From Transactions of the Central Relief Committee of the Society of Friends during the Famine in Ireland in 1846 and 1847
To the Auxiliary Relief Committee of Friends at Clonmel.
I left home to visit the districts of Burncourt and Tubrid on the 22nd of Second-month, taking Ballyboy in my way: here I found active measures in progress for the daily distribution of prepared food to the distressed people around, and here I may literally say that actual famine first met my view. There was no mistaking the shrunken looks and sharpened features of the poor creatures, who were slowly and with tottering steps assembling to partake of the accustomed bounty. Sheer destitution marked their attenuated countenances too legibly, to admit of a doubt that it was all a sad reality.
Were I disposed to swell this report by the introduction of particular cases which came under my observation, or which were described to me by those on whom I could place implicit reliance, I surely have materials enough for a heart-rending tale. I may just observe, however, that from what I witnessed on this short excursion, I have no difficulty in giving credit to most of the painful accounts which we hear or read of the sufferings of the poor in the south-west of this province.
From Ballyboy, accompanied by William Fennell, a member of our auxiliary committee, I next went to Clogheen, and visited the soup (or rather porridge) establishment there: it was at full work, and appears to be well attended to.
From Clogheen we proceeded to the village of Burncourt, situated at the foot of the Galtee mountains, a locality where destitution abounds to a fearful degree. This place, though nearly five miles distant, belongs to the parish and relief district of Clogheen; but from its remote situation, it has been so far neglected, or the difficulty of extending relief to it was considered so great, that I feel satisfied, if it were not for the extraordinary exertions of the members of ---------------'s family, aided by those of a respectable and kind-hearted farmer and his family living in the immediate neighbourhood, the consequences would have been to the full as bad as those of which we have such awful reports from other quarters: as it was, I could learn that deaths from actual starvation were becoming of daily occurrence; whilst the corpses were buried in some instances at night, and without coffins! However, it was truly gratifying to me to find that, by means of the kind contributions of a few private individuals, (some in England,) and a small grant from our auxiliary relief committee, under the judicious care and management of those persons to whom I have alluded, there is now a well-regulated and well-supplied porridge shop, or kitchen, opened and at full work in the little village of Burn-court, and daily dispensing its benefits to multitudes of famishing objects. The regularity, order, and system which were perceptible in this little establishment were most satisfactory; and it will, I am sure, be cheering to those kind friends who have contributed to it, thus to hear of its success.
From Burncourt we next passed along the base of the Galtee range, through a desolate and wretched district, to Tencurry, where another porridge kitchen is just set up and at work. This, like the shop at Burncourt, is already the means of diffusing a large amount of benefit to the destitute poor, although but a few days in operation; and it was satisfactory to find that here, also, a small grant from our auxiliary committee had been of material assistance.
From Tencurry, we proceeded next to the village of Tubrid, where there is likewise a kitchen just set up, assisted by our committee, and which I have reason to expect will be productive of much good. This was the last station I visited on this occasion; for although there is a kitchen set up at Ardfinnan, and another at Castlegrace, both on my way between Clonmel and Clogheen, yet neither of them had actually commenced the preparation of food at the time of my visit, though both have done so since.
In concluding the report of this little tour, I think it right to allude to some circumstances which struck me very forcibly: one was, that in the course of my ride of thirty to forty miles, and on a remarkably fine day for the season, I do not recollect that I saw in all twenty-five men at agricultural work, and of these not more than five or six using the spade!
Another thing which claimed my attention was the fact, that I did not, in more than one instance that I can call to mind, see manure deposited on the land, preparatory to the green crop of 1847, and the corn crop of 1848! This alarming state of things was particularly observable in the district from Burncourt to Tencurry, in which scarcely an instance of recent field-work was observable, but the land lying desolate and uncultivated since last summer or autumn; and, with the exception of the wheat crop, which occupies in some places about an average breadth, the same remark will generally apply to the whole of my route.
It was also remarkable, in passing along through these destitute districts, to observe the total absence of anything bordering on pleasantry or cheerfulness in the countenances of the people, old and young; all seemed to be down-stricken and dejected; and yet, strange to say, I there saw the flour and meal being conveyed along the road without any escort, save that of the car-driver; for so it is, that either from physical inability, or from what I should rather hope bespoke the prevalence of right feeling, the people in these localities do conduct themselves peaceably, and refrain from outrage in a remarkable manner.
Clonmel, 26th of Second-month, 1847.