Irish Famine Report from Kilrush, Kilmurry, Cooraclare, etc, County Clare

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 Limerick.

In accordance with the wish of the committee, we proceeded on the 15th inst. to Kilrush.

On our way from that place to Cooraclare, we observed stacks of corn and hay on several farms, and behind several humble dwellings; this we were unprepared for, being under the impression that all or nearly all the corn had been consumed. The land also presented a less neglected appearance than we anticipated, from all that we had heard of its being left untilled. However, after leaving Cooraclare a mile or two behind us, towards the confines of Kilmacduane parish, the wild bleak hills of Kilmihil broke on our view; and as we proceeded, the cabins and farms assumed a more wretched appearance, and we soon had visible evidence that the description given us of the state of this parish had not been overcoloured.

We soon reached the house of the Roman Catholic priest. He entered earnestly into the subject of our mission; gave us information on every point we sought; and displayed much good sense, good feeling, and candour in his communications.

This parish contains over eighteen thousand acres, and numbers about six thousand inhabitants. All the landed proprietors are non-resident; there are no resident gentry; the priest is the only person to whom the poor can turn for assistance; and from all the accounts we have had, both before our visit to him and since, he appears to be unremitting in his exertions.

After leaving Cooraclare, we proceeded to Kilmurry Ibrickan. This parish contains about twelve thousand inhabitants, and presents a frightful picture of misery and want, more especially along the coast. To this quarter, many houseless wanderers, ejected tenants, and unfortunates of all kinds, and from all quarters, have for some years past been attracted by the free trade in sea-weed manure, there being no check given to squatters; and these are so thickly clustered in some places, that on one townland here of forty-six acres, there are two hundred and ten human beings! There are in this quarter five hundred families (containing over three thousand individuals) located near the shore, none of whom have any land attached to the hovels in which they try to exist. The potato having failed, and with it the trade in sea-weed, not only are they totally deprived of food, but also of the means of procuring it, and as they are unrecognized by any landlord, they are not considered as tenants of the soil; and hence there is no one bound to them by ties of interest, or upon whom they can urge a legitimate claim for support.

After leaving Kilmurry, we entered the parish of Kilfarboy, and reached Miltown at six, p. m.

On our way to Miltown, and on our return next day by Kilkee, we entered several of the poorer cabins along the road, and in every instance administered some small relief, while we made enquiries as to their modes of life and means of subsistence. The scenes which we witnessed, and the stories which we heard in these abodes of human misery, will not be easily effaced from our memory. All were poor in the extreme--some deplorably so; but it was the same sad tale we heard from all; their potatoes had failed, and their scanty stock of oats being all consumed, they are now solely dependant on the wages received from the road works. The applicants for employment are so numerous, that in most instances only one man in a family, and in some cases one, and a boy, woman, or girl, can obtain it. All work alike on the roads! The pay of a man is tenpence, a woman eight-pence, and a boy sixpence per day; and when you consider that there may be broken days from sickness or severe weather--that the price of the lowest description of food is enormously high--and that families here average about seven individuals, you will not be surprised when we state, that they can scarcely support life under their many privations. Indeed, their week's wages, when exchanged for food, is not more than sufficient for three or four days' consumption. They endeavour, however, to stretch it over the week; but it is no uncommon thing with many families to be without any food for twenty-four or thirty-six hours before the succeeding pay-day comes round, with the exception of the man or boy who is at work. And to prevent his strength (upon which all their living depends) from failing, the scanty subsistence of the others is still further reduced, to provide him with sufficient to sustain him. So pressing are the calls of hunger, that when the week's supply of meal is brought home, (perhaps a distance of six miles) it is in many cases eaten before it is fully cooked; some bake it on a griddle; but among the very poorest, and where the family is large, in order to make it go far, it is boiled into gruel. Is it then to be wondered at that dysentery, the general result of insufficient and imperfectly cooked food, should be, as it is, so prevalent amongst them?


Limerick, 22nd of Second-month, 1847.