Irish Famine Report from County Cork, 1847

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

Extracts from Reports of Cork Auxiliary Committee to the Central Relief Committee in Dublin.

1st of Second-month, 1847.

A few statistics for the past month may not be uninteresting. Distress continues to extend, and we believe there are few districts in this county, and the neighbouring one of Kerry, exempt from the pressure of the common calamity. Where the potato crop was most completely annihilated--in the far west--the famine first appeared; but other quarters were also invaded, as the remnant of the crop became blighted or consumed. Hence, in localities which, until recently, but slightly participated in this afflictive visitation, distress and destitution are now spreading; and the accounts from some of these are presenting the same features of appalling misery, as those which originally burst upon an affrighted nation from the neighbourhood of Skibbereen. The number of deaths resulting from absolute starvation do not appear to be on the increase; we should hope the contrary: but we cannot apply the same remark to the affecting loss of life from disease, superinduced by unwholesome and insufficient food, and other attendant privations, which the destitute poor have been so patiently enduring. But distress is not only extending its limits, but also ascending the gradations of society, and its effects must eventually converge from the extremities to the very centre. In town, many of the tradesmen who earned a livelihood by making the cheap clothing of the poor, are now reduced to want; and from the country, a valued correspondent writes on the 18th ult.: "It is not the poor labourer and lower classes of farmers alone who are in want; some who have under-tenants, and had profit rents of £40 to £60 a-year, are on the very verge of destitution. They can get nothing from their tenants, and their stores of corn are just run out; they cannot even sow their land for next harvest.'' This is, indeed, an alarming feature in the aspect of the country, especially at such a season of the year; and can be met only by the energetic intervention of government.

Country paupers continue to flock in, and our streets present a deplorable appearance. Many impostors are also taking advantage of the excited sensibilities of the charitable; and it is to be feared, the habits of mendicancy will become so confirmed in multitudes of the people, even after the famine shall have passed away, that nothing but a vagrancy act can effectually suppress it.

Our distribution of soup is rapidly increasing; during the past week, it averaged 1016 quarts per day, and on Seventh-day reached the extent of 1268. Our preparations for a gratuitous branch are nearly completed, and we expect will come into operation on Second-day next, enlarging considerably, and in an important direction, the amount of relief afforded in this way. There are also four district soup-houses in the city, which the secretary informs us are supplying over 6,000 quarts daily,--one only giving a small addition of bread; and as they are in action every day of the seven, the weekly aggregate of soup supplied to the poor of Cork may be computed at 48,000 quarts.

Our women friends have organized a committee for employing the female poor, in making up cheap and comfortable clothing, intended principally for the suffering west; thus effecting a two-fold benefit. A separate subscription was freely entered into for this purpose.

20th of Second-month, 1847.

We lament to say that since our letter of the 1st instant, the condition of our district has assumed a still more serious aspect; and we could not now point out a locality exempt from the ravages of destitution, disease, and death. Even in the workhouse of this city, now overcrowded to excess, the mortality is progressing frightfully: one hundred and seventy-four deaths, more than one death every hour, have taken place within the past week.

In all the country districts with which we correspond, and these are now very numerous, famine and disease are wasting away the population; whilst many of the panic-stricken survivors, impelled by the impulse of nature, continue to flock into the city, towns, and villages, seeking some sustenance. It must be obvious that all exertions hitherto used, cannot supply a sufficiency of food to the famishing multitudes spread over the surface of these large and populous counties, in which the tillage of the soil, the ordinary source of labour, continues to be neglected to an alarming extent.

In this city, many cases of appalling destitution have been brought into notice, by the visiting system connected with the gratuitous branch of our soup distribution. Even the houses of once-respectable tradesmen, denuded of every article of furniture, and without fuel or bedding, present an affecting spectacle of want and misery. Under feelings of commiseration, which such privations are well calculated to excite, a separate subscription has been raised for supplying straw beds and a little fuel; and as the clothing committee are not forgetful of this class, the little comforts thus supplied, in addition to daily rations of soup and bread, must greatly improve the condition of the grateful recipients.

We are now experiencing the advantage of the ample scale on which our steam apparatus was erected, the distribution of soup having last week reached an average of nearly fourteen hundred quarts per day. The other depots also are in active operation; and it is proposed not only to enlarge the efficacy of these useful establishments, but also to extend their utility, by the preparation of some other nutritious articles of diet.

History records some affecting instances of the disruption of social relations, and the severance of domestic ties, in the depth of a nation's extremity; and it is truly humiliating to witness in our day, the blighting effects of this calamitous visitation on the character and habits of our afflicted peasantry; no mourning for the dead, and in many cases but little attention paid to the dying; whilst funerals--once the noted occasions of their humble display--but rarely attract the interest of surviving relatives and friends.

Out of the funds placed at our disposal, to assist in alleviating this fearful mass of misery, we have already allotted one hundred and thirty-four grants in money, and also supplied twenty-three soup boilers gratuitously. By these means, a large number of benevolent individuals of both sexes have been sustained and encouraged in their arduous labors to stand in the breach, through which the flood of desolation is pouring its accumulating torrent. But so utterly disproportionate are all our efforts, that many would shrink back in dismay, were they not animated by a measure of that love which transcends all other motives of human action.