Irish Famine Report from the Barony of Erris, County Mayo (1847)

From Transactions of the Central Relief Committee of the Society of Friends during the Famine in Ireland in 1846 and 1847

Extracts from the Letters of Edmund Richards, while acting as Supercargo of the Steam-ship "Scourge"

Six miles from Belmullet, County of Mayo, 6th of Third-month, 1847.

I went on shore at --------, and found the agent of the Relief Committee, and requested him to direct me to a few of the members of the local relief committee. The Roman Catholic clergyman is secretary of it, and the Protestant minister the chairman. The latter was absent; the former I saw; but it appeared the committee do not work well together; the consequence is that the destitute suffer from their inefficiency. I could not find that any distribution of food had been made gratuitously, even to the most destitute cases. One soup kitchen only was in operation, in which a very inferior article of soup was sold at 1d. per quart.

The two iron boilers landed at Killybegs from the "Albert'' were still remaining on the rocks, and no effort making either there or in the neighbourhood to mount them; though acknowledged by all to be much wanted, both at Killybegs and in the districts adjacent, for the supply of soup to multitudes of destitute. These things want much to be looked into and stirred up.

Blacksod Bay, off Belmullet, 10th of Third-month, 1847.

The fearful state of starvation and destitution of the barony of Erris, is such as no language can pourtray. On Second and Third-days I went through the extent of the barony, and from the best statistics I could gather, the deaths from starvation are twenty per day. The population is 30,000, of whom 18,000 have no means of subsistence. Fever and dysentery, with dropsy, are prevalent --the effects of insufficient and improper food. I saw families who had subsisted for weeks on the flesh of horses that had died; and people numberless in all the stages of starvation, down to that of the last stage of life; and many corpses in the act of being deposited in the earth. The only gratuitous distribution to all this destitution was from the operation of four soup establishments, from which many of the starving objects are many miles distant, say eight to ten; and, on account of their exhausted state, they are unable to walk to them.

Some are reduced to that state, that they are unable to walk two miles to obtain food, even if given gratuitously. Here as elsewhere no crops have been sown; there is no seed, or very little in the country, and generally no means to purchase it.

Clifden, County of Galway, 13th of Third-month, 1847.

I have this day spent five hours with the local committee of relief, which appears efficient and to work well. The distribution is about the same in amount and degree as at Belmullet, or rather more. Erris and Connemara are about equally distressed. To particularise would fill sheets of paper. The deaths from starvation in this barony are reported to be twenty per day; dysentery and low fever everywhere prevalent; no preparation for cropping; scarcely any seed to sow the land. The people are heartless and depressed, and in many instances lie down and die by whole families.