Deaths in the Famine

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VII (35) | Start of Chapter

Cork stands on a marshy spot; its name in Irish is Corcaig, signifying a moor or marsh, and the city owes its origin to St. Fin Bar, who first founded a cathedral, in the seventh century, near the south branch of the Lee, and from this beginning Corcaig-more, or the great Cork, arose; and though this city has passed through changes and great sufferings, yet it has for a long time maintained a respectable, if not high standing, for intelligence.

Schools are numerous, and some of them of a high order, and the laboring classes are mostly well educated in a plain way.

The Roman Catholics give nine thousand children gratuitous instruction in the various schools, and the Protestants have done much, their schools being liberally endowed, and probably it would not be exaggeration to say, that in no city in the kingdom of like population would more people among the poorer classes be found who could read, than in Cork.

The convents, too, have done nobly in this respect, educating a multitude of children of the poor without any compensation.

J. Windell has justly said, that “the great majority of the working class are all literate, and generally acquainted with the elements of knowledge; the middle classes, in intelligence, and in the acquisition of solid as well as graceful information, are entitled to a very distinguished place.”

The Royal Cork Institution has a library of from five to six thousand volumes, the Cork Library has nine thousand volumes, and the Cork Mechanics’ Institute has a small one, beside private libraries of considerable note.

It may be doubtful whether it can be said that, as in the one in Belfast, there are in it no works of fiction.

The summer of 1848 found the city rallying a little from the fearful effects of the famine; for in a county so large, embracing so much sea-coast, marshy ground, &c., there must be found many poor in the best times in Ireland.

The Friends’ Society, connected with the Dublin Central Committee, acted with untiring efficiency; and Theobald Mathew labored for months in giving out American donations which were intrusted to him.

The nuns, too, had children to a great amount, whom they daily fed.

The British Association, likewise, were there, but death fearfully went on.

Let the walls of that workhouse tell the story of the hundreds carried out upon “sliding coffins,” and buried in pits.

Let the cemetery of Theobald Mathew show its ten thousand, which he buried there in huge graves, opening a yawning gulf, and throwing in lime, then adding coffinless bodies daily, till the pit was filled; then opening another, till ten thousand were numbered!

The rain had washed the loose dirt away in some spots, and parts of the bodies were exposed in a few places. A painful sight!

The Cork Committee acted most efficiently, and the name of Abraham Beale has left there a sweet and lasting remembrance.

Beside the city of Cork, the rural districts were in the greatest distress, and this benevolent, indefatigable laborer turned his energies unceasingly to those districts, faithfully discharging his duty, till his health failed; and his biographer states, that “His last act of public duty was the attendance of the Relief Committee, in which he had so assiduously labored.”

Typhus fever took him in a few days to the “mansion” which, doubtless, was prepared for him; for though he said, “I have been but an unprofitable servant,” yet the living testify that his profiting appeared unto all. He died in August, 1847, while the scourge was still raging; and in 1848 his name was fresh on the lips of many in that city, who, with his two bereaved sisters, say, they have lost in him a friend and a father. “The memory of the just is truly blessed.”

Though in the summer of 1848 many were suffering, yet the workhouse was not filled with the dying as before, and the “sliding coffin” never met my eye.

The indefatigable nuns still were overwhelmed with children, many of whom were placed there by Father Mathew, and in one contiguous to his chapel were about thirteen hundred, who were fed when food could be obtained.

One of the most affecting items of the famine, if item it may be called, is the multitude of orphans left in that afflicted country, and the sayng was becoming quite a common one, when a hungry child was asked where he lived, or where his father and mother were, to answer, “They died sir (or ma’am), in the stirabout times.” This alluded to the year 1847 particularly, when the “stirabout” was most in vogue.

The “black bread times” now have an imperishable name in the west of Ireland, and “Soyer’s soup” will not die in the memory of the wags of Dublin, till wars, pestilence, and famine shall cease to the ends of the earth.