Irish Famine Report from Stranorlar, 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.

Stranorlar, County of Donegal, 10th of Twelfth-month, 1846.

This county, like most others in Ireland, principally belongs to a few large proprietors, some of them unhappily absentees, whose large domains sometimes extend over whole parishes and baronies, and contain a population of from 8,000 to 12,000 inhabitants. Such, for instance, is the parish of Templecrone, with a population of 10,000 inhabitants; in which the only residents above the small farmers are, the agent, the Protestant clergyman, the parish priest, a medical man, and, perhaps, a resident magistrate, with the superintendent of police, and a few small dealers. The small farmers and cottiers live in miserable hovels, in a state of degradation and filth which it is difficult to believe the most barbarous nations ever exceeded. The farmers hold from one to ten, and, in rare cases, twenty acres of cultivatable land. Besides this, in many districts, they have the right of stray for young cattle over an immense extent of uncultivated land held in rundale, for which they pay small sums, according to the number of "cows' grasses" taken. A very large proportion of the population of many districts are cottiers, who are poorer than the farmers; and who have no land except that on which their miserable hovels are built, the inhabitants depending almost entirely upon the potato for their subsistence, which they grow in "conacre." The crops raised throughout this county are oats and potatoes; small patches of wheat may be seen near some of the towns, and occasionally a little flax. We have seen that more than two-thirds of the population exist by means of agricultural pursuits; the food for the greater portion of whom has been, in former years, entirely potatoes, a few of the more comfortable only indulging in oatmeal. We believe that it would be fair to estimate that fully half of the population of Donegal subsisted wholly upon potatoes,—a crop which is as totally swept away from the face of the country as though it had never been. We never but once had potatoes offered us, and they were so bad we could not eat them.

Leaving Pettigoe we proceeded towards Stranorlar, through a wild, mountainous district, which displayed less poverty than those through which we had previously travelled. Small farms were scattered in all directions, and the number of cows, fowl, &c., as well as the little stacks of oats, indicated that the inhabitants were not in a state of absolute destitution; however much their miserable hovels, often without window and chimney, and containing much live stock, in addition to the family, might lead a stranger to a contrary opinion. But we had already arrived at the conclusion, that a door-way half blocked up by the dung-heap is a sure sign of comparative wealth.