Turnips

As turnips made a prominent feature in the absence of their predecessors, the potatoes, during the famine, they should not be overlooked in the annals of that history. They were to the starving ones supposed to be a "God-send," and were eaten with great avidity, both cooked and raw. Many of the cabiners could get but little fire, and they cooked only the tops, while the bottoms were taken raw; those who had no shelter to cook under could not well eat the tops, though they often tried to do so. It has been ascertained that turnips contain but from ten to fifteen parts of nutriment to a hundred parts, thence the quantity necessary to nourish the body must require bulk to a great amount.

This root, when boiled, has ever been considered as safe a vegetable for the invalid as any in the vocabulary of esculents; and even the fevered invalid, when prohibited all other vegetables, has been allowed to partake of this, not because of its nutrition, but because of the absence of it, not having sufficient to injure the weakest body. When it was found that turnips could be so easily grown, and that no blast had as yet injured them, they were hailed with great joy by the peasants and by the people. But the starving ones soon found they were unsatisfactory, for when they had eaten much more in bulk than of the potato they were still craving, and the result was, where for weeks they lived wholly on them, their stomachs were so swollen, especially children's, that it was a pitiable sight to see them. No one thought it was the turnip: but I found in every place on the coast where they were fed on them the same results, and as far as I could ascertain, such died in a few weeks, and the rational conclusion must be, that a single root, so innutritious and so watery as the white turnips are, cannot sustain a healthy state of the system, nor life itself for any considerable time. When going through the Barony of Erris, the appearance of these turnip-eaters became quite a dread. Invariably the same results appeared wherever used, and they became more to be dreaded, as it was feared the farmer would make them a substitute for the potato, and the ingenious landlord would find a happy expedient for his purse, if his tenants could live on the turnip as well as the potato. Like cattle these poor creatures seemed to be driven from one herb and root to another, using nettles, turnip-tops, chickweed, in their turn, and dying at last on these miserable substitutes. Many a child sitting in a muddy cabin has been interrogated, what she or he had eat, "nothing but the turnip, ma'am," sometimes the "turnip-top;" and being asked when this was procured, sometimes the answer would be, "yesterday, lady," or, "when we can get them, ma'am."

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.


Library Ireland Facebook