Irish Famine Report from Dunfanaghy, County Donegal (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.

Dunfanaghy, 13th of Twelfth-month, 1846.

Owing to the depth of the snow, and a constant succession of violent snow-storms, we experienced much detention, and did not reach Dunfanaghy until long after dark.

A portion of the district through which we passed this day, as well as the adjoining one, is, with one exception, the poorest and most destitute in Donegal. Nothing, indeed, can describe too strongly the dreadful condition of the people. Many families were living on a single meal of cabbage, and some even, as we were assured, upon a little sea-weed.

A highly respectable merchant in the town called upon us, and gave us much information upon the condition of the people in this district; which his business, the corn and flour trade, particularly enabled him to do. He entirely confirmed the previous statements of the widely spread, suffering. The small farmers and cottiers had parted with all their pigs and their fowl; and even their bed-clothes and fishing-nets had gone for the one object, the supply of food. He stated that he knew many families of five to eight persons, who subsisted on 2 1/2 lbs. of oatmeal per day, made into thin water-gruel—about six ounces of meal for each! Dunfanaghy is a little fishing town, situated on a bay remarkably adapted for a fishing population: the sea is teeming with fish of the finest description, waiting, we might say, to be caught. Many of the inhabitants gain a portion of their living by this means; but so rude is their tackle, and so fragile and liable to be upset are their primitive boats or coracles, made of wickerwork over which sail cloth is stretched, that they can only venture to sea in fine weather; and thus, with food almost in sight, the people starve, because they have no one to teach them to build boats more adapted to this rocky coast, than those in use by their ancestors many centuries ago. This is but one among many instances of the wasted industrial resources of this country, which, whether in connection with the waters or the land, strike the eye of the stranger at every step. Besides the scanty and precarious living afforded by fishing, each cottier holds a portion of potato ground in "conacre;" and as the seaweed here is a most excellent manure, it requires very little trouble or skill to obtain a crop sufficient to support himself and his family in entire idleness for six or nine months of the year. In this district, the "conacre" tenant takes from the small farmer a patch of ground, varying in size from half a rood to half an acre. This land the farmer ploughs and prepares for the "conacre" tenant, who sets his own seed, and draws the manure from the shore. He digs up his crop in autumn, but has no further right in the land; and in this neighbourhood he pays no rent for the use of it, the farmer considering the manure as a sufficient equivalent for its loan. In many other districts, however, the farmer not only ploughs but manures the land for the "conacre" tenant, who then pays him a considerable rent. We are told that the produce of half a rood of potatoes, thus easily obtained, would support a family of five to eight persons for at least six months. The farmer will pay from fifteen shillings to one pound an acre rent for this land.

We were told that there were at least thirty families in this little town, who had nothing whatever to subsist upon, and knew not where to look for a meal for the morrow. A quantity of meal was ordered to be distributed amongst them, and a sum of money was left for their support, and also for a little turf, without which in this severe weather many would be frozen to death. The cost of turf is a very serious item on these poor creatures; and it would require sixpence per week, with the most economical management, to keep up the smallest peat fire imaginable. No public works were open in this district, although in this small parish there were, in the opinion of the rate payers, not less than 2,300 persons who were "suffering for want of relief."