Patrick M'Kye's Letter

Here follows the document; and if every schoolmaster in Ireland had so turned his parish inside out, many more Lords, like George Hill, might have long since arisen to their help:—

"To His Excellency the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland,

"The Memorial of Patrick McKye

"Most Humbly Showeth,

"That the parishioners of the parish of West Tullaghobegly, in the Barony of Kilmacrennan, in the County of Donegal, are in the most needy, hungry, and naked condition of any people that ever came within the precincts of my knowledge, although I have traveled a part of nine counties in Ireland, also a part of England and Scotland, together with a part of British America; I have likewise perambulated 2253 miles through seven of the United States, and never witnessed the tenth part of such hunger, hardships and nakedness.

"Now, my Lord, if the causes which I now lay before your Excellency, were not of very extraordinary importance, I would never presume to lay them before you.

"But I consider myself in duty bound by charity to relieve distressed and hungry fellow-man, although I am sorry to state that my charity cannot extend farther than to explain to the rich where hunger and hardships exist, in almost the greatest degree that nature can endure.

"This I shall endeavor to explain in detail, with all the truth and accuracy in my power, and without the least exaggeration, as follows:—

"There are about 4000* persons in this parish, and all Catholics, and as poor as I shall describe, having among them no more than—

  • "One cart,
  • No wheel car,
  • No coach, or any other vehicle,
  • One plow,
  • Sixteen harrows,
  • Eight saddles,
  • Two pillions,
  • Eleven bridles,
  • Twenty shovels,
  • Thirty-two rakes,
  • Seven table-forks,
  • Ninety-three chairs,
  • Two hundred and forty-three stools,
  • Ten iron grapes,
  • No swine, hogs, or pigs,
  • Twenty-seven geese,
  • Three turkeys,
  • Two feather beds,
  • Eight chaff beds,
  • Two stables',
  • Six cow-houses,
  • One national school,
  • No other school,
  • One priest,
  • No other resident gentleman,
  • No bonnet,
  • No clock,
  • Three watches,
  • Eight brass candlesticks,
  • No looking glasses above 3d. in price,
  • No boots, no spurs,
  • No fruit trees,
  • No turnips,
  • No parsnips,
  • No carrots,
  • No clover.

Or any other garden vegetables, but potatoes and cabbage, and not more than ten square feet of glass in windows in the whole, with the exception of the chapel, the school-house, the priest's house, Mr. Dombrain's house, and the constabulary barrack.

"None of their either married or unmarried women can afford more than one shift, and the fewest number can afford any, and more than one half of both men and women cannot afford shoes to their feet, nor can many of them afford a second bed, but whole families of sons and daughters of mature age indiscriminately lying together with their parents, and all in the bare buff.

"They have no means of harrowing their land, but with meadow rakes. Their farms are so small that from four to ten farms can be harrowed in a day with one rake.

"Their beds are straw—green and dried rushes or mountain bent: their bed-clothes are either coarse sheets, or no sheets, and ragged filthy blankets.

"And worse than all that I have mentioned, there is a general prospect of starvation, at the present prevailing among them, and that originating from various causes, but the principal cause is the rot or failure of seed in the last year's crop, together with a scarcity of winter forage, in consequence of a long continuation of storm since October last, in this part of the country.

"So that they, the people, were under the necessity of cutting down their potatoes and giving them to their cattle to keep them alive. All these circumstances connected together, have brought hunger to reign among them to that degree, that the generality of the peasantry are on the small allowance of one meal a day, and many families cannot afford more than one meal in two days, and sometimes one meal in three days. Their children are crying and fainting with hunger, and their parents weeping, being full of grief, hunger, debility and dejection, with glooming aspect, looking at their children likely to expire in the jaws of starvation.

"Also, in addition to all, their cattle and sheep are dying with hunger, and their owners forced by hunger to eat the flesh of such. 'Tis reasonable to suppose that the use of such flesh will raise some infectious disease among the people, and it may very reasonably be supposed, that the people will die even faster than the cattle and sheep, if some immediate relief be not sent to alleviate their hunger.

"Now, my Lord, it may perhaps seem inconsistent with truth that all I have said could possibly be true, but to convince your noble Excellency of the truth of all that I have said, I will venture to challenge the world to produce one single person to contradict any part of my statement.

"I must acknowledge, that if reference were made to any of the landlords or landholders of the parish, they would contradict it, as it is evident it would blast their honors if it were known abroad that such a degree of want existed in their estates among their tenantry. But here is how I make my reference and support the truth of all that I have said; that is, if any unprejudiced gentleman should be sent here to investigate strictly into the truth of it, I will, if called on, go with him from house to house, where his eyes will fully satisfy and convince him, and where I can show him about one hundred and forty children bare naked, and who were so during winter, and some hundreds only covered with filthy rags, most disgustful to look at. Also, man and beast housed together, i.e., the families in one end of the house, and the cattle in the other end of the kitchen.

"Some houses have within their walls, from one cwt. to thirty cwts. of dung, others having from ten to fifteen tons weight of dung, and only cleaned out once a year!

"I have also to add that the National School has greatly decreased in number of scholars, through hunger and extreme poverty; and the teacher of said school, with a family of nine persons, depending on a salary of £8 a year, without any benefit from any other source. If I may hyperbolically speak, it is an honor for the Board of Education!

"One remark before I conclude. I refer your noble Excellency for the authenticity of the above statement to the Rev. H. O'F——, Parish Priest, and to Mr. R——, Chief Constable, stationed at Gweedore, in said parish, and Mr. P——, Chief Officer of Coast Guard, in same district.

"Your most humble and obedient Servant,

"Patrick M'Kye."

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Annals of the Famine in Ireland

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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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