Irish Famine Report from Bofin and Cleggan, County Galway

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

Extracts from Joseph Crosfield's Report of his journey in company with William Forster, made to the London Relief Committee of the Society of Friends.

22nd of First-month, 1847.

Before daybreak I started for Bofin, a three hours' sail. This island I found to contain, together with the small adjoining island of Shark, a population of about 1200; the Marquis of Sligo being the sole landowner. The distress, though very great, was scarcely equal to that on the main land. I ascertained, however, from conversation with the priest and Lord Sligo's agent, that there had been two cases of death from want; and some of the cabins I entered evidenced the extreme of poverty. There are many boats on the island; and should the fishing season turn out a fair one, its inhabitants will get through the next few months with less than the general suffering; but should this resource fail, all other means of support being almost entirely exhausted, the island might be nearly depopulated in a few weeks. The difficulty of communication with the main land in rough weather makes most perilous the position of these islands, and of others similarly situated, such as Clare Island and Innisturk; and renders it especially needful that they should be kept under constant supervision, or we might suddenly hear reports of deaths which should startle us even from this land of woe. I found in effective operation a soup-kitchen, established by the Irish Society, who have a station at Bofin. After leaving two bags of meal for distribution to the most pressing cases (one in each island), Lord Sligo's agent kindly sent us in his boat to Cleggan, the nearest point to Clifden.

Having heard an alarming account of this village, I had ordered two bags of meal to meet me, not liking to go there entirely unprovided with help, and knowing that I should find no store. The distress was appalling, far beyond my power of description: I was quickly surrounded by a mob of men and women, more like famished dogs than fellow creatures, whose figures, looks, and cries all showed that they were suffering the ravening agony of hunger. It was late, almost dark, and I felt it was useless to attempt to contend with particular cases amid such a mass of misery; but I went into two or three of the cabins. In one, there were two emaciated men lying at full length on the damp floor, in their ragged clothes, too weak to move,--actually worn down to skin and bone. In another, a young man lay ill of dysentery; his mother had pawned everything, even his shoes, to keep him alive; and I never shall forget the resigned uncomplaining tone with which he told me that all the medicine he wanted was food.

The evening was passed in making arrangements for the establishment of two soup-kitchens, one at Cleggan, and the other at Salruck.

At six in the morning I left Clifden for Galway, with my father, by the mail car. Some of the women and children that we saw on the road were abject cases of poverty, and almost naked. The few rags that they had on were with the greatest difficulty held together; and in a few weeks, as they are utterly unable to provide themselves with fresh clothes, unless they be given them, they must become absolutely naked.

As we passed through Oughterard, we heard fearful accounts of the distress in the hill district of Glen, a few miles to the northward; in one house there, a man and his wife and four children were said to have died of want; and this report was but too fully confirmed at Galway, where we learned on good authority that a policeman, having occasion to go there, found that out of four cabins which he entered, there was only one in which there was not a dead body.