agriculture & ancient forms of social organization continued to survive in such areas."

Goes on to explain rundale. "Until about 1815 rundale seems to have been very widespread but by 1845 Mayo was the only county where it remained the dominant form of [land] tenure.

"When Lord George Hall bought the Gweedore property in Donegal in 1838, it was entirely under the rundale system. Only 700 of the 3,000 inhabitants paid rent. The inhabitants kept there cattle in one end of their dwelling houses. They grew enough corn to pay the rent which ranged from 3s to 30s a year. 5 or 6 sheep were kept whose wool supplied them with clothing. The women knitted socks, the sale of which brought in enough money to buy tobacco or pay the county ____." Closely associated with rundale was booleying - the young people went up with the cattle on the mountains for the summer months & made butter which they brought back."

- The Great Famine, p. 113-14

"The words of individual landlords made changes. Lord George Hall built a corn mill, a store, & kiln at Bunbeg on his Gweedore property, providing an alternative market to the illicit p____ for the first time" (ibid.).

Seasonal migration had become a common solution of the problem of paying rents on the tiny holdings of the barren western mountains & coasts. The men poured out in increasing numbers every year to seek work as harvesters. His wife & children often set out with him to beg potatoes & meal from door to door until their own crop was ready. It was not long before the harvesters began to cross over to Britain. By 1841 57,651 went to Britain. The heaviest seasonal migration was from County Mayo, where over 1/ 3 of the population left to work as harvesters. The total from Ulster was 19,312, the majority from Co. Donegal & Londonderry. The seasonal migrant could bring back at least 3 pounds from England. The sum could be raised to 5 pounds if he went in time for the haymaking (ibid., p. 6.

The dependence on the potato was the real danger; much more so than even the dense population... The proportion of the population dependent on the potato increased steadily, not only under the pressure of the ever-growing population but by high rents, fluctuating prices, the collapse of domestic industry, & the gradual decline of tillage among the big farmers (ibid., 122).

A government report after the famine of 1822:

"There was no want of food for the support of human life. On the contrary the crops of grain had been far from deficient, & the prices of corn and of oatmeal were very moderate... Those districts in the south & west presented the remarkable example of possessing a surplus of food whilst the inhabitants were suffering from actual want" (ibid., p. 122).

Conacre [System]

The census of 1841 showed over 42% of the holdings in Ireland were between 1 acre & 5A in extent. Smaller holdings the census did not enumerate, but thousands of these existed as a result of the rapidly-increasing class of the landless, made up of persons ejected from consolidated estates & sons of 5A cotters. Too accommodate them the conacre system was devised.

The scheme rested on the belief that, whereas the credit of any single individual might be worthless, a partnership of such persons, in which [all?] assumed responsibility for the total rent, constituted a reasonable risk. Under the direction of a "collector" (because no respectable agent or landlord was willing to meddle in the sordid business), an association of 10 or 15 villagers would be formed to whom would be leased an acre of rich, newly-broken pasture land, or one that had been highly fertilized. Since the normal yield of potatoes would be prodigious, so was the rent, usually ranging from 7-10 pounds per A. Seed, secured on credit, had to be paid back at from 50-100% increase at the harvest. In ordinary years the conacre system worked but it was a hand-to-mouth gamble, more discredited than other systems because it encouraged squalor & bickering within the group, & because failure brought appalling distress & harsh measures to enforce the collection of rent. Many possessors of land permitted it only because they feared the resentment of the people if they refused.

- Marcus Hansen, The Atlantic Mig., p. 205[2]


The most dramatic transformation in Irish landholdings occurred during the decade of the 1840s, a period also of the heavy famine emigration. In 1841 over 80% of all farms in the country were in holdings under 15A[cres]; ten years later the proportion had dropped to less than 50%. During the decade also the number of holdings of 15A & above rose from less than 20% to over 50%. The character of this change represented an extensive elimination of the small garden farms held by the laboring classes (usually on conacre) & a sweeping reduction of the cotter tenantry.

The famine was the prime mover of the period, & many of the laborers & cotters who left did so because hunger or the workhouse ____ them at home. Their departure meant the abandonment of numerous patches of ground upon which they had barely managed to eke out their subsistence.

This was also a period of widespread forced clearance. Irish landlords, long distressed by the uneconomic practice of excessive subdivision indulged in by their tenants, & anxious also under the impact of the repeal of the corn laws to convert their lands into pasture as rapidly as possible, saw in the calamity of the famine an opportunity to consolidate their holdings. The large-scale clearances which they carried out swelled the emigrant flood.

- Franklin D. Scott, ed., World Migration in Modern Times, p. 27-28 (Wab.)

Subdivision to provide for the younger children in a family began to die out in the 1840s, and after 1852 the practice almost entirely disappeared.

- Ibid., p. 26

Evictions, judgements of eviction mounted:

1847 - 2,510

1848 - 3,385

1849 - 3,782

Total number of evictions:

1849 - 90,000

1850 - 100,000

1851 - 70,000

1852 - 40,000

1853 - 24,000

By 1861 the 491,300 one-room cabins of 1841 had diminished to 89,400.

- Oscar Handlin, Boston's Immigrants, p. 46[3]

From 1849 - 1856 over 50,000 families were evicted.

In 1863 the number was little short of 2,000.

In 1864 the number was little short of 2,000.

In 1865 the number was nearly 1000.

In 1865 the number was nearly 1000.

Between 1846 & 1851 a quarter of a million emigrated each year.

Between 1851 & 1861 over 100,000 were leaving each year.

Famine, eviction, emigration - they have left their mark deep in Irish memory. "It is probable," writes Lecky, in a passage which Sir Horace Plunkett quotes __ as confirmed by his own experience, "that the true source of the savage hatred of England that animates great bodies of Irishmen on either side of the Atlantic has very little connection with the Penal Laws, or the Rebellion (1798), or the Union. It is far more due to the great clearances & the vast unaid[ed emigrations?] that followed the famine.

- Ernest Barker, Ireland, p. 12[4]

After the failure of the '48 uprising

In one notorious case, over 100 tenants of Lord Digby, who had enjoyed tenant rights for 2 generations & had improved their land on the assumption that that right would be preserved, were told on his death that their rents would be raised to rack-rent level & if they objected, eviction would take place.

Tenants retaliated with terrorism. As Sir Geo. Lewis described it to the government, "It is not the banding together of a few outcasts preying on the rest of the community but the deliberate association of the peasantry, seeking by cruel outrage to insure themselves against utter destitution - it is the mould into which Irish society is cast - the expression of the wants & feelings of the whole community. So far as it is successful, it is the abrogation of the existing law, and an abolition of the existing government.

- B. Inglis, St. of Ire ., p. 143

The bitterest memory the Catholic Irish emigrant carried with him to the U.S. centered on eviction scenes. A consolidating, or "improving," or "exterminating" landlord cleared not 1 or 2 tenants & their families, but whole villages; and, as Mr. O'Brien pointed out in the House of Commons, "the chasing away of 700 human beings, like crows out of a cornfield, amounted to total depopulation." On the larger estates the number of evicted ran into thousands. Sharman Crawford, a liberal Protestant Irish reformer, showed from parliamentary returns that from 1838 - 1842, inclusive, ejection proceedings had been taken against 356,985 persons. During the period of the famine & its train (1845-52) evictions mounted rapidly.

After legal notice of dispossession had been served on the tenants for a set date, the sheriff or an assistant arrived at the head of a body of uniformed troops & police, to exercise force if eviction met with resistance. The ejected stood around in groups by their dislodged, pathetic household articles, the men bursting with impotent rage, the women wailing & weeping, the children bewildered & frightened, trying to help the aged, & the dispossessed bed-ridden exposed to God knows what future... A crowd of laborers, often paupers brought from afar, either deroofed the cabin by firing the thatch, or leveled it to the ground, to make it uninhabitable against the later crawling back by the evicted. The soldiers & police then regimented the evicted from the estate itself & left them huddled on the road with nothing but the sky of Ireland over their heads. If the Irish lost control of themselves & challenged the armed authorities the outcome was inevitable, fists & rocks were poor weapons against guns & bayonets.

- Geo. Patton, To the Golden Door, p. 45-46

An eye-witness of the great migration (1844) wrote that "in England you can have but little conception of the sufferings of the poor Irish emigrant." As he passed through many southern counties he saw heartless evictions in full swing. Ejections applied for in court were seldom defended, and the cases "were disposed of at the rate of one each minute...5 souls to each family...300 per hour cast upon the poor-relief, and remaining in the union workhouse until remittances arrived from their friends in Am.."

- Edwin C. Guillet, The Great Mig., p. 44

Landlords no longer found it profitable to keep their tenants. The fall of grain prices after the Napoleonic Wars made it difficult to collect rents, & pasturage now offered better prospects of profits, so landlords began to evict tenants. Until the Irish Poor Law of 1838 evictions were relatively few, the gentry fearing the growth of a desperate landless class which menaced life & property... Until 1835 most of those leaving for America hailed from the north of Ireland... Thereafter the poorer peasants began to emigrate from southern & western Ireland. It was not until the passage of the Irish Poor Law, however, that the landlords took a general interest in stimulating the exodus.

- Robt. Ernst, Immigrant Life in N.Y. City, p. 6[5]

By the 1820s English poor rates had reached unprecedented heights. The English rate payers blamed the Irish paupers in England & demanded a poor law for Ireland. Parliament responded in 1838 with an act taxing the Irish landlords so highly that they showed a sudden zeal to promote emigration. The new law integrated emigration with evictions by setting up workhouses for the dispossessed, & as the same act provided for assisted emigration, the workhouse became the intermediate step between eviction & departure from Ireland. Henceforth eviction evolved into a settled policy, stimulated in 1846 by the repeal of the Corn Laws, which had long given Ireland a protected position in the English market.

- Ibid., p. 6

Landscape - Trees

(Roundstone - Connemara) "I had walked 50 miles in this part of the country and had never seen a tree or shrub, unless what was planted by the hand of man as an ornament, & this only once. Yet we are told that these mountains and valleys were once covered with trees; that the bog oak found so far beneath the surface is one proof, and the turf another."

- A. Nicholson, Ireland's Welcome to a Stranger, p. 402 (Mil. Lib.)

Land System - Overview

The peasants were completely dependent on the land because [wage] work did not exist. In 1835 the Poor Enquiry stated that 3/4 of the laborers of Ireland existed without work.


Small holdings:

1. Subdivision by families themselves of leased land.

Parents allowed their children to occupy a portion of their leased holdings because the

alternative was to turn them out to starve; the children in turn allowed occupation to

their children; thus 3, 6, or even 10 families occupied land which could provide food for

only 1 family.

2. "Ejectment," the House of Commons was told in 1846, "is tantamount to death by slow

torture" (this was because there was no work, see above).

3. Devon Com. (1845), "the one absorbing feeling as to the possession of land stifles all


Subdivision made possible by the potato.

"The potato, provided it did not fail, enabled great quantities of food to be produced at a

trifling cost from a small plot of ground. A 1 1/2 A[cre plot] would supply a family of 6

with enough food for 12 mo.. 6-8 A[cres] would be required to grow the equivalent in

grain, plus a greater knowledge of tillage."

- Woodham-Smith, Hunger, chap. 1


Utilization - see Co. Donegal

1841 - pop. 8,175,124. 685,000 farms in all. Of these, 300,000 were under 3A[cres] in extent,

& 250,000 [were] from 3A-15A.


Land reform: 1850 - agitation began for 3 F's: fair rent, free sale, & fixity of tenure

1870 - law gave tenant right to payment for improvements if evicted


A world-wide depression in agriculture (1877-79) brought about the

Land Act of 1881, which conceded the 3 F's.


1885 - 1 st Land Purchase Act: when landlord & tenant agreed on a price, the state

would advance the money & would be repaid yearly. Thus on a farm that

rented for 50 pounds, if the landlord agreed to sell in 18 years time, that is

at 900 pounds, the State would pay him that amount; the tenant would

repay the state by annual installments of 4%, or 36 pounds a year for 49

years. ...In 1921 when the Irish treaty was signed, about 2/3 of the land

of Ireland had passed to tenants. The remainder has since been

transferred by one compulsory statute. (En. Brit.)[6]

1891 - Congested Districts Board set up in effort to solve the small holdings

problems. (Ibid.)

Impounding of Cattle

(Note: Martins)

"Distraining" was the right of the landlord who was owed rent to appropriate the tenant's crops or livestock. Tenants were particularly agitated by the distraining of cattle, which were driven away & impounded in a town pound. The family cow was closer to being a member of the family than most household pets today. It represented both a productive source of family subsistence & a hedge against future catastrophe, in effect a living "savings bank." The pounds, as one analyst put it, were "evilly constructed," & even if the animals were not physically harmed, the mental torture for the entire family was profound.

- Wayne G. Broehl, The Molly Maguires, p. 8

1 Wayne G. Broehl, Jr., The Molly Maguires. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964.

2 Marcus Hansen, The Atlantic Migration, 1607-1860: A History of the Continuing Settlement of the United States Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1940.

3 Oscar Handlin,Boston 's Immigrants, 1790-1880: A Study in Acculturation . Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1959. ("Originally published in 1941 as Volume L of the Harvard Historical Studies.")

4 Ernest Barker, Ireland in the Last Fifty Years (1866-1916). Oxford : Clarendon press, 1917.

5 Robert Ernst, Immigrant life in New York City, 1825-1863 . Port Washington, NY: I. J. Friedman, 1965.

6 Probably Encyclopedia Britannica.

Boats and Fishing

Besides the rowing curraghs up to 25' in length there are also in Donegal smaller paddling curraghs 8'-10' long... In an account of the Rosses (1753) we read of the funeral processions to the island of Aranmore in Donegal which comprised as many as 60 or 80 curraghs covered with seal skins. A hundred years later Sir Geo. Hill describes their construction - "the frame of sallies and laths, skinned with hide or tarred canvas, was lashed together with cords of horsehair." He tells us that cattle were transported in them by lifting an animal into the curragh on its back with its legs tied, & carrying the loaded vessel into the water.

The long rowing curragh with its high pointed nose is widely distributed on the west coast from Donegal to Kerry. They are rowed by 2, 3, or 4 men, & the largest are said to carry a capacity of 2 tons.

In-shore fishing has been combined with farming all around the coast. This type of fishing was well-suited to the Irish crofter economy - visitors often remarking that the Irish did not go out to fish but waited for the fish to come in to them. The shore-dwelling farmer is knowledgeable about the ways of fish & knows the "signs." ...Herring were formerly in great demand not only locally but for many miles inland for salting down as winter "kitchen"... The great days of salt herring were the 18 th & 19 th cent. when a potato diet cried out for a tasty accompaniment. On the northwest coast the herring fishery extends through the winter, with consequent serious risks which the Donegal men have nonetheless been willing to take. Here perhaps is an explanation for the survival of the light rowing curragh down to the coming of powered vessels, for a small sailboat brings many hazards on the stormy Atlantic coast... Long line fishing for cod, skate, & other big fish is most certainly far older than the herring fishery... the division of labor was on a primitive scale, for to the women folk fell the tedious labor of baiting & preparing the hooks. The long line fishermen were exceptionally hardy & were regarded with awe & respect by the inshore fishermen - farmers... Their knowledge of the sea & of the fishing marks was a guarded secret.

- E. E. Evans, Irish Folklore1

"In Newport, Mayo, we inspected a corragh, the construction of which has undergone little change for centuries, being almost precisely that used by the ancient Irish. It is of rude form, the stem being nearly as broad as the stern. It is made of wooden lathes covered with coarse, tarred canvas; this canvas is manufactured by the peasantry, the cost of the whole vessel is about 30 sh. The size is usually large enough to carry 4 men; each man rows two oars; the oars are short, flat, & broad. It is very light & rises & falls with every wave - literally dancing on the water; they are seldom if ever upset."

- Halls, Vol. III, p. 385

Fishing was a backward and neglected industry in Ireland. A large part of the coast in the SW, W, & NW is periolous; there are cliffs, rocks, & treacherous currents, sudden squalls, and above all the Atlantic swell, surging across thousands of miles of ocean. By the 19 th cent. timber was short in Ireland; in the west, practically speaking, there was none, & fishing boats were small, the largest being 12-15 tons. The national boat is the "curragh," a frail craft, often of considerable length, made of wickerwork covered originally of stretched hides, & latterly of tarred canvas. The curragh rides easily over the great Atlantic swells, is fast, & with 4 oarsmen can cover surprising distances. It was not suitable for the use of nets in deep-sea fishing, and according to an expert writing at the time, the fish off the W. coast of Ireland lay many miles out to sea in 40 fathoms of water. A vessel of at least 50 tons was needed, capable of going out for several days. If a gale blew from the east the nearest port of refuge was Halifax, Nova Scotia. The curraghs & small fishing boats of the Irish were powerless under these circumstances. An inspector reported that the failure of Irish fisheries was due to the want of boats suitable for deep-sea fishing. Another report commented that the courage & skill of Irish fishermen were remarkable. The native fishermen were "out in their frail curraghs whenever opportunity offers, and in weather nobody else would think of venturing themselves in such a craft." But the heavy swell of the west made deep-sea fishing in curraghs impossible. "The poor cotter had a miserable curragh, fished for his family or neighbors and got paid in potatoes."

When the potato crop failed fishermen all over Ireland pawned or sold their gear to buy a meal. At Claddagh, on Jan. 9, 1847, "all boats were drawn up to the quay wall, stripped to the bare poles, not a sign of tackle or sail remaining - not a fish to be had in the town, not a boat was at sea." On Achill, James Hack Tuke wrote that the waters could not be fished because nets & tackle had been pawned or sold "to buy a little meal;" the Vicar of Ring, in Co. Waterford, appealed for help because fishermen had sold or pledged their fishing gear to obtain food; similar reports came from Belmullet, Killybegs, Kilmoe, etc...; and indeed for every fishing port along the coast.

- Hunger, p. 289-90

1 Emyr Estyn Evans, Irish Folk Ways. London : Routledge & Paul, 1957.

Catholic Church

The Church in Ireland was a fighting church. Unlike the church in France, Spain, & Italy, it was poor & landless. It had no vested privilege & no stake in the old order. The British government had repeatedly in the early 19 th cent. offered to "establish the church with annual grants of money to each priest & bishop if Catholics would permit the government a veto over ecclesiastical appointments. The offer was consistently rejected.

[- no citation given for this entry]


"From about 1800 Irish Catholicism emerged from a catacombic[?] existence. During the 18 th cent., though the church had preserved its organization & had continued to function, immense material losses had been sustained, & the 1 st half of the 19 th cent. was a period of reconstruction. New parish churches, large barn-like structures, replaced the small 18 th cent. chapels; cathedrals were begun in several dioceses; the parochial clergy increased in less than half a century by about 50%; Catholic schools multiplied; and three great orders, the Irish Sisters of Charity, the Irish Sisters of Mercy, and the Christian Brothers, were founded."

- The Great Famine, p. 71


During the greater part of the 18 th cent. only priests who had been registered* with the government were allowed to celebrate mass, those unregistered remaining in the country being imprisoned & sometimes put to death. Formerly Roman Catholics had not been allowed to build churches or to worship openly. But thousands of priests had remained in hiding & mass was celebrated in secret lonely places, in bogs & on islands in lakes, in the mountains. After the Catholic Relief Act of 1793, when Catholics got the vote (& even before), the faithful were allowed to build churches & worship openly.

The extraordinary religious zeal of the Irish peasant has often been noted by strangers, from Spenser to Montalembert, who made the tour of Ireland in 1830. That the priests were beloved by the people is not surprising. They had attended to their wants, listened to their grievances, soothed their misfortunes, & this, be it remembered, at the risk of their lives.

- Constantia Maxwell, The Stranger in Ireland (Mil. Lib.)

*Note: The conditions attached to the registration of priests were so onerous that most of the priests that remained in Ireland preferred to be free & unregistered & thus take their own risks.

Christianity, Development of

Ireland received Christianity from Britain & by the 6 th century Irish Christianity surpassed that of every other land of western Europe, not only in intensity & sanctity, but also in passionate devotion to learning & in missionary enthusiasm. The passionate enthusiasm with which the Irish devoted themselves to the study of sacred learning & the liberal arts from the 7 th cent. is without parallel in the rest of Europe... Before the 8 th cent. there were at least 50 important centers where Irish influence was dominant, ranging from Brittany on the NW to Wurzburg & Salzburg in the east, & from the English Channel to Bobbio."

- Myles Dillon & Nora Chadwick, The Celtic Realms, p. 323

Chronology of Ireland

432 [A.D.] - St. Patrick sent as Bishop

563 - Columban went to Iona

795 - 1 st appearance of Norsemen ( Dublin) - raids continued [for] 200 years

1002 - Brian Boru became King of Ireland

1014 - Battle of Clontarf - Brian won but died

1103 - last effort by Danes when they landed & were repulsed

1166-75 - Anglo-Norman invasion; Dermot, King of Leinster went to Henry for help -

"Strongbow;" winter of '71-72 Henry there.

After 1225 - the O'Neills & the O'Donnells rose in Ulster

1318 - Bruce defeated & killed

1333-1399 - Anglo-Irish in control ___ against English - the English Pale established.

The old Gaelic civilization badly shattered in the 13 th cent., recovered strength in the 14 th.

Took the side of York in the Wars of the Roses & Henry VII was to them a usurper. With

Henry the VIII & the Reformation the Anglo-Irish & the Gaelic-Irish united in opposition.

Destruction of monasteries helped unite them.

1556 - policy of plantation 1 st established

1569 - Elizabeth [I] excommunicated

1594-1603 - Tyrone War (south had been pacified by 1579)

Revolt und[er] Red Hugh O'Donnell, the hero of Gaelic Ireland; Hugh O'Neill -

Earl of Tyrone joined Red Hugh Kinsale - 1603 & flight of the earls - end of Gaelic Ireland.

1607 - Flight of the Earls Tyrone & ______ - O'Neill & O'Donnell & 100 other chiefs. Celtic Ulster became most British province.

?-1616 - Four Masters - swan song of Gaelic world - last of Gaelic Brehons - poets &

historians for 2000 years.

1613 -15 - Parliament (Irish) ratified the Ulster Plantation _____

1641 - general uprising under Owen Roe O'Neill, who returned from Spain (nephew of Hugh

O'Neill - earl who had fled - he had been at Kinsale at age 15

1646 - Owen Roe won at Benburb; he died in 1649

1649 - Cromwell victorious at Drogheda - bloodbath

1652 - final capitulation at Galway - flight of the "Wild Geese"

Plantation by Cromwell (for soldiers as well as lords); ordered former owners to


1660 - Charles restored some lands, but only to Protestants

1685 - James - Talbot (Catholic viceroy)

1688 - bloodless revolution

1689 - William landed in Ireland

1690 - Battle of the Boyne

1691 - Limerick capitulated - Tyrconnell died

1702-15 - Penal Codes passed - against Presbyterians of north also, tho not as harsh; tithes to

rival church

1771 - O'Connell born

1782 - Relief Bill - Catholics could purchase land & have their own schools

1798 - Rebellion - Tone

1800/1801 - Union

1803 - Emmett (really just a Dublin street riot)

1805 - Catholic Assoc.? formed - Daniel O'Connell joined

1823 - O'Conn. started his movement for Catholic emancipation; country brought to verge of


1829 - Catholic Emancipation; act passed removing main Catholic disabilities. O'Connell

turned to Repeal (member of Parliament for Clare); meeting at Tara, 500,000


1838 - paid tithe with rent

1838 - 1 st steamship crossing

1843 - meeting called for at Clontarf (Brian Boru's battle); O'Connell & mass meetings

demanding Repeal

1844 - O'Connell released

1845 - Devonshire report

1844 - disease attacks the potato crop in America(?)

1845 - potato famine

1846 - total failure of crop; fever epidemic

1847 - fall - shooting of landlords; emigration - lowest classes; O'Connell died

1848 - emigration - better classes; insurrection - Rebellion of Young Ireland - Tipperary - 30

rebels dead

1849 - cholera

1850 - agitation began for land reform

1855 - reform at N.Y. - Castle Garden

1863 - formation of Fenian movement in America (achieving [Home Rule] by force)

1868 - State church disestablished

1870 - Formation of Home Rule Party by Isaac Butt (trying to achieve Home Rule by

constitutional methods)

1879 - Land League established by Michael Davitt; Charles Parnell, leader. He took over

agitation for H. Rule by constitutional methods.

1881 - Land Act conceded 37's - Fair Rent - Free sale. Fixity of tenure.

1886 - Gladstone's 1 st Home Rule Bill - mild but rejected by Parliament (supported by Parnell)

1891 - Parnell died

1893 - Gladstone's 2 nd Home Rule [Bill] passed House, rejected by Lords

1900 - Sinn Fein Party organized by Arthur Griffith

1912 - Asquith's Home Rule Bill passed by House, rejected by Lords (included Ulster who

[resisted? resigned?])

1914 - Bill passed with outbreak of [World] War [I]

1916 - Rebellion became guerilla war

1921 - gave Dominion status

Customs and Culture

Character of the People

The Irish developed inwardness & stubbornness. Within the outlook formed by the rhythms of life on the land and the nearness of the sea, the narrower tradition of national defeat bred these enduring qualities in the Irish character. The repetitive nature of Irish political griefs, the collapse of the Gaelic nobility, & the many lost rebellions reared a tradition of hopeless gallantry & military failure. "They always went forth to battle, and they always fell," the poet wrote. The long losing battle against the English rubbed into every Irish mind a primitive tragic sense. From childhood, each generation learned of these old defeats & heard retold the tales of lost battles & fallen heroes. The grinding realities of economic exploitation by a foreign landlord class reiterated to each generation the painful meaning of that tradition... There grew among the Irish a sense of themselves as a fated race. A man at the bottom who knows he is at the bottom must conserve & endure, or crack up. The Irish did not break... They tried to hold onto what was theirs: their rights in the land, their family identity, their memories, their pattern of speech, their way of looking at the world. Rebellion had failed, social movement was blocked, individual talent brought no reward. Then let the outsiders, the government, and the world be damned, & let each man look to his own & his family's interest. The Irish became dedicated to holding together the family unit, & independent & "touchy" where their rights were concerned.

- Wm. V. Shannon, The Am. Irish, p. 9

The Church was a formative influence on the Irish character. At every time & at every place the Church formed the life of the people & interlocked the divergent elements of the national character; everywhere its influence was pervasive. The Church's mere survival affirmed continuity with the past. Its corporate existence, directed & sustained from Rome, made it the one national institution to persist unchanged through the terrors, miseries, & disintegration of defeat. It was the one Irish institution that the people could regard as peculiarly their own & in which they could invest their strength. Its dogmas made sense out of the legacy of national defeat. Its sacraments & rituals gave meaning to suffering.

- Ibid., p. 20

These experiences (the partnership of Church & [Daniel] O'Connell) bound together the Irish and their priests for generations to come. The Church of Ireland was a fighting church. Unlike the Church is France, Spain, Italy, it was poor & landless. It had no vested privileges & no stake in the old order.

- Ibid., p. 21 

Community Ties

Despite all the disadvantages of life in these clachans (villages under rundale), their inhabitants were reluctant to leave them. It was stated in evidence before the Devon Com. that even if they were moving only half a mile away "they were crying as if they were going to America."

- E. Estyn Evans, Irish Folkways (1957), p. 10

First in importance is the strength of blood-ties in extended family groups, still maintained in many urban communities... In remote rural areas the blood-tie is a dominant force, governing economic as well as social relationships, its loyalties overriding the impartial administration of justice. A relative is a "friend," even if "far-out" - that is, remotely connected.

- Ibid., p. 10


As no race exceeded the Irish in religious invocations or terms of endearment, do did they take first place in their power - and use - of curses: like the saint of old, they loved cursing. There is none like Paddy for cursing, wrote Carleton. "His imprecations are often full, bitter, & intense. Indeed there is more poetry & epigrammatic point in them than in those of any other country in the world." He rose to the height of virtuosity of language in the evils he called down on the head of an enemy, believing that a curse, no matter how uttered, "will fall on something," & that it hovered for seven years over the head of the accursed. The Catholic Irishman showed an ingenuity of invention (and a flexibility of conscience) when he devised a curse that would bring bad luck without, at the same time, violating his religious scruples; a gymnastic moralist was he.

- G. Patton, To the G. Door, p. 1021

Curse of Columbkille

Three steps are left at the end of a cutting out the end of a bog to avoid the "curse of Columbkille," who was once trapped in a bog hole & laid a curse on all who did not leave three steps.

- E. E. Evans, Irish Folkway

Dancing & Sociability

(see also "Travelers" - Young)

1825 - Sir Walter Scott on a visit, "Their natural condition is turned toward gaiety & happiness."

Dancing was the universal diversion, & Lord George Hill, who owned property in Donegal, has left an account of removing a cabin. "The custom on such occasions is for the person... [seeremainder of quote under "Donegal - Agriculture, Land, & Houses"]."

- Woodham-Smith, Hunger, p. 24

(This is pertinent to the moving of the Mormon houses [on Beaver Island] to the new sites.)

The Irish have always been a highly-social people. ...At home, though their lives were isolated, it was the isolation of small settlements, primitive admittedly, but in close proximity to each other. Lord Geo. Hill found in tenants in Donegal unwilling to accept a new & better house if it meant separation from their neighbors. A successful Irish farmer in Missouri who had worked in Ireland for 6 pence a day now "rejoiced in land & stock, no rent, light taxes, whiskey without government inspection, free shooting, and, above all, social equality;" yet he looked regretfully back to the days in Ireland, where, after work, "I could then go to a fair, a wake or a dance or I would spend the winter nights in a neighbor's house, cracking jokes by the turf fire. If I had there but a sore head I would have a neighbor within every hundred yards of me that would run to see me. But here everyone can get so much land, that they calls them neighbors that lives 2 or 3 miles off - och the sorra take such neighbors I would say. And then I would sit down & cry & curse him who made me leave home."

- Ibid., p. 266-6

Funerals & Wailing

Mrs. Mikolson, Co. Kerry -

"The loud wail for the dead soon sounded from the mountain... I went on to the gate 'till the multitudinous procession arrived, bearing the coffin on a couple of sheets, twisted so that four men could take hold on at each end, and carry it along. Women were not only howling, but tears were fast streaming from many an eye. When they reached the abbey, the grave was not dug, & here was new and louder wail struck up. While the grave was digging, 8 women knelt down by the coffin, & putting their hands upon it, and beating with force, set up a most terrific lamentation. The pounding upon the coffin, the howling, and the shoveling of earth from the grave, made together sounds & sights strange, if not unseemly. ...when all was done, they knelt down to offer up a prayer for the dead, which was done in silence."

"In the islands off the west coast of Ireland, where the most ancient superstitions still exist, they have a strange custom. No funeral wail is allowed to be raised until 3 hours have elapsed from the moment of death, because, they say, the sound of the cries would hinder the soul from speaking to God when it stands before him, & waken up the 2 great dogs that are watching for the souls of the dead in order that they may devour them - & the Lord of Heaven himself cannot hinder them if once they waken...

...The sound of the Irish keen is wonderfully pathetic. No one could listen to the long-sustained minor wail of the 'Ul-lu-lu' without a strong emotion & even tears & once heard it can never be forgotten... There is something indescribably impressive in the aspect of the mourning women crouched around the bier, with shrouded heads, as they rock themselves to & fro & intone the solemn, ancient death song with a measured cadence, sometimes rising to a piercing wail."

- Lady Wilde, in her introduction to Ancient Legends of Ireland, p. 9-10 (1888)

Sir William Wilde prepared a report on Death Tables of the 1851 census. - Antiquarian

Among the poor, the "keen," or human lamentation by the living, for the dead, contained the poetry and music that was every Irishman's heritage (Geraldus Cembrensis in the 12 th century said that the Irish always expressed their grief musically)... Those who have never heard the keen must satisfy themselves by imaginative re-creation & find in it poetic drama of a high order: a poor cabin, the only light the steady glow of candles, shadowy people sitting in obscurity beyond their range, and an old woman, usually a professional "keener," but sometimes the wife or mother of the dead man, rocking to & fro & pouring forth in cadenced shrieking voice an improved oration reciting the virtues of the man stretching in death on a table or rude box covered with a sheet.

"Cold & silent is they bed. Damp is the blessed dew of the night; but the sun will bring warmth & heat in the morning, & dry up the dew. But my heart cannot feel the heat from the morning sun; no more will the print of your footsteps be seen in the morning dew, on the mountains of Ivera, where you so often hunted the fox & the hare, ever foremost among young men. Cold & silent is now thy bed.

My sunshine you were. I loved you better than the sun itself... He who was everything to me is dead. He is gone forever; he will return no more. Cold & silent is his repose."

This is part of a keen composed by the illiterate mother at the waking of her son, Florence Sullivan, hanged at the beginning of the 19 th century in Cork for the singing of treasonable songs. Its simple dignity was not unusual: the generality of keens followed the pattern; the character of the Irish language lent itself to expressive & poetical words & phrases.

It was considered disrespectful not to attend a funeral, even though the dead person was unknown to those who joined the procession. An English commissioner in the 1830s saw several funerals of common laborers or their wives followed to the grave (3 or 4 miles distant) by from 12 to 20 farmers on horseback & 200 or 300 laborers or others in cars (carriages) or on foot, "scarcely one of whom had any connection with the deceased & many did not know him or her. As the funeral passed some of the inmates of most of the cabins on the road sallied out to join us, although they could not tell the Ass. Commissioner who it was they were thus following to the grave." - G. Patton, To the G. Door, p. 97-99

"Ceremonies differ in various districts, but only slightly. The body is laid out on a table or bed & covered with white linen. Close by are plates of tobacco & snuff, around the body are lighted candles. Usually a quantity of salt is laid out (an ancient symbol of friendship). The women of the household range themselves on either side & the keen (caoene) begins. They rise with one accord and, moving their bodies slowly to & fro, keep up a heart-rending cry. This cry is interrupted for awhile to give the 'ban caoenthe' an opportunity to commence. At the close of every stanza of the dirge, the cry is repeated; the woman then proceeds again with the dirge, & so on to the close... The keener is usually paid for her services - the charge varying from a crown to a pound, according to the circumstances of the employer. It often happens, however, that some friend or relative, rich in the gift of poetry, will give an unbought eulogy. The Irish language is peculiarly adapted for either praise or satire - its blessings are singularly touching, and its curses wonderfully strong, bitter, & biting. The rapidity and ease with which both are uttered generally bring tears to the eyes of the most indifferent spectator. The dramatic effect of the scene is very powerful; the darkness of the death chamber, lit only by candles that glare upon the corpse, the sobs of the mourners, heightens the effect of the keen. In the open air, winding around some mountain pass, when a priest, or person greatly beloved is carried to the grave, and the keen, swelled by a thousand voices is borne upon the mountain echoes - it is then absolutely magnificent.

The keen is very ancient; there is a tradition that its origin is supernatural, to have been first sung by a chorus of invisible spirits over the grave of one of the early kings of Ireland. The keener, having finished a stanza, sets up a wail in which the mourners join. Then there is a momentary silence before keener commences again, and so on - each stanza ending in a wail. The keen usually consists of an address to the corpse, "Why did he die?" etc..; or a description of his person, riches, etc... It is altogether extemporaneous.

The lamentation is not always confined to the keener; anyone present who has the gift of poetry may put in his or her verse.

The keener is almost invariably an old woman; or if she be comparatively young, the habits of her life make her appear old.

  • The Halls, Vol. I, p. 222-229

The wake lasts 2 days, sometimes 3, occasionally 4. Where the survivors are "poor & proud" the body is consigned to earth within 24 hours because of expense. When the corpse is about to be taken out the wail becomes most violent... Funerals are invariably attended by a numerous concourse; some from affection to the deceased, others as a tribute of respect for a neighbor, and a large proportion because time is of little value... On coming to a crossroads it was customary in some places for the followers to stop & pray for the soul of the departed; and in passing through a town they always make a circuit around the site of an ancient cross. - note - Thus a corpse passing through _ethard in Tipperary, is always carried around the pump, because the old cross stood there in former times; there is a certain gate of the same town through which a corpse is never carried, though in their direct course, because it was through that gate that [Oliver] Cromwell entered the town.

- Ibid., p. 231

Gaelic Language

Use of -

The Irish before 1848 had adopted the English language as their own. There were no native schools that could perpetuate the Gaelic language in written form. The Irish picked up what learning they could in the Hedge Schools. The schoolmaster often punished students who clung to Gaelic, & he did so with the cooperation of the parents. Gaelic was of no use to the farmer dealing with his English landlord: "It would not sell the cow." The politicians encouraged this trend, for their political vision in that era was an Ireland that could take equal place with England within the Kingdom.

A partial survey showed that by 1841, 4/5s of the people knew both Gaelic & English and only 1/5 knew only Gaelic... Later nationalists mourned the loss of the language but for the future emigrants it was an unforeseen asset. The Irish were the only immigrants in the U.S., other than the English themselves, who spoke the language of their new country.

- Wm. V. Shannon, The Am. Irish, p. 162

Before 1845 one-third to one-half the people spoke Irish in the home.

By 1865 death & emigration had reduced the proportion to 1/5 th.

- Inglis, S. of Ireland, p. 1943

Words, vocabulary -

Ban - white (bawn)

Beg - small (also Beag; in this the "Veag"

of Hannah)

Bog - soft

Bogach - a bog

Brog - a shoe

Caidh (kee) - blind

Cam - crooked

Ceo (keo) - a fog

Ciar (keer) - black

Claymore - a sword

Clog - a bell

Con Bacco - the lame

Con More - Con the Great

Cro - a hut

Dall - blind

Gaelic words -

Dearg (darrig) - red

Dian (deean) - strong

Donn - brown

Dubh (daiv) - black

Eag - death

Fear (far) - a man

Fearann (farran) - land

Finn, Fionn - white

Galloglach - foot soldier

Galloglases - a kind of mercenary; soldiers armed with edged axes & coats & mail; who

being formerly invited over by the Rebels, were rewarded with lands among them

(p. 1383).

Geal (gal) - white

Go - the sea

Liath - gray

Mor - great

Muir - the sea

Murbholg - sea inlet

Nan - a diminutive termination

Odhar (ower) - brown

Og (oge), occ, or oc - diminutive

Or - gold termination

Orc - a pig

Palas, pailas - a fort, a fairy palace

Port - a bank, a fortress, a landing-place

Ri, righ - a king

Riabhach (reeagh) - gray

Rioghan (reean) - a queen

Rod - a road

Ruadh (rua) - red

Sail - salt water, brine

Scoil - a school

Scudal - a fishing net

Sean (shan) - old

Shan - John

Sid (Shade) - a cow, a jewel

Seid (Shade) - to blow

Sin (sheen) - a storm

Spionan (speenawn) - a gooseberry bush

Tir - land

Tonnach - a mound or rampart

- P. W. Joyce, Irish Place Names, Vol. 2 (Mil. Lib.)

Agh - a field

Anagh or Ana - a river

Ard - an eminence

Ath - a ford

Awin - a river

Bally, or Ballin - a town

Ban, or Bane - white or fair

Beg, or Beag - little (is this the Veagh? of the Island?)

Ben - a mountain

Bun - a bottom or foundation

Car, or Cahir - a city

Carrick, Carrig, Carrow - a rock

Cork, Corcagh - a marsh

Clara - a plain

Croag, Croghan - a peak

Clogh, or Clough - a great stone

Curragh - a moor

Clon - a meadow

Col, or Cul - a corner

Derry - a dry spot in a swamp

Don - a fastness

Donagh - a church

Drom a hill-range

Inch, Inis - an island

Ken - a head

Kil - saint, or burying ground

Knock - a hillock

Lick - a flat stone

Lough - a lake

Magh - a plain

Main - a collection of hillocks

More - great

Rath - a mound (also given as fort)

Ross - a headland

Shan - old

Shebh - a range of mountains

Tack - a house

Temple - a church

Tom, or Toom - a bush

Tra - a strand

Tobber, Tubber - a well or spring

Tullagh - undulating ground

Tully - a place subject to floods

- from Black's Guide (1860)

Bally - homeplace or town

Booley - where flocks spend the summer

Ballybeg - little town

Clachan - cluster of houses

Flath-innis - Isle of the Noble (Heaven)

Knock - a hull

Shanachie - story-teller

- Evans, Irish Folkways

Aine - ring or circle

Bonneens, Boneveens, bonnifs - young pigs

Brian Boru - Brian of the Tributes

Coom Duv - Black Valley

Cromleac - stone of Crom (altar)

Lobhar - leper

Tirconaill - land of Connell

Torg - wild boar

Tyrone - land of Owen

Ui Neill - childen of Neill

- Halls

Nior - big

Beag - little

Doighte - burned

- according to T. H. White

Mahane - myself

Mor - big

Veag - little

Rua - red

Og - young

Ropa bashia - means burned rope (Pat)

Ancestral Names -

About 950 [A.D.] the leaders of the two great clans adopted the practice of calling themselves O'Neill & O'Donnell. This use of surnames was soon rendered universal by a law of Brian Boru passed in 965, that every family should take a surname from some distinguished ancestor; & so from that day begins the era of the Mac's & O's. Sons of Donnell, sons of Mall, sons of Brian & the rest.

- Stephen Gwynn, Highways & Byways in Donegal & Antrim, p. 24 (M. Lib.)

In 1558 - Hugh Boy O'Donnell (the fair - boy means yellow)

Hugh Duv O'Donnell (the dark - duv or duvh means black)

Manus O'Donnell

- Ibid., p. 117

Mac - means son of

O - means grandson of

- Stephen Gwynne, Place Names

Nicknames -

Among the rural population in many parts of Ireland, almost every 3 rd man is known by some other name besides his ordinary surname & Christian [name]. Sometimes these epithets are hereditary & commemorate some family peculiarity or tradition; but more often they describe a personal characteristic of the individual.

On this subject Sir Henry Piers wrote in 1682, "They take much liberty, & seem to do it with much delight, in giving of nicknames: if a man have any imperfection or evil habit he is sure to hear of it in a nickname. Thus, if he is blind, lame, squint-eyed, left-handed, to be sure he shall have one of these added to his name; also from the color of his hair, as black, red, yellow, brown, etc..; & from his age, as young or old; so that no man whatever can escape a nickname who lives among them, or converses with them."

But this is obviously only a remnant of what was anciently the general custom. Originally personal names were descriptive; the people who now designate a man by a nickname do exactly as their ancestors did thousands of years ago.

- Joyce, Irish Place Names, Vol. 2, p. 159

Given in this chapter:

Phil - son Caech - partly blind

Sagart - priest Bacach - cripple

Dall - blind Bodach - clown, churl

Amadin - fool (male) Oinseach - fool (female)

Rath - fort Cabog - ill-mannered fellow

Ard - height Ruaidh - red

Fall - enclosure or hedge Crom - crooked man

Ciotach - left-handed Kilty - [also means] left-handed

Mullen - mill Spag - club-foot

Ibid., chap. 1:

Erin (Iar-in) - western land Sean (Shan) - old

Caiseal (cashel) - stone fort Cill - church

Magh - a plain Muc[?] - a pig

Broc - badger Os - fawn

On, onmit - fool Gall - foreigner

Ban - green field Coill - wood

Ibid., chap. 2:

Blog, blogan, bolcan - pale face Ferg - anger

Blar - field Og, occ, oc - young

Teach - house Dur - stupid, obstinate

Cath - battle

The farms rarely carry any names other than those of their owners (Mulligan's place, Thomson's farm, or merely O'Brien's), and since there may be a dozen O'Briens in a particular townland, various nicknames & patronymies are used to distinguish between them. Thus one farm may be Kilty O'Brien's (from its left-handed owner), another Patsy Kate O'Brien's (from the owner's mother), & a third Yank O'Brien's (a returned emigrant, this).

- E. Estyn Evans, Irish Folkways (1957), p. 28


"Irish civility & hospitality to strangers have been proverbial for ages - existing even to a fault; strangers will find, wherever they go, a ready zeal & anxiety, among all classes, to produce a favorable impression on behalf of the country; & in lieu of roguish ____iers, insolent d__niers, dirty inns, & people courteous only that they may rob with greater certainty & impunity, they will encounter a people naturally kind & intelligent."

- Halls, Vol. I, p. 253

Good manners & hospitality were universal among the poorest Irish.

"The stranger finds every man's door open, and to walk in without ceremony at meal time & to partake of his bowl of potatoes is sure to give everyone in the house pleasure," wrote John Carr, a Devonshire gentleman who toured Ireland in the early 1800s. Twenty years later Sir Walter Scott found, "perpetual kindness in the Irish cabin; buttermilk, potatoes, a stool is offered, or a stone is rolled in that your honor may sit down."

- Woodham-Smith, Hunger, p. 25

Irish dignity, hospitality, & easy good manners which still charm the modern traveler have an historical explanation. Three times at least the native aristocracy was conquered & dispossessed; many fled from Ireland to exile in France or Spain, but many others remained, to be forced down by poverty & penal legislation to the economic level of the peasantry.

Until the famine, it was by no means uncommon for poor peasants in mud huts to make wills bequeathing estates which had long ago been confiscated from their forebears, & that figure of fun in Victorian days, the Irish beggar who claimed to be descended from kings, was very often speaking the truth.

- Ibid., p. 26

(the O'Donnell [on Beaver Island] who claimed to be the "heir of

the castle of Donegal")

1 George W. Potter, To the Golden Door: The Story of the Irish in Ireland and America. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1960.

2 William V. Shannon, The American Irish. New York: Macmillan, 1963.

3 Brian Inglis, The Story of Ireland. London , Faber and Faber, 1956.


Donegal (County) - Aranmore (Section 1)


Population - the rate of increase in Ireland as a whole 1841 (really '45) to 1851 was 20%, but in Donegal only 14%. From '51-'61 12% in Ireland & less than 10% in Donegal. This in spite of the fact that it was rated a "congested area."

In 1879-80 there was near famine in West Mayo & Galway.

In 1890 - the potato crop of the whole western sea board was only 1/4 to 1/2.

In 1891 the Congested Districts Board was formed:

A Congested District - one where the ratable valuation was less than 5€ 10sh ($7.50)

per head. The Board reported that in Donegal the gap between income from farms & the income needed was met by seasonal laboring in Britain & domestic industry (knitting,

weaving, embroidering). The density of population reaches its highest limit in the barren

west, with over 400 per sq. mi. in northwest Donegal & 200, 400 in SW Donegal & West

Connaught, in all of which farm houses are often so close together that those on the road

resemble a village street ( -chapter on population).

Aranmore has about 500 persons per sq. mile of cultivated land. The remainder of the island consists of heather moor, heavily grazed. The type of life is similar to the Rosses, but fishing is a more important resource.

The report to the Cong. Dis. Board on the Rosses showed: only 3% of the holdings were

valued at more than €4 ($11.20), & 84% at less than €2 ($5.60); yet only 4% of the people were described as "very poor." The holdings consisted of about 2 1/2 A[cre], of which 1A or a little more was devoted to potatoes, 1/2A to oats, & 1 rood each to green crops or meadow.

Less well-endowed with natural resources than almost any other part of Donegal, the

inhabitants could not possibly exist on the produce of their holdings alone. The valuation per

head of population of the town land is 4 sh, 1 penny (51¢). Yet owing to the wages earned in

migratory labor, the people are in ordinary years well-fed, according to the standards of the

district, & also comfortably housed & clad.

The women cared for the home & farm for the summer, knitting & sewing at all possible

times, while almost all the able-bodied men, girls, & even children went away as migratory

laborers. The men went to Scotland, the girls & women went to farms in east Donegal &

Tyrone. More than half the annual cash income of 43€ ($120) came [from] migratory labor

& knitting & sewing by the women.

- T. W. Freeman, Ireland (1950), (Mil. Lib.)[1]

Agriculture, Land, & Houses

"In Donegal gangs of villagers threw down the landlords' fences as quickly as they were erected, in some parts of the county they are still kept in repair only in the summer." (so livestock can pasture freely - in summer gardens protected) --Evans, Irish Folkways, p. 20

"It is clear that in many parts of the country 'the cow's grass' was the effective unit of measurement. Of Donegal about 1840 we read, 'the land is never let, sold, or devised by the acre, but by 'a cow's grass.' This is a complement of land well understood by the people, being in fact the general standard; and they judge the dimension of a holding by its being to the extent, as the case may be, of one, two, or three 'cow's grass.' They have divided not only into the fourth part of a cow's grass, called a 'foot,' but into the eighth part, or half a foot, denominated 'a cleet'" (ibid., p. 29, quoting from Lord George Hill's "Gweedore").

"Spring is the only season without excessive rain, & plowing or digging in autumn or winter even if possible is unprofitable. Winter wheat is a risky crop in most parts, & the emphasis is on spring corn (crops), especially oats. This meant that the arable land was free of crops from October until April & it allowed pasturing & manuring by livestock for rather more than half the year. So deep-rooted is this communal pasturing that there are districts in Donegal where to this day the livestock of the whole townland has the run of all the farms (ibid., p. 33).

"A house to be 'lucky' must not be more than one room wide. 'Widen the house,' I have heard it said in Donegal, 'and the family will get smaller'" (ibid., p. 41).

"In one Donegal parish in 1837 according to a petition sent by the school teacher to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, there was 'not more than 10 sq. ft. of glass in windows in the whole (some 1,500 houses) with the exception of the chapel, the school house, the priest's house, Mr. Dombrain's home, & the constabulatory barrack.' (a wattle frame, a handful or straw or dried sheepskin served as windows)" (ibid., p. 49, from Lord George Hill's "Gweendore").

"The custom on such occasions" (building a house), wrote Lord George Hill - he is speaking of Donegal in the years before the Great Famine - "is for the person who has the work to be done to hire a fiddler, upon which all the neighbors joyously assemble & carry, in an incredibly short time, the stones & timbers upon their backs to the site, men, women, & children alternately dancing & singing while the daylight lasts, when they adjourn to some dwelling where they finish the night, often prolonging the dance to the dawn of day. Like all work done in common, the thatching too was regarded as a sort of festival" (ibid., p. 57). [Apparently see also CecilWoodham-Smith, The Great Hunger , p. 24, for this same quote. ]

"What is the present social condition of Donegal? Very poor, as may be expected when nature & society conspire against industy. Agriculturally this co. is the poorest in the island; & the relations established by law & politics, between landlord & tenant in Ireland have made Gweedore & other districts in the west of Donegal the scene of social incongruities which have within the last 2 years, shocked the civil society within the circle of the British press. The valleys however are fertile, & the rivers abound in salmon, the salmon fisheries of the Foyle & Erne being among the 1 st in the country, while the herring fisheries of the coast employ many vessels & many hands. The take of salmon has averaged for many years 2,814 CWT or 315,168 lbs. per anum & the open sea fisheries of Donegal employed in 1849, 2,810 registered vessels & 12,188 men & boys. ...Kelp-gathering & salt works employ great numbers of the poor peasantry on the coasts and adjacent islands, where the gover. schools lately introduced to teach the English language appear to be a decided failure, so completely Celtic & Irish-speaking are these people.

In percentage of arable land to total acreage, Donegal ranked last among the counties of Ireland - 32.9%.

- John H. Greene, A Catechism of Irish Geography (1859); published in


Agriculture & Land - Rundale

Rundale, which is a most mischievous way of occupying land, was, till of late years, the common practice of north Ireland. It is this: three or four persons become tenants to a farm, holding it jointly, on which there is land of different qualities & values; they divide it into fields, & then divide each field into as many shares as there are tenants; which they occupy without division or fence, being marked off in parcels by stones or other landmarks; which each occupies with such crops as his necessities or means of procuring manure enable him; so there are, at the same time, several kinds of crops in one field.

- Report of the Irish Society, 1836, Halls, Vol. III, p. 261 (note)

Rundale, a state of things which paralyzes all improvement. It consists not in merely subdividing the farm into a given number of detached farms, but every quality of land is subdivided so that a holding of 4 or 5 acres was frequently to be found scattered into fifteen or twenty different lots, at considerable distances from each other, & interlaced with similar lots of other occupiers, precluding all possibility of enclosing the holdings. He (Capt. John Pitt Kennedy, in 1837) found tenants congregated in villages, which from the incessant & unavoidable trespass of cattle on each other's lands, were the seats of incessant warfare - many of the villages & towns being without any means of ingress or egress by road.

- Halls, p. 261-62

This consideration involves an analysis of the habits of the poor. They are exclusively agriculturalists. They imagine that their duties are limited to the spring sowing & the harvesting of their crops. The judicious preparation of his land for receiving the ordinary operations of tillage, do not enter into the calculations of the small Irish farmer. And during the winter season, which ought to be passed in draining & deepening his soil, irrigating his land, collecting manure, etc.., he lays himself up in absolute idleness. His Lilliputian farm thus produces but a Lilliputian crop, not equal to 1/3 of its natural capacity. His provisions become exhausted about May. Unable to get day labor to support his family through the summer, which is likewise a season when he thinks his farm has no claim upon him, he borrows at usurious interest for their support, and for the following year brings an additional burden upon his shoulders, already too heavily laden for his strength. Having thus commenced his downfall, he adds on debt over debt, each successive year until he is obliged to sell his interest in the land, & turned out a pauper.

- Ibid., p. 264

One man, a tailor in Donegal, "had his land in 42 different places and gave it up in despair." In Co. Mayo the land valuator cited the case of the townland of Liscananown, where 167 acres of land, of 3 qualities, were divided into 330 portions, the 110 inhabitants having 3 portions each.

- Great Hunger, p. 33 

Agriculture - Technology

The improved wooden plough did not reach remote hill regions until roads were built after the middle of the 18 th cent.. Even in the 19 th cent. it is described as a newcomer in Co. Donegal, where spade labor had previously been supplemented only by a "crooked stick armed with a bit of iron, with a second stick grafted to it to give two handles"... It was so light that when the improved wooden plough with the mould-board was introduced into Donegal the ponies were not equal to the task of pulling it.

- Evans, Irish Folkways, p. 130

It is clear that with the introduction of the potato in the 17 th cent. it was the spade that facilitated the breaking of the rough pasture...& so made possible the great expansion of cultivation & population in the century before the Great Famine.

- Ibid., p. 133

Agriculture, as system, is not much practiced except among the resident gentry, by whom great improvements are made.

The iron plough is in general use among the gentry & larger farmers, but the old cumbersome wooden plough is still in use in many parts. A light one-horse cart has nearly superseded the old wheel-car, & the slide cart is seldom seen out of the mountain districts, in which implements are still rude in construction & few in number, consisting on many farms merely of a loy (a spade with a rest for the foot on one side only), the steveen (a pointed stake for setting potatoes), & sickle.

- [Topographical] Dict[ionary of Ireland?]


Lord George Hill in "Gweedore," 1846, says:

"It often happens that a man has 3 dwellings - one in the mountains, another upon the shore, & the third upon an island, he & his family flitting from one to another of these habitations... This change usually takes place upon a fixed day, the junior branches of the family generally perform the land journey on top of the household goods, with which the pony may often be seen so loaded, & at the same time so obscured, that little more than the head can be observed; & thus the chair or two, the creels & the iron pot, the piggin & the various selected etc... creep along the roads." The author goes on to comment on the restrictions imposed on the comfort & possessions of the peasants by their "Arab mode of life." "In Achill Island, too, the movements were complicated, involving the entire population which, having moved to the summer pastures & sowed their corn, returned to the permanent coastal village for the high summer to fish & went back to gather the harvest at the booley in the autumn."

- E. Estyn Evans, Irish Folkways, p. 35

"So deep-rooted is commercial pasturing that there are districts in Donegal where to this day (1957) the livestock of the whole townland has the run of all the farm lands through the winter."

- Ibid., p. 33 (on B.I.)

In the summer those who stayed with the cattle at the booley made butter, which they brought back with them.

St. Columba

"That St. Columba was born at Garten in Donegal in 521 [A.D.] seems beyond doubt, & that he once lived in Glencolumcille is accepted by many but rejected by others as a late tradition."

- Irish Pictures, Richard Lovett (1888), p. 190[2]

He was born in the north of Ireland, near Lough Garten, on a hill that overlooks the water. A slab of rock is called Ethne's Bed & it is believed to be the very place on which his mother bore him. They say that those who sleep on this bed will be proof against homesickness forever. Many an emigrant has spent his last night in Ireland upon it. He built his oratory in the lonely valley of Glencolumsille. The glen is now thought to have been a center of Druid worship & the 12 crosses called the "Stations of the Saints" are probably monuments of Druids, converted by the Saint.

- Olivia Manning, The Dreaming Shore, p. 178 (1950) (Mil. Lib.)


In an account of the Rosses in the 1750s we read of the funeral processions to the island of Aranmore in Donegal which comprised as many as 60 or 80 curraghs[3] covered with seal skins (from the Rosses in 1753)... Cattle were transported on them (curraghs). There is an account in this book of "the reckless daring of these islanders. A man & his wife coming out of island of Aranmore, in a little boat filled with turf, had a horse standing on top of it; with the roll of the sea the animal was thrown out, and as they were a long __ll from land, must have been drowned, had not the man cleverly succeeded in getting him into the boat again!"

  • Evans, Irish Folkways, p. 237

Donegal - Town of


Parish - 6,260

Town - 830 (150 houses)

Castle built in 12 th cent.

1474 - Franciscan monastery founded

1587 - Donell defied English government & refused to allow any sheriff in his district; not

having force to overcome him, the English kidnapped his son & held him

prisoner (this was Hugh Roe).

1592 - English took possession of convent & surrounding territory, but quickly expelled by

Hugh Roe.

1600 - Planned rebellion with O'Neil & Spaniards. Flight of the Earls.

1612 - (Feb. 27) The borough was incorporated in pursuance of forming the new plantation

of Ulster. Since Union the corporation has ceased to exist.

1631 - Annals of the 4 Masters

1639 - Hewy Brook was granted the manor which comprehended the town, at 13 shillings,

4 pence per year. Although the remains of the castle & the other property granted

to the patentee have passed to other families, one of his descendents still pays a

a rent to the crown for it.

1651 - Castle taken by Marquess of Clanricarde[?], who soon had to surrender to a superior


1798 - A French frigate of 30 guns & 2 more anchored in the Bay, but the local militia

deterred a landing.

Here is a constabulatory police station & a small bridewell. A good harbor - small vessels may ride in 2 or 3 fathoms about 1/2 cable's length from shore. Good herring fishing in the bay in summer. Within 3 miles of the town is The Hall, the residence of the Conyngham family. Donegal gives the title of Marquess & Earl to the Chichester family.

[- no citation is listed for this entry]

Fishing - Boats

"Plenty of the yawls which the fishermen of these parts (Bunbeg - in other words, the Rosses) lie by the quay, but no bigger boats; the local opinion is that fishing in these waters must be confined closely to shore, or nothing except a really large vessel can hope to ride out all weathers, & there is a plentiful lack of shelter to run to."

- Stephen Gwynne, Highways & Byways of Donegal & Antrim (1903) (Mil. Lib.)

Fishing - Early Nineteenth Century

The northeast coast fisheries are chiefly confined to Donegal (this must mean commercial fishing). They had declined for many years in consequence of the herring, the chief object of capture, having deserted the coast. In 1830 it was ascertained that the schools had returned & the fishery consequently revived, in so much as the value of the take in 1834 exceeded 50,000 pounds ($250,000), & in the two succeeding seasons has been still greater. The coast everywhere affords the means of abundant summer fishing, but the want of proper boats & tackle deters the fisherman from venturing to struggle against the stormy seas that break upon the shores during the winter. The white fishing for cod, ling, haddock, & glassen, & that of the turbot & other flat fish, all of which are in inexhaustible abundance, is little attended to beyond the supply of the neighborhood. The sun fish resorts thither & is sometime taken.

- [Samuel Lewis,Topographical] Dict[ionary of Ireland]

Fishing - Mid-Nineteenth Century

In late summer the sprat came ashore in vast numbers on the west & south coasts, so that in Donegal "they constitute the chief food of the peasantry during 3 or 4 months of the year" (from "The Cliff Scenery of S.W. Dongal," 1867). They were taken from the water in buckets & sieves, and the mackerel pursuing their prey close against the rocks might be caught almost as easily. ...About hay-harvest the ballan wrasse is at its best. ...Known as bavin, byan, morran, & by other names, it is now despised almost everywhere, as is the coalfish which was salted & dried & which has different Gaelic names for every stage of its growth to demonstrate its former importance & popularity. "Glassan" oil was the luminant for the crusie lamps in Rathlin Island (ibid., p. 226).

We are not concerned here with the commercial off-shore fisheries, but something must be said of the inshore fishing because it has been characteristically combined with farming all around the coast. This type of fishing was well-suited to the Irish crofter economy, so that the comment frequently made by improving visitors & despairing Government officials was that the Irish would not go out to fish, but waited for the fish to come inshore. The shore-dwelling farmer is knowledgeable about the ways of fish and knows all "the signs"...

(ibid., p. 250-51).

Old customs die hard on isolated islands... Fishermen in the north to this day avoid direct mention of many words such as pig, priest, & rat, & similar taboos are found in fishing communities as far away as Malaya. Formerly when starting on fishing expeditions the crews of Irish boats were very careful that their craft should leave the shore in a direction sunways, & even yet this superstition directs the course of many a fishing boat, & we may add, controls the casting of a net. A boat should always be entered on the right side (ibid., p. 303).

Geography - General

Donegal comprises an area of 1,197,154 acres, of which 247,281 are under tillage, 411,966 in pasture, 9,308 in plantations, 505,719 waste, bog, mountains, etc.., & 22,860 under water... The islands are numerous, 17 inhabited; the principal, N. Arran, containing 4,355 [acres], population 1,220. There is a lighthouse on Aran... The climate is moist, potatoes, oats, & flax are the chief crops; spade husbandry is practiced on the west coast... The occupations are chiefly agricultural, fisheries, & the making of kelp from seaweed, an article which is largely exported to Scotland... The county is divided into 6 baronies, 51 parishes, & 2,627 town lands; a population of 218,334 persons, or 41,944 families, inhabiting 40,854 houses; also 1,393 uninhabited & 89 buildings.

[- no citation given]

N. Aran (Aranmore):

[Land area] 4,355 A[cres] pop. 1,220 [in 1880?]

- Peter T. Sherlock, The Case of Ireland Stated Historically, 1880

From the Halls (1840):

According to an Ordinance Survey -

1,165,107 statute acres

520,736 cultivated

644,371 mountain & unimproved bog


1821 - 248,270

1831 - 294,104

1841 - 296,448

Aranmore - largest of the Rosses:

3 mi. from Rutland

3 mi. in length & 3 mi. in breadth

About 9 mi. from the mainland

4,355 statute A[cres]; only 650 under cultivation & in pasture, rest mountains (figures to

about 15% in cultivation)

Population in 1834 - 1,141

This means -

The whole island: 6.8 sq. mi.

Arable land a little over __ sq. mi. (sq. mi. = 640A)

Population 168 people per sq. mi.; all 1,141 on 1 sq. mi. of land in cultivation & pasture

- Top. Dict.

Geography - Rosses

The district of the Rosses presents mostly a desolate waste. On its western side is a region of scattered rocks and hills, some on the mainland, others insulated; the larger of these rocks are thinly covered with peat & moss; a few admit of some degree of cultivation, while almost all the innumerable smaller rocks are entirely bare. Collectively this group is known by the name of the islands of the Rosses. Aranmore, the largest, containing about 600A[cres], is about 2 mi. from the mainland; on Innis Mac Durn is the little town of Rutland.

The county is very bare of wood.

-- [Topographical] Dic[tionary of Ireland?], Vol. I, p. 473

Hardships of the People

Hardship has made the Donegal people what they are. It seems a paradox, but the curse of poor land, the scourge of bad landlords, and recurrent famine shape a near perfect community.

A wealthy midlander named John George Adair once went to Donegal on a sporting holiday. He resolved to become proprietor of a mountainous part called Glenveih. In 1858 he purchased the interest of the coveted district. He was quick to discover to his own satisfaction that the peasantry were "a lawless, violent, thieving, & murderous gang." A police barracks was erected & a pound set up. He manned his property with Scotch shepards & stocked it with Scotch sheep. In 1859 he purchased an additional 11,956 A[cres]. In 1860 he gave his tenantry notice to quit. He chose to believe that the Donegal people were stealing his sheep & had murdered his steward. Priest & Parson begged for mercy, but Adair went personally to Dublin Castle for help. Glenveih was invaded by 200 constabulary & several detachments of military with tents & baggage. A Presbyterian newspaper gives a harrowing description of the eviction scenes when the hovels were leveled - throwing themselves on the ground & bursting out in an old Irish wail, their terrifying cries resounded along the mountainside for many miles. As night set in the spectator might have observed near each house its former inmates crouching around a turf fire, close by a hedge; & as a drizzling rain poured upon them they found no cover. An Irish society in Australia paid their passage to that country. Those homeless people of all ages, more than a thousand in number, traveled together. In Dublin they marched together to the boat for Liverpool. A Dublin newspaper said, "A finer body of men & women never left any country. In stature tall, with handsome features full of kindly expression, they filled the breast of every spectator with regret that such a people should be lost to us forever."

- Stephen Rynne, All Ireland, p. 186-87 (1956) (Milw.)

In this country there is a survival of the old order, the clan system. The clusters of houses, which are in no wise villages in the English sense of the word, are frequently inhabited by relations; there are never more than two or three sirnames in any group. The little planless settlements of homes are truly typical of the Donegal way of life.

- Ibid., p. 187

From Red Hugh O'Donnell's return to Donegal in 1592 stems the tragic story of the last attempts of the Irish chiefs to hold Gaelic Ireland for the Irish by organized force of arms. Red Hugh led various expeditions into Connaught between 1595 & 1597 & he was present at the Irish victory of the Yellow Ford in 1598. Then came the defeat of the Irish & Spanish at Kinsale in 1601 that meant the end of Irish hopes & the beginning of the great plantations of Ulster.

Red Hugh fled to Spain in 1602, where he died at Valladolid the same year. A Franciscan from Donegal attended his deathbed, and Donegal is indeed closely associated with the Franciscan Order. In the ruin following Kinsale, it was the Franciscan initiative that set about trying to collect all the surviving Irish M.S.S. [manuscripts] to preserve Irish history & literature for posterity. It is the Donegal friary that is associated with the names of the Four Masters who carried out this work: M . O'Clery, C. O'Clery, O'Mulconry, & O'Drugnan[ ?]. Michael O'Clery tirelessly traveled Ireland, copying, always copying, every Irish manuscript that he could find.

[- no citation included here, but may be the same as above]


"Tirconaill was made into a county in 1585 by Lord Deputy Perrott. The name Donegal, "Fortress of the Foreigners," refers to a settlement of Danes. A region of mountains, bogs, and moorland, difficult to invade, with poor communications & few natural resources, roadless, and very wild, it remained through the centuries practically unconquered. When Cromwell tried to force the native Irish into Connaught, he could not get the Donegal people out of their remote hills, so he handed the area over to those of his veterans who cared to occupy it. They were intimidated by the wildness & fierceness of the inhabitants, & in the end retreated to more comfortable country [and] left Donegal to its inhabitants.

Here is to be found the purest Gaelic blood in Ireland & here the ancient qualities of simplicity, chivalry, & honesty are uncorrupted.

Until the 19 th century when Lord George Hill attempted to develop it, Donegal was practically unknown to the outside world.

In the 4 years [from] 1632-1636 the Annals was compiled by the 4 Masters: O'Mulconry & 3 O'Clerys.

The castle - the Earl of Tirconaill fled in 1607 & the castle was presented to a certain Sir Basil Brooke, who reconstructed it. It is now the property of the Earl of Arran.

It is a region (the Rosses - includes Burton Port) of bogland so rock-ridden & laden with great grey granite boulders & peppered with little loughs, that they say there is not earth enough to dig a grave. Unwanted for centuries before the "plantation of Ulster," it later became crowded with little homesteads. No other area of such infertility in the world can house so many. Most of the men hire themselves out for the summer months to landowners in Scotland & England. The women & children clear patches the size of pocket-handkerchiefs & grow potatoes. Emigrants have gone in hundreds from these parts.

- "The time when the Marquis of Conyngham was opening up the Burton Port herring-curing industry, & Lord George Hill created his hotel."

- Olivia Manning, The Dreaming Shore, 1950,4 Mil. Lib.  

Lower down, not far from the mouth of the Lake Earne, stands Donegall, a monastery & towne, which gave its name to this co. when it was first made one. This territory was governed for many ages by those of the family of O'Donell, who are of the same extraction with the O'Neals; without other title than O'Donell, & Lords of Tir-Conell. For the obtaining of which, and of their popular election & inauguration with accustomed ceremonies, at a certain stone near Kilmacrenar, they used to contend with great heat & bloodshed; till King James (the 1 st) by his Letters Patent conferred the honour, title, & stile of Earl of Tir-Conell, upon Roderick O'Donell, brother to Hugh the Rebel, who being banished, fled to Spain & there died. The title of Earl of Tyrconell was conferred by King James the Second on Colonel Richard Talbot, a most zealous Papist; & since the accession of King George to the throne, the title of Viscount Tyrconell hath been conferred on a noted family of England of the name of Brownlow; but that of Earl of Donegall is vested in the honourable family of Chichester; as to the territories hereabouts (formerly part of the inheritance of O'Donell), they are now enjoyed by the families of Gore, Hamilton, Connolly, etc...

But now take the observations of Mr. Good (J. Good, a priest educated at Oxford & schoolmaster of Limerick, describes their customs about the year 1566): "These people are generally strong-bodied, nimble, bold, haughty, quick-witted, warlike, venturous, inured to cold & hunger, lustful, hospitable, consistent in their love, implacably malicious, credulous, vainglorious, resenting, and, according to their old character, violent in all their affections; the bad not to be matched, the good not to be excelled.

They commonly baptize their children by prophane names, adding somewhat from one accident or another; from some old-wives tale; or from colors, as red, white, black, etc..; from distempers, as scabbed, bald, etc.., or else from some vice, as Robber or Proud; and, though they cannot bear reproach, yet the greatest among them, such as have the letter O prefixed to their names, are not ashamed of these appellations. It is looked upon as foreboding a speedy death to the parents or others of the family then living, to give his or their names to any of the children. When the father dies the son takes his name lest it be forgotten; & if any of the ancestors have been famous for their achievements, the like bravery is expected from him."

[Then comes a long paragraph on the Irish system of fosterage, saying the tie is much greater than the blood tie.]

"The people are strangely given to idleness, thinking it the greatest wealth to want business, and the greatest happiness to have liberty. They love music mightily, & above all instruments are particularly taken with the harp, strung with brass wire, and played on with their crooked nails. They are religious, mortify with wonderful austerity, by watching, praying, & fasting; so that the Relations which we find of their monks heretofore are not to be looked on as incredible.

...Robberies are here not looked on as infamous, but are committed with great barbarity in all parts of the country. When they are upon such design they pray to God to bring booty in their way. They are of the opinion that neither violence, robbery, nor murder is displeasing to God. If it were, they say, God would not tempt them with the opportunity; 'nay, it would be a sin not to lay hold of it.'"

[A long section on the viciousness of the clergy. Whores & bastards follow wherever they go, & sons succeed fathers in churches. "Absolute strangers to learning." "The sons of the priests become notorious robbers. For those who are called MacDecon, MacPherson, etc.., the son of the Dean & the Parson, are the greatest robbers."]

..."They seldom marry out of their town." He goes on that they are prone to divorce & incest.

Superstitious - "Whether or not they worship the moon, I know not; but when they first see her after the change, they commonly bow the knee & say the Lord's Prayer."

Their armies - "consist of horsemen, & of veteran soldiers reserved for the rear (whom they call Galloglaffes, & who fight with sharp hatchets), & of light armed foot [soldiers] (whom they call Kernes), armed with darts & daggers. They use the bagpipe in their wars instead of trumpets.

As to their diets, they delight in herbs, especially cresses, mushrooms, & roots. They love butter mixed with oatmeal, milk, whey, beef broth, & flesh oft times without bread."5

- Ibid., p. 1417-22

1 Thomas Walter Freeman, Ireland:A General and Regional Geography. London: Methuen, 1969. (First published in 1950 under title Ireland: Its Physical, Historical, Social, and Economic Geography.)

2 Richard Lovett, Irish Pictures, Drawn with Pen and Pencil. London : London Religious Tract Society, 1888.

3 A small boat made by covering a frame with hide or leather; also called a currach or coracle.

4 Olivia Manning, The Dreaming Shore. London : Evans Bros., 1950.

5 All brackets in this entry appear in original.

Ireland Donegal (County) - Aranmore (Section 2)

History - "The Annals"

A his. of Ireland from B.C. 1762 - A.D. 1616; compiled from June 22, 1632 - Aug. 10, 1636. It was compiled by 4 scholars, of whom 3 were O'Clerys & belonged to a family in which historical scholarship was an hereditary profession. The 4 th, Ferfeasa O'Mulconry, was a Connaught man, also an "ollave," or accredited scholar. The book was written at the request of Fergal O'Gara, Lord of Coolavin in Sligo; the O'Donnells would have been the natural patrons of such a work done in the Abbey of their foundation, but by 1630 there was no representation of the O'Donnells in Tyrconnell.

The chief of the four was Teague O'Clery of the Mountain...The O'Clerys were a tribe whom the de Burgos drove out of Connaught when they settled there & became Bourkes. The O'Clery sept[?] scattered; after awhile an O'Clery came into Tyrconnell & settled there. O'Donnell's hereditary ollave was without a son; so he gave his daughter to O'Clery on condition that their son should be bred an ollave. The O'Donnells gave them land in Kilbarron near Ballyshannon, and they built a castle there. Teague O'Clery was born in 1575, became a lay brother of the Franciscan Order & entered the Irish convent of Louvain.

- Stephen Gwynne, Highways & Byways of Donegal & Antrim, p. 30 (M. Lib.)

The monastery was completed by Hugh O'Donnell & his wife [F?]ingalla, a lady of the O'Brien house of Thomond, in 1474; a Franciscan monastery which Nuala O'Donnell, another pious lady, had already founded.

- Ibid., p. 45

"At this time (the time of the Armada) in Donegal Abbey there were 'forty priests vestments with all their belongings; many of them of cloth of gold & silver, some of them interwoven & wrought with gold ornaments; all the rest were of silk. We had, moreover, 16 chalices, all but 2 of them gilt.'"

- Ibid., p. 57

History - and Character of the People

(1888) "To anyone who wishes to see Ireland least affected by outside influences, Donegal should have prior claim... There is the strongest element of the 'mere Irish' in the people, & in their habits of life."

"The word (Donegal) is Irish, and means Dun-nan-Gal - ' the fort of the stranger,' and the name is comparatively modern. In ancient days this region was known as Tyrconnell, that is, the land of Connell, a son of Nial of the Nine Hostages."

"In 1585 Sir John Perrott, the Lord Deputy, divided Ulster into counties, decreeing that Tyrconnell should be known as Donegal." This policy was resisted by Hugh O'Donnell, head of the Sept, & his son Hugh Roe. The latter was captured by the English & held prisoner in Dublin castle. He made a final escape in 1592 & assumed headship of the Sept. Resisting the English, he defeated them at Ballyshannon in 1597, & at Yellowford in 1598. Betrayed by his brother-in-law, he fled to Spain for help. The help was promised by Phillip III but never materialized. He died & was buried in the Cathedral of Valladolid in 1602.

The O'Donnell Castle. The original structure [was] built by Hugh O'D. who was ruling in 1505. Nothing of this remains. The present castle was built on the old foundations by Sir Basil Brooke in 1610.

The Monastery at Donegal was ruined by fire when it was attacked in 1474 ( 1574?) by Hugh Roe, as it was being held by his traitorous brother-in-law, Nial Garv. A few years later the Friars returned & built themselves cottages among the ruins, & it was in these cottages that the "Annals of the Four Masters" was compiled, which closes with 1616.

The Donegal Peasantry - "They are a fine, sturdy race, well-made & seemingly well-fed. They are self-reliant, not forward to make advances, but responsive if advances are made to them. Although they are as poor as poor can be, they all looked respectable; a word which implies much, since a man who is worthy of respect must first respect himself."
- Richard Lovett, Irish Pictures (1888), in chapt. on Donegal (Mil. Lib.)

History - Early

As far back as we know, Donegal - Dun-na-gal, the fort of the foreigners - was the seat of the O'Donnells.

- Stephen Gwynne

"Donegal is mentioned in several of our annals & always as Dun-na-nGall, the fortress of the foreigners. These foreigners must have been Danes, and the name was no doubt applied to an earthen Dun occupied by them before the 12 th cent., for we have direct testimony that they had a settlement there at an early date, & the name is older than the Anglo-Norman invasion. There is an ancient Irish poem written in the 10 th cent. by the Tyrconnellian bard Flann Mac Lonan in which it is stated that Egnahan, the father of Donnel, from whom the O'Donnells derive their name, gave his three beautiful daughters, Duvlin, Bebua, & Bebinn, in marriage to 3 Danish princes, Caithis, Torges, & Tor, with the object of obtaining their friendship, & to secure his territory from their depredations; & the marriages were celebrated at Donegal, where Egnahan resided. But though we have this evidence that a fort existed there from a very remote time, it is pretty certain that a castle was not erected there by the O'Donnells till the year 1474.

The Annals of Ulster relate that the Danish fortress was burned in 1159."

- P. W. Joyce, Irish Names of Places (1901), p. 97-981
From a survey in the years 1618 & 1617 of the Lands & Settlements (plantation of James I) -

"The County of Donegal, or Tyrconnell:

The Co. of Donegal belonged to the noble house of O'Donnell. The secondary chiefs
were O'Dogherty, MacSweeney Doe, MacSweeney Faniad, O'Gallagher, & O'Clery."
The original patentee was Lady Brombe.
In possession in 1619 was Captain Thomas Dutton
- [both] of the Rosses; 2,000 acres
- Sherlock, The Case for Ireland, p. 98

History - Still Visible

All Donegal is hedged about with ancient things; beyond Carrich the Celtic crosses & site of Glencohumbkille (glen of St. Columcille's church), which still (1955) honors its patron with a pilgrimage on June 9 th; at Gartan, the birthplace of the same saint; at Teelin, another famous pilgrim station; so too at Doon Well.
- D. D. C. Pochin Mould, The Mountains of Ireland, p. 57 (Mil. Lib.)[2]
"Ruins of ecclesiastical structures, and of structures of ages far more remote, are to be encountered in every locality; places are pointed out where sea-kings entered, and others where Druids held their most solemn rights. Every spot has some tradition, there is scarcely a mile without a legend; and as the district is more primitive than any other portion of Ireland - the people adhering pertinaciously to their ancient language & their old customs - the county is immensely rich in stores for the antiquary, the historian, and the writer of fiction. Here, until of late years, the illicit distiller carried on his trade without the remotest dread of interruption...and the coast from Moville round to Killybegs was famous for all that was rude, uncultivated, and lawless."
- Halls, Vol. III, p. 237


The long, rectangular house was sanctioned by custom & preserved by superstition; a house, to be "lucky," must not be more than one room wide. "Widen the house," I have heard it said in Donegal, "and the family will get smaller."

- E. Estyn Evans, I. Folkways, p. 41

The houses in Donegal were thatched & the thatch held down with stones on the end of ropes. Rye is especially grown for thatch, & sometimes flax in Donegal.

- Ibid.

From Otways 1841 Skeletres in Erris & Tyrawly -

"All the family lay together in one bed, & if visitors came in the evening, they too slept with them, for they set no bounds to their hospitality... Heath or bent brushes were spread across the floor, to a length sufficient for the number present, & in breadth about 6 feet; over this litter the mistress of the house laid part of a long plaid or blanket, on which the others, having stripped off their clothes, lay down as fast as they could; men & women together all naked; then the mistress, having drawn the rest of the blanket over them, lay down herself also. This they call a thorough-bed."

The disposition of the furniture in the house was fixed by long custom, & varied little throughout the country... In fact only by adhering to strict formula could the family & all the belongings be fitted into a single room, & the whole space in front of the fire was kept open. This was for the bulk of the peasant population the sleeping-place."

Long custom as well as wretched poverty explains the statement made by Patrick McKye of a Donegal parish in 1837: "Nor can any of them afford a second bed, but whole families of sons & daughters of mature age indiscriminately lie together all in the bare buff." In some cabins there was a wall-bed built into an overshot sticking out from the outside wall.

The houses as described in the 19 th cent. had no table, and there are still to be seen (1957) in Donegal, for instance, houses where there is no kitchen table. At mealtimes the family sit around a shallow potato basket resting on the circle of knees. The tables were low & hung against the wall when not in use. Table chairs unnecessary, long, low, narrow stools or 3-legged "creepies" were used, & the children squatted on the floor. In Ireland, as throughout Atlantic Europe, the dresser ranks as the most important & elaborate piece of furniture in the kitchen. It stands against the wall. The favorite fireside seat was the creepie, a 3-legged stool, finding a firm hold no matter how uneven the floor.

Immediately in front of the house is the traditional location of the dungheap. It was commented upon by nearly every 19 th cent. traveler. In 1837 a schoolteacher wrote that some houses in Donegal had "within their walls from 10-15 tons of dung, only cleaned out once a year" (down to a century ago it accumulated at the end of the living room). It was the peasant's wealth - a source of good crops & good luck - "where there is muck, there is luck."
[- from the reference to "1957" it seems that much of the above may be
taken from Evans' Irish Folkways]

Kelp - Gathering & Use of

Certain species of seaweed are still (1957) gathered for human consumption - carrageen or Irish moss, sloke or lave_, dulse, dulaman - whether as medicine or "kitchen," that is, a tasty morsel to be chewed between meals, or boiled to be eaten with potatoes. In lean times the kitchen might become the staple, & a writer in the 1830s stated that when the potatoes gave out, "hundreds of people may be seen going to the seaside to gather dulaman" (J. Binns). Carrageen, besides being made into jelly was used as a thickener for milk.

(It was [also] used as fertilizer.)

The most profitable way of using seaweed was for the burning of kelp, which became a considerable business among shore dwellers in the 18 th cent., as the growth of industry stimulated the production of soap, bleaching materials, & glass... Kelp was made by burning the thick stems of tangle or other course weeds, to which as well as the ashes the name is applied - which were thrown up in the winter storms or cut at low-tide. If the supply of drift-weed failed the heavy tangles were laboriously dragged ashore, or cut with knives mounted on handles up to 20' long to reach the best weeds growing in deep water. In Donegal the men would wield their long knives from curraghs, while the women dragged the weeds ashore. In the Rosses of West Donegal around 1750 the rents were paid in kelp; any surplus was bartered for the two luxuries - spirits & tobacco, enjoyed by men & women alike. For the lesser weeds growing in shallow water, ordinary sickles were employed when the tide was low, but these species made inferior kelp... In Donegal I was told how at low tide, by the light of lanterns, men would dash into the sea up to their necks to drag out the floating weed (wrack). (Wrack is marine vegetation floated to shore.) From Christmas on a careful watch was kept on the weather. It was a time [of] merry-making - when the division of the harvest took place. Wrack rights & ways of access were bitterly contested.

In summer the sprat came ashore in vast numbers on the west & south coasts, so that in Donegal, "they constitute the chief food of the peasantry during three or four months of the year" (Kinnfaela, 1867).

Down to recent times coast-dwellers took their toll of seal & porpoises. It was dangerous work, sometimes involving swimming into underwater caves where they breed. (Sealskins were used in Donegal to cover curraghs - see card on Don. Boats.)

- Evans, Irish Folkways, p. 221

Kings - Crowning of

"About 4 mi. from Derry is the rock of Doune, a natural fortress in the center of a district scarcely accessible, where, it is believed, the ancient chieftains of Tyrconnell were inaugurated - a race who, according to Sir Henry Dock__ra, were 'proud, valiant, miserable, immeasurably covetous, without any knowledge of God, without any civility to man;' & of whom James I, in an apology for robbing them, [ said] that 'their condition was to think murder no fault, marriage of no use, nor any man valiant that does not glory in rapine & oppression.'

In the immediate vicinity of Derry there still exists a stone, which, according to the authors of the Ordinance Survey, appears to have been the inauguration stone of the ancient Irish kings. The stone, which is of gneiss, exhibits the sculptured impression of two feet, right & left, of the length of 10 in. each. That stones of this kind, as well as rude stone chairs, were formerly used, we have the testimony of Spenser in his 'View of the State of Ireland.' 'They used to place him that shall be their captaine upon a stone reserved for that purpose, & placed commonly upon a hill; in some of which I have seen formed & engraved a foot, which they say was the measure of their first captaine's foot, whereon hee, standing, receives an oath to preserve all the ancient former customs of the country involiable, & to deliver up the succession peaceably to his Tanist, and then hath a wand delivered unto him by some whose proper office that is; after which descending from the stone, he turneth himself around, thrice forwards & thrice backwards.' The inauguration chair of the O'Neils of Castlereagh is still preserved; it was for a long time built into the wall of the Buttermarket of Belfast. The famous "coronation chair" in Westminster Abbey is believed to be of Irish origin; & is said to have been sent into Scotland for the coronation of Fergus, the first king of the Scots, who was "of the blood-royal of Ireland."

- Halls, Vol. III, p. 233-34


"The dread of landlords was such that people tremble before them," recorded a writer of a manuscript in Donegal just before the famine.
- (Mss.) "Recollections of Donegal 60 Years Ago" (1890); property of
St. Columb's College, Derry; quoted in The Great Hunger, p. 24

Manufacturing - Whiskey

Whiskey is made very largely in both licensed & unlicensed distilleries. The latter are chiefly in the Rosses, Boylagh, & Ennishowen.
- [Topographical] Dic[tionary of Ireland?]

Mythology & Legends

(South of Ballyshannon) On the borders of the river lies a huge mass of granite on the surface of the ground - singular in consequence of its distance from any rock of that description. It is called "Crockmacraoshleen"... On one side of it is a hole, said to be the print of a finger (a giant it must have been), & whoever can walk blindfolded 12 paces toward it, & put a finger into this hole, will infallibly be married in the course of that year. The tradition respecting its appearance there is curious. Two giants or heroes, Fin Ma Coul & another, were in the habit of sitting in the evening on the tops of these two mountains, which form the grand Pass of Barnesmore, to smoke their pipe most lovingly, passing it across the valley from hand to hand. One day, the smoker having kept the pipe rather longer than his due time, Fin gruffly called to him "to hand it smartly across," but not being noticed, he took a pebble in his knuckle & as a marble, shot it at his companion's head to remind him of his delay. The pebble missed its mark, but now lies where it fell, a distance of 10 miles from Barnesmore, & bears the mark of the finger of Fin Ma Coul, as witness to the truth of the whole transaction.
- Halls, Vol. III, p. 274 (note)


In the parish of Gweedore - the state of the country may be gathered from the following memorial addressed in 1837 to the Lord Lieutenant by Paddy M'Kye, the teacher of the National School, printed in a pamphlet issued in 1846 called "Facts From Gweedore:"
(In part) "The parishioners of this parish are in the most needy, hungry, & naked condition of any people that ever came within the precincts of my knowledge. There is about 4,000 persons in this parish (an understatement; in 1841 there were 9,049), and all Catholics, having among them no more than:
1 cart 3 turkeys 8 brass candlesticks
0 coach[es] 2 feather beds 0 looking-glasses above
1 plough 8 chaff beds 3d in price
16 barrows 2 stables 0 boots
8 saddles 6 cow-houses 0 spurs
2 pillows 1 National School 0 fruit trees
11 hurdles 0 other school 0 turnips
20 shovels 1 priest 0 parsnips
32 rakes 0 other resident 0 carrots
7 table forks gentleman 0 clover,
93 chairs 0 bonnet[s] or any other vegetables
243 stools 0 clock[s] but potatoes & cabbages
0 swine, hogs, or pigs 3 watches
Not more than 10 sq. ft. of glass in windows in the whole, except for the
chapel, the school house, the priest's house, & the barracks of the constabulary.
None of either married or unmarried women can afford more than one shift, & some cannot afford any. More than half both men & women cannot afford shoes. They have no means of harrowing their land but with meadow rakes. The farms are so small that from 4-10 farms can be harrowed in 1 day with one rake.
And more than all that I have mentioned, there is a general prospect of starvation, the principle cause being a rot or failure of seed in last year's crop, together with a scarcity of winter forage, because of many storms in this part of the country, so that they were under the necessity of cutting down their potatoes, & giving them to the cattle to keep them alive. Hunger reigns among them so that the generality of the peasantry are on the allowance of one meal a day, & many families can afford only one meal in 2 days, some 1 in 3 days.
I have also to add that the National School was greatly decreased in number of scholars through hunger & extreme poverty."
- Stephen Gwynne, Highways & Byways of Donegal & Antrim, p. 132-53

Roads & Communication

In Black's Guidebook to Ireland for Tourists (1860):
The map of Ireland shows "carriage roads":
From Sligo & from Enniskillen to Donegal & from Donegal to Killybegs.
From Donegal to Londonderry & from Londonderry to Letterkenny.
These are all in the south & east of the county. The rest of Co. Donegal shows only "Cross Roads." The coast opposite Aranmore & Rutland is served by only one of these roads which comes from a junction at Dunglow.
The roads require much to be done. They are in general, badly constructed and not properly repaired, although the best materials are in abundance.
[- no citation given, but internal evidence indicates that it is from
Lewis's A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1839]

Schools & Education - Mid-Nineteenth Century

Mr. & Mrs. Hall (about 1840) say there were boarding schools for both boys & girls at Cloghan (in the center of Donegal), established for the training of teachers in subjects most important to the neighboring counties. These schools were under the National System of education.
The Halls tell about schools set up on the estate of Sir Charles Style, managed after 1837 by
Capt. John Pitt Kennedy, in the district of Glenfin (east-central Donegal, on the Finn River).
Boys - boarded, lodged, & educated at cost of 4 pounds per annum; practical work
combined with theory.
Girls - under 12: 5 pounds; over 12: 8 pounds; teachers from other schools coming for
short period: 10 pounds
The girls' school was established to train schoolmistresses to be sent throughout
This is supported chiefly by a private fund (some state aid), & some pupils are paid
for by parents or patrons.
With [practical + theoretical training] in view, the execution on the extensive works in progress is conducted by them as overseers of the working parties, acting under the general supervision of the superintendent of the inspector of works; it is common to find boys of 15 or 16, children of the poorest classes, in every way qualified, except in maturity of years, for taking charge of a school with credit, or for conducting the most scientific operations that could be required by a proprietor in the improvement of his estate.
- Halls, Vol. III., p. 265-66
Literacy in Ulster (1841 census):
Population - 2,386,373
Can read & write - 618,642 (21% +)
Can read only - 619,814 (21% +)
Housing in Ulster (1841 census)
Total # of families - 439,805
Living in mud house of more than 1 room - 187,108 (42% +)
Living in mud huts of 1 room - 130,694 (30% +)
- 72% [of families living in mud houses of 1 or more rooms]
- statistics from Halls, Vol. III, p. 444
1792 - "Donegal was in the hands of a mob of incendiaries" - Froude, Vol. 3, p. 633

Schools & Education - Robertson Fund

About the close of the last century, Col. Robertson, son of a clergyman of the town of Donegal, bequeathed a sum of money, out of the interest of which 15 pounds ($75) was to be paid to each of the parishes in the diocese of Raphoe (Aranmore & Rutland is parish of Templecroan) for the support of a schoolmaster to instruct children of all religious denominations. This fund has so much increased as to enable the trustees to grant 40 pounds ($200) to each parish for the erection of a schoolhouse, provided an acre of land on a perpetually-renewable lease be obtained for a site...

Spanish Armada Lands on Irish Coast

Two vessels of the Spanish Armada went ashore on the coast of the Rosses, one off Mullaghderg... The other wreck lies in Castleford Bay, inside the Island of Aran. In 1853 the coastguards at Rutland Island tried their luck on this vessel, & fetched up the great anchor which lies outside the United Services Institution in Parliament St.
- Stephen Gwynn, Highways & Byways of Donegal & Ant., p. 544
There is an account of his adventures by a Captain Cuellar who commanded a galleon of 24 guns in the Armada. This [was] translated by Hugh Allingham in 1897.
- Ibid., p. 54

Templecroan Parish (includes Aranmore & Rutland Islands)

Templecroan - a parish containing, with the post town of Dungloe & the Islands of Arranmore & Rutland, 8,198 inhabitants... Within its limits is the greater part of a district called "the Rosses," consisting of a dreary wilderness of rugged mountain wastes & heaths, broken on the west into abrupt, rocky heights, & including many islands separated by inlets of the sea. Some of these islands are thinly covered on the summit with moss & heath, and a few present specimens of verdure produced by cultivation; Arranmore, the largest, forms a shelter for the rest, & a barrier against the western ocean... The district is unfavorable, either for grazing or for tillage; the produce raised is inconsiderable and there is often a scarcity of food. Throughout the parish agriculture is in a very backward condition, the greater portion of the land consisting of sands, mountain rocks, & bog... In the R. C. divisions this parish forms part of the union or district of Lettermacward, & is partly a district by itself. It contains 3 good, plain slated chapels, one at Dungloe (a few mi. S.E. of Burton Port), belonging to Lettermacward; the others at Arranmore & Kincaslagh, belonging to Templecroan. There are two parochial schools, situated at Dungloe & Carrenbuoy, aid by annual donations from the Col. Robertson Fund [see above] & from the rector, who also contributes to the support of 2 schools at Dungloe & Maghera; in these schools are about 160 children. There are also 6 private schools; in which are about 120 children. A dispensary is supported at Dungloe. Here are the ruins of a castle, near which have been brought up out of the sea several brass cannon, bearing Spanish arms, said to have belonged to the Armada.
Arranmore - In 1834: 1,141 inhabitants. 2 miles from shore, 3 mi. from Rutland; 3 mi. in length, & 3 in breadth. Comprising 4,355 statute acres, of which only 650 are under cultivation or in pasture, the remainder in rugged mountain. In 1784 a large herring fishery was carried on successfully on this part of the coast, in which 400 sail of vessels & about 1000 small boats were employed; but within the last 30 or 40 years it has been entirely discontinued. There is good anchorage on the E. side of the Island in an open roadstead. Divine service is held in the R. C. chapel every 3 rd Sunday.
From the general article about Donegal:
The roads are, in general (for Donegal), badly constructed & not properly repaired.
Houses - the farmhouses are comfortable but defective in cleanliness. The cabins of the
peasantry, especially near the coast, are wretched & extremely filthy, the cattle & the swine generally associating with the family. The fuel is turf; the food, potatoes, oaten bread, & fish, with some milk & butter; the clothing mostly frieze (a heavy woolen cloth with an uncut nap on one side), though articles of cotton are common, especially in women's wear. In the mountains little English is spoken.
- Samuel Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1839)


Famine - Overview

The Great Famine was the great watershed of Irish social & economic history. There was a partial failure of the potato crop in 1845, and during 1846 & '47 it failed almost entirely. By 1848 the worst was over. In 1847 alone almost 250,000 people died either of starvation or fever, and over 200,000 fled to America. By 1851 the population of Ireland, which had been 8 million before the famine, had dwindled to 6 1/2 million.
The Famine killed the Repeal Movement, for the Irish people now had no heart for politics. O'Connell was dead, and there was no one else to take his place. The admirable Young Ireland Movement had been unsuccessful. Nearly all the old Gaelic customs & traditions, which had lingered on for so long, had disappeared.
- Constantia Maxwell, The Stranger in Ireland, (Mil. Lib.)
There were other bad years, notably 1852 & 1879, but 1845-48 are what the Irish people refer to as "the famine." (Gt. Hunger, p. 407)
1845 - a partial failure
1846 - failure total
1847 - a good harvest
1848 - again a total failure
The climate of Ireland is famous for its mildness; years pass without a fall of snow. In 1846 at the end of Oct., it became cold, and in Nov. snow began to fall. Six inches of snow were reported in Nov. 12 in Tyrone. (Ibid., p. 142)
(For what happened to fishing in Famine, see Fishing Industry card.)
The conduct of the British government falls into 2 periods:
1845 - summer of 1847:
Behaved with considerable generosity
  • an elaborate relief organization was set up
  • public works were started
1847 (summer):
The problem was transferred to the Poor Law & all relief & works stopped.
They knew the unions (local governments) were bankrupt & that where the worst need
was the rates (taxes) were uncollectible even in good times. Yet with these facts
before them, the government threw the hordes of wretched destitute on their local
Poor rates, refusing assistance when the second total failure of the potato
occurred, even breaking Lord John Russell's pledge to feed the starving children.
- Ibid., p. 408
How many people died in the Famine will never be precisely known - officers engaged in relief work put the population 25% higher than the 1841 census.
1841 - 8,175,124 (10,218,905)
1851 - 6,552,385
Between 1841 & '51 nearly 360,000 mud huts disappeared, the greatest decrease being 81% in Ulster, which included the distressed co. of Donegal.
No advantage was taken of the reduction of small tenants, agriculture was not improved, & in 1866 Isaac Butt wrote " Ireland has retrograded." (Ibid., p. 411-12)
The course of the Famine ran 5 years:
1845 - first appeared & ruined 1/3 of the crop
1846 - total crop everywhere in Ireland destroyed
1847 - failure not quite so comprehensive as previous year
1848 - absolute failure, as in '46
1849 - some relief, though the loss still great
1850 - had spent itself
The only failure was the potato crop, the food of the poor... The carts rolled eastward toward the seaports with foodstuffs for England through villages reeking with death. Thousands of barrels of wheat, oats, barley, flour, oatmeal, & bread were exported from Ireland during the Famine years; t__rces of beef, pork, & bacon & hundredweights of butter & lard filled the holds of outgoing ships.
By Dec. 13, 1845 the [ Boston] Pilot (an Irish newspaper) printed reports from Irish papers of the spread of fever, endemic in Ireland. Typhus & relapsing fever became of epidemic proportions; dysentery resulted from scavenged food or from the change in diet to Indian meal, improperly cooked or often eaten raw by the starving; scurvy appeared with the loss of water-soluble vitamin C in the potato diet...
"Ten-thousand people within 48 hours journey of the metropolis of the world living, or rather starving, upon turnip tops, sand eels, 7 seaweed" - from a report by James H. Tuke, a Quaker relief officer on the state of a parish on the NW coast of Ireland.
The Quaker Forsters heard in West of Ireland villages the same terrible words: "The hunger upon us," & relief visitors to the Aranmore cabin of Widow Cooney, who had buried her husband & a child the day before, starved to death, saw on the 5 remaining children "a gaunt, unmeaning, vacant stare...their lips having become blanched & shriveled from prolonged destitution."
- G. Patton, To the Golden Door, p. 451-53

Famine - Attitudes of the Elite

"A Duke of the Royal blood remarked, 'I understand that rotten potatoes & sea-weed, or even grass, properly mixed, afford a very wholesome & nutritious food. We all know that Irishmen can live upon anything, and there is plenty of grass in the fields, even if the potato crop should fail.'" (Robt. Dunlop, Daniel O'Connell, p. 320)

Famine - Before 1845

It is well-known that during the months of June, July, & August of every year a partial, sometimes indeed a general, famine exists in Ireland; the store of old potatoes had been consumed, the new potatoes are not yet fit for food, & the condition of the peasantry, meanwhile, is in the highest degree frightful.
- Halls, Vol. III, p. 353
Mr. Fairholt (the artist who went with the Halls) had received warnings from his friends about
the peril of entering the wild region of the west (Mayo) so soon after there had been a sort of insurrection at Ennis, where a party of starving men & women had robbed a flour mill of a certain quantity of oatmeal; paying the penalty of 4 or 5 lives & a score or two of gunshot wounds, which made some of them cripples for the rest of their lives; it probably helped to people the workhouse.
- Ibid., Vol. III, p. 377
1830 & '31 [also] years of failure of potatoes; in May Donegal & Mayo. [no citation given]

Famine - Death Toll

It is impossible to calculate, with even approximate accuracy, the number of deaths from disease during the famine years. Hospital & workhouse records were often imperfectly kept; & even if they had been kept, it would still be necessary to take into account the unknown thousands who perished in their own homes or by the wayside, untended & almost unnoticed. It is equally impossible to calculate how many died from actual starvation; the number officially recorded between 1846-1851 is 21,770; but it is certain that a majority of those who died from disease would not have contracted it in the first place, or would have survived it, had they been properly nourished. Taking into account all available evidence, we may reasonably assume that between 1845 & 1850 not far short of 1,000,000 people died as a result of the Great Famine."
- J. C. Beckett, The Making of Modern Ireland, p. 3435

Famine - Disease Related to

[see also Famine - Oral Tradition]
"The dusky hue of the skin in typhus suggested the name still heard, at least in Donegal, 'fiabhras dubh' (black fever)."
- 1957 [Edwards and Williams, eds., The Great Famine?]
At least in one parish of Donegal the people tried to check the extension of fever by building rows of huts made of sods & wood (bothogai), like the huts they occupied during the cattle grazing in the hills. Here the sick were carried on litters. Nourishment obtained from a "soup house" on the grounds of the local landlord was passed in through the door of the huts by means of long-handled shovels, those of the sick not utterly prostrate assisting in the feeding of their helpless fellows. Within the memory of many still alive, survivors of the famine used to point out the ruins of the soup house & the sites of the fever huts.
An added horror was the outbreak of a cholera epidemic in 1848, unconnected with the famine. Donegal was one of the four counties that escaped.
Certain figures are puzzling (of the '51 census) Dunfanaghy workhouse was opened in June, 1845, to serve a part of Donegal which suffered heavily from famine & disease; also a temporary fever hospital, independent of the workhouse, was set up in the same place in Dec. of that year. Yet according to the figures of the census, the deaths from fever of the whole period of the famine numbered 5 in the workhouse & 38 in the fever hospital. If these figures are correct, it must be assumed that the people of Donegal preferred to stay in their own homes & died there.
- The Great Famine
1 P. W. (Patrick Weston) Joyce, The Origin and History of Irish Names of Places. London; New York: Longmans, Green; Dublin: M.H.Gill, 1901.
2 Daphne Desiree Charlotte Pochin Mould, The Mountains of Ireland . London : Batsford, 1955.
3 This note appears on a card with information about schools and education, but there is no indication of its relationship to this subject.
4 Stephen Lucius Gwynne, Highways and Byways in Donegal and Antrim. London, New York: Macmillan and Co., 1899.
5 James Camlin Beckett, The Making of Modern Ireland, 1603-1923 . New York: Knopf, 1966.

Ireland: Donegal (County) - Aranmore (Section 3)

Famine - in Donegal

"The distress of the wretched people is heartrending," wrote the Commissariat Officer at Burtonport (1846); "something ought to be done for them...there is absolutely nothing in the place for food... It strikes the people as very unfeeling to keep corn in the stores without using it."
- Gt. Hunger, p. 160
The main store was in Dublin & local stores were in charge of Commissariat Officers. Application forms for supplies were distributed in destitute districts by Commissariat Officers, & were authorized by them. For instance on Jan. 22, 1847, the minute book of the association records a grant of €25 in provisions for Arranmore, Co. Donegal (Ibid., p. 170).
Once infection (fever) had been brought to a district it sped with lightning rapidity among the crowds brought together for relief... A crowd of destitute was something to be shunned, and early in 1847 George Hancock, a member of the Society of Friends & super cargo of the relief steamer Albert, was warned at Rutland, Co. Donegal that he was endangering himself by standing in a crowd of "about 200 wretched-looking objects" who were waiting for a distribution of food. (Ibid., p. 192)
Kellibegs is mentioned with other fishing ports as having all fishing gear pawned or sold for food in 1847. (Ibid., p. 291)
From Aranmore, Co. Donegal, a visitor wrote in 1847:
"Many...rushed out of their cabins imploring me to visit their relatives - told me that every day people fell down exhausted working on the roads & were carried home. I saw men & women trying to work, & also boys & girls from the age of twelve... It would be useless to enumerate the particular instances of distress, as all had some tale of woe... The magistrate informed me that he believed it was not uncommon for mothers, both on the island and the main[land], in addition to the infant at the breast, also to try to afford the same nourishment to one or two of their other children, up to 3 or 4 years of age."
- from correspondence of Quaker Relief Comm., [in] The Great Famine, p. 233

Famine - Effects on Traditional Life

The effect of the famine was to break down patterns of behavior which had continued with little change since prehistoric times. The elder faiths were rudely shattered so that today we have only the broken remnants left; stray survivals which have lost their meaning in a modern setting. The scattering of the fairy hosts is the constant lament of old people for whose parents they were a reality. Over large parts of the country, down to famine times, the fairies (among them the ancestral spirits) & the powers of nature in sun & stone, tree, flower, & welling water were ruling forces whose malice must somehow be averted, & whose beneficence must be courted by magical acts[?].

- Evans, Irish Folklore, p. 282

Sir William Wild (father of Oscar) & the monumental report on the Death Tables of the census of 1851 was largely his work [sic]. He dwells upon the shattering effect of those tragic years, 1845-47, on the immemorial customs & natural poetry of the Irish peasants. "The closest ties of kinship were dissolved; the most ancient & long-cherished usages of the people were disregarded. The once-proverbial gaiety & lightheartedness of the peasant people seemed to have vanished completely, & village merriment or marriage festival was no longer heard or seen throughout the regions desolated by the intensity & extent of the famine." Another observer noted that the traditions of hospitality were weakened greatly and that padlocks made their first appearance at this time. (A. M. Sullivan, in The New Ireland, 1877)[1]
Wilde observed that the coming of the R.R. at about the same period was a contributory factor in the change because it worked to a time table & involved an artificial division of the day instead of an observance of the signs of nature changing with the seasons. ...The whistle of the 7:15 now replaced the cock-crow.
- ibid., p. 295-96

The upheaval caused by the famine in family & social life is best seen in parts of Ireland where there had been much communal life, notably parts of Donegal & Mayo, remote from towns, which had few roads, & preserved a way of life [which was] traditional. In such districts communal sharing of work was general; men would work together in harvesting, turf-cutting, fishing, boatmaking, drawing lime, building, while women would co-operate in weaving, knitting, dyeing, or in helping the men. There was much sharing of food; if a farmer slaughtered a beast his family would share the meat with others - "they did not eat it aright without the neighbors being thankful;" if a member of a boat's crew died, a share would be set aside for his widow. People would cooperate in building houses for the homeless & in housing them while the building was in progress. The communal spirit pervaded their entertainment; they would go "rambling to each other's houses, where they would dance & dispute, discuss the news of some wandering ballad-maker, or listen to traditional songs, poems, & stories; and such activities continued side-by-side with those manifest at fairs, wakes, and the many weddings. Such communities were often almost completely self-contained; wheat would be grown to pay the landlord, flax to make clothes & linen, while sheep would proved frieze & thread; shops were rare & were relied upon mainly for tobacco, snuff, dye, & tea; each district had its spinners & weavers, its thatchers, carpenters, blacksmiths, shoemakers, & nailers.

The famine blasted many of these communities out of existence. (from Donegal, the following:) There was no trade in the world then but some man of Beltany (3 mi. south of Raphoe) could try it - the best weavers in the country were there; there were masons, carpenters, coopers, thatchers, & every kind of tradesman you could name in this townland; & after the famine years neither tale nor tidings of them was to be found. They all went into strange & distant lands & never returned since: the ruins of their houses were there until the land was divided and they were cleared & fences made of the stones, leaving no trace of them to be seen now." So runs a typical account. Another from the Rosses, Co. Donegal, illustrates the psychological changes which attended such ruin, as they were recalled by an 80-year-old woman; she said that hardship and hunger broke the communal spirit of the people, who became preoccupied by the struggle to survive & lost their sympathy for each other. "It didn't matter who was related to you, your friend was whoever would give you a bite to put in your mouth. Sport & pastimes disappeared. Poetry, music, & dancing stopped. They lost & forgot them all, & when times improved in other respects these things never returned as they had been. The famine killed everything."
It is not surprising to find that many old people dated a decline in Christian charity from that time.
[- no citation is given for this entry]

Famine - Government Action

1845 - Peel - though he deliberately strove to keep state interaction at a minimum, he did not make the foolish mistake of his successors of assuming that private traders could meet the demand for food. The importation of Indian corn by the government & the sale of the meal at a moderate price through local relief committees did much to check the exploitation of the market in the spring & summer of 1846. Despite food riots in April, the relief measures fulfilled their immediate purpose of preventing exceptional hardship in the traditionally "hungry months" of the summer.

1846 - mid-July - obvious that disease had gained a foothold even more widespread than previous year. August - Russell (replaced Peel as P.M.) laid down principles his government intended to follow in famine: it could not become established practice for the state to supply the people with food at uneconomic prices. It was contrary to the real interests of the community to do so, as "trade would be which are brought to us by the natural operations of commerce would be suspended...the intermediate traders...would have their business entirely deranged." The sovereign law of supply & demand would solve the Irish food problem, or so Russell thought.

1847 - spring & summer - a reversal of policy permitted free distribution of food to the needy in soup kitchens. Russell had had to reach a compromise between economic theory & social reality, but it satisfied no one.
Peel set up a relief commission. Nov. - Peel ordered meal.
Early in 1846 food depots were established for the west at Limerick, Kilrush, Galway, Westport, & Sligo. The purpose of the stocks was not to feed the hungry but to control private traders & prevent monopolies & consequent raising of prices. By June 1 st all depots were open & selling food to local relief committees.
76 sub-depots were opened along the southern & western coast of Ireland & operated by coast guards & police.

Prejudice against cornmeal had to be overcome - called "Peel's Brimstone." The Commission purchased cornmeal in Am. & in England.

Local committees were set by Aug. of 1846 to raise subscriptions for relief locally, which funds were matched by the gov.. They were forbidden to distribute food gratuitously unless workhouses were full & then only to those unable to work. The regulations ignored often.

Public works instituted - mostly road improvements. Work was given those holding tickets given by local committees to those they deemed unable to provide for their families otherwise.

Committees were made up of county officials, poor law officials, clergymen of all faiths.

Peel went out of office June 1846 & the Whig Lord Russell became P.M.. "Peel showed an initiative unusual in that era of laissez-faire & undertook tasks at variance with current economic theory. The Freeman's Journal, unfriendly to Peel, said in April 1847, 'The limited distress which Sir Robt. Peel was called upon to meet, he provided for fairly & fully. No man died of starvation during his administration.'"

Under Russell, 1846 -

The major duty of the government was to supply employment, not food. "The supply of the home market may safely be left to the forethought of private merchants." They realized, however, that there were no merchants in large parts of the country. Commissar___ depots were set up in the west. Wheat & oats were allowed to be exported. The depots were not allowed to open while there was any food left in the district. In Skibbereen, although there were numerous deaths by starvation between Nov. 5 & Nov. 7, permission was not granted to sell from the stores until Dec. 7. The prices were determined by the average market price of the nearest town, & cornmeal which cost the government less than 13 pounds a ton was sold at the depots for 19 pounds. All works were to be paid for out of the local taxes.

The rules governing the local committees were altered & Catholic curates excluded. No food could be given away except to the infirm, & then only if there was no room in the workhouse.

The public employment system was reorganized & centralized & thus the start of projects was delayed. By [the] time [they] started workers [were] often too weak to work effectively, & as [they were] paid by amount of production, they got weaker. Often payment delayed. Dale McKennedy of Caharagh, Co. Cork, died by the roadside Oct. 24 th, employed to the day of his death on public work & was owed a fortnight's wages. Jury's verdict: "He died of starvation due to the gross neglect of the board of works." The board of works' deficiencies were due to government policy rather than lack of activity on their part. Oct. - employed 26,000; Nov. 21 - over 1/4 million; Mar. 1847 - 714,390. One in 50 were women; 1 in 12, boys. In some places the National schools had to be closed.

Deaths became commonplace during the winter. Verdicts at inquests of "death by starvation" became common despite the efforts of the board of works to prevent the juries from [reaching] such verdicts. In Galway one jury agreed that Sir John Russell & Sir Randolph were guilty of willful murder.

The failure of the public works was clear to the government by spring of 1847 & all schemes were ordered shut down by May 1 st. The success of Quaker soup kitchens made the government turn in this direction. Feb. 26, '47 a new temporary law established them; a new commission set up, headed by Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne. Administration to be under local committees. There was a lot of red tape & consequent delay; by the summer of '47 committees under soup kitchens act had been established in almost all counties. No one was eligible if a member of the family was employed & as the wages & prices(?) did not allow as much as food to be purchased as given the same family at the soup kitchen - people quit work. In some districts the numbers receiving relief exceeded those recorded in the 1841 census.

Administration varied widely in different districts. A government health board was established in spring of 1847 - they said 1 pound of meal sufficient food per day, 1/2 pound for children. By Aug. '47 over 3,000,000 were daily receiving food at soup kitchens.

The Poor Law & workhouses continued to operate & workhouses became overcrowded, with dreadful conditions. The money to administer the Poor Law came from a local tax. The collection of this tax shows clearly the attitudes of the gov. toward Ireland. If the political union of 1800 were complete, the tax should not have been levied on Ireland alone but on England, Scotland, & Wales as well. Discipline at the workhouses was severe, the food usually worse than in the local jail - people committed crimes to get transferred, the discipline there no worse than in the workhouse. Disease was rampant - in April 1847 1/40 of workhouse inmates died in 1 week. By 1850 death rate reduced to normal.

The ration was kept at 1 pd. per adult & 1/2 pd. per child, in spite of recommendation of board of health that it be increased to 1 1/2 pd. per adult daily. Several instances occurred of people on rations starving to death.

The winters of '47-'48 & '48-'49 - horrors of '46-'47 were re-enacted.

Evictions added greatly to the distress & were stimulated by the poor laws. Landlords were liable for taxes on cabins of less than €4 valuation, & many landlords pulled down the cabins rather than pay the taxes.

The adoption of a laissez-faire policy in 19 th cent. England often concealed an admission that a problem was insoluble or that it was endured because nobody could think of a solution. Indicative of the laissez-faire approach was Trevelyan (Assoc. Sec. of the Treasury), "The problem being altogether beyond the power of man, the cure had been applied by the direct stroke of an all-wise Providence" (Oct. 1846).
- The Great Famine
The crops of the summer of 1846 looked fair & sound to the eye... By July, however, the terrible fact became but too certain... Incredulity gave way to panic, panic to demands on the Imperial Government to stop the export of grain, to establish public granaries... By a report of the ordnance captain, Larcom, it appeared there were grain crops more than sufficient to support the whole population... But to all remonstrances, petitions, & proposals the imperial economists had but one answer: They could not interfere with the ordinary currents of trade"...
- Thebaud, The Irish Race, p. 426-27

Famine & Nationalist Thought

"There emerged an interpretation of the great famine itself which had a profound emotional effect on the men of 1848, & which has found its way into Irish nationalism. It is the belief that utter indifference, if not real antipathy toward the Irish people, marked the conduct of the government of the United Kingdom during the famine years.

This history of the great famine does not sustain a charge of deliberate cruelty & malice against those governing, but it is a chastening story of how fashions in social & economic ideas & human limitations can combine to increase the suffering of people."

- The Great Famine, p. 133

Famine - Oral Tradition

Mayo tradition records that when the people of Ballycroy were given turnip seed, by individuals or committees, they tried to sow it like potatoes.

"In the coastal areas of the west people lived mainly by fishing & were not so dependent upon the potato, which was not cultivated as extensively as inland. Teelin, Co. Donegal, used to import potatoes from Connaught, & now had to depend entirely upon fish. Such districts could still carry on by selling their surplus fish & living on the remainder, part of which would be salted & dried for the future. Poteen was made in many of these places & recollections of people who lived almost entirely on poteen & fish during the famine years are not infrequent. Shore food kept many alive, edible seaweeds & shellfish.

Strong is the memory of sheep-stealing during the famine - there are many stories about sheep-stealing, which was widespread despite the use of sheep-bells & the severe penalties, the most common of which was transportation. Donegal tradition records the exploits of Domhnall na Molt (Donnell of the wethers), who used to bury sheepskins in a bog where they were found years afterwards by turf cutters. Sheep-stealing is remembered with censure, but records with approval the names of farmers who were lenient in dealing with them or witnesses who refused to give evidence. It is interesting to note that in isolated parts of Mayo, Clare, Galway, & Donegal, where a strong communal feeling caused people to share their food ("they did not eat aright unless the neighbors were thankful"), there is a comparative lack of traditional accounts of stealing

There are many traditional recollections of export of food. In 1847 fourteen schooners of about 200 tons each left Westport, a badly-stricken area, laden with wheat & oats.

One curious tradition, widespread in Mayo & sometimes ___ outside it, concerns a priest who warned the people against planting seed potatoes in 1847, when the general belief was that the blight would continue. Those who disregarded this advice are said to have had a good crop & this is advanced as one reason why people turned Protestant, but it is notable that the tradition occurs most frequently in Mayo, which contained a notable proselytizing center at Achill.

It is said the people buried their dead at night in order not to lose their ration.

One reason relief food is remembered with bitterness is that it was sometimes used as a means of proselytizing. Meat soup would be offered on Fridays; the strong influence of local Protestants was often exerted in the distressed areas, Catholics who "turned" being especially favored & those who were educated being sometimes appointed as proselytizers. (This is remembered in Mayo. Achill?) One priest in Mayo excommunicated a man who had the misfortune to drop a Protestant Bible in a Catholic church.

Corpses were often left unburied through fear of infection. There were other reasons - "The living were out of their feeling and besides were unable to carry a corpse to the graveyard."
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"It seems clear that oral tradition by the way in which it relates experience to daily life, can play its part in adding something human & vivid to our understanding of the past... It would be easy to overestimate the value of oral tradition, which is not always subject to the exact checks required by the historian; but one cannot ignore the contribution, both factual and psychological, which it has to offer."

- The Great Famine (1957), R. Dudley Edwards & T. Desmond
Williams,[2] both professors in modern history at University College, Dublin
In the coastal regions "leas fa__ge," seaweed or manure obtained from fish guts & shellfish was used for manure.
"Their skin turned yellow from eating swedes [seaweeds?]," says an account from Barnesmore, Co. Donegal.

There are many accounts of miraculous charity (miraculous appearance of food), & also of real charity. "The family of Paudeen of the yellow buttermilk, the barley bread, & rye porridge" is a saying about one Donegal family which fed the poor during the famine times.

There was a lasting dislike of the way the cornmeal was distributed. One story from Donegal - there was a meat center at Falcarrgh (15-20 mi. N. of Burton Port), a big store run by Protestant landlords who sold meal there at a half-crown a stone, the ration being one stone per person. No one was allowed to enter & the people crowded outside. There was a door in the gable; the man who wished to buy meal would tie his half-crown in the corner of his meal-bag, & throw it up to the man in charge of distribution. The latter had a long stick with an iron hook; when the meal had been put into the bag he would let it down to the buyer by means of this. If there was any scuffling below, as there often was, people being so afraid of not getting a ration they were ready to kill for it, the man would descend & belabor them with his stick until they became orderly again.

It is still recalled in Teelin (near Killybegs) that the window of one such store was broken and that the price of meal was immediately raised until the damage had been paid for.

One Donegal anecdote still told in many places is of an old woman who got 3 separate rations by disguising herself.

There are many accounts of food distribution that center around large boilers set up in special buildings or out in the open (some still exist). Huge fires would be lighted under them & the smoke would be the signal for the crowds of hungry to assemble, noggins in hand. Often hunger would get the better of them & the strong shoved aside the weak. Once served their pint of free soup or stirabout, the people would hurry off to hold their noggin in running water to cool it so that they could eat it quickly, or if they were too weak to carry it home, they would stretch themselves on the ground & lap it up. Food thus distributed is widely recalled as poor in quality. Through the kindness of some landlords or the integrity of the local committee, good food was sometimes provided, but the general picture was otherwise. A sack of cornmeal might be all that went into the boiler, which produced a thin porridge described in a variety of graphic ways. In Donegal they say, "A mule couldn't leave the trace of her foot on it."

An old man from Co. Donegal who was 96 in 1925 recalled working on one of the roads as a relief project. He used to walk 5 miles to work each day, carrying for his lunch a small amount of yellow-meal bread which he often ate before reaching the scene, & he would get nothing else until he returned home in the evening.

The stewards in charge of the relief work are recalled with dislike; they were usually appointed from among fairly well-off people, demesne stewards, bailiff, policemen, & the like. They are remembered as callous, & that they drove the workers hard. One in Donegal asked whether the barrow was broken when the man wheeling it collapsed from hunger.

Many areas through which fever swept had no facilities for treating infected people. Cloyhanealy and Rannafast (a few miles west of Burton Port) had neither hospital nor doctor.

One account describes a hospital in Co. Donegal built during the famine, a long, low building with a tarred roof, full to the doors of patients old & young, with corpses lying stark naked outside it.

Information survives of the tending of the sick by "Nurses Gaelacha," local women who had some medical skill & devoted themselves to this task. A Donegal informant was able to name two such women who used to treat their patients with herb-juice. Other diets for fever patients were cress & wild garlic, milk & water boiled with salt, sheep's blood. Poteen was widely used as a safeguard against infection; it was sometimes given to patients, while those who had to bury fever victims would use it, sometimes receiving a bottle as part of their pay.

A close translation from an old woman of Doire na Mainear (4 mi. N. of Burton Port): There were houses in this district in which all died of fever & none were buried. Things were so bad at that time that no one cared how the other was. Every household was left to itself & no one would come in or out to it. Families began to die & the rest were so weak & far spent that they could do nothing for them but leave them until the last one in the house died. All in the house died and the bodies lay here and there though it. They were never moved from it. There were many hungry dogs going about; & they say, God save us, they were going into these houses & eating the bodies. When the fever went by & those who were left after it came to themselves a little, they went into those houses. The door leaves had dropped from the doors; when they went in there was nothing to be seen but people's bones lying about the house. They gathered the bones & buried them together in one grave. Then they burned the house to the ground."

The burning of infected houses by the neighbors appears to have been widespread; the ruin of one such house in Rannafast, Co. Donegal, is still known locally as An Teach Doighte (the burnt house), and several accounts of similar places recall how informants were told in their youth by parents to avoid them. Sometimes fear of infection was so great that the houses would not be entered at all, but would be fired or their roofs & walls caved in, the bodies of the fever victims being left inside.

An old woman of Teelin, Co. Donegal, said of the ravages of fever in her native district, "It didn't leave any corner after it that it didn't enter, & few were the families it didn't sweep one or two from."

Sometimes the sight would be so pathetic that the witness never forgot. One old man used to tell how he went from Rannafast to Sligo & called at a house in which lived a woman & her child; he found them starving to death & called to them on his way from Sligo with food: "There was no day until Ned died but he'd be talking about that & saying that of all sights that pierced his heart that was the worst he saw, the woman lying dead & the little child sucking at her & he wailing with hunger."

Reusable coffins were used, with hinged or detachable bottoms. In Donegal such coffins were called comhunracha measóige, coffins with removable bottoms, like panniers, & are described as having one side fastened by a couple of loops of rope with a bolt across underneath, secured by another rope-loop which could untie easily.

Many sites of graveyards used at that time are still remembered, though long since disused. An account from Co. Donegal: "There is an island off the coast of the Rosses here, which they call the Island of the Dead. It was customary to bury unbaptized children there; when fever came & Cruit churchyard was filled up, people were buried on this island & their burial places are still to be seen."

The evicting landlords of the time are still remembered, & those who profited by the misfortunes of their neighbors. "There were some of those who shared with their neighbors then & others who rejoiced that all around them were evicted so that they fell in nicely for their places. We have them around here since, people whose ancestors did that - but we must leave it so, & press it underfoot." The bitter memories are often the cause of reticence among people today, sometimes because their own ancestors were involved, but more often from a charitable wish to avoid hurting the feelings of neighbors.

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Famine - Peasants' Petition

In 1847 86 inhabitants of Co. Sligo sent a petition to "Lord Monteagle, House of Lords, London," entitled, "A Petition from the Poor Irish to the Right Honorable Lords Temporal & Spiritual":

"We, the undersigned, humbly request that ye will excuse the liberty we are taking in troubling ye at a time when ye ought to be tired listening to our cries of distress... We thank ye & our Graces Sovereign & the Almighty for the relief we have, though 1 pound of Indian meal for a full-grown person, which has neither milk nor other kind of kitchen, it is hardly fit to keep life in them... But if we have reason to complain there is others has more reason to complain, for in the Parish Townagls they are getting but 1/2 pound. ...So we hope you will be so charitable as to send us to Am. and give us land according to our families...we will repay the same with interest thereof by installments, as the government will direct... So we hope for the sake of Him who gave ye power & England power, & raised her to the wonder of the world, & enabled her to pay 20 millions for the slaves of India, that ye will lend us half the sum, which we will honestly repay, with the interest thereof, for we are more distressed than they, & hope for the sake of Him that said, "He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord, and He will repay it," that ye will grant our petition... we hope that ye will make allowances for the deficiencies of this, for the writer is a poor man that knows little about stiles and titles, for we are not able to pay a man that could [ ?] it right."

- The Great Mig., Edwin C. Guillet, p. 7[3]

Famine & Population

The combined effect of disease & emigration was a sudden fall in population:
1841 - 8,175,000
1851 - 6, 552, 000
(a natural increase would have brought it to an expected 8,500,000)
The reversal was permanent. By the beginning of the 20 th cent. the population was only 1/2 what it had been on the eve of the famine.
- J. C. Beckett, The Making of Modern Ireland, p. 345 (Wab. Lib.)

Famine - Potatoes

"It did not keep nor could it be stored from one season to another. Thus every year the nearly 2 1/2 million laborers who had no regular employment more or less starved in the summer, when the old potatoes were finished & the new had not yet come in. It was for this reason that June, July, & August were called the "Meal Months," there was always the danger that potatoes would run out & the laborers would then have to buy meal at exorbitant prices from the petty dealer & usurer who was the scourge of the Irish village, the dreaded 'Gombeen man.'"

- Heinger, p. 36

Famine - Relief

Accounts of scenes in the winter of '46 lead to formation of relief societies & collection of funds all over the world.

Nov. '46 - foundation of Central Relief Committee of Soc. of Friends [Quakers], ____, mostly from U.S., 200,000 pounds [raised], mainly used to establish soup kitchens.

British Relief Assoc. - next in importance to Friends, but curtailed their activities after government soup kitchens established.

1 Alexander Martin Sullivan, The New Ireland. London: S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1878.
2 R. Dudley Edwards and T. Desmond Williams, eds., The Great Famine: Studies in Irish History, 1845-52. New York : New York University Press, 1957.
3 Edwin Guillet, The Great Migration: The Atlantic Crossing by Sailing Ship Since 1770 . Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963.