Irish Famine Report from Clifden, 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.

20th of First-month, 1847.

On arriving at the small town of Clifden, we heard of four cases of death there from want, within the last three or four days. One woman who had crawled the previous night into an out-house, had been found the next morning partly eaten by dogs. Another corpse had been carried up the street in a wheelbarrow; and had it not been that a gentleman, accidentally passing by, had given money for a coffin, it would have been thrown into the ground, merely covered with a sheet. Of burials without coffins we heard many instances; and to those who know the almost superstitious reverence of the Irish for funeral rites, they tell a fearful story. In two cases, my father told me he had had applications for money not to keep the people alive, but for coffins to bury them.

Early the next morning, the 21st, hearing that there was great distress in the neighbourhood of Renvyle, a village on the coast, about eight miles to the north of Clifden, and my father and his friends having other engagements, I went there by myself. It happened to be the day of the meeting of the Relief Committee for the neighbourhood, which I was glad of the opportunity of attending. The area of the building in which it was held was crammed with fresh applicants for tickets, or poor fellows who had been thrown out of work by the sudden stoppage of one of the roads. The patience and the quiet with which they heard debated their chances of being again employed,--of, in short, obtaining a hope of life,--were to me marvellous. I heard there, also, of several cases in which men had gone to the road, and worked for days without wages, in the hope of obtaining tickets.

This barony of Ballinahinch contains a population of at least 34,000, almost entirely composed of small tenant farmers or cottiers, and of squatters, of which last wretched class there is a considerable proportion. Hitherto, these people have lived upon potatoes, of which they have generally grown good crops: potatoes have been their food. From the proceeds of their oats and live stock, they have paid their rent; and with what little surplus there might be, bought their clothes and furniture. In some few of the coast villages there is a little fishing, but it is to so slight and partial an extent, that it can hardly be looked upon as a resource. I now found their potatoes gone; what scanty crop they had gathered eaten up, together with the oats, including the seed-corn; the turnips also consumed; nothing left but the cattle, and they quickly going; the sheep, the pigs, even the poultry, almost all killed; eggs were hardly to be bought; and I found that on the Renvyle estate, containing some 850 families, where almost every tenant had owned two or three pigs, there were now scarcely a dozen left. In a short time, the population of this barony, hitherto accustomed to live entirely upon their own produce, must die, or be kept alive by either public or private relief. And yet, in some respects, from its number of cattle, and somewhat better crop both of oats and potatoes, this has been till now a favoured district; but the spread of the famine-plague is rapidly levelling all localities to an equality of destitution.