Great Famine – State of Thurles in Black 47 (1847)

“You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one”
Extract from the song ‘Imagine’ with lyrics by John Lennon.

In our blog of January 21st 2017 last we called on Co. Tipperary elected representatives, from all political parties, to come together under one single umbrella; to find real solutions for our current poorly represented and grossly neglected town of Thurles and indeed the county of Tipperary.

Archdeacon Henry Cotten, C of I, Thurles & Chairperson of the Thurles and Rahealty Famine Food Committee.

Today we turn to history (knowledge acquired by investigation), to demonstrate, via a study of the past, the importance of politicians uniting under one umbrella; taking time to disregard their own personal differences, prejudices and beliefs, in favour of finding fair, equal and paramount solutions to the needs of every person residing in this forgotten rural ‘Premier County’.

Back then in 1845 it was not Irish elected Members of Parliament who came to the rescue of those shivering in the cold and wet, anxiously expecting the fragments of cold ‘stir-about’ that remained following the workhouse pauper meal. Rather it was religious leaders; Quakers, and here in Thurles Fr. William Barron (Administrator within the Thurles Roman Catholic community) closely working together with Archdeacon Henry Cotten (Head of the Thurles Church of Ireland community).

It was these same religious communities, whom we are so quick to condemn today that carried our town through the ‘Great Famine’ period, while at the same time encouraging the importance of education, which today 172 years later, has raised us out of hopeless misery and abject poverty.

In examining factual history; we ask the question “What were living conditions like in the town of Thurles, Co. Tipperary in 1847; the third year of the ‘Great Famine’ (1846 -1852), during a period of mass starvation, disease and the mass emigration and migration from rural Irish towns, villages and their hinterlands?”

For Thurles the most accurate answers to these queries are set out in two ‘Question and Answer Reports’ sent out by the Thurles and Rahealty Famine Food Committee, which met in the rented parlour of the home of Dr Robert C. Knaggs MD. (MD – Medical Doctor), Main Street, Thurles (Today known as Liberty Square, Thurles, in the building currently occupied by Ulster bank.)

First Report – British Association for the Relief of Extreme Distress in Ireland and Scotland.

The first of these reports was sent to the British Association for the Relief of Extreme Distress in Ireland and Scotland and forwarded to Lieutenant Col. Douglas on February 11th 1847. This Association had been formed in January 1847, in London, supported by bankers and other prominent people, to provide, “competent machinery for administering the public munificence”. Queen Victoria (Alexandrina Victoria) had requested that her name be placed at the head of the list of donors[1] to this Association with a contribution of £2,000.00 and later added a further £500, one sixth of whose total funds only went to support the potato failure in Scotland.

[1] It would be Charles Stewart Parnell (1846 – 1891), Irish nationalist politician and one of the most powerful figures in the British House of Commons in the 1880’s who later would spread the untruth, indeed myth, that Queen Victoria of England was the only sovereign who gave nothing out of her private purse to a starving Irish people.

History records the answers to these questionnaire type reports, which are now published hereunder for the very first time, coming in the form of 16 direct answered questions in the first report sent by Thurles to the British Association.

(Q) Name of Relief Committee? – (A) Thurles and Rahealty.
(Q) Extent of district in Statute acres? – (A) 16,134 a. 2 r.
(Q) Population? – (A) 14,000.
(Q) Poor Law Valuation? – (A) £17,178-4-6.
(Q) What is the nature of assistance required? – (A) Food and Money.
(Q) What is the present market price of per stone of 14? – (A) Indian Meal 2/8, Wheaten Meal 2/8, Oat Meal 3/4.
(Q) Price of Indian corn per ton? – (A) £20/13/4.
(Q) No of labourers employed in Public Works in the District? – (A) 2,000 persons.
(Q) No of inmates workhouse built for? – (A) 700 persons.
(Q) How many does it presently contain? – (A) 940 persons.
(Q) Does fever, dysentery, or other disease prevail to a greater extent than is usual at this time of year? – (A) Yes a far greater extent.
(Q) What is the gross amount of presentments approved of by the Board of Works since 1st August 1846? – (A) £11,569.
(Q) Rate of wages? – (A) 10d per day.
(Q) List of Committee. (A) Given.
(Q) Local subscriptions since 1st August 1846 distinguishing any balance remaining from: (1) The subscription of 1845/6; (2) Private subscriptions; (3) Public Grants? – (A) List sent; £420/10/8; Relief Committee Dublin £110; A contribution from the Government has been applied for. Balance 15th August 1845/6 – £110/5/9. Total £640/16/5.
(Q) State your estimate of prevailing destitution, and any further circumstances, which appear to you, calculated to bring the case before the committee? – (A) Of the population of the united parishes of Thurles and Rahealty 8,000 are on the relief list. The majority obtains very inadequate relief by employment on Public Works. There are about 300 destitute families having no person to work, to whom gratuitous relief must be given; there are other families varying from 10 to 12 having only one member able to work, whose wages 10d a day would not be adequate to the support of two persons at the present famine prices of food. The poor house built to accommodate 700 has now stowed within 940 and there cannot be any more admissions and groups who cannot be admitted are to be seen shivering in the cold and wet anxiously expecting the fragments of cold stirabout that remains after the inmate pauper meal. We have lived to see the poor sitting at the pauper’s gate among the crumbs that fall from the pauper’s table. We have not had any deaths from actual starvation but numerous deaths have occurred from severe and long continual privation. The weekly average of deaths has increased fivefold.

Second Report – Central Relief Committee of the Society of Friends.

The second report was sent to the Central Relief Committee of the Society of Friends (The Quaker Community) and forwarded to No 57, South William St. Dublin, also on the 11th February 1847, addressed to Joseph Bewley[2] and Jonathan Pim [3](Directors), both co-founder of the Quakers’ Central Relief Committee.

[2]Joseph Bewley (1795-1851) was a Dublin coffee and tea merchant; the eldest son of Samuel Bewley and Elizabeth Fayle who lived at Rockville, South Dublin. Joseph Bewley, would literally work himself into an early grave, at the age of 56 years, while in pursuance of his famine relief efforts. The address to which the report was sent (No 57 South William Street), was then the Dublin-headquarters of the Central Relief Committee, during its early months.

Quote; “When the rumour of a famine had become authenticated in Dublin, Joseph Bewley, a Quaker, possessing both a warm heart and full purse, (which do not always go together,) put in operation a soup shop, which fed many hundreds twice a day. This soup was of the best quality, the best meat, peas, oatmeal, etc.; and when applications became so numerous that a greater supply was requisite and funds failing, mention was made to this benevolent man that the quantity of meat must be reduced, his answer was, that not one iota should be taken off, but more added, if even it must be done entirely at his own expense.”

Has anyone raised a memorial in Dublin to the humility and personal sacrifice of Joseph Bewley? Not that I am aware, but perhaps our Dublin politicians might do something in 2020 (175th year commemoration), if only in the name of tourism or a having their picture taken at a future ribbon cutting ceremony.

[3]Jonathan Pim (1806–1885) was of the Dublin firm Pim Brothers & Co., Drapers and Textile Manufacturers and later became an Irish Liberal Party politician. He was the first Quaker elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Dublin City at the 1865 General Election, and held his seat until the 1874 general election.

No 57, South William St. Dublin

In more recent times No 57, South William St. Dublin.

 Again this second report comes in the form of a questionnaire made up of 25 answered questions sent by Thurles to the Central Relief Committee of the Society of Friends.

1. Name? – (A) Thurles and Rahealty Relief District.
2. Extent and Population? (A) 16,134 acres. Population 14,000.
3. How many are supposed to stand in need of public relief ? – (A) 8,000 with daily increase.
4. What proportion of able bodied labourers find employment in the ordinary manner and at what rate of wages? – (A) There appears to be a total suspension of ordinary work.
5. What proportion of the able bodied labourers are employed on the Public Works? – (A) 1,994 able bodied and otherwise.
6. Are the earnings of all able bodied labourers, whether employed on the Public Works or otherwise sufficient to preserve themselves and families from want? – (A) They are not.
7. Extent of Industry? – (A) No Manufacturing or fishing.
8.Extent of Fishing? – (A) No fishing.
9. Are the farms large or small? Tillage or Grazing? Held by tenants at will or on leases? – (A) Generally small, tillage, Tenants at Will.
10. Are the small farmers cultivating or about to cultivate their ground? (A) Wheat is not sown to the usual extent, very little preparation is made as yet for spring crops.
11. Is there any stock of potatoes either in store or remaining in the ground? Are any reserved for seed?  If any for sale at what price? – (A) Very little; A small portion; 9d to 11d.
12. Is it expected that any considerable quantity of potatoes will be planted in the coming season? – (A) No con acre will be planted; Farmers will not plant a tenth of the usual quantity.
13. What numbers of able-bodied labourers are supposed to be without employment? – (A) From 200 to 300.
14. How many persons incapable of labour are believed to be at present suffering from want of food? – (A) 600.
15. To what Poor Law Union does the place or district belong?  How far distant is the Poor House and what spare accommodation does it at present afford?- (A) Thurles. In the District. Built to accommodate 700 and now contains 940 – further admission refused.
16. How much in the pound were the last two poor rates, when were they struck? And have they been generally paid? – (A) 2/12 June and December last – Last rate 1.5½ which is in course of collection.
17. What amount of private subscriptions towards relief of the distress of the present season has been raised, and what amount has been contributed by the Government and if assistance in money or materials has been received from any Relief Association or other public body? – (A) Private Subscriptions £420; Contribution from Government has been applied for from Relief Committee for relief of all Ireland:- £100; Irish Relief Association:- £10 and Boiler.
18. How have the funds so obtained been applied? – (A) To supply food.
19. Are there any considerable absentee proprietors of landed or other property within the district and what amount of subscription has been received? – (A) There aid from Absentee Proprietors £16, Non residents £50 – Total £66.
20. Are there many resident proprietors or large farmers, and have they generally subscribed? – (A) Only three Landlords resident; Large farmers have not subscribed this year.
21. What is state of district with regard to sickness especially fever? – (A) Sickness very much on the increase. Fever much more prevalent than for many past seasons.
22. What is the nearest place where provisions are stored in quantity? – (A) Clonmel.
23. Please state in figures the wholesale prices at said place, at present and at same period last year? – (A) At Present Wheaten Flour per ton £25. Last Year £16. – At Present Oatmeal £24.10. Last Year £12. At Present Indian Meal £19.  Last Year £9. Rice not sold in quantity.
24. Are there stocks of provisions in the hands of the retail dealers in the place or district? – (A) Very small. Bread 4 lb. loaf 1/-; Wheaten Flour per st. 3/9; Oatmeal 3/6; Indian meal per st. 2/6; Beef per lb. 5d to 6d; Mutton 6 to 6½d.
25. Premises, if any, from which relief is distributed & price charged? – (A) Soup shop with 30 gal. boiler sold at 1d per qt. An increased supply of soup would contribute essentially to the relief of distress, but our funds have not hitherto allowed us to give bread or biscuit gratuitously, which would give great relief to the destitute.

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”
Extract from “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” by author J.K.Rowling, OBE, FRSL.


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