|Organisation :||Waterford County Museum|
|Article Title :||Desperate Haven - The Famine in Dungarvan|
|Page Title :||Overture to Disaster 1845|
|Page Number :||2|
|Publication Date :||08 February 2011|
|Expiry Date :||Never Expires|
|Category :||Irish Famine 1845 - 1852|
The Fateful Dependence
In the late 17th century and early 18th century the diet of the Irish peasant consisted of potatoes from August to May and oatmeal for Spring and Summer. The potato had become an established part of the peasant's diet by the mid-18th century.
Dungarvan was notable as a potato-growing area. Charles Smith commented in 1746 that: 'The lands at Kilrush...afford great plenty of potatoes, with which the markets of Dublin are yearly supplied, upwards of 18,000 barrels having been sent thither in one season from this place.'  In 1752 Dr. Pococke noted that Dungarvan was 'famous for the export of potatoes to many parts of Ireland.'  In 1836 Beresford Boate gave an interesting insight into the diet of the tradesmen and artisans:
Bread is much more used as food in the town and neighbourhood...35 years ago there were only two bakers in the town of Dungarvan, there are now nearly 50...The tradesmen and artisans of the town generally eat bread at least at one meal in the day ...Small farmers, as well as labourers, eat potatoes because they cannot afford to eat bread. 
In the 1830s several varieties of potatoes were being set which did not last as long in storage as the old varieties. As a result the period between the end of the old crop and the availability of the new potatoes became longer. This caused increased distress amongst the poor because their food supply was limited. From 1832 to 1836 a disease attacked the potato crop in Ireland. Many new varieties were grown in an attempt to develop a disease-resistant crop. This experiment was unsuccessful and a new stock of potatoes was imported to Europe from South America. Austin Bourke  has suggested that this may have been the original source of the potato blight in Ireland.
The First Appearance Of Blight
We regret to learn that the blight of the potato crop, so much complained of in Belgium and several of the English counties has affected the crop, and that to a considerable extent, in our own immediate locality...We are assured by a gentleman of vast experience that the injury sustained by potatoes from blight on his domain is very serious - that they are entirely unfit for use; and he suggests potatoes so injured should be immediately dug out for the use of the pigs.
A practice is beginning to prevail to a very considerable extent in our neighbouring market towns, where persons are daily purchasing diseased potatoes at about 1d per stone, and selecting the best of those they dispose of them at 3d or 4d, while they give the refuse to cattle and pigs. Thus a market is at once opened to those who are disposed to sell at mere nominal prices and who perhaps are calculating upon pecuniary aid from your committees at the close of the season.
In January 1846 the Lismore Guardians reported a deterioration in the potato crop and that there was a shortage at the various markets. As a result the Workhouse inmates had to be given bread instead.  On 22 January 1846 the Dungarvan Guardians ordered that 200 yards of limestone at one shilling a yard, be acquired to give employment to the Workhouse inmates. Stone was to be broken and sold for road repairs. On 29 January the Guardians decided that they would have to take steps to reduce the numbers in the Workhouse. They ordered the Clerk to prepare a notice stating that there were several boys and girls aged 12 to 15 years in the Workhouse who could be taken into service by farmers and others. In March the Lismore Guardians reported that the potato crop of the 'labouring classes' in the Lismore Union would soon be gone and a committee was appointed to find a substitute for potatoes. This committee recommended that the Guardians adopt soup No.1 from Count Rumford's book on the best and cheapest method of feeding the poor.  It should be noted that the occurrence of blight in 1845, while serious, did not give rise to a desperate situation. The potato crop had failed before, notably in 1832. It was commonly assumed that blight would not reappear in 1846. This was to prove a vain delusion.