Irish Famine Report from Killybegs, 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.

Killybegs, 18th of Twelfth-month, 1846.

Killybegs is one of the numberless little seaport-towns along the west coast of Ireland, which, although they have extraordinary natural advantages, for shipping, bathing, &c., combined with the most beautiful and romantic scenery, are left unheeded and undeveloped. We found the greatest possible want existing here, and to the westward, along the promontory of Glen and Kilcar, which contains a large population.

We had interviews with several gentlemen, who confirmed all the previous statements ; but it seems needless, after so much has been said, to particularise cases. They all agreed that the "distress was increasing, and becoming daily more and more alarming." Here, as in other places, money was offered for the immediate establishment of soup-shops, &c. We then proceeded to Donegal, calling upon two other parties by the way, to whom the same offers for the establishment of soup-kitchens, and also for the employment of the women in knitting, were made.

Throughout Donegal, we found the resident proprietors doing much for their suffering tenantry; in many cases, all that landlords could do for their relief and assistance. Several of them had obtained loans under the late drainage act, and with this or private resources, are employing large numbers of labourers for the improvement of their estates : we met with several who had 100 men employed in this manner. Many of these landlords, as well as the clergy, are most assiduously working in all ways in their power. They have imported large quantities of meal and rice, which they sell at prime cost; there being in many districts no dealers to supply these articles; and are making soup at their own houses, and dispensing daily to their famishing neighbours. Many of their ladies too have come nobly forward in the cause, and, at the sacrifice of much comfort, are much engaged in visiting or attending to the poor, employing the women in knitting, spinning, &c. But as the landlord cannot obtain his rents, and the incomes of other classes are diminished, the burden of supporting great numbers of people, fearfully increasing every day, falls heavily upon the few; who are now less able than ever to bear it. To all these, the visits of Wm. Forster were indeed cheering; and the belief that there were those in England who really sympathized with them in their difficulties, as well as the prospect of such small assistance as it was in his power to offer, seemed to stimulate them to increased efforts. But it was in conversation with parties such as these, that we felt each day more and more convinced of the reality and extent of the famine. The emotion and even agitation of their manner in speaking of the subject, the giving up of luxuries and even comforts, all indicated how deeply they felt the present crisis, and with what gloomy forebodings they looked forward to the future. The prospect is indeed fearful. Throughout Donegal the state of agriculture may be said to be as forward (or rather backward) as usual, for hardly anything is done to the land until spring for the oat and potato crop; but in many other districts we learn that the people, not having any seed, are downcast and dispirited, and have neglected to prepare the land as usual.