Irish Famine Report from Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim (1846)

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.

Carrick-on-Shannon, 6th of 12th Month, 1846.

At this place our first visit was to the poor-house; and as the Board of Guardians were then sitting for the admission of applicants, a most painful and heart-rending scene presented itself; poor wretches in the last stage of famine imploring to be received into the house; women who had six or seven children begging that even two or three of them might be taken in, as their husbands were earning but 8d. per day; which, at the present high price of provisions, was totally inadequate to feed them. Some of these children were worn to skeletons, their features sharpened with hunger, and their limbs wasted almost to the bone. From a number of painful cases, the following may be selected. A widow with two children, who for a week had subsisted on one meal of cabbage each day: these were admitted into the poor-house, but in so reduced a state, that a guardian observed to the master of the house, that the youngest child would trouble them but a very short time. Another woman with two children, and near her confinement again, whose husband had left her a month before to seek for work, stated that they had lived for the whole of this week upon two quarts of meal and two heads of cabbage. Famine was written in the faces of this woman and her children. In reply to a question from William Forster, the guardians expressed their opinion that these statements were true. Of course, among so many applicants as there were in attendance, (110,) a great number were necessarily refused admittance, as there were but thirty vacancies in the house. The guardians appeared to exercise great discrimination and impartiality in the selection of the most destitute objects; but some of those who were rejected were so far spent, that it is doubtful if they would all reach their homes alive, as several of them had to walk five or six Irish miles. William Forster having expressed a wish to distribute bread to these poor creatures, that they might not go quite empty-handed to their desolate houses, forty pounds weight of bread were procured, being all that on so short a notice could be obtained in the town of Carrick-on-Shannon. On this bread being given to them, the ravenous voracity with which many of them devoured it on the spot, spoke strongly of starvation, or of a state nearly approaching to it. One woman, however, was observed to eat only a very small portion of her bread, giving as a reason, that she had five other children at home to whom she was taking the bread, as without it there would not have been a morsel of food in their cabin that night.

Throughout this journey, it was William Forster's observation that the children exhibit the effects of famine in a remarkable degree, their faces looking wan and haggard with hunger, and seeming like old men and women. Their sprightliness is entirely gone, and they may be seen sitting in groups by the cabin doors, making no attempt to play or to run after the carriages. Another indication of the distress of the country is, that the pigs and poultry have entirely disappeared, the poor having no longer any means of supporting them. To do the people justice, they are bearing their privations with a remarkable degree of patience and fortitude; and very little clamorous begging is to be met with upon the roads; at least, not more than has been the case in Ireland for many years. The above is a very feeble attempt to convey an idea of the state of things in this district of the country. William Forster has completely formed the opinion, that the statements in the public newspapers are by no means exaggerated.