Memorial by Paddy McKye, Teacher in the National School, Tullaghobegly
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Addressed in 1837 to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
To his Excellency the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland :-
The Memorial of Patrick McKye
MOST HUMBLY SHEWETH -
That the parishoners of this parish of Tullaghobegly, in the Barony of Kilmacrenan, are in the most, needy, hungry, and naked condition of any people that ever came within the precincts of my knowledge, although I have travelled 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 2,253 miles through some 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 that it should be laid before you.
But I consider myself bound in duty to relieve distressed and hungry fellow-men; alothough I am sorry to state that my charity cannot extend further than to explain to the rich where hunger and hardships exist in almost the greatest degree that nature can endure.
And which I shall endevour to explain in detail with all the truth and accuracy in my power, and that without the least exaggeration, as follows :-
There is about 4,000 persons in this parish [this is understated, the population was 9,049 in 1841, the people were not so easily counted as their furniture], 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
Seven table forks
Two hundred and forty-three stools
Ten iron grapes
No swine, hogs or pigs
One national school
No other school
No other resident gentlemen
Eight brass candlesticks
No looking-glasses, above 3d in price
No boots, no spurs
No fruit trees
No 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 schoolhouse, 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 cannot afford any, and more than 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 more 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 a 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 storms since October last in this part of the country.
So that they, the people, were under the necessity of cutting down their potatoes, and give them to the cattle to keep them alive. All these circumstances connected together have brought hunger to reign among them, in 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 crying and fainting with hunger, and their parents weeping, being full of grief, hunger, debility, and dejection, with gloomingaspect looking at their children likely to expire in the pains of starvation.
Also, in addition to all, their cattle and sheep are dying with hunger, and their owner 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 may very reasonably be supposed that the people will die more numerous than the cattle and sheep, if some immediate relief are not sent to allieviate their hunger.
Now, my Lord, it may perhaps seem inconsistant with truth that all that I have said could possibly be true; but to convince your noble Excellencey 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.
Although I must acknowledge that if reference were made to any of the landlords or landholders of the parish that they would contradict it, as it is evident it would blast their honours if it were known abroad that such a degree of want existed in their estates among their tenantry. But this 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 convince him, and where I can show him about one hundred and fifty children bare naked, and was so during winter, and some hundreds only covered with filthy rags most disgustful to look to. 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 having within its walls from one cwt. to thirty cwts. of dung, others having from 10 to fifteen tons weight of dung, and only cleaned out once a year!
I have also to add that the national school has greatly deceased in number of scholars through hunger and extreme poverty; and the teacher of the said school, with a family of nine persons, depending on a salary of £8 a year, without any benefit from other sources. If I may hyperbolically speak, it is an hnour to the Board of Education!
One remark before I conclude. I refer your noble Excellency for the authenticity of the above statement to the Rev. __, Parish Priest, and to Mr. __, Chief Constable stationed at Gweedore, and Mr. __, Chief Officer of Coast Guard in same district.
Your most obedient and humble servant,
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