In keeping with my promise, made some weeks ago, to reveal the hidden historical secrets of Thurles, allow me to introduce our readers to the Great Famine Minute Book or to give this book its correct title The Minutes of the Thurles /Rahealty Famine Food Committee.
This book contains valuable information of both local and national importance, giving us raw insight into the famine period (Years 1846 and 1847 ). This book is understood to be the only record of its type in existence to-day.
Contents of this Minute Book :-
Once the Thurles Famine Food Committee was set up the elected members met regularly sometimes every day and kept fairly detailed notes of all business transacted. Their record gives a fascinating account of life in Thurles during this period 1846/47.
It is obvious from the start that the famine only concerned the poor. There was no famine for the wealthy. The better off of the town came together, both Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland and worked extremely well together to relieve the hardship caused by this natural distress.
The records sets out the members of the committee and then gives the areas of the town for which each member of this committee was responsible .
The committee then sets out the works done to give employment to the poor and the rates of pay. A census was held of the townspeople and some details are given.
The amounts of grain and meal bought, during this period, are also given together with the cost of same.
All tools and barrows that were needed for the public works were made locally and the cost of each is given as is the name of the tradesmen.
Even human frailty also gets a mention. It is suggested that initially tickets were issued to those on the works but this had to be abandoned as some labourers were paid three times on the first days work. Possibly the first ever recorded industrial strike by workers is also mentioned, arguing over the rates of pay for young boy against those paid to adult males.
The locations of the Soup Kitchens are given together with details of their running costs and those employed there. The numbers who received relief are also given.
The minutes also give the recipe for soup and porridge and the quantities in which they were made , plus costs.
Those found fighting on the works schemes get a mention and we learn that they were dismissed immediately. Indeed, on one occasion some men were dismissed after being after being found by the night watchmen in the grounds of St Patrick’s College, Thurles, at 2.00 am with a bag. We are not told what the bag was for or what it contained. They were also instantly dismissed.
Full details are given of two collections in the town in 1846 and 1847 with the name and amount subscribed given in both cases, amounts for the time being fairly large – from £50 to one shilling.
The committee give details of amounts spent down to the last half-penny with the cost of all items given – wheat flour 3/9 per stone, oatmeal 3/6 per stone, Indian meal 2/6 per stone, beef 5/6d per lb. The soup was sold at 1 penny per quart.
Frequently the committee got questionnaires to fill ( The Society of Friends, Quakers ) and these are set out together with the replies. The minutes also record some of the letters received and the replies sent.
Later the numbers in the workhouse are given daily as is the number of deaths. Coffins were supplied gratis, to those who could not afford them and the name of the deceased is given in most cases with their address.
It is obvious that the committee was always short of funds as they are continually looking for a source of fresh funding.
The Draft Final Report:
This document is contained separately in this book and is illuminating, giving a good idea of the amount of work done by the committee.
From 26th April 1847 to 12th September 1847, 659,162 rations were given out at a cost of £6,454 – 5 – 8 in the town, while in the townsland of Rahealty during the same period 53,340 rations were given out at a cost of £586 – 0 – 5.
This is a most valuable historical record which throws much light on events of fairly recent past and which would not otherwise be known. There were famine relief committees in every parish in the country but how many of them kept any record at all and how many minute books have survived is unknown and unrecorded.
The inscription inside the front cover of this book is most illuminating and may shed some small light as to why this Thurles record still exists in our midst:-
” This record may perhaps be useful in case another season of distress or misery should occur”.
It is signed by the Committee chairman, H. Cotton.
(Archdeacon Henry Cotton (1789 – 1879) was rector for 44yrs at St. Mary`s Church , Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Written works include ‘ Fiat Justitia’ (1835), ‘Fasti Ecclesiæ Hibernicæ’ (1848-50) and ‘List of Editions of the Bible 1505-1850’ (1852) )