Irish Famine Report from Glenties, 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.

Glenties, 16th of Twelfth-month, 1846.

We proceeded on our journey, through a succession of wild mountain passes, rendered still wilder by the deep snow which covered everything, and which gave to the scenery a truly Alpine character. Owing to the depth of snow, we were constantly obliged to walk, our horses being unable to drag us through it. The constant succession of violent snow-storms rendered the journey a little fatiguing; and we were really glad to find ourselves late in the day at the Gweedore hotel, a large and comfortable inn, built by Lord George Hill in the wildest and most solitary place imaginable, surrounded by bogs and mountains. We remained at Lord George Hill's hotel during the following day, and are fully able to add our testimony to the statements which have been made, with respect to the admirable zeal and enlightened benevolence of this nobleman; and to the great improvements which have been effected upon the land, and in the condition of the inhabitants, of one of the wildest portions of Donegal. We started at day-break for Glenties, thirty miles distant, over the mountains; and after leaving the improved cottages and farms on the Gweedore estate, soon came upon the domain of an absentee proprietor, the extent of which may be judged of by the fact, that our road lay for more than twenty miles through it. This is the poorest parish in Donegal, and no statement can be too strong with respect to the wretched condition, the positive misery and starvation in which the cottiers and small farmers on this immense domain are found. We baited at Dungloe. A more miserable and dilapidated village or town I never saw. What a contrast did its dirty little inn present to the hotel at Gweedore!

We found, upon inquiry, that there was not a single pound of meal, Indian or oat, to be purchased in the place; yet thousands were depending upon this place for their supplies, and the poor people, who were flocking to the town for food from the adjacent country and the island of Arranmore, were crying with hunger and cold. The nearest market-town is at least thirty miles off, and there was no food to be obtained nearer than Bunbeg, the store of Lord George Hill, some twenty miles distant: that excellent nobleman having with his usual forethought provided a depot for food, which he allowed not only his own but the neighbouring tenants to purchase at prime cost. The extreme wretchedness of this district must in part, at least, be attributed to the want of a resident proprietor.

Leaving Dungloe we proceeded to Glenties, still on the same property; and throughout our journey met with the most squalid scenes of misery which the imagination can well conceive. Whilst thousands of acres of reclaimable land lie entirely neglected and uncultivated, there are thousands of men both willing and anxious to obtain work, but unable to procure it. On the following morning, William Forster had an interview with the resident magistrate, as well as with the rector of the parish and some other gentlemen, who gave distressing accounts of the poverty existing around them. Their attention was directed to the necessity for the immediate establishment of soup-kitchens, the employment of women in knitting, and the formation of local committees for their relief, extending over several parishes. We visited the poor-house at Glenties, which is in a dreadful state; the people were in fact half-starved and only half clothed. The day before, they had but one meal of oatmeal and water; and at the time of our visit had not sufficient food in the house for the day's supply. The people complained bitterly, as well they might, and begged us to give them tickets for work, to enable them to leave the place and work on the roads. Some were leaving the house, preferring to die in their own hovels rather than in the poor-house. Their bedding consisted of dirty straw, in which they were laid in rows on the floor; even as many as six persons being crowded under one rug; and we did not see a blanket at all. The rooms were hardly bearable for filth. The living and the dying were stretched side by side beneath the same miserable covering! No wonder that disease and pestilence were filling the infirmary, and that the pale, haggard countenances of the poor boys and girls told of sufferings which it was impossible to contemplate, without the deepest commiseration and pity.