Annals of the Famine in Ireland 1847, 1848, and 1849
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By Mrs Asenath Nicholson, Author of "Ireland's Welcome to the Stranger"
New York: E. French, 135 Nassau Street - 1851, 336 pages
These are two chapters which relate directly to Donegal.
The full text of this book can be found online within the Internet Archive
"Man's a king -- his throne is Duty
Since his work on earth began."
THE responsibility of a stewardship is a great one, and doubly so where the results are connected with life as well as property; and where the last is in the hand of the steward, who at option, may save or destroy the former. Had a commission been intrusted to me, under certain restrictions, and a salary paid, on condition of a right performance of duty, the path would have been open and plain; but working for no reward, under no restrictions but conscience, in the midst of the "valley and shadow of death," emphatically, where some would stumble and fall, and where all had an equal claim upon the bounties which were to be applied, was a fearful task. This task must be entered upon, and the first duty, after securing a room for a deposit, was to find suitable objects -- by this is implied objects which were not only needy, but which, in the jumble of so much machinery as was attached to so many different Associations, were overlooked. These Associations had now multiplied to such an extent, that the time in getting the varied instruments into harmonious action was considerable; many died in sight of boilers preparing to feed the hungry, or when prepared, they must wait till the "Relieving Officer had time to enter their names on the books."
I stopped for no books, knowing that a faithful unerring record would be kept in the council chamber above, where the rich and the poor would soon meet before the Maker of them all; and my only prayer was, that when that book should be opened, I should not find there noted the name of any who had gone before as a witness of my neglect.
Cook street furnished a tolerable supply; and the remainder I found scattered in desolate places; some who had despaired of relief, because having neither courage nor strength, to make their way through the tumultuous revolting crowds which congregated about every place of public relief, submitted to their fate with a patient coolness and apparent resignation, which I have never been able to comprehend. One woman I found sitting in her chamber, looking respectably clean; upon inquiry into her real condition, the facts proved to be these; -- she had heard of the Government Relief and had exhausted the last farthing for food, and when hunger became pressing, she sought her way timidly to the Relieving Officer's station, and made her wants known; she was then suffering extremely, but she was sent away with the promise that he would call in the morning and make inquiries, and if he found her worthy she should have her name entered into the "books;" she went to bed supperless, and arose the next morning, waiting for the officer - be came not; she feared if she should go out he would call and then she should lose her opportunity; that night she went to her bed without the least relief; the next day she did the same; the third morning I found her in that state of patient suffering, with her mind fully made up to die, without making any further effort.
These facts are recorded to show the incomprehensible features of that famine; and to inquire of the Christian, the philosopher, and the physiologist, what is the nature of that kind of suffering, which could bring the mind into such a cool passive frame, especially to operate so upon a nation naturally impetuous in their passions, and keenly alive to the tenderest sensibilities of the heart. Was it their hereditary suffering that had become a second nature - was it the peculiarity belonging to hunger alone - or was it their religion, that had produced that submissiveness which overcame the natural propensities, and brought them into passive obedience, when the hard of affliction pressed them sore?
My first donation was Indian meal, with a few pounds of money. A store-room was made of my lodging apartment, which was three floors from the ground; the carpet was removed; the meal which had been put in sacks, by the order of government, was getting heated, and much of it must be emptied. The government had, for reasons which are not fully understood by all, sent to Ireland sacks which were sold for half-a-crown each -- the meal was taken from the barrels and deposited in them, which answered two purposes, it made sale for thousands of sacks, at a tolerable profit, and was an effectual method of heating the meal, which soon gathered dampness, then became mouldy and wholly unfit for use. The hungry, in some cases, took it gladly; the consequences in many instances were fatal, producing a state of the system often beyond the power of nature or medicine to cure.
The meal sent from New York was of the best kind, the hull being taken off, and the meal kiln-dried, which had it been left in barrels, would have remained for a year or more in good order. This, the government, being unacquainted with the nature of the article, probably did not understand. If the inquiry be made - Why did the government interfere with donations sent to the "Dublin Central Committee," as donations? - the answer can only be, that they must have acted upon one of two principles; that as they paid the freight of the American grants, they had a right to use a little dictation in the arrangement, in order to secure a partial remuneration; or, they must have acted upon the principle, that their interference would forward the exertions making in behalf of their subjects. Is the inquiry made - What became of the barrels? - why every commercial man knows the use of these articles in trade, and every housekeeper who has ever had a broken one, knows the convenience of making a rapid fire to hasten her dinner. What became of all the tens of thousands of sacks, or in other words, who paid for them? For one, I must answer, that when mine were delivered through the "Central Committee," a promise was made, that the money paid for them should be refunded when the sacks were returned. This was immediately done; but the money was withheld with no other explanation, but that I must sell meal enough to pay for them. This meal was the property of the poor, and a property most sacred, because life was suspended on it, and the meal was sent in the best manner to preserve it, and taking it out injured it most seriously, and sometimes fatally, and the article taken from their hungry mouths to pay for sacks, was, besides robbing them of their own, deducting so much from life. I could not, I dare not, and I did not comply.
This circumstance is important, not only because it involves a great principle, but as furnishing a solution, as far as it goes, why the poor were so little benefited by the bounties sent them from abroad. The hungry, it should be borne in mind, for whom these donations were sent, had no control of what was virtually their own exclusively, but must be content to receive it by proxy, in great or small parcels, in a good or bad state, at the dispenser's option; consequently, they did not always have what belonged to them, and if the meal and rice paid for the sacks, as mine were required to do, a great deduction must be made from the original amount. I once heard a woman observe, whose husband had large donations intrusted to him, that they had £200 worth of sacks; which must be paid for out of the meal, as they could not do it. These two facts are the only tangible ones on this subject, which came under my cognizance. I name them, not to expose faults which should be concealed, nor to find fault for the gratification of doing so; but reading in a book often quoted for its veracity, that "on the side of the oppressor there was power, but they had no comforter," conscience compels me to throw into the scale every particle of truth which belongs to the poor, who have been so much accused of ingratitude toward their benefactors. They never were ungrateful to their real benefactors; but second-handed ones, like me, who had power intrusted, did not all of them act wisely, nor for the best good of the poor at all times. Some of this was ignorance; some who did not know how to prepare the food sent it to them in the most economical way; and others, who had never felt hunger, took care to guard their own stomachs in good time against its attacks, which necessarily, required much free feeding and drinking to keep up health and strength for the arduous work; consequently all this caused delay, and twenty-four, forty-eight, and often more hours, were the starving obliged to wait till their time should come to be served.
My labors were constant, but not complex, having arranged that eight in the morning must be the time for giving the donations, and that a delay till nine on the part of the beneficiaries, would debar them the twenty-four hours' supply. They had all been lectured and duly trained previously, that if any appeared dirty, or brought a fresh beneficiary without my knowledge, they should forfeit their own donations. The requirement of eight o'clock attendance was necessary, because my visits in Cook street were requisite through the day, and I was obliged to rise at four in the morning to copy manuscript and correct proof sheets till seven; then my penny roll was taken, and all put in due readiness for the distribution. The rooms below me were occupied as offices, which were opened at nine, and the appearance of bare feet, tatters, and sacks of meal, would not be at all in unison with the refinement of gentlemen; and above all it was done so early, that the train of beggars, which would have been drawn at any other hour, was avoided. Thus, every hour was time occupied, without the least self-denial. The greatest suffering was, during the few hours devoted to sleep, when I was occasionally awakened by hearing some moan of distress under my window. My lodging-places in Ireland had been sometimes of quite a peculiar kind; and here, in the beautiful city of Dublin, in a tall house overlooking the Liffey, was my proud heritage -- my bed was a short sofa, or apology for one, placed in the middle of barrels of meal, spread upon blankets on the floor, and one crazy old chair, which served to make out my lodging at night, and provide a seat while copying manuscripts; an old deal table, with a New York Tribune for a table-cloth, made up the furniture of that happy room. But this bliss was limited, every day the quantity of meal lessened, and my purse grew lighter. The poor looked on, and said, "Praise God, we shall all be destrawed;" but God was better to them than their fears -- they did not die.
Mine was more than a happy lot. Never before in all my privations in Ireland, had I tested the value of being early trained under the discipline of a rational mother, who fitted me, when a child, for the exigencies of life; who not only by precept taught me, that in going through the journey of this world I should meet with rough roads and stormy weather, and not always have a covered carriage; that sometimes I should have a hot supper, sometimes a cold one - sometimes a welcome greeting, and sometimes a repulsive one; but she had instructed me too, by precept and example, that my hands were to be employed in all that was useful, and that idleness was both disgraceful and sinful. This practical knowledge was never more extensively useful to me than now; knowing how to prepare the Indian meal and rice so that it was palatable, and no waste. Yet with these appliances, the meal at last failed. No skill in cooking would make it last like the widow's barrel; and though I had learned not to distrust, yet it cannot be said that I felt the same animation in giving out the last day's mess as the first. I had a little money left, and the weather was getting warmer: a portion, at least, of what had been wanted for fuel, could be reserved for food. I hoped that on the ocean there might be something destined for me; though not the least intimation was given to these poor ones, but they were urged to apply to some of the Relief Associations.
One unfortunate man was the only one that died who had received any aid from me; and his life was forgetfully left to go gradually out, when it might have been saved. A curate called and found him recruiting from the last stage of starvation in which I first found him, and kindly gave him a little money and food, promising that he would provide for him in future, and relieve me, as so many were on my hands. The curate forgot him. Three weeks after I called to see him; - a girl of two years was dying on a litter of straw in the corner, nestled by the emaciated father, who was too weak to know the suffering of his child; and in two days they were both dead. He had been "forgotten by his neighbors," his wife was in the hospital; he sat waiting, as was common, in patient hope, till death relieved him.
Cases of death were not so common in Dublin as in many cities; the Society of Friends did much to stay the plague, and their work was carried on by different means; their laborers, in most cases, were volunteers, who asked no reward but that of doing good. How many of the poor bless the name of William Forster, and Joseph Crosfield, from England, for their labors of love; who, on the 28th of December, 1846, reached Dublin, made their object known to that Committee, whose views and operations harmonized, and thence they proceeded on their mission of love and. mercy. Their graphic report is before the world, as well as others of that denomination of Christians, James Luke, Marcus Goodbody, William Dillwyn Sims, and William Todhunter. These men, moved by high and lofty feelings, spent no time in idle commenting on the Protestant or Papist faith - the Radical, Whig, or Tory politics; but looked at things as they were, and faithfully recorded what they saw. Not only did they record, but they relieved. They talked and wrote, but acted more; and such a lasting impression have their labors left, that the next summer, as I followed in their wake through the country, the name of the "blessed William Forster" was on the lips of the poor cabiners, and it was from their testimony that his name and good deeds first reached me. William Bennett, too, passed six weeks in Ireland, and a clear and concise account was recorded by himself, of the state of the famine; though his own beneficence, which was not scanty, has not been definitely known, because he acted as an individual; therefore he was not responsible to any society. As the pestilence followed the famine, the entire country seemed to be sinking into the vortex, and a knowledge of Ireland was gaining by all classes of people, both in and out of the country. An innovation was made, promising good results, into the long-established habits and condition of that people, which nothing before had done. Poverty was divested of every mask; and from the mud cabin to the estated gentleman's abode, all strangers who wished, without the usual circuitous ceremony, could gain access. The landlord, who had long sported at his ease, was beginning to pay a penalty of which he had never dreamed; the tree, which was planted centuries ago, was now beginning to yield an exuberant crop; the starved tenants are driven into the "Union," or turned defenseless into the storm, and, in either case, the rents were left unpaid. The landlord growls, but growls in vain: the "lazy dogs," who are not in the poor-house, drawing enormous rates from his extensive farms, are at his doors, begging bread, or lying dead under his windows, waiting for "the board to be put on 'em," as they called a coffin. Coffins were now becoming scarce, and in the mountainous regions and islands, two rough boards, with the corpse, in the rags which were about it when the breath departed, placed between these, and a straw rope wound about, was the coveted boon which clung to them to the last.
The winter passed, but the spring brought no fresh hopes; onward was the fearful march - many faces that were ruddy, and limbs that were robust, and hearts that had scarcely had a fear that the wolf would enter their dwelling, now began to fade, stumble, and finally sink under the pursuer. My purse was low, my meal gone, when a letter, the choicest and best, arrived, written by a teacher of a pauper school in New York, and signed by the Corresponding Committee there of the Dublin Friends' Society, transmitting me a few barrels of meal, from the children of that pauper school. This was an offering richer than all, it was the interest of the widow's mite, coming through the channel of the orphans, whose willing hearts and ready hands had gathered from their scanty comforts a few pounds without solicitation, and begged the privilege to send it to me. It came: I had previously been informed that a school in the poorest convent in Dublin was in a state of the greatest suffering. These schools were composed of children who had no means of support, many of them orphans, or the offspring of parents reduced to beggary, and gathered into convents and other schools of charity, where they were fed once a day. The nuns were of the order belonging to the poor, and in time of plenty had only been able to feed sixteen daily; and when some hundreds were added, the distress was almost overwhelming. This donation, coming from children of the poorest emigrants in New York, particularly belonged to such as were in like condition, for if such children were turned from the schools, many, and most of them, must inevitably perish, notwithstanding the Friends' Society were acting with the greatest vigilance. The British Association, too, was in motion; besides the Government had been bountiful. America was doing much - private individuals, of the Irish in America, and in all other countries where they were scattered, were sending one continued train of remittances, to the utter astonishment of the postmasters; yet death sharpened his teeth daily, for new victims. With gladness of heart I hastened to the committee-rooms - presented the letter - was requested to wait an answer till the next day; the next day another day was demanded; called the third day, and was denied in toto. The clerk returned the letter without an explanation, only saying, that "the committee had concluded not to grant it." Had I that moment been summoned by a policeman, to appear before a court, and answer to a charge of swindling or fraud, I could not have been more astonished, and certainly not so disappointed, for my heart had been most intensely fixed on this, as the most sacred offering ever sent me. The deep sense of injustice which was felt, drew these remarks: - That if the Americans had misplaced their confidence, in sending remittances through that channel, I was sorry that I had requested them to send mine in that way, and would immediately write them to desist. No other explanation was given than a plain decided denial; but when I had passed the door, the solution began to open. The fault was mine, God had sent me to Ireland, in His own way, and instructed me to lean entirely on Him; His promises had never failed toward me - nothing had been wanted, but had been supplied to my wonderment; and now, when daily He had been explaining for what purpose I had been sent hither, that I should lean to the creature, and ask aid, which in reality was not needed, and only retarded my operations, He had sent a rebuke upon my unbelief, which silenced the severity I at first felt toward those instruments in whose hands I had foolishly placed myself. I do not censure them, they acted from motives no matter to me; and God might have used them as a corrective most effectual, because in them I had placed both confidence and power, which were in safer hands before. Man may do well, but God can do better; and it would be fulsome flattery to say, that the "Central Committee of Dublin" were infallible; and cruel injustice to assert, that they did not act effectually, iberally, and, taken as a whole, do the best that was done.
On my way home, with my rejected letter in my hand, Richard Webb met me, took the letter, and entered the committee-room; what barriers he removed I know not, but the meal was sent. This was the only co-working that I attempted in Ireland; not because my strength and wisdom were complete, but because they were so inefficient; that an Almighty arm was requisite to effect the object.
The next morning early I went to the convent. They knew not of my object; but learning that I was an American, - " Bless God," said the Abbess, "that I see one of that nation, to say how much we owe in this convent to their liberality. These children here must have died, but for what they have sent them; and this morning they have assembled to receive the last bit we can give, and we have been saying that we should be ashamed to ask from the Americans any more, had we an opportunity to do so." They then led me into the school-room, and called the attention of the children to see one of that kind nation who had fed them through the winter, and that through me they must send thanks to my people. They were then told what the pauper children of New York had sent - children like them, who were poor, but who saved all the pence they could procure, and had sent the little gathering to them. I have not the least doubt, had the benevolent friends of that "Dublin Central Committee" witnessed the happy scene of joy and gratitude which was there manifested, they would have better understood my feelings, and rejoiced too.
July 6th, I took the steamer for Belfast. Here was a work going on, which was paramount to all I had seen. Women were at work; and no one could justly say that they were dilatory or inefficient. Never in Ireland, since the famine, was such a happy combination of all parties, operating so harmoniously together, as was here manifested. Not in the least like the women of Dublin, who sheltered themselves behind their old societies - most of them excusing themselves from personal labor, feeling that a few visits to the abodes of the poor were too shocking for female delicacy to sustain; and though occasionally one might be prevailed upon to go out, yet but for a few days could I ever persuade any to accompany me. Yet much was given in Dublin; for it is a city celebrated for its benevolence, and deservedly so, as far as giving goes. But giving and doing are antipodes in her who has never been trained to domestic duties. The faithful John Gregg thundered his powerful anathemas on the indolent in God's vineyard, who labored not among the poor, nor descended to the duties of women in emergencies like this. They heard it: some said it was beautiful; some declared he was the most witty man they ever heard; and others said his remarks were quite amusing; - but how many ever through the week were influenced to practice his preaching, eternity will best tell.
The Belfast Ladies' Association embraced an object which lives and tells, and will continue to do so, when they who formed it shall be no more on earth. It was on January 1st, 1847, that the first meeting was held in the Commercial Buildings, by ladies of all religious denominations; and they there resolved to form a Society, for the purpose of raising a fund to be appropriated to afflicted localities, without any regard to religious distinctions. Visiting soon commenced, under the titles of Corresponding Committee, Industrial Committee, Clothing Committee, and Collecting Committee. Without inserting the names of these indefatigable ladies, it may be recorded that more than one hundred and fifty were associated in this work; the highways and hedges were faithfully visited, the poor sought out, their condition cared for, and the children of the most degraded class were taken and placed in a school, which continues to flourish on an extensive scale. This school has the benefit of being taught the elementary branches of an education, and the most useful needlework and knitting; and the squalid looks of the children were soon exchanged for health, and that indifference to appearance which the hungry, neglected poor soon wear, was, like magic almost, transformed into a becoming tidiness and self-respect.
Though many had never before known anything of sewing or knitting, yet they soon produced specimens praiseworthy to teacher and scholar, and by this industry earned a little each week which they could call their own. Other schools of the kind multiplied in almost every part of Ireland, especially in Connaught, where the exertions of Dr. Edgar, who explored this province, have been a great blessing in this respect. Many a poor child by these schools has been made to look up with a hope which was entirely new - a hope that in after days she might wear a shawl and a bonnet, write a good letter, make a dress, &c. The happy effects of industry on the minds of the children were striking. That passive indifference to all but how a morsel of bread should be obtained, was exchanged for a becoming manner and animated countenance, lighted up by the happy consciousness that industry was a stepping-stone which would justly and honorably give them a place among the comfortable and respectable of the earth. And again, to quote Dr. Edgar, every look seemed to say, "They have had in their work a full reward." And he adds, "Thus an independent, self-supporting, and useful generation may be raised, who will be less at the mercy of changing seasons; and who, when the day of trouble comes, will have some resources on which to draw."
My greatest object in writing this sketch of the famine being to show its effects on all classes, rather than to detail scenes of death by starvation, a few sketches only of this kind in passing along will be given, for the purpose of illustrating the principle of mind as it developes itself in the varied changes through which it is called to pass. These Industrial Schools, which I afterward visited when passing through Connaught in 1847 and 1848, were subjects of the deepest interest; for to me they told the whole story of Ireland's wrongs and Ireland's remedy. They told me, that when usurpation robbed them of the means of industry, for their own good, that oppression confined this industry to the personal benefits of the oppressor, and thus deadened every natural excitement to labor, which promised nothing but a bare subsistence among the children of men who looked down with contempt upon them, because, by this "hewing of wood and drawing of water," they had been kept in degraded, unrequited servitude; but now that an industry, founded on righteous principles, was springing up - an industry that not only rewarded but elevated - the convenient term, "lazy Irish," was hiding its slanderous head.
The Belfast Association felt this more and more, as they received returns from Connaught of the happy effects of these schools, and their hearts were more and more encouraged in pursuing these labors of love. They met often, they planned, they talked together of the best means to accomplish the most good; and one great beauty of these meetings was, no one said to her sister, "Stand by, for I am holier than thou." Different parties who had never mingled, now felt one common interest. She who had much brought in of her abundance, and she who had little brought in her mite. While these benevolent women were teaching the practice of industry to the poor, they found the benefit react upon themselves, for they too must be industrious. This new, this arduous, long-neglected work, required not only their skill but their energies, to put and keep the vast machinery in motion. Money was not all that was requisite in the work. The abodes of the most wretched must be visited; and, though before the famine they had scarcely dreamed of the suffering that was in their city, and could not believe that their intelligent, industrious town was in much real want, when they found that many uncomplaining children of distress had been struggling for life long before the famine, they doubled if possible their energies, and cheerfully showed by individual exertion, that if they had previously overlooked this pleasing duty, they would repair as far as possible all that had been neglected before on their part. The men, too, showed themselves efficient coworkers; they contributed, many of them bountifully, and some visited too. They erected a bath-house for the benefit of laborers and the poor of all classes, to which was attached a laundress, that the poor in the most economical way could be provided with materials for this important handmaid to health and respectability - cleanliness.
I loved to linger in Belfast. All seemed to be life, and life to some purpose. All hearts seemed to be awakened to one and the same object, to do good most efficiently; and one peculiar trait was here perceivable - none of that desire for who should be greatest seemed prevalent. A mutual confidence prevailed. One would tell me enthusiastically, that she did not know how the association could manage without Maria Webb; her judgment was always the turning point in all difficulties. Maria Webb would expatiate on the efficiency of Mary Ireland, as a visitor and manager; a third would regret that the indefatigable Miss M'Cracken, she feared, would soon leave us, as her age had passed the line of three-score years and ten; another expatiated on the faithful Miss - , who was a Roman Catholic, but whose labors of love had been untiring; and she was quite sorry that difference in religious profession had so long kept so many useful members at a distance, &c. This to a stranger could probably be viewed with a sober, impartial eye, that those moving in the machinery could not; and to me it looked like a heavenly influence distilling unperceived into the hearts of all, like the dew, which falls alike on the garden flower or mountain weed.
Another most valuable principle was illustrated by this famine, which a God-loving heart must admire, viz., the difference between a hireling and a voluntary worker, and so clear was this difference, that whenever, in going the length of Ireland, I met any of either class upon coaches, in trains, visiting the poor, or distributing donations in soup-shops, or elsewhere, a mistake was not once made in pronouncing who was a paid officer, or who was there moved by an innate voice, to do what he could for the poor. Allow me to dwell a little on this and make it as clear as I can.
An officer paid by government was generally well paid, consequently he could take the highest seat in a public conveyance, he sought for the most comfortable inns, where he could secure the best dinner and wines; he inquired the state of the people, and did not visit the dirty hovels himself when he could find a menial who would for a trifle perform it; and though sometimes when accident forced him in contact with the dying or dead, his pity was stirred, it was mingled with the curse which always follows: "Laziness and filth, and he wondered why the dirty wretches had lived so long; and he hoped this lesson would teach them to work in future, and lay up something as other people did." When his plan of operation was prepared, his shop opened, and books arranged, and the applications of the starving were numerous, he peremptorily silenced this, and sent away that without relief; many who had walked miles without food for twenty-four hours, and some died on their way home, or soon after reaching it; and when the story was told him, and he entreated to look into the cases of such, the answer was, that he must be true to the government, and not give out to any whose names he had not entered into the books; if they died how could he help it, &c. If all did not do precisely as has been stated, all manifested a similar spirit, more or less.
The Hon. William Butler, who was appointed as an overseer by government, was an exception, so far as language was concerned; he spoke feelingly, but his personal habits were not brought to that test of many with a lower station; he acted kindly as an inspector, and devised the best means which he could, and I was informed, when making the inquiry respecting his distinguished humanity, that he accepted his appointment from principle, and not from necessity, that he might see that justice was better administered.
Let us now follow the self-moved or heavenly-moved donor. He was found mingling with the poorest, often taking the lowest seat, curtailing all unnecessary expense that he might have more to give, seeking out the most distressed; looking into the causes of distress, that he might better know how to remove them, never up-braiding with harshness, and always seeking some apology for their misdoings, when representing their case to the uninformed. Many, both men and women, among this class, took most responsible donations without any reward, and acted in the kindest and most judicious manner; always minding to serve first those who needed most and had come the farthest. This kindly spirit was reciprocated at once by the poor, and with an astonishing discernment they often manifested this knowledge; sometimes much to the uneasiness of the party who were guilty. Through the whole of the famine, I never heard any of the poor complain of one who was giving from his own purse, and seeking out his own objects; nor, on the other hand, did I ever hear one say, who gave him true benevolence, that he ever met ingratitude. This might have been, but I speak only from personal observation.
While stopping in Belfast, at the hospitable "White House," so called, owned by the family of Grimshaws, I became acquainted with a Miss Hewitson, whose father resided in Donegal. My destiny was to that county; hearing that the distress there was very great, I wished to see it.
William Bennett and his son had visited that part, in March, distributing donations at his own expense [p. 80] mostly, and his painful descriptions had awakened a strong desire to see for myself, and though I had no means in hand, I had reason to hope that there might be some on the ocean. I took the coach for Derry, a few miles from that town. The mother of Miss Hewitson was to meet me in her own carriage, and conduct me to her house in Rossgarrow. Derry had not suffered so much as many other towns, and a stranger passing through would not notice any particular change from its condition in past years. But this little relief was only to make what followed appear the more painful. Mrs. Hewitson met me with her son, and we took tea at a delightful little mansion on the sloping side of one of Ireland's green lawns, looking down upon a beautiful lake. "And is there," I asked, "on this pretty spot, misery to be found?" - "Come and see," was the answer of my kind friend. It was twilight when we stepped into the carriage, and few painful objects met us till we reached her dwelling.
Her paternal cottage was nestled in a pretty wood, its roof thatched, and its windows shaded by the creeping vine in front. On one end, a window gave one of the most beautiful peeps upon a lake that can be imagined; and the back contained a garden which was one of the most pleasant retreats I had met, for the gooseberry was just ripe. Here had this discreet, this "virtuous woman," lived, and by precept and example trained a family of sons and daughters, which will, which do arise and call her blessed. Her husband had been an officer, and was then receiving a small pension, and during the first season of the famine had been employed by government as an overseer of the Board of Works. His heart had sickened at the scenes which came under his eye, some sketches of which have been before the public.
The morning lighted up a pretty cottage, well ordered, and the breakfast-table presented a treat unseen before by me in Ireland. Instead of the bread, butter, tea, and egg, which are the height of the best Irish breakfast, there was a respectable corn-cake, made as it should be, suitable accompaniments of all kinds, with the best of cream for me; and were it not that the hungry had then commenced their daily usages of assembling in crowds about the house for food, that breakfast would have been a pleasant one. When I ascertained that her husband had been in America, and from him she had been told of the virtues of corn-cake, and that her skill had been exercised till she had brought it to perfection - I valued it if possible still more. Had the Irish mothers throughout Ireland managed as did this woman, their task in the famine would have been much lighter - the poor, many more of them, would have been saved, and multitudes who have gone down might have retained their standing. Had the higher classes known how to have changed the meal into the many palatable shapes contrived by this economical housekeeper, when the wheaten loaf was so high, immense money might have been saved to all parties. It was brought in such disrepute by bad cooking, that many would be ashamed to be found eating it, and one man who was begging most earnestly for food, when offered some of this prepared in Irish style, turned away in contempt, saying, "No, thank God, I've never been brought to ate the yeller indian."
This industrious woman, like Solomon's prudent wife, had not only risen "while it was yet dark," to prepare meat for her household, but she had been in her meal-room at four in the morning, weighing out meal for the poor, the Society of Friends in Dublin having furnished her with grants. This I found was her daily practice, while the poor through the day made the habitation a nucleus not of the most pleasant kind. The lower window-frame in the kitchen was of board instead of glass, this all having been broken by the pressure of faces continually there.
Who could eat, who could work, who could read, or who could play in such circumstances as these? Certainly it sometimes seemed that the sunshine was changed, that the rain gave a stranger pattering, and truly, that the wind did moan most dolefully. The dogs ceased their barking, there were scarcely any cocks to be heard crowing in the morning, and the glad-some mirth of children everywhere ceased. O! ye, whose nerves are disturbed at the glee of the loud-laughing boy, come to this land of darkness and death, and for leagues you may travel, and in house or cabin, by the wayside, on the hill-top, or upon the meadow, you shall not see a smile, you shall not see the sprightly foot running in ecstacy after the rolling hoop, leaping the ditch or tossing the ball. The young laughing full [p. 83] faces, and brilliant eyes, and buoyant limbs, had become walking-skeletons of death! When I saw one approaching, with his emaciated fingers locked together before him, his body in a bending position, as all generally crawled along, if I had neither bread nor money to give, I turned from the path; for, instead of the "God save ye kindly," or "Ye look wary, lady," which had ever been the salutation to me on the mountains, I knew it would be the imploring look or the vacant sepulchral stare, which, when once fastened upon you, leaves its impress for ever. The kind Hewitsons seemed not only to anticipate my wants, but to enter into my feelings as a stranger whose heart was tortured with unparalleled scenes of suffering, and they did all to make my stay pleasant, and if possible to draw away my mind a little from the painful objects around me. They conducted me from place to place, and showed me much of the beautiful scenery with which Donegal abounds, as well as all Ireland. Lakes bountifully dot this part of Donegal. Rathmelton, Milford, Letterkenny, Dunfanaghy, all lie in this region, as well as a romantic spot on the sea-shore, called M'Sweeny's Gun, so called on account of the report that the sea makes when it rushes with tremendous force under the rock which overhangs it, and through which a round hole has been made, and as the waves dash, shooting through, high into the air, a loud report, like that of a gun, is heard; but as natural curiosities are not the object of this sketch, they cannot be dwelt upon: curiosities of a most unnatural and fearful kind have fallen [p. 84] to my share. As fond as I had always been of looking upon the grandeur of the sea-coast in Ireland, which has no rival probably, taken as a whole; now the interest was so deadened, by the absence of the kindly children, who were always ready to point out every spot of interest, and give its name, that a transient look sufficed. At Letterkenny, the Roman Catholic Bishop invited us to his house, and treated us with much courtesy; showed us his robes and badges of honor, given him at Rome; and though he knew that we were Protestants, yet he appeared not to suspect but that we should be as deeply interested as though we were under his jurisdiction. Many favorable opportunities presented, to become acquainted with the effects of the famine upon the Romish priests. Some were indefatigable, and died in their labors; while others looked more passively on. They had two drawbacks which the Protestants in general had not. - First, a great proportion of them are quite poor; and second, they, in the first season of the famine, were not intrusted with grants, as the Protestants were. These difficulties operated strongly upon the minds of the benevolent class among them. One Protestant clergyman informed me, that so much confidence had he in the integrity of the Catholic priest in his parish, that when he had a large grants sent to him, he offered as much of it to the priest as he could distribute, knowing, he added, that it would be done with the greatest promptitude and fidelity. No ministers of religion in the world know as much of their people as do the Catholics, not one of their flock is forgotten, scarcely by name, however poor or degraded; and consequently when the famine came, they had not to search out the poor, they knew the identical cabin in which every starving one was lying, and as far as knowledge was concerned were in a condition to act most effectually.
My next visit was to the far-famed Gweedore, the estate of Lord George Hill. This gentleman is too well-known to need a description. His works will live when he is where the "wicked cease from troubling." His facts on Gweedore are the most amusing of anything I have read on the habits of the Irish; and to understand what Lord George Hill has done, whoever visits that spot should first read these "facts," and then all objections must be silenced respecting the capacity of the most savage of that nation being elevated. These "facts" I had never read till some time after my visit there, which I now much regret. It would not be supposed that during a famine this spot could be seen to much advantage; but there was, even then, a degree of comfort which did not exist in any other part I had seen. It lies in the parish of Tullaghobegly, on the north-west coast of Ireland, where the wildest scenery stretches along the bold coast, in many places; and where it would seem that man, unless driven from the society of his fellow-being, would never think of making his abode. But here men had clustered, and here they had constructed rude huts, of loose stone or turf, and with but little law, they were a "law to themselves," each one doing as he listed. The system of Rundale prevailed, "one tenant had his proportion in thirty or forty different places, and without fences between them;" and the strips were often so small, that half a stone of oats would sow one of these divisions; and these "Gweedore facts" tell us that one poor man had his inheritance in thirty-two different places, and abandoned, in despair, the effort to make them out. There were no resident landlords, the rent was paid any how, or not at all, as the tenant was disposed. Sometimes a little was picked up, as they termed it, by some agent going from cabin to cabin, and receiving what each might please to give. Their evenings were passed in each other's huts, till late at night, telling stories, drinking potteen, &c. Perpetual quarrels arose from the Rundale system; for the cattle, on a certain day, were brought from the mountain, to graze on the arable land; and if Mikey or Paddy had not his crops gathered, they were injured, and then a fight set matters at rest again. The animals, too, were often divided, according to the Rundale system: if four men, for instance, owned a horse, each must provide a shoe; in one case, but three men had a share in one, consequently the unshod foot got lame; a dispute arose, one of the two complained to a magistrate, that he had kept his foot shod decently, and "had shod the fourth foot twice to hoot!" Let modern socialists take a few lessons from these originals.
Their materials for agricultural labor were at one time quite novel: when a field was to be harrowed the harrow was made fast to the pony's tail; a rope was fastened to the horse's tail, and then to the harrow; but if the hair of the tail was long it was fastened by a peg into a hole in the barrow; thus equipped, a man mounted his back, and drove him over the field. Whoever lacks invention let him learn from Paddy. The following true description of that district is given by Patrick M'Kye, the teacher of the National School, in 1837, in a memorial sent to the Lord Lieutenant; nor was Patrick's memorial in vain, for it not only awakened an Englishman to send these naked ones clothing, but it will be handed down to future generations, as a memento of both the suffering state of that people, and the faithfulness of the writer; and, above all, it will show in very lively colors what persevering enlightened philanthropy can do, when in the heart of such a landlord as Lord George Hill.
Here follows the document; and if every schoolmaster in Ireland had so turned his parish inside out, many more Lords, like George Hill, might have long since arisen to their help: --
"To His Excellency the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland,
"THE MEMORIAL OF PATRICK M'KYE
"MOST HUMBLY SHOWETH,
"That the parishioners of the parish of West Tullaghobegly, in the Barony of Kilmacrennan, in the County of Donegal, are in the most needy, hungry, and naked condition of any people that ever came within the precincts of my knowledge, although I have traveled a part of nine counties in Ireland, also a part of England and Scotland, together with a part of British America; I have likewise perambulated 2253 miles through seven of the United States, and never witnessed the tenth part of such hunger, hardships and nakedness.
"Now, my Lord, if the causes which I now lay before your Excellency, were not of very extraordinary importance, I would never presume to lay them before you.
"But I consider myself in duty bound by charity to relieve distressed and hungry fellow-man, although I am sorry to state that my charity cannot extend farther than to explain to the rich where hunger and hardships exist, in almost the greatest degree that nature can endure.
"This I shall endeavor to explain in detail, with all the truth and accuracy in my power, and without the least exaggeration, as follows: -
"There are about 4000 [1*] persons in this parish, and all Catholics, and as poor as I shall describe, having among them no more than -
No wheel car,
No coach, or any other vehicle,
Two hundred and forty-three stools,
Ten iron grapes,
No swine, hogs, or pigs,
Two feather beds,
Eight chaff beds,
One national school,
No other school,
No other resident gentleman,
Eight brass candlesticks,
No looking glasses above 3d. in price,
No boots, no spurs,
No fruit trees,
Or any other garden vegetables, but potatoes and cabbage, and not more than ten square feet of glass in windows in the whole, with the exception of the chapel, the school-house, the priest's house, Mr. Dombrain's house, and the constabulary barrack.
"None of their either married or unmarried women can afford more than one shift, and the fewest number can afford any, and more than one half of both men and women cannot afford shoes to their feet, nor can many of them afford a second bed, but whole families of sons and daughters of mature age indiscriminately lying together with their parents, and all in the bare buff.
"They have no means of harrowing their land, but with meadow rakes. Their farms are so small that from four to ten farms can be harrowed in a day with one rake.
"Their beds are straw - green and dried rushes or mountain bent: their bed-clothes are either coarse sheets, or no sheets, and ragged filthy blankets.
"And worse than all that I have mentioned, there is a general prospect of starvation, at the present prevailing among them, and that originating from various causes, but the principal cause is the rot or failure of seed in the last year's crop, together with a scarcity of winter forage, in consequence of a long continuation of storm since October last, in this part of the country.
"So that they, the people, were under the necessity of cutting down their potatoes and giving them to their cattle to keep them alive. All these circumstances connected together, have brought hunger to reign among them to that degree, that the generality of the peasantry are on the small allowance of one meal a day, and many families cannot afford more than one meal in two days, and sometimes one meal in three days. Their children are crying and fainting with hunger, and their parents weeping, being full of grief, hunger, debility and dejection, with glooming aspect, looking at their children likely to expire in the jaws of starvation.
"Also, in addition to all, their cattle and sheep are dying with hunger, and their owners forced by hunger to eat the flesh of such. 'Tis reasonable to suppose that the use of such flesh will raise some infectious disease among the people, and it may very reasonably be supposed, that the people will die even faster than the cattle and sheep, if some immediate relief be not sent to alleviate their hunger.
"Now, my Lord, it may perhaps seem inconsistent with truth that all I have said could possibly be true, but to convince your noble Excellency of the truth of all that I have said, I will venture to challenge the world to produce one single person to contradict any part of my statement.
"I must acknowledge, that if reference were made to any of the landlords or landholders of the parish, they would contradict it, as it is evident it would blast their honors if it were known abroad that such a degree of want existed in their estates among their tenantry. But here is how I make my reference and support the truth of all that I have said; that is, if any unprejudiced gentleman should be sent here to investigate strictly into the truth of it, I will, if called on, go with him from house to house, where his eyes will fully satisfy and convince him, and where I can show him about one hundred and forty children bare naked, and who were so during winter, and some hundreds only covered with filthy rags, most disgustful to look at. Also, man and beast housed together, i.e., the families in one end of the house, and the cattle in the other end of the kitchen.
"Some houses have within their walls, from one cwt. to thirty cwts. of dung, others having from ten to fifteen tons weight of dung, and only cleaned out once a year!
"I have also to add that the National School has greatly decreased in number of scholars, through hunger and extreme poverty; and the teacher of said school, with a family of nine persons, depending on a salary of £8 a year, without any benefit from any other source. If I may hyperbolically speak, it is an honor for the Board of Education!
"One remark before I conclude. I refer your noble Excellency for the authenticity of the above statement to the Rev. H. O'F - , Parish Priest, and to Mr. R - , Chief Constable, stationed at Gweedore, in said parish, and Mr. P - , Chief Officer of Coast Guard, in same district.
"Your most humble and obedient Servant,
[1*] This is an error; the population of Tullaghobegly being 9049 in the year 1841. Paddy M'Kye, however, when he wrote in the year 1837, had no means of ascertaining this, as he had all the other particulars in his statement.
This error of the faithful Paddy is certainly a very modest one, and serves rather to brighten than eclipse the picture. It looks as though the mind of the writer was not so perverted, nor so lacking in material, as to be driven to exaggeration to make out a vivid, exciting story.
"I stand alone, without fear, in the midst of thousands, though the valiant be distant far." -- OSSIAN.
Now, reader, summon your forces, collect your strength, and see if you are prepared to meet such a formidable host and go forth to battle. There was one in the face and eyes of all the foregoing graphic facts, stood up single-handed; and, like the shepherd son of Jesse, went forth and boldly challenged this gigantic Goliah. Yes! Lord George Hill is not a George Washington, his work was a mightier one - his was a grapple with mind, with untutored mind, gathering strength for ages, till it seemed to defy all attempts of reform; and, like the bold cliffs which hung over their wild coast, stood up in their pride and said, "Dash on, we heed you not." Washington had carnal battles to fight, and with carnal weapons, in the hands of gallant soldiers, he scattered the foe. But mark! He that by moral power grapples with the worst passions of men, and lays them harmless at his feet, has done more than he who has conquered whole armies by the sword. This, Lord George Hill has done. In 1838 this indefatigable man purchased small holdings, adding to them, till the whole amounted to upward of 23,000 acres. 3,000 people then inhabited the land, and but 700 paid rent. What did he do ? Did he take a body of policemen, and arm himself with a pike and pistol, and go forth, demanding submission or death? He had an efficient agent; and "temporary apartments were fitted up on the spot." He then went himself into every hut on his estate: and, understanding Irish, he soon gained access to their hearts: they said, "he could not be a lord because he spoke Irish."
His first work was to check the illicit distillation of their grain; and he built a corn store, 87 feet long and 22 wide, with three lofts, and a kiln; then a quay was formed in front of the store, admitting vessels of 200 tons, having 14 feet of water at the height of the tide. A market was established, where the same price was paid for grain as at Letterkenny, 26 miles distant. The difficulties of building this store were great indeed -- no masons or carpenters in the vicinity -- and the site must be excavated by blasting a solid rock. But what will not, and what did not perseverance do? It was done, and next a wheelwright was employed; timber and iron brought from Derry; until the calls multiplied, the store was stocked with the common necessaries of life, and at last it was increased double in size. The inhabitants, for the first time, began to eat bread; and, can you believe it? savage as they were, they loved it. The next difficult work was to place each tenant on his own farm; and to do this every landholder was served with notice "to quit." A surveyor had drawn maps, the tenants were assembled, and, the new allotments made according to his rent, all previous bargains were adjusted to mutual satisfaction. But the final allotments of land took three years to settle: they must look over their new farms, all in one piece, and cast lots for them. The Rundale system, when disturbed, brought new difficulties to these people; it broke up their clusters of huts, and the facilities of assembling nights, to tell and hear long stories; and they must tumble down their cabins, which were of loose stones; and the owner of the cabin hired a fiddler, which no sooner known, than the joyous Irish are on the spot: each takes a stone or stones upon his or her back, (for women and children are there,) -- they dance at intervals -- the fiddler animates them on while the day light lasts, and then the night is finished by dancing. When the houses were set up anew upon the farms, Lord George thought it advisable to have a few ten acre farms, fenced in on the waste land. This was instantly opposed, for they did not want these divisions occupied, as by so doing it would thin out the crowds and break up the clanship too much. They would not be hired to make the ditches; and a "fearless wanderer" could only do the work; though sods of turf were hurled at him he kept on, but the contest was so sharp that it was settled at last by two policemen, at night, who frightened away the assailants, who had assembled to "settle" the ditch. Peace was concluded, ditches were made, premiums were offered for the best specimens of clean cottages, which now had chimneys and windows, whitewashed walls, suitable beds and bedsteads, crockery and chairs, and the manure heap at a respectable distance, and all bearing the appearance of comfort. These premiums extended to growing green crops, draining farms, good calves, pigs, colts, &c., and for webs of cloth, best knit stockings, firkins of butter, &c., &c. The premium day was the wonder of wonders; for they were told that the noble-hearted Lord George was to dine with them, which the poor people could not believe, and were afraid to go in, till the surveyor assured them that it was true. This was the crowning of the whole, and puts forever at rest any doubts of the good sense of this well-balanced mind, which knew how to lay the foundation, set up the walls, and put on his seal to the topmost stone. Our Savior explained this principle emphatically, when rebuked for eating with publicans and sinners: "I came not to call the righteous," &c. Lord George Hill knew well the secret avenue to the hearts of these people; he knew they were men, and though circumstances had made them degraded ones, yet if the smothered embers of that Image in which they were created could be stirred, living sparks would be emitted. Did this "familiarity breed contempt?" Did they take undue advantage, and say, "We will not have this man to rule over us," and was God offended? Come and see the fruits of his decision and condescension -- they both stand out in as bold relief as the old mountain Arrigle which nods its cloud-capped head over this district.
But details must be left: Facts from Gweedore, should be in the hand and heart of every landlord who may have anything to do in difficulties like these. Let him visit these comfortable cottages, supplied with decencies, to cause the inmates to feel that they are human; let him see the industry of the women and the becoming clothing of the peasantry; let him visit the store, the mill, the union-house, school-house, and dispensary; and while he is doing all this, let his home be for a few days in that well-ordered hotel, and notice the consistency of the whole; and if he can, let him go and do likewise. If he cannot, let him retrace all his steps, and impartially decide how far his own negligence, improvidence, love of ease, and indifference to the real good of his tenantry, may have contributed to bring him into this state. If he have not capital, like Lord George Hill, where is his capital? Have horses, coaches, hunting dogs, and hunting dinners frittered it away? Then woe betide him, his day is over, who can help him? The school-house at Bunbeg, near this store, is not a small item in this great work. The room is 25 feet by 15, lofty and well-ventilated. The teacher has a dwelling under the same roof; and when I visited it all was order and comfort. The girls are taught sewing, for of this the people are quite ignorant, and it may safely be presumed that Lord George would not restrict their advance in education to certain bounds, lest their talents should transcend their station in life. I spent a Sabbath in that quiet hotel, and attended the Church service, which was then conducted in the schoolroom; a house of worship was in progress, but not ready to be opened. The female tenantry who were at home, walking upon the street, or calling into the hotel, al- [p. 98] ways had their knitting-work in motion whenever I saw them, and such a surplus of stockings as amounted to about £200, was then on hand, all of which the females had been paid for knitting. "They shall not be idle," said his lordship, "though the work is on my hands unsold." His family residence is located about twenty miles from Gweedore, but he and his wife were at the hotel the evening that I reached it, and meeting him in the morning in the hall -- supposing him to be some respectable appendage to the house -- made inquiries concerning it; and not till he made some remarks respecting my self-denying travels in Ireland, did I find my mistake. I saw at once the secret of his mighty achievements; his simplicity was his dignity and strength. He had struggled hard during the famine to keep his tenantry from suffering, without much foreign aid, had sacrificed much, and difficulties were increasing. The next winter the hotel was closed for a time; sickness had made inroads into the house, and death likewise; but it was re-opened the next season, under more encouraging auspices.
This man has proved to a demonstration what can be done even with the most hopeless, and under the most discouraging circumstances; for if Lord George Hill could transform those wild mountain goats, even to common civilized bullocks, what could not be done with any and all of the wild game of Ireland? Pity, great pity, that so few have applied the right key to the Irish heart! Still greater pity that so few believe there is a key that can find a right entrance; give Lord George Hill a patent right, and let all who will improve it, and Ireland will arise.
Now, in 1850, he writes, "Say that no person died of famine at Gweedore, though many of the aged and infants, from being scantily fed, died earlier than otherwise they would, as well as from change of diet; also that the people are reviving in a great degree, from the potatoe having held out this year."
Lord George Hill is an Irishman of the Hillsborough family, in the county Down, brother to the late and uncle to the present Marquis of Downshire, a true Irishman, who lives and acts for his country.
Two miles from Gweedore an English gentleman had fixed a residence on the woody side of a hill, with a fine lake at a little distance, who was attracted there by the beauty of the scenery, and a desire to enjoy the evening of his days in a romantic peaceful retirement among a peasantry which pleased him; and his wife and daughters were quite an acquisition to the scattered intelligent class, which dotted the wild scenery there. His family were then in England, and when I met him a few weeks after in Derry, he said, "I waited all day to see you, but when you come again we shall not be disappointed." He died a few weeks after, and left a sad breach in the hearts of many.
This little incident is named to show how much the English, who go to Ireland because they admire the country, and justly appreciate the people, are beloved. They are always mentioned with the greatest admiration where they have behaved with a proper condescension and kindness to the people.
My next excursion was from Gweedore to Dungloe, with Mr. Foster, who conducted me to his pretty cottage and lovely family, in the parish of Templecrone. It was a wild and dreary waste which led us to it - here and there a cluster of miserable cabins, and still more miserable inmates, met the eye; now and then a hungry being would crawl out and make some sorrowful complaint of neglect by the relieving officer, which could not be remedied; but when we reached the cottage of my guide, all bespoke plenty and comfort. Here, in the midst of desolation and death, this isolated bright spot said, "Mercy is not clean gone forever." Here was the minister of Templecrone, who had come to dine, for he heard that a stranger who pitied Ireland was to be there, and his heart was made of tenderness and love. Seldom can be met a being where such amiable, tender, and sympathetic kindness, are united with energy and perseverance, as were in this man. He was alive to every tale of woe, and active to surmount all difficulties; with his own hands, he labored to assist the poor - they have laid their dead around his gate in the night, knowing that the "blessed minister would not let them be buried without a board on 'em." We spent a painful-pleasant evening at this hospitable house, talking of the dreadful scenes of death in their midst, and then the kind man rode eight miles on horseback to his home. The next day we were to visit Arranmore, a pretty sunny island, where peace and comfort had ever reigned. The peasantry here were about 1500 in number, occupying a green spot three miles in length, and had always maintained a good character for morality and industry. They kept cows, which supplied them with milk, sheep with wool, geese with beds, fowls with eggs; and grew oats, potatoes, and barley; they wore shoes and stockings, which none of the female peasantry can do in the country places; they likewise spun and made their own wearing apparel, and as the difficulty of crossing the channel of the sea, which was three miles, was considerable, they seldom visited the main land. When they saw the potatoe was gone, they ate their fowls, sheep, and cows, and then began to cross the sea to Templecrone for relief. What could they find there? One man could do but little to stay the desolation. Hundreds had died before this, and though I knew that painful scenes were in waiting, yet, if possible, the half was not told me. Six men, beside Mr. Griffith, crossed with me in an open boat, and we landed, not buoyantly, upon the once pretty island. The first that called my attention was the death-like stillness -- nothing of life was seen or heard, excepting occasionally a dog. These looked so unlike all others I had seen among the poor I unwittingly said - "How can the dogs look so fat and shining here, where there is no food for the people?" "Shall I tell her?" said the pilot to Mr. Griffith, not supposing that I heard him.
This was enough: if anything were wanting to make the horrors of a famine complete, this supplied the deficiency. Reader, I leave you to your thoughts, and only add that the sleek dogs of Arranmore were my horror, if not my hatred, and have stamped on my mind images which can never be effaced.
We made our first call at the door of the chapel; the fat surly-looking priest was standing there; and, saying to him, "Your people, sir, are in a bad state." "Bad enough, they give me nothing." "Why should they? -- you cannot expect or ask anything of the poor starving creatures." The curate withdrew, leaving the battle to be decided by the priest, pilot, and myself, for he had known him before. "Ah," said the pilot, softly, "he's a hard one; there's the Christian for you," pointing to the curate, "he's the man that has the pitiful heart, -- not a cratur on the island but would lay down the life for him." This pilot was a Roman Catholic, but that characteristic impartiality, peculiar to the Irish, where justice and mercy are concerned, belonged to him likewise. We went from cabin to cabin, till I begged the curate to show me no more. Not in a solitary instance did one beg. When we entered their dark, smoky, floor-less abodes, made darker by the glaring of a bright sun, which had been shining upon us, they stood up before us in a speechless, vacant, staring, stupid, yet most eloquent posture, mutely graphically saying, "Here we are, your bone and your flesh, made in God's image, like you. Look at us! What brought us here?" May God forgive me, and I believe he will, or I would not say it. With Job, I said, "Let darkness and the shadow of death stain that day when first the potato was planted I in this green isle of the sea, to oppress the poor laborer, and at last bring him to a valley of death - deep, dark, intricate - where slimy serpents, poison lizards, and gnawing vultures creep and wind about his wasted limbs, and gnaw into the deepest recesses of his vitals.
In every cabin we visited, some were so weak that they could neither stand nor sit, and when we entered they saluted us, by crawling on all fours toward us, and trying to give some token of welcome. Never, never was the ruling passion stronger in death. That heart-felt greeting which they give the stranger, had not in the least died within them; it was not asking charity, for the curate answered my inquiries afterward, concerning the self-control, which was the wonder of all, that he had sent a man previously through the island, to say that a stranger, from across the sea, was coming to visit them, but she had no money or food to give, and they must not trouble her. I gave a little boy a biscuit, and a thousand times since have I wished that it had been thrown into the sea; it could not save him: he took it between his bony hands, clasped it tight, and half-bent as he was, lifted them up, looked with his glaring eyes upon me, and gave a laughing grin that was truly horrible. The curate turned aside, and beckoned me away. "Did you see that horrid attempt to laugh?" "I cannot stay longer," was my answer. We hurried away. The noble-minded pilot said, "Will you step into my little place, and I will show you the boiler where I made the soup and stirabout, while the grants lasted." These grants were mostly sent by the churches in England, and some poor deserving persons selected to give them out, and a very small compensation granted them, from the food they were distributing; and it should be here remarked, that when mention is made of the difference between "hirelings" and "volunteers," I mean those "hirelings" who were paid by government great salaries, and like the slave-overseers, could order this flogging, and withhold that, according to their own caprices. This does not in the least apply to such distributors as these.
The house of this man was a step in advance of the common cabins, and every part as clean as cabin or cottage could be; his young despairing wife sat, with a clean cap and apron on, for she knew we were coming, and uncomplainingly answered our inquiries respecting food, that they had not eaten that day, and the husband led us into the next room, opened a chest, took out a small bowl, partly filled with some kind of meal, and solemnly declared that they had not another morsel in the cabin or out, nor a sixpence to buy any. The curate said, "I know him well, he is a deserving man, and tells us the truth."
When we left this cabin we passed a contiguous one, and a decently clad woman, with shoes and stockings, and blue petticoat, (that was the kind the peasants always wore in their days of comfort,) very pleasantly offered me a bowl of milk. Astonished at the sight of such a luxury, I refused, from the principle that it would be robbing the starving. "I regret," said the curate, as we turned away, "that you did not take it, her feelings were deeply injured: a shadow of disappointment," he said, "came over her face, as she answered in Irish: 'The stranger looks wairy and her heart is drooping for the nourishment.'" O, my Heavenly Father! my "heart drooping for nourishment,"after having taken a wholesome breakfast, and with the prospect of a good dinner at our return. A second kind woman was about making the same offering, when I begged Mr. Griffith, who spoke Irish, to say how much I thanked her; but that I never drank milk, and was not in the least hungry. Inquiring how we came to find milk, the pilot answered, that scattered here and there, a comfortable farmer, who had milked some three or four cows, had saved one from the wreck; but that would soon go, and then all must die together. We hurried away. And now for the burying-ground. "You have seen the living, and must now see the place of the dead."
A famine burying-ground on the sea-coast has some peculiarities belonging to itself. First, it often lies on the borders of the sea, without any wall, and the dead are put into the earth without a coffin, so many piles on piles that the top one often can be seen through the thin covering; loose stones are placed over, but the dogs can easily put these aside, and tear away the loose dirt. This burial-place was on a cliff, whose sides were covered with rough stones, and the ascent in some parts very difficult. We ascended, sometimes keeping erect, and sometimes being obliged to stoop and use our hands. When we reached the top, the painful novelty repaid all [p. 106] our labor. It was an uneven surface of a few perches, with new-made graves and loose stones covering them. A straw-rope was lying near a fresh-dug grave, which the pilot said belonged to an old man, who two days before he saw climbing the cliff, with a son of fifteen lashed to his back by that cord, bringing in his feeble hand a spade. "I untied the cord, took the corpse from the father's back, and with the spade, as well as I could, made a grave and put in the boy;" adding, "Here you see so many have been buried, that I could not cover him well."
This was the burial-place of Arranmore, and here, at the foot, was the old roaring ocean, dashing its proud waves, embracing in its broad arms this trembling green gem, while the spray was continually sprinkling its salt tears upon its once fair cheek, as if weeping over a desolation that it could not repair. At a little distance was a smooth green field, rearing its pretty crop of young barley, whose heads were full and fast ripening for the sickle. "This," said Mr. Griffith, "is the growth of seed which was presented by William Bennet, last March; the poor creatures have sowed it, and if the hands that planted it live to reap the crop, they will have a little bread. Take a few heads of it, and send them to him as a specimen of its fine growth, and of their care in cultivating it. Had these industrious people," he added, "been supplied in the spring with seed of barley and turnips, they would not need charity from the public. The government sent a supply around the coast, the delighted people looked up with hope, when, to their sad disappointment, this expected gift was offered at a price considerably higher than the market one, and we saw the ships sailing away, without leaving its contents; for not one was able to purchase a pound. And we have since been told, that the 'lazy dogs' were offered seed, but refused, not willing to take the trouble to sow it."
We left without doing one favor, and without being asked to do one, except to drink a basin of milk. We found two little meagre, almost naked girls, sitting upon the beach picking shells and grinding them in their clean teeth; they gave a vacant look as we spoke, but answered not.
I gave the six boatmen a shilling each, who had not eaten one mouthful that day, and Mr. G. added six-pence each. Their grateful acknowledgments were doubly affecting, when they said, "This is more than we have had at one time since the famine," and they hastened to the meal-shop to purchase a little for their starving families. We went to a full dinner, prepared in that style which the gentry of Ireland are accustomed to prepare for guests; but what was food to me? The sights at Arranmore were food sufficient. What could be done? Mrs. Forster said, she had written to England, till she was ashamed to tire their generosity again; not once had she been refused from the churches there, and she felt that their patience must be exhausted. She gave the names of some of her donors. A letter was written in the desperation of feeling to an Independent minister there; and God forever bless [p. 108] him and his people, for the ready response. Arranmore was relieved a little.
The next day, a ride of eight miles took me to the house of Mr. Griffith; and here was a family made up of that kindness which the husband and father possessed. He occupied a spot among the honest poor indeed. We went over the bleak waste, to visit a romantic pile of cliff, upon the sea-coast, and on our way the laughing sport of children suddenly broke upon the ear, the first I had heard since the famine; it was from behind a little hillock, and the sound was mournfully pleasant. We hurried on to greet the joyous ones; and, unperceived, saw two little ragged girls, not wasted entirely by hunger, who had come out of a little dark cluster of stone cabins, and forgetting their sufferings, were playing as other children play. We saluted them, and told them to "play on, we are glad to see your sports." We spoke of the allusion of the prophet, when boys and girls are again "to be seen playing in the streets of Jerusalem," as a token of its happiness -- a happiness which, until the famine of Ireland, I never valued enough, but now it is one of the brightest sunbeams that shine across my path. We at last reached one of the most fearful, sublime, and dangerous broken piles of rocks imaginable, tumbled together, and standing almost perpendicularly over the ocean. Deep and frightful caverns yawned between them, and how they came tumbled in this mass never has been made out; they appeared as if shaken together by some sudden crash, and stopped while in their wildest confusion, each seiz- [p. 109] ing hold of its contiguous one to save it from falling. I was glad, quite glad to get away, for had my toot stumbled or slipped, some dark deep gulf might have placed me beyond help or hope. Ossian might have made his bed among these caves, when he says -
"As two dark streams from high, rocks meet and mix."
Rain hurried us to our dinner, and poured upon us, during the ride of eight miles, in darkness, to the cottage of Dungloe. A little incident occurred this evening, which happily testified to a remark made by Mr. Forster, in a letter to a committee, during the famine. Speaking of the starving poor, he says, "They are suffering most patiently, and in this parish, where there are ten thousand souls, not one single outrage has ever been committed in the memory of man."
Mrs. Forster and myself in our retreat and hurry had neglected to shut the hall door; in the morning it was quite open and the hall floor covered with water. "What a dangerous condition," I said, "is this, to leave a house at night, especially in a time of hunger, as the present." "Not in the least," was the answer; "I should not be afraid to leave every door unlocked at night, and every window open, with food or any other property in reach; not the least iota would be touched by one of them." This was self-discipline, which can scarcely be reconciled with hunger in any stomachs but the Irish.
A letter from Mrs. Griffith, in the spring of 1849, says, that the people of Arranmore had recovered their [p. 110] former standing, that relief was immediately sent from England, and they had saved as much for seed as they could, and not starve. Five hundred died from famine on that island. The potatoe was not blasted the following year, and they again looked up with tolerable comfort. The island has since been sold, and cultivation will be carried on upon a more extensive and profitable scale. Could a new race of landlords settle upon that coast, and drain and plow the now useless soil, the tenants that are drooping and discouraged, would lift up their heads with joy and hope. The air blows as pure as ever breezes did; and were industry encouraged, and food abundant; the inhabitants would cause the grave-digger to have the same source of complaint that once was made in the South, when a poor woman exclaimed, "The times are dreadful, ma'am, Patrick has not put a spade to the ground this six weeks, not a word of lyin."
The comfort and hospitality at Roshine Lodge must be left, and with the kind Mrs. F. and her friend I turned away sadly from the scenes of desolation there witnessed, and again went to Gweedore, to meet Mrs. Hewitson, who was to accompany me to Belfast, and we prepared for the journey. She had distributed her grants, and her unceasing labors, often for twenty hours in twenty-four, called for relaxation. We left the pretty spot in sadness, for the starving were crowding about and pressing her for food, following the carriage - begging and thanking - blessing and weeping. We were obliged to shake them off, and hurried in agony away. "Many of these poor creatures," she observed, "will be dead on my return." On our way we passed the afternoon and night at Derry; it was a day for a flower and cattle show. Here were attracted most of the gentry in the county, as well as nobility; and we had an opportunity of sitting on a seat upon the sloping side of a hill, for nearly three hours, in a public garden, which overlooks a pretty part of the town, and feasting our eyes with a view of it. It was supposed nearly three thousand ladies had come out in their best, on this pleasant day, to see this pretty show of flowers; and though these were almost surpassingly beautiful, as Ireland's flowers are, yet the ladies were more so. Their pretty figures, (for they are in general of a fine form,) and becoming dresses, in all the variety of modern colors and fashions, brought me, after more than two hours' admiration, to the conclusion that a more beautiful assemblage of females, of the like number, could not be found. Had the women been educated after the model of Solomon and Paul's "virtuous women and housekeepers," what a crown of glory would they be? But alas! The most of the fine material of which woman is composed, is made up for ornament rather than use, in that unhappy country. A few Mrs. Hewitsons and Forsters are sprinkled here and there, and many can be found in Belfast who have arisen to a higher standard in this respect than the country in general; and the famine, which has been the proof of all that is praiseworthy and all that is deficient in females, has shown that Belfast has a capital, which when employed can be worked to a great and good advantage. But their late rising and late breakfasts wasted the best part of the day; and their foolish custom, which made it approach to vulgarity to give a call before twelve, retarded much that might have been done more easily and effectually. It is much to be scrupled whether one arose "while it was yet dark, to prepare meat for her maidens."
I spent a day in the Library, which was instituted in 1788, and now contains 8,000 volumes, without one of fiction. Is there another library on the globe that can say this? It speaks more for the good sense and correctness of principle in the people of Belfast than any comments or praise whatever can do. I felt, while sitting there, that here was an atmosphere of truth, entirely new. What would the reading community of all nations be, if youth had access to such libraries as these, and to no others?
From Belfast I went up the coast of Antrim, visited many beautiful towns and places, but all was saddened by the desolations of the famine. Industrial schools were everywhere showing their happy effects; and often by the wayside, in clusters upon a bank., or under a tree in some village, were young girls with their fancy knitting, sitting pleasantly together, busy at their work; and this was a striking fact, that in no case, where they were thus employed, did they look untidy; though their garments were of the plainest and poorest, yet they appeared cleanly. I visited a school at Lame, of this description, conducted by a pious widow woman; and [p. 113] the arrangements, in all respects, reflected honor on the superintendents and teacher. Their reading, writing, working, and knowledge of the scriptures, manifested great wisdom and faithfulness in the teacher, as well as aptness in the scholars. The most useful work was done there, and the finest fancy material, much of which has been sold in London, at a fair price, for the benefit of the poor children. One little girl of twelve, by her industry in that school, the preceding winter, had kept a family of three or four from the poor-house by her fancy knitting, occasionally working nearly all night. The father came to the window with a load of turf, to thank her for the instruction of the child, which had fed them through the winter, and this small token of his gratitude, humble as it was, he hoped she would not refuse. These schools, scattered through the island, in the midst of the desolating famine, looked, to the traveler, like some humble violet or flower, springing in the desert or prairie, where a scathing fire had swept over the plain, and withered all that was most prominent to the beholder. Never did I see a company of these little ones, at their cheerful work, or have one present me with a specimen of her attainments, but the unassuming hope-cheered look, eloquently said, "Will you let us live? Will you give us our honest bread, for the willing labor of our hands, and allow us a dwelling-place among the nations of the earth?" Here in these pretty towns, along the coast of Antrim, had the poor-laws manifested their handy-work. The advice of Daniel O'Connell concerning them, was, "If you begin to [p. 114] build poorhouses, you had better at once make one grand roof over the whole island, for in due time the whole country will need a shelter under it." This precaution was not altogether a random one, for already had many of the industrious respectable tradesmen and widows, who were keeping lodging-houses, been compelled to give up their business -- the taxes had come in and taken all within doors, which would sell at auction, for the poor-rates. I was directed to a respectable house to procure lodgings for a few days; the disheartened widow said, "Two days ago I could have given you a well-furnished bedroom and parlor, but now I have neither table, chair, or carpet on the floors; the money was demanded for a new tax just levied, I could not raise it, my furniture was taken, and I have no means to fetch it back, or to get bread." She could not expect respectable lodgers to stop with her, and saw nothing but hunger or the poorhouse for herself and children. Telling her if she would give me a place to lie down, I would stop, and give the usual price, she gladly accepted it, and the money paid her for this was all the means she had to get one meal for herself and three children, while I was in the house. This was a person of good reputation, kept a tidy, well-furnished lodging-house; and before the extra taxes had been laid on, had been able to put by a little money, but it had all been demanded the past year, and the means taken away to procure any more. This was the condition of the entire country.
While riding upon the car, the driver pointed to a peculiar dwelling, with a sign for refreshment, saying, "The woman here is a lucky one, for she pays no rent; if you wish I will stop and let you go in." The entrance was through a door, into a cave, which narrowed as it extended back, till it came to a point, and was very much in the shape of a harrow. A person could stand upright at the mouth, but must stoop, and then crawl, if he proceeded. The old woman lit up her torch, and crept on, insisting that I should follow. The passage was so long, dark, and narrow, that paying the old woman her expected sixpence, I got excused. She had an old bed, lying by the side of one wall of the cave, a little table on the other, on which she kept cakes and "the drap of whisky," for the traveler; and she told us merrily, that no landlord had disturbed her, and she had got the comfortable "bit" for many a twelve-month. Happy old woman! It is hoped that when her gray hairs shall be removed to a still darker cave, the inheritance will fall to some other houseless head, who, like her, shall enjoy unmolested and unenvied this happy den, which like comfort few of the poor outcasts of Ireland can ever hope to attain. Some of the most romantic spots are scattered upon this coast, which is for many a mile enlivened by white rocks, and small white pebbles, near the sea, so that the whole is so inviting, taking sea, rocks, beautiful road, and in many places backed by the rich woodland, that I left the carriage, and loitered among the varying beauties of running brooks, murmuring cascades, neat cottages and pretty churches, and deep green glens. My imagination was inclining to drink in the spirit of the simple little boy who accompanied me. When looking down from an eminence, on the path where we were walking, I saw a crumbling stone cabin, deep below me, in so narrow a defile that its opposite walls nearly extended to the perpendicular hills on each side; and inquiring of the child who could ever build there, expecting to live in it, he simply replied, "Oh, lady! that is a fairy's house; the people have put on the roof many a time, but at night the fairies come and take it off. They live in this glen, ma'am." "Then the fairies do not like roofs to their houses?" "I 'spose not, ma'am."
These fairies have doubtless saved many an agent or tithe-gatherer a "good baitin'," whose cowardly conscience has come by night to rob some corn or hay-stack for his unjust gain. Leaving my little companion, I ascended higher and higher, till at my feet far away stretched the broad sea; and about were sprinkled cabins, looking like the "shabby gentility," which a decayed person who had fallen from higher life keeps up. I entered one of cleanly appearance, and stumbled upon a most frightful sight. A woman with a child on her lap gave me an indifferent nod of welcome, and pointed to a bed through the door; supposing some starving object lay there, I turned to look, and on a bed lay her husband his face uncovered, swollen and black, entirely blind, and blood still fresh about his hair and pillow, and he speechless. She was alone with him, [p. 117] her infant the only inmate: the doctor had just left without dressing his face.
The story was, two hours before, going to his labor, a furious bull had broken from his fastenings and was in mad pursuit after a lady, whose screams attracted the poor laborer; he ran with his spade, rushed between the horns of the animal and the lady, but could not save himself from the bull, which trampled him in the dirt, gored his face, broke his upper jaw, and tore apart one nostril. Three of the animal's legs were tied with the rope when he accomplished all this. The story ended by -- "Thank God, the lady was saved, and the mad bull shot by the owner," and not one word of complaint about her husband. When I said, "What a pity that he went near him." "But, ma'am, didn't he go to save the lady, and wouldn't she been kilt if he hadn't done it?" So much for being a lady in Ireland, and for Irish courage and humanity. Returning to Belfast, I prepared for Dublin, and again sought out old Cook Street; some of my pensioners had removed, but none dead: their rent had been left to be paid weekly for them, and sufficient knitting given for their employ. Another grant was coming for me, to be deposited at Belfast, and the expense of transportation to Dublin would be such, that it was placed in the trustworthy hands of Mrs. Hewitson, who could get it conveyed to her destitute people at a smaller expense, when she should return. This donation, she afterwards said, was eked out for months at the most sparing rate; and the only relief she had in her power during the following winter season. A box of clothing was in my possession, and with this and a little money, I resolved to go to the western coast, in Connaught. I went, and Connaught will long live in my memory, for there are still scenes of suffering, of cruelty, and of patience, which no other people yet have shown to the world. That people who from the time of the invasion have been "hunted and peeled," treated as the "offscouring of all things," driven into "dens and caves of the earth," as the only shelter, now still live, to hold out to the world that lineament of the "image of God," which is, and which must be the everlasting rebuke of their persecutors; which says in the face and eyes of all mankind, to their spoilers -- "You have hated me, you have robbed me, you have shorn me of my beauty; and now, while famine is eating up my strength, gnawing my vitals, you are turning me into the storm, without food, or even "sheep-skins or goat-skins" for a covering; and then tauntingly saying, "Wherein have we robbed you?"
I took the train at Dublin, for twenty-five miles, then a coach to Tuam, where I tarried one night. This is the residence of Bishop M'Hale, and a somewhat respectable old town; but the picture of sorrow was here too, and the next morning I gladly proceeded to Newport. It rained hard, we, were on an open car, and the wretchedness of the country made it altogether a dismal ride. When we had reached a few miles of the town, a dissipated, tattered, and repulsive looking man was seated before me on the car, which was not a little annoying, for he might be a little intoxicated. "Has he paid his fare," I asked the coachman, knowing that if he had, he had the same right as I had; and still more, it would confirm me in the opinion that if he had money to pay his ride, he might have money for drink. We went on, my unpleasant companion never once speaking, till we reached our stopping-place, the Post-Office, at Newport. Here, at my old tried friend's, Mrs. Arthur, I met with a cordial welcome, and getting from the car, was still more annoyed to see this out-of-the-way companion reach the door before me, and fall prostrate in the passage; this was certainly proof that he had been taking whisky, for he did not look like one in the last stages of starvation. My severity upon myself was equal to my surprise, when we found that it was exhaustion occasioned by hunger. When he could speak in a whisper, he begged Mrs. Arthur to take a few sovereigns, which he had sewed up in his ragged coat, and send them to his wife and children, who were suffering for food. He had been at work in England, and knowing the dreadful state his family were in at home, had saved the few sovereigns, not willing to break one, and endeavored to reach home on a few shillings he had, and being so weak for want of food, he occasionally rode a few miles when it rained, and had not eaten once in two days. "Send them quick, " he said, "I shall not live to reach home." O, shame! shame! on my wicked suspicions; how should I be thus deceived! I could not, I would not forgive myself. His story was a true one, and by proper care he lived to follow his sovereigns home.
The astonishing suffering and self-denial of that people for their friends, is almost heart-rending. It is expected that mothers will suffer, and even die for their famishing little ones, if needful; but to see children suffer for one another was magnanimity above all. Two little orphan boys, one about nine and the other five, called at the door of a rich widow of my acquaintance, and asked for food. The woman had consumed all her bread at breakfast but a small piece, and giving this to the eldest, she said, "You must divide this with your little brother; I have no more." She looked after them unperceived, and saw them stop, when the eldest said, "Here, Johnny, you are littler than I, and cannot bear the hunger so well, and you shall have it all." They were both houseless orphans and starving with hunger.
I found here, at Newport, misery without a mask; the door and window of the kind Mrs. Arthur wore a spectacle of distress indescribable; naked, cold, and dying, standing like petrified statues at the window, or imploring, for God's sake, a little food, till I almost wished that I might flee into the wilderness, far, far from the abode of any living creature.
Mrs. Arthur said, "I have one case to place before you, and will leave all the rest to your own discretion. I have fed a little boy, once a day, whose parents and brothers and sisters are dead, with the exception of one little sister. The boy is seven years old, the sister five. [p. 121] They were told they must make application to the poorhouse, at Castlebar, which was ten Irish miles away. One cold rainy day in November, this boy took his little sister by the hand, and faint with hunger, set off for Castlebar. And now, reader, if you will, follow these little bare-footed, bare-headed Connaught orphans through a muddy road of ten miles, in a rainy day, without food, and see them at the workhouse, late at night. The doors are closed -- at last, they succeed in being heard. The girl is received, the boy sent away - no room for him - he made his way back to Newport the next morning, and had lived by crawling into any place he could at night, and once a day called at the door of my friend who fed him.
He soon came a fine-looking boy, with unusually matured judgment. The servant was paid for taking him into an outhouse and scrubbing him thoroughly, &c. A nice black suit of clothes was found in the American box, with a cap suited to his head; and when he was suitably prepared by the servant, the clothes were put on. He had not, probably, been washed for six months, and his clothes were indescribable; his skin, which had been kept from wind and sun, by the coat which had so long been gathering, was white, and so changed was he wholly and entirely, that I paused to look at him; and tied about his neck a pretty silk handkerchief, to finish the whole. "What do you say now, my boy; I shall burn your old clothes, and you never shall see them again?" A moment's hesitation - he looked up, I supposed to thank me, when to my surprise, he burst into an agony of loud weeping. "What can be the matter?" He answered, "Now I shall sure die with the hunger; if they see me with nice clothes on, they will say I tell lies, that I have a mother that minds me; and lady, you won't burn them old clothes," (turning about to gather them up); and if I had not sternly commanded him to drop them, he would have clasped them close, as his best and dearest friends. In truth, this was a new development of mind I had never seen before, clinging with a firm grasp to a bundle of filthy, forbidding garments, as the only craft by which to save his life; choosing uncleanliness to decency, at an age too when all the young emotions of pride generally spring up in fondness for new and pretty garments. The silk handkerchief seemed almost to frighten him. Was it the principle of association, which older people experience when they cling to objects which have been their companions in trial, or those places where they have seen their dearest comforts depart? He would not have consented to have left those old clothes behind, but by a promise which he could hardly believe; that he should be fed every day through the winter. He was taken immediately to a school, where the children were fed once a day, and instructed for a penny a week; this penny, the teacher said, should not be exacted, as he had been clothed by me. I saw the boy through the winter, three months after his clothes were tidy and had not been torn, and he was improving.
His fears respecting the "hungry" were not groundless, no stranger would have believed that he needed charity, when decently clad.
From Newport I went to Achill Sound. Here was enough to excite the pity and energy of all such as possessed them. This wild dreary sea-coast at any time presents little except its salubrity of air, and grandeur of storms and tempests, tempered with the beauty of its varied clouds, when lighted by the sun, to make it the most inviting spot. But now the work of death was going on; and, notwithstanding the exertions of Mr. Savage, with the aid of the Central Committee in Dublin, and government relief beside, at times it seemed to mock all effort. Mr. Savage seemed to be in the position of the "ass colt" in scripture, "tied where two ways meet." He had the island of Achill on one side across the Sound, and a vast bog and mountainous waste on the other, with scarcely an inhabitant for many a mile, (but the colony of Mr. Nangle,) which could subsist only but by charity. The groups which surrounded the house, from the dawn of day till dark, called forth the incessant labors of many hands, both male and female, to appease the pitiful requests multiplying around them. Oh! the scenes of that dreadful winter! Who shall depict them, and who that saw them can ever forget? I have looked out at the door of that house, and seen from three to five, six, and seven hundred hovering about the windows and in the corners, not one woman or child having a shoe upon their feet, or a covering upon the head, with ghastly, yes, ghostly countenances of hunger and despair, that mock all description. One fact among the many is recorded, which transpired a few weeks before related to me by Mrs. Savage, which had novelties peculiar to itself: -
ABRAHAM AND SARA.
Mrs. Savage saw standing at her door, among the crowd, while the relief was giving out, a feeble old woman, bare-footed, and her feet and legs swollen so that they assumed a transparency, which always indicated that death had begun its fatal ravages. She was nearly a hundred years of age; her becoming bearing and cleanly appearance, united with her age, caused Mrs. S. to inquire particularly who she was.
"Why are you here -- do you belong in this parish! You are a stranger!" "I am, in troth, a stranger. My name is Sara, and I have now come into the parish to stop, in a little cabin, convenient to ye, and sure ye won't refuse the poor owld body a bit of the relief?"
Abraham, her husband, was sitting upon a form, among the crowd, waiting an answer to Sara's request.
They were fed, but Sara could not be restored. She often called, on days when the relief was not given out, and was once told that she was troublesome; she acknowledged it in the most simple manner, and in a few days ceased coming.
Not long after Abraham called to say that Sara was ill, and had been obliged to leave the cabin where she had been stopping, and he had made her a shelter under a bank, in the bog, by the strand. She was no longer able to walk about, and daily Abraham brought a little saucepan, suspended by a cord for a handle, to get the broth, which Mrs. S. provided for his beloved Sara. He said he "had made her as comfortable as his owld hands could, but the breath would soon be cowld in her, for she could scarcely lift the hand to raise the broth to the lip." This bed was made in the bog, within a few yards of the sea, but sheltered from its spray by a bank, under which a narrow place had been dug by Abraham, which partly covered Sara. Heath was put down for her bed, and pieces of turf for her pillow; a wall of turf a few inches high extended round, making the shape of a bed, against the side of which was a fire of turf, made to warm the broth; and this was Abraham and Sara's house. Abraham's part was wholly unsheltered. For days she was nursed in the most careful manner; her cloak was wrapped snugly about her; the heath under her was smoothed, and her broth carried by Abraham; and he even washed her garments in the sea, "for Sara," he said, "loves to be clean." In spite of all his care the life of Sara was fast ebbing; and Mary A., who had seen before the bed where she lay, called one evening and found her much altered. She raised her up, gave her a little milk, which she could scarcely swallow. "I am departing," she whispered, "and will ye give my blessin' to the mistress?" She had come into the parish, she said, to die, because "she knew the mistress would put a coffin on her owld body." While Mary was here, Abraham hastened to Mrs. S. to procure some necessaries for the night; then returning, he sat by the side of Sara till she died. He was sitting alone, by her lifeless body, when Mary returned in the morning. The mistress was soon there. She had ordered a coffin, and brought a sheet to wrap around her body, and a handkerchief to put about her head. Mary washed and combed her, and found in her pocket a piece of white soap, carefully wrapped in a linen rag, and a clean comb, which were all that appertained to Sara of this world's wealth, except the miserable garments she had upon her. When the body was shrouded, it was placed in her coffin of white boards; a boatman and Mary lifted her into a boat; Abraham and the mistress seated themselves in it, and were rowed to land, and put the remains of Sara in an out-house belonging to Mr. Savage, for the night, and a comfortable place was provided for Abraham to lie down. Early in the morning Abraham was found sitting on the cart, which bore Sara from the boat, with his gray head leaning against the locked door, weeping. He had waited till all was still, and then crept to the spot which in-closed the remains of her he loved, to weep alone, in the stillness of night. Not one that saw him but wept too.
This simple-hearted man, like the patriarch whose name he bore, was a stranger and sojourner, like him he had come to mourn for Sara, and he had come too to ask a burial-place for his dead, though he could not, like him, offer a sum of money; he could not take his choice in the sepulchres; no field of Ephron, nor the trees within were made sure to him, but in a lone bog, where those who had died by famine and pestilence were buried, like dogs, unshrouded and uncoffined, he was grateful to find a place to bury his "dead out of his sight." The corpse was borne away by a few boatmen across the channel; and Sara was conveyed to her long home. I saw Abraham early in December, 1847, and the bed which he made for Sara, on that bleak sea-shore. The turf wall was still unbroken; the smoke, where the fire had been made, had left its blackness; and a piece of turf, partly consumed, was lying by this hearth; the heath-bed had not been stirred, and I begged Mrs. S. to keep it from the inroad of cattle. A wall of stone should be built around that dwelling, and the traveler pointed to it, s a relic of the greatest interest. - A relic of Ireland's woes!
It is said that Sara, in her father's house, was "fair to look upon," and enjoyed in plenty the good things of this life; and, says Mrs. S., "when first I saw her the sun was shining in full strength upon her marble face; and so swollen its wrinkles were smoothed; her countenance was mild, her manner modest and pleasing, and she was an object of much admiration. She lay in that lowly bed in storm and sunshine, by night and by day, till the "good God," as she expressed it, "should plaise to take her away:" yet lowly as was her couch, lonely as was her wake, unostentatious as was her burial, few, in her condition, were honored with so good a one.
In the same vicinity was the bed of a little orphan girl, who had crept into a hole in the bank, and died one night, with no one to spread her heath-bed, or to close her eyes, or wash and fit her for the grave. She died unheeded, the dogs lacerated the body, gnawed the bones, and strewed them about the bog.
DEATH AND BURIAL OF ABRAHAM.
Abraham called one day in December, at the house of Mr. Savage, and sorrow and hunger had greatly changed his looks. His garments which had been kept tidy by Sara, were now going to decay. He stood silently at the door, with a subdued look, and a little brown bag and staff in his hand. I saw him there, and among the throng marked his shades of sorrow, and inquired who he was. "It is Abraham, the old hands that made Sara's bed," was the answer.
Abraham knew and felt the change in himself, and seeking an opportunity, asked for a piece of soap, touching his collar, which Sara had always kept clean, saying, "I do not like the feel of it." Food and a little money were given him: he went away, and on his boggy path to his humble home he fell down and broke his arm; he lingered on a few days in destitution and pain, and the next that we heard of him, two men who were walking toward sunset on Sabbath day, met his daughter who had a shelter in the mountain, where she had kept her father, with Abraham upon her back, with his arms about her neck, a loathsome corpse, which she had kept in her cabin for days, and was going alone with a spade in her hand the distance of an Irish mile, to bury him. They took the corpse and accompanied her, and put him into the ground as he was, neither with a coffin nor by the side of Sara whom he had loved and cherished so well.
Thus died Sara and Abraham, and thus they were buried, and let their epitaph be - "Lovely and pleasant in their lives, though in death they were divided."
Let the reader's mind be a little relieved by a subject different, though as painful in a moral sense as famine is in a natural one. I allude to the fearful, sinful use of all kinds of intoxicating drinks in Ireland in the time of the famine. Much noise has been made the last nine or ten years respecting the great temperance reform in that country. But who have been reformed? Travel the length and breadth of the island, even in the midst of desolation and death, and in how many families when a piece of flesh meat can be afforded upon the dinner-table, would the tea-kettle for hot whisky be wanting at the close of dinner? The more costly wines, too, were on the tables of the nobility, and not always wanting among the gentry. The clergy of all denominations, in that country, are sad examples to the flock. Father Mathew is praised by some of these Bible ministers, because he kept the "lower order" from fighting at fairs; but the very fact that the vulgar were reclaimed, was a stigma upon temperance in their enlightened opinions. Four years and four months' residence in Ireland, changing from place to place, and meeting with many ministers of all denominations, not a solitary case do I recollect of finding a minister of the Established, Presbyterian, or Methodist church, who did not plead for the moderate use of this fatal poison. I met with one Baptist minister, one Unitarian, and a few priests, who abstained entirely.
The famine, if possible, urged many of the lovers of the "good creature," to greater diligence in the practice to "keep themselves up," as they said, in these dreadful times. They preached sermons on charity - they urged the people to greater-self-denial - they talked of the great sin of improvidence, of which Ireland is emphatically guilty; but few, very few, it is to be feared, touched one of these burdens so much as with one of their fingers. There were noble cases of hard labor, and even curtailing of expenses, by some of the clergy; even labor was protracted till it ended in death by some, but these were isolated cases indeed:
An able writer, who wrote the pamphlet on Irish Improvidence, placed the subject in the most fearful light, when he said, "Next to the absurdity of Cork and Limerick exporting cargoes of Irish grain for sale, and at the same time receiving cargoes of American grain to be given away at the cost of the English people, may be ranked the folly - if it may not properly be called by some worse name - of seeing hundreds dying for want of food, at the same time permitting the conversion of as much grain as would feed the whole of those dying of starvation, and many more, into a fiery liquid, which it is well known, even to the distillers themselves, never saved a single life or improved a single character, never prevented a single crime, or elevated the character of a single family by its use." Reader, ponder this well. - Enough grain, converted into a poison for body and foul, as would have fed all that starving multitude; while the clergy were preaching, committees were in conclave, to stimulate to charity, and devise the most effectual methods to draw upon the purses of people abroad.
And what shall be said of the pitiful landlords, who were still drinking their wine, pouring their doleful complaints into government's ears, that no rents were paid; and many saying, as one of these wine-bibbers did, that his lazy tenants would not work for pay, for he had offered that morning, some men work who were hungry, and would pay them at night, and they walked away without accepting it. "How much pay did you offer?" he was asked. "A pound of Indian meal," (Indian meal was then a penny a pound.) "Would you, sir, work for that, and wait till night for the meal, when you were then suffering?" Much better try to procure it before night in some easier way.
But these afflicted landlords, the same writer remarks, when exporting to the continent vast quantities of grain, which their poor starving tenants had labored to procure, and were not allowed to eat a morsel of this food; but buy it from others or starve. Neither can it be doubted, nor should it be concealed, that not a few of these landlords, while their grain was selling at a good price abroad, shared the benefit of many an Indian meal donation, for horses, hogs, fowls, and servants. The guilty are left to make the application, none others are implicated.
I would not say that every man who takes a glass of spirits, as he says, moderately, is guilty of downright dishonesty, or not to be trusted with the property of others; but it may properly be said, that such are in the path to the hotbed where every evil work is cultivated; and, therefore, more to be scrupled than those who from conscience would "cut off a right arm or pluck out a right eye," rather than give offense.
Had all the professed Christians in Ireland entirely excluded alcoholic drinks from their tables and houses, thousands might now be living who have been starved.
I was once in a miserable part of the country, where death was doing a fearful work, and was stopping in a house ranked among the respectables, when a company of ministers, who had been attending a public meeting in the town, were assembled for dinner. The dinner was what is generally provided for ministers - the richest and best. Wine and brandy were accompaniments. When these heralds of salvation heard a word of remonstrance, they put on the religious cant, and cited me immediately and solemnly the "Marriage of Cana," and the tribunal of Timothy's stomach for my doom; declaring that God sanctioned, yea required it; and ratified it by taking in moderation what their conscience told them was duty. They were pointed directly to the suffering of the people for bread, and the great difficulty of procuring coffins, all this did not move their brandy-seared hearts. When in an hour after dinner the tea was served, as is the custom in Ireland, one of the daughters of the family passing a window, looked down upon the pavement and saw a corpse with a blanket spread over it, lying upon the walk beneath the window. It was a mother and infant, dead, and a daughter of sixteen had brought and laid her there, hoping to induce the people to put her in a coffin; and as if she had been listening to the conversation at the dinner of the want of coffins, she had placed her mother under the very window and eye, where these wine-bibbing ministers might apply the lesson. All was hushed, the blinds were immediately down, and a few sixpences were quite unostentatiously sent out to the poor girl, as a beginning, to procure a coffin. The lesson ended here.
And I would conclude this episode by saying, that at the door of professed Christians of the intelligent class, lies the sin of intemperance in that suffering country, and though some of them have preached and labored hard in those dark days, yet they have not done what they could, and in this they should not be commended; but rebuked most faithfully.
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