Irish Famine Report from Kinsale, County Cork

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

Report of a deputation appointed to visit the town of Kinsale, with the view principally of inspecting the wants of the fishermen.

On the 9th instant we proceeded to Kinsale, and soon happening to meet a member of the relief committee, he politely conducted us to their place of meeting. We found several of them busily engaged issuing bread to the poor of the neighbourhood. The operations of this committee are well ordered and interesting: they have built suitable premises, upon which they have a bakery with two ovens at constant work, and were then proposing to make a considerable addition to the number of workmen, in order to meet the increasing demand. They have about 1700 names upon their books, who are visited or ascertained to be suitable objects for this kind of assistance: these are furnished with tickets, upon which they are entitled to purchase a certain quantity of good wheaten whole-meal bread, at l 1/2d. per pound, and at this price the committee are incurring a large weekly loss. Under the same roof there is a soup kitchen, where the "Ladies' Committee" attend, and with their own hands distribute a considerable quantity each day (about 600 quarts, we believe), partly gratuitous, and partly at 1d. per quart. The whole aspect of this concern is very encouraging. Whilst there, we learned that Major Deeds and the officers at Charlesfort (a mile from the town), have also established a soup kitchen, where they give a quart of soup each to about eighty persons daily; and in order more effectively to carry out their benevolent purpose, we are informed that these officers have made some personal sacrifices. It appears they have given up the several periodical publications they received, with but one exception (no small deprivation in their lonely position); and Major Deeds was endeavouring to effect a further reduction in the luxuries to which they have been accustomed, with the same object. He also assists at the relief committee in Kinsale.

We now come to the more immediate object of our journey --the fishermen. These form a separate community, usually employed in deep-sea fishing. There are about 300 families located together; and, previously to the loss of the potato crop,--though, like other sea-faring people, of improvident habits--they generally earned a comfortable livelihood. This we learned from a respectable and intelligent resident of Kinsale, who likewise confirmed, for the most part, the statements of their distress as contained in the memorial. We called on some active and very useful members of the 'Ladies' Committee, one of whom, at the time, held in her hand a bag containing her visiting book, and a supply of tickets for distribution among the families of the very locality we had to enquire about. She told us, as we had already heard, that the fishermen were now a little better off than when the application was sent two weeks previously; but that still most of the families had no more than one meal in the twenty-four hours; that the greater part of their clothes were in the pawn offices; and that many were obliged to go to sea (sometimes for days together) without sufficient covering to shield them from the inclemency of the weather. The exhaustion arising from these painful privations may be illustrated by the following affecting occurrence: a poor man belonging to one of the hookers, returning from a fishing cruise of a day or two, was so reduced by want of nourishment and cold, that the slapping or shifting of a sail, after entering the harbour, was sufficient to throw him overboard, when, being too feeble to struggle, he sunk and was drowned! Each man going out requires to have a double supply of food; one part to take for his own support, and another portion to leave for his family at home. Whilst potatoes were plentiful, they could manage this pretty well; but when that resource failed, and other provisions became dear, they sunk into indigence. Some are in the workhouse, and others are proper objects for it. They are quite unfit for any labour but fishing, and this has been for a long time very unproductive, owing to severe weather, scarcity of fish, and inability of the people generally to purchase what little they do take. We find, too, that a considerable cause of their great distress arose out of debts previously incurred to the Loan Fund. They were in the habit of borrowing this money--going security for each other--spending the sums so received unprofitably, and then, of necessity, were forced to pawn their clothes and furniture to meet the demands of the bank as they became due. Thus the famine found them; and but for the activity and benevolent care of the Ladies' Committee before referred to, (in whose hands we left the sum entrusted to us for their relief,) it is probable that many might have perished altogether.


CORK, Second-month, 1847.