Mistake in Character of a Starving Man

When we had reached a few miles of the town, a dissipated, tattered, and repulsive looking man was seated before me on the car, which was not a little annoying, for he might be a little intoxicated. "Has he paid his fare," I asked the coachman, knowing that if he had, he had the same right as I had; and still more, it would confirm me in the opinion that if he had money to pay his ride, he might have money for drink. We went on, my unpleasant companion never once speaking, till we reached our stopping-place, the Post-Office, at Newport. Here, at my old tried friend's, Mrs. Arthur, I met with a cordial welcome, and getting from the car, was still more annoyed to see this out-of-the-way companion reach the door before me, and fall prostrate in the passage; this was certainly proof that he had been taking whisky, for he did not look like one in the last stages of starvation. My severity upon myself was equal to my surprise, when we found that it was exhaustion occasioned by hunger. When he could speak in a whisper, he begged Mrs. Arthur to take a few sovereigns, which he had sewed up in his ragged coat, and send them to his wife and children, who were suffering for food. He had been at work in England, and knowing the dreadful state his family were in at home, had saved the few sovereigns, not willing to break one, and endeavored to reach home on a few shillings he had, and being so weak for want of food, he occasionally rode a few miles when it rained, and had not eaten once in two days. "Send them quick," he said, "I shall not live to reach home." O, shame! shame! on my wicked suspicions; how should I be thus deceived! I could not, I would not forgive myself. His story was a true one, and by proper care he lived to follow his sovereigns home.

The astonishing suffering and self-denial of that people for their friends, is almost heart-rending. It is expected that mothers will suffer, and even die for their famishing little ones, if needful; but to see children suffer for one another was magnanimity above all. Two little orphan boys, one about nine and the other five, called at the door of a rich widow of my acquaintance, and asked for food. The woman had consumed all her bread at breakfast but a small piece, and giving this to the eldest, she said, "You must divide this with your little brother; I have no more." She looked after them unperceived, and saw them stop, when the eldest said, "Here, Johnny, you are littler than I, and cannot bear the hunger so well, and you shall have it all." They were both houseless orphans and starving with hunger.

Read "Annals of the Famine in Ireland" at your leisure

Annals of the Famine in Ireland

Read Annals of the Famine in Ireland at your leisure and help support this free Irish library.

This book still has the power to shock and sadden even though the events described are ever-receding further into the past. When you read, for example, of the poor widowed mother who was caught trying to salvage a few potatoes from her landlord's field, and what the magistrate discovered in the pot in her cabin, you cannot help but be apalled and distressed.

The text of this new edition has professionally been reset and an index added to the paperback.


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