St Mary’s Museum Thurles – Famine Food Relief Minutes


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) )


14 comments to St Mary’s Museum Thurles – Famine Food Relief Minutes

  • Stephen Finn

    My family left Thurles during the famine they ended up in a town called Wellington in Shropshire England and from there they spread out to different parts of England and Scotland. Is your book on the famine in Thurles available to buy. I would love to read about how the people suffered and reacted in Thurles during the famine and I might even find my ancesters recorded in it. Thank you.

  • Hi Stephen,
    I regret book not available to buy.
    But I will check out your ancestors if you will forward details to me.

  • Stephen Finn

    Hi George sorry I took so long to get back to you……My family are as follows:- Edward or Edmond finn born about 1810 Thurles his wife Mary Finn born about 1810 thurles…their children…Patrick Finn born about 1830 Thurles John Finn born about 1832 Thurles….Catherine Finn born about 1835 Thurles ….Mary Finn born about 1842 Thurles and Bridget Finn born about 1846……I believe there could have been more children as there is a 7 year gap between Catherine and Mary………Also Patrick born about 1830 joined the 33rd regiment of foot in Thurles about 1846,47……..Edward or Edmond took the rest of the family to England I believe about 1850, this I believe because I have a census return for Wellington Shropshire 1851 in which the family are lodging with another Irish family…..I hope this info is of help to you…..Thank you Stephen…..

  • Stephen.

    Information immediatly to hand on

    Here lies the body of James Finn of Thurles who died June 6th 1803 aged 72 years and his wife Bridget Shea died June 12th 1803 aged 46 years. Their son James Finn died August the 16th 1809 aged 16 years his brother John Finn died January the 12th 1812 aged 23. May they rest in peace. Amen. Also Johanna Finn (alias Lester) wife of Michl Finn died 17 of February 1827 aged 55(?). May the lord have mercy on their souls. Amen. Also Wm and Michael Finn died __________ . [202]

    In Memory of William Finn Westgate Thurles died 1st Sept 1929. His mother Johanna Finn and his brother Michael 8th March and 30th April 1901 respectivly interred at Relig Breda. [201]

    John Boulger died December 21 1856 aged 40 years. Erected to his memory by his daughter Margaret Dunn. Johanna Finn wife of John Boulger died 1880 aged 91 years. [190]

    Numbers shown,(190 201 202) identify these graves in cemetry.

    From other Thurles Historical Material

    Thursday Nov 26th 1846.
    Additional works approved of by the Board of Works according to instructions to Mr Gahan.

    To lower and remake two footpaths one from the corner of Pierce Moloughney’s to the Court House pier being 22½ perches and the other from John Finn’s corner to the Police Barracks being 19 perches

    List of Famine subscribers for 1847.
    Mr Michl Finn £1
    Mr John Finn £1
    Mr John Finn £1
    Mr John Finn 7s. 6p
    Mrs M Finn 2s. 6p

    Friday 19th 1847.
    The appointment of a subcommittee to attend at the soup kitchen discussed. The following subcommittee appointed:- Mr John Finn

    Thursday May 20th 1847.
    Mr O’Brien be requested to pay out of the committee funds to J Gore Jones Esq. £47.19.0½ being as follows:- J Finn for rice £5. 3. 4

    I will check further.
    Regards George

  • James Twycross

    Hello George,

    I write from Melbourne Australia about to visit your lovely country, mainly for the purpose of family history research. My great great grandfather was Christopher Ryan who had a house on Thomas Keogh’s land at Rahealty. Is it possible to see if the family rate a mention in these records? I will be in Thurles on the 2nd September and would just love to hear from you.
    Best wishes, James.

  • Hi James,
    Look forward to meeting you on your proposed visit in September. I regret there is no mention of Christopher in this particular document. However there are others which may contain some reference and I will take a look over the next few days.
    Meanwhile maybe there are some of our readers now resident in Rahealty, who could cast their minds back regarding possible relatives. Can anyone help us trace a Christopher Ryan who had a house on Thomas Keogh’s land at Rahealty? If so please do contact us on site or at O504-21133 and maybe we can make Mr Twycross’s visit memorable.

  • Anne-Marie

    Good Morning,I have been researching my grandfather, after the stories from family members. I found my great grandparents grave Fitzroy and Elizabeth Maud Knox, in St Mary’s Churchyard Thurles but not my grand father. I have looked on the internet on the other grave yards but with no success. His name was Gerald Knox.
    I am wondering if you would be able to help me in my research.

  • Hi,
    Yes I believe I can help you with some of your research, however you must give me a few days to check my old records. See

  • Kathleen Fanning

    I am wondering if there are Fannings or Fannins mentioned in the Famine Food Relief Minutes?

  • George Willoughby

    Hi Kathleen.
    Fanning names are mentioned in these Minutes as follows:

    Monday 4th January 1847.
    List of subscribers to the Relief Fund for last year as ordered to be inserted in the Committees proceedings.
    Ed.Fanning – 10 shillings
    Mrs J.Fanning – 10 shillings

    Again on February 8th.1847 these Minutes read

    Present:-Rev Mr Barron, Fr O’Brien Esq., Rev Dr O’Connor, J G Jones Esq., Rev Mr Baker, Rev Mr Laffan, Mr Henesy, Mr R C Knaggs, Captain Norris.

    Question of giving meal according to the instructions of Government discussed.
    Treasurers accounts audited and treasurer directed to pay the amount due on credit side £65-7-7.

    Adjourned to Wednesday 10th February.

    Signed Wm Barron.

    Report of committee appointed to examine into the accounts of sales of Indian and wheaten meal.
    We have examined the accounts of sales furnished by Martin Clear which we find correct, and from which it appears that since the 2nd Dec 1846 the Relief Committee have purchased:-
    4 tons 11 cwt 1 qr 2 lbs of wheaten meal at a cost of £68/7/2 and which they disposed of for £67/5/2, Leaving a loss of £1/2/0

    That since 2nd of Dec 1846 the Relief Committee have purchased 20 tons 2 cwt 2 qrs of Indian meal including carriage on sale for £397/10/4 being an average of £19/15 per ton.

    That of the above they sold at cost price 9 tons 17 cwt 3 qrs at £19/15 a ton £195/ 6/2 and that they have given gratuitously to destitute persons 10 tons 4 cwt 3 qrs amt to £202/4/2 ——£397/10/4

    Signed this 9th day of Feb 1847.
    J N Bracken Sen Insp.

    Here again on Feb 8th. Subscriptions noted again from Mrs J Fanning of 11 shillings, Mr Fanning,(No initial) 5 shillings, Mr E.Fanning 1 Shilling & Mr Patt Fanning 1 Shilling, are mentioned. (Could suggest Mother, Father & Two Children)

    I suggest also that this Fanning Family were a middle class family, since largest donation from others in the locality was £10.00 and smallest donation 1 Shilling, with one donation from the R.C. Church of £50 & one Donation of £20 from the smaller Protestant Church.

    Since the minutes begin in 1846 & end in 1847 no further reference to this name can be found in this book.

  • Kathleen Fanning

    Hi George,
    Thanks for looking up the Fannings in the Famine book and getting back to me so quickly. Without addresses it is hard to know which Fannings these are but I think they would be related and you are right in saying they were middle class. So far all my Fanning ancestors have been relatively well off. Have a very happy Xmas and New Year. Kathleen Fanning

  • George Willoughby

    A very happy Christmas and New Year to you & yours from all in St Mary’s Famine Museum.

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