Samuel Bourne

From Belmullet, Rosport was my destiny, a distance of twelve miles—a romantic place on the sea-coast, where resided three families of comparative comfort; but their comforts were threatened most fearfully by the dreadful scourge; fever was everywhere, and hunger indeed had filled a grave-yard, which lay at the foot of a mountain, so full that scarcely any distinction could be seen of graves, but now and then a stick at the head or foot of one. By the road-side a family of four or five had made a temporary shelter, waiting for a son to die, whom they had brought some miles across the mountains, that he might be buried in a grave-yard where the dogs would not find him, as there was a wall about this. He died of consumption, and the family were fed while there, and then went away when they had buried their boy. The family of Samuel Bourne were the most comfortable, but they had a burden like an incubus, with the mass of starving creatures. Mr. Carey, the Coast Guard, was kind, and his wife and daughters patterns of industry and attention to the poor; but with limited means, what could they do to stay the plague? Everything that could be eaten was sought out and devoured, and the most hazardous attempts were made to appease hunger by the people.

This coast has some of the greatest objects of curiosity; and so long have the inhabitants been accustomed to look at them, that they walk fearlessly upon the dangerous precipices, and even descend them to the sea, in search of eggs, which the sea-gulls deposit there, in the sides of the cliffs. Two women presumptuously descended one of these cliffs, not far from Mr. Carey's, in search of sloke, which is gathered from the sea. They, in their hunger, ventured to stop till the tide washed in and swept them away. Two men were dashed from a fearful height and dreadfully mangled;—one was killed instantly—the other lingered a few weeks and died. They were both in search of eggs to appease hunger. They seemed to face danger in a most deliberate manner, and go where none but the goat or eagle would venture. In this parish I found a specimen of that foolish pride and inability of a class of genteel Irish women, to do anything when difficulties present themselves. It was a young lady who lived back two miles upon the mountain, who belonged to one of the faded Irish "respectables;" she was educated in the popular genteel superficial style, and the family had some of them died, and all broken down: she, with her brother-in-law, from Dublin, was staying in a thatched cottage, which had yet the remains of taste and struggling gentility.

Two of the peasant women had seen Mr. Bourne and me going that way, and by a shorter path had hastened and given the Miss notice, so that when we entered, the cottage was in trim, and she in due order to receive us. But that pitiful effort was to me painful to witness, having been told that she suffered hunger, and knew no possible way of escape, yet she assumed a magnanimity of spirit and complained not, only expressed much pity for the poor tenants on the land about her, and begged us if possible that we would send some relief. Her table was spread with the fashionable ornaments which adorn the drawing-rooms of the rich; and she, with a light scarf hung carelessly about her shoulders, genteel in form and pretty in feature, was already looking from eyes that were putting on the famine stare. "What can be done with that helpless, proud, interesting girl?" said Mr. Bourne, as we passed away; "she must die in all her pride, if some relief is not speedily found! she cannot work, she would not go to the work-house, and there, upon that desolate mountain, she will probably pine away unheeded!" I have not heard what became of this pretty girl of the mountain since. "She was covered with the light of beauty, but her heart was the house of pride."

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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.