|Organisation :||Waterford County Museum|
|Article Title :||Desperate Haven - The Famine in Dungarvan|
|Page Title :||Despair And Death|
|Page Number :||4|
|Publication Date :||08 February 2011|
|Expiry Date :||Never Expires|
|Category :||Irish Famine 1845 - 1852|
The Dungarvan Board of Guardians decided at their meeting on 1 January 1847 that no further people could be admitted to the Workhouse as it was overcrowded. It was reported to contain 739 people on that date. 200 people were waiting to enter, eighty of whom were to be chosen and accommodated in the bathrooms and stable. At their next meeting the Guardians were asked to supply extra accommodation as the Workhouse was 'crowded to excess.' The Medical Officer, Thomas Christian, recommended that there should be no further admissions because of the overcrowding and the prevalence of bowel complaints. On 16 January there were 766 inmates in the Workhouse.
The Rev. William Wakeham,  the curate at Kinsalebeg and secretary to the local relief committee, wrote to the Commissioners in early January enclosing a subscription list and looking for a grant. He informed the Commissioners that the committee had distributed weekly barley meal and Indian-corn in quantities from ½ stone to 2½ stone. Two tons of meal were distributed weekly amongst 250 families (18 lbs. per family per week). 'Gratuitous aid will have to be afforded to the infirm and those incapable of labour...Such relief it is proposed to give by issuing tickets for soup in those cases with gratuities of meal.' 
Richard Musgrave of Tourin House suggested to Sir William Stanley that a new edition of Count Rumford's book on feeding the poor be printed. Musgrave also informed him that at Grange in the Ardmore relief district he was distributing soup to the destitute. Forty-six families were each given 4½ lbs of soup 'as thick as a pudding.' This was achieved at very little expense and he appealed for a grant to continue the work. 
A. H. Leech the Treasurer of the Ardmore Relief Committee wrote to the Commissioners. He noted the:
'sad distress and destitution which prevails in this district, as well as the state of our funds...The district comprises the parishes of Ardmore Grange and Ballymacart, containing 32,000 acres - a large proportion of which is barren mountain, thickly inhabited by paupers - The population amounts to 15,000, about 8,000 of whom are solely dependent upon the potato crop. Of this latter number...upwards of 1,200 are totally destitute either from age, infirmity or widowhood. There are on average six deaths weekly arising from cold and want. The Poor House...now contains eight hundred and crowds of poor are refused admission, the stables and sheds are already occupied.'
Leech also noted that only one-tenth of the able-bodied poor were employed on the public works. According to him there were no resident gentry in the area, inferring that there was no source of employment. The public works were therefore the only source of employment available. Leech wanted to break with regulations to allow his committee to distribute food at a reduced price. The committee's funds were down to £200 and he appealed for as much aid as possible. 
A report in a Waterford paper commented on the suffering of the people in Dungarvan:
'You cannot walk abroad for one moment that you are not appealed to by scores of poor creatures...exhausted from hunger...their tottering steps and emaciated countenances would at once convince you of the truth of their soul-sickening story. On Sunday last there were five funerals almost at the same time in Abbeyside...from morning till night you are alarmed by the cries and miseries of hungry creatures.' 
Towards the end of January 1847 the Guardians ordered that 'guard beds' should be put in the stables and coach house. This would increase the accommodation in the Workhouse to 800. If further room was required galleries would be constructed in the dormitories, based on plans from the Poor Law Commissioners. On 23 January A.H. Leech, the Clerk at Ardmore Glebe, wrote to the Commissioners on behalf of the Ardmore Relief Fund. A long subscription list was enclosed which amounted to £285.5.3. It was signed by the secretary, William Crawford Poole M.D., and the chairman, Simon Bagge.  Lord Stuart de Decies contacted the Commissioners to know what funds were available to the Villierstown Relief Committee to employ the local women in knitting and spinning as there was very little work for women on the public works. The Commissioners agreed to match any funds raised locally.  On 27 January the Poor Law Commissioners wrote to the Dungarvan Guardians enclosing plans for temporary sheds for accommodation. They also noted that Mr. Burke, the Assistant Commissioner, had informed them that there was no suitable building available for rent in Dungarvan as an auxiliary Workhouse (see chapter 9). On the same date George Hilla printer in Dungarvan, wrote to Sir Randolph Routh, the Commissary General:
'Sir, I beg to inform you that there is no gratuitous relief given at the soup Depot here. Their boiling is but three times a week, and the quantity only 120 gallons, whilst their funds amount to about £300. The Poor House is crowded to excess, about 168 over its number. Hundreds are starving and several died in this locality from starvation.'
Hill suggested that no further money be given to the Dungarvan Relief Committee until they had used up existing funds by helping the destitute and by giving daily relief. He also warned Routh to beware of fictitious subscriptions. 
At a meeting of the Guardians on 28 January 1847 Beresford Boate suggested that each pauper who was unable to get into the Workhouse should get a half-pound of Indian-meal daily. He commented on the 'numbers of paupers, to the amount of some hundreds, during the last three weeks, and 200 on this day, having been refused admittance into the Workhouse, from want of room, and those persons being in a most destitute and starving condition.'
In February it was said that Dungarvan had a greater prevalence of disease than any other part of Ireland:
'In fact it beggars description and outrivals Skibbereen. Every day is seen issuing from the Workhouse gate the dead cart with three, four or five of its dead inmates. The deaths in the Workhouse are nothing, comparatively speaking, to the immense number outside its doors. If something is not done, and that quickly, two thirds of the population must unquestionably perish.' 
A member of the Dungarvan soup committee wrote the following letter to the Cork Examiner:
'Allow me in your columns to lament that the necessities of this town and neighbourhood have not been sufficiently brought under public notice, pressing though they be. It is true that private individuals have made, and are making, efforts, in many cases beyond their means, for the salvation of the lives of the people; but their exertions have been unsustained by that aid from without, which has fallen so opportunely in other localities, and in default of which the small fund raised here must soon be expended, with little prospect of renewal from persons themselves suffering under diminished incomes and increased prices. And why are the privations of our famishing people unannounced - borne, too, as they are with a patience and an absence of outrage which are as much beyond example as they are beyond all praise? Do not the Workhouse and the fever hospital acknowledge a frightful mortality, which, unhappily, is not confined to those institutions, but pervades every lane and all the surrounding country? Do not the streets by day and night resound with the wailings of the cold and hungry, who, unable to procure admission even to what were the stables of the over-crowded Workhouse, have been forced out of their lanes and from the neighbouring mountains into public observation? Have not deaths taken place from starvation - and hundreds of deaths from that most prolific cause, disease, engendered and rendered fatal by insufficient and unwholesome food? Is not the fisherman unproductively employed on the public works, a burthen on the food market, instead of a contributor to it?...What have our rulers been doing, for on them will be placed the onus?' 
A. H. Leech of the Ardmore Relief Committee contacted the Commissioners informing them that they were finding it impossible to obtain sufficient food in the area to meet the demand. He asked if they could purchase Indian-meal at the government depot in Cork. Leech stated that there were 900 families on their books requiring relief, for whom they required 15 tons of meal a week (32 lbs. per family a week).
'This week we were only able to procure six tons of Indian-meal and in consequence of the anxiety of the poor...Yesterday our depot was broken into and the Police assaulted. The people are in general bearing their privations and sufferings with wonderful patience but such cannot be expected to continue.' 
Public Works Schemes
The Board of Works published a map in their annual report for 1847 showing public works in progress around the country. In county Waterford a variety of projects are depicted. A pier or harbour is marked at Ballinacourty and Ballinagoul. Seven Coastguard stations are marked along the coast between Tramore and Youghal. A drainage scheme is shown in the vicinity of Dungarvan, to the west of the town. Various land improvement schemes are shown throughout the county. The largest group was six schemes in the Drum Hills. The Waterford Freeman criticised many of the schemes taking place around the county, in particular the new hospital road in Abbeyside (Strandside North) which was in a worse condition after the public works scheme.
One of the more well-known relief schemes was that called 'Father Halley's Road.' This road began at Two Mile Bridge near Dungarvan and continued over the Drum Hills to Clashmore. The road was named after Father Jeremiah Halley, the parish priest of Dungarvan who instigated the project.  As well as the road, several bridges were constructed. On one of these is a limestone plaque with the following inscription:
The Situation Worsens
'That institution is likely to be closed on account of the great many patients at present there. I beg that measures may be taken to reduce the number of inmates to about 500. This would afford space for the dangerous cases.'
The Guardians agreed to reduce the numbers as suggested. It was decided that the healthier inmates would receive out-door relief. The public works schemes had ceased on 20 March 1847. The Guardians noted that
'over 2,000 persons appeared to apply for relief...Destitution in this Union is enormous and therefore request the Commissioners to put the Act for Temporary Relief into operation without any delay, in as much as the great part of the Public Works have ceased.'
The Guardians were worried about the desperation of the people: 'From the great number of persons surrounding the Workhouse premises and scaling the walls that Mr. Boate J.P. do forward a requisition for the Military and Police to be in attendance at the Workhouse this day.' According to Woodham Smith the Scots Greys (dragoons) were called to the Workhouse and the crowds dispersed. 
At an extraordinary meeting of the Guardians on 22 March it was agreed that a memorial should be sent to the Lord Lieutenant asking that arrangements for the operation of the Temporary Relief Act be put in place immediately - 'The discharge of the men from the public works on this day will increase the destitution and hourly deaths from starvation before existing to a frightful extent.' They concluded by stating that if action was not taken there would be 'a fearful increase of crime and aggression by the starving population.' On 26 March Benjamin Boate, secretary of the Abbeyside Relief Fund, sent a letter to Sir William Stanley enclosing a subscription list. It was collected by the ladies' sub-committee for the rural district of Abbeyside, and also included the eastern part of Dungarvan parish. Both these districts incorporated a population of about 4,000. 'Our soup relief list which commenced on the 19 December 1846 at first consisted of about 1,500, but lately the numbers have increased so much that it became necessary to afford relief on a more extensive scale.' Boate stated that they had collected £122.8.0, with further money from the Central Relief Committee at 36 College Green, Dublin, who donated £30, the Quakers' Committee £25, and the Committee of 16 Sackville Street £15.  On the same date Andrew Carbery, secretary of the Dungarvan Soup Relief Fund, wrote to Sir Randolph Routh. Carbery wrote that the soup relief fund amounted to £251.17.4.
We have duly secured two gratuitous grants over from the London Relief Committee of £100 worth of bread and stuff and the other from the Quakers' Dublin Fund - £20 worth. The destitution in this town is enormous - in addition to our proper inhabitants of 4,600 poor... the town is overcrowded with strangers; paupers from all parts of the Union in addition. 
The Medical Officer reported that he had taken over the stables as fever wards and the cases of dysentery had decreased only to be replaced by gastric fever. The Guardians ordered that the agents of the British Relief Association be contacted to ascertain whether they would permit provisions to be sold from their local depots 'at first cost' to the committee of the East Division then being formed under the Temporary Relief Act. Towards the end of March the numbers in Dungarvan Workhouse had dropped by several hundred to 828. By the end of March fever and dysentery were widespread in Dungarvan. The better off were now contracting fever: 'Many of our shopkeepers' families are dangerously ill with fever.' In Ring and Old Parish it was reported that there were eight deaths a day. 'Coffins are becoming a luxury - bodies are being kept five or six days without interment and ultimately they are obliged to be buried wrapped up in a bundle of straw or hay, to keep them from public gaze as they are hurried to the grave.' 
'The poor are dying like rotten sheep, in fact they are melting down into the clay by the sides of the ditches...The bodies remain for whole weeks in those places unburied. In a corner of the vegetable shambles, a man was dead for five days.'
The paper also referred to a poor woman who carried the dead body of her son around the town in a cart hoping to collect enough money to buy a coffin.
Our venerated and zealous pastor, Doctor Halley, lost no time in procuring the assistance of two additional curates. Oh, this is the time to test the value of a good clergyman, when he has night and day to be in attendance on the dead and dying...I am informed that the Rev. John O'Gorman, Abbeyside, has to attend from 12 to 15 sick people every day; from morning till eleven o'clock at night he is engaged in administrating the last Sacrament to the sick and dying. 
A crowd of labourers called to Father Halley's house in Bridge Street appealing to him to obtain work for them. He asked them not to resort to violence or public disorder and stated that he would have work for them on the following day. On the following day he arranged for 400 men to be employed picking stones at Abbeyside beach at one shilling a day.  In Killongford, Kilrossanty, Comeragh, Kilnafrehan etc., the stock of potatoes was used up and the farmers were eating their seed potatoes. The Guardians asked the Relief Inspector to apply immediately to the Commissioners for an advance in aid of the rate struck by the Guardians.
They stated that:
'It is most important that funds should be provided for the expense of hiring and fitting up and in some instances erecting buildings for the formation of soup kitchens, provision depots etc., and with the view of laying stores of provisions in order that no unnecessary delay may take place in relieving the pressing and daily increasing distress produced by the reduction of the numbers before employed on the Public Works.'
The Board of Health contacted the Guardians concerning a letter they had received from Doctor Coughlan and the local magistrates in Kilmacthomas. This noted the prevalence of fever and lack of accommodation for fever patients and that the Mining Company of Ireland had offered a building as a district fever hospital.
'Arriving at Ballysaggartmore an awful sight was before my eyes, I found twelve to fourteen houses levelled to the ground. The walls of a few were still standing but the roofs were taken off, the windows broken in, and the doors removed. Groups of famished women and crying children still hovered round the place of their birth, endeavouring to find shelter from the piercing cold of the mountain blast, cowering near the ruins or seeking refuge beneath the chimneys. The cow, the house, the wearing apparel, the furniture, and even in extreme cases the bed clothes were pawned to support existence. As I have been informed the whole tenantry, amounting with their families to over 700 persons, on the Ballysaggartmore estate, are proscribed.'
In contrast the following report on John Kiely (brother of Arthur) of Strancally Castle appeared in The Cork Examiner, dated 6 January 1847:
'Far different indeed is the conduct of John Kiely Esq. of Strancally Castle, whose liberality to the poor of his parish is commensurate with his extensive property. He has, at present and for the last season, employed the people, is busily and solely engaged in diffusing comfort and plenty among them, so that there is no one in the parish of Knockanore who can say that he is hungry or distressed at the present moment. To evince his feeling still more, he has killed three of his best cows and distributed them among his labourers...with plenty of vegetables of all kinds...this gentleman has between Poor Relief Committees and incidental employment, expended £1,000 for the last 9 months.'
On 24 April 1847 Andrew Carbery, secretary of the Dungarvan Relief Committee wrote to Sir William Stanley, secretary of the Relief Committee in Dublin. Carbery complained that the work:
'is left to a few of the Guardians, the Parish Priest and one of the Protestant clergymen. We are abandoned by all the rest of the Committee appointed by the Lord Lieutenant. As to the Subscription list, I sent you from Dungarvan £252; this was raised in January 1847 after our subscription and aid for 1846 was out. It was raised by Doctor Halley and myself, Chairman and Secretary. I pray the Commissary General to dispatch us aid for the Town of Dungarvan, quick as possible, as our funds with all the aid we could get from other quarters is out. Save that, this day sent us from the Quakers of Waterford in Meal; those gentlemen sent us deputations twice here. And aid twice to help to extend our relief to our people who are out of employment those six weeks, in addition to the strangers flocking in and our destitute widows and orphans. Our Town is one of the worst in Ireland in its overcrowded state: fever and dysentery in every second house.'
Carbery also noted that Dr. Halley had been appointed chairman of the electoral division committee established by the Lord Lieutenant. Carbery himself had been appointed treasurer: 'You can therefore have no hesitation in sending us aid to our Town subscriptions of £252.' He concluded by stating that he was 'daily and hourly very busy in attending to the testing of names for relief under the Temporary Relief Act.'  In April the Guardians ordered that a temporary fever hospital be erected at Aglish for patients from the East Division of Aglish. Doctor Drew was appointed to look after it. These sheds were constructed with timber and canvas.
A letter to the Cork Examiner referred to the deaths of two people from hunger at the quay in Dungarvan and complained of the attitude of the better-off to the poor. The writer felt that they should 'look to the frightful and dangerous condition of these poor creatures...from which malignant pestilence might find its way to their own door. And here let me observe, that every rich person, that got the fever in this town, died.' It was said that about 12,000 people would be on the outdoor relief list for the Dungarvan area.  There were complaints about the official relief committee in Dungarvan who had done little but build up an office full of paperwork. The same source stated that:
There are some gentlemen (whose estates are not 8 miles from this town) carrying on their clearance system of exterminating their poor cottiers...Groups of these moving skeletons crowd the shops of our town endeavouring to procure a little assistance to relieve their famished children, whose cries would pierce a heart composed of adamant. 
Around this time it was reported that Richard Musgrave had reduced the rents of his tenants at Ballintaylor by 30 per cent and had distributed green crop seeds to them. However not all landlords were so accommodating:
Some of our neighbouring landlords are acting very cruelly towards their poor tenants. At Cuscham over 14 houses were thrown down, and at Curabaha, in the parish of Kilgobnet, 9 houses were tumbled. There were 10 houses razed to the ground at Abbeyside. In these places over 140 human beings have been cast homeless...many of them now begging about the streets. 
An 18 year old male was found dead by the roadside at Affane, his legs had been partially eaten by dogs. It was remarked that 'such scenes are now becoming so common that people think nothing about them.'  The people were becoming desperate and on 19 May a large crowd gathered outside Father Halley's house threatening to kill and eat his cattle if he did not find food or work for them. 
May 22 - Dungarvan: to serve Dungarvan, Whitechurch East, Modeligo, Seskinane, Colligan and Kilgobnet. The hospital to cater for 100 patients with four nurses and two ward maids.
At the Guardians meeting of 3 June Andrew Carbery proposed that in future individual members of a family should not be allowed enter the Workhouse unless accompanied by the rest of their family. Those inmates who did not comply would be discharged. As the numbers in the Workhouse increased this proposal was amended. Families could obtain relief but at the same time remain out doors. On 8 June the Poor Law Commissioners wrote to the Guardians stating that they had received a letter from the printer George Hill, in Dungarvan. Hill informed the Commissioners that a poor man who had been refused entry to the Workhouse on 27 May was subsequently found dead by the roadside, outside the gates of the Workhouse. The Commissioners asked the Guardians for further details on the case. The Clerk replied that the man's name was not on the Workhouse books and that as the place was full no one had been admitted except a few orphans. The Commissioners wrote a further letter reminding the Guardians that it was the Master's responsibility to admit urgent cases to the Workhouse. However, they accepted the explanation given by the Guardians.
'I hereby give notice that I shall on Thursday the first day of July next move a resolution to the effect that this House be cleared of its inmates and closed, in as much as the Union is indebted to the amount of £1,500 and there is no prospect of such a collection of the poor rate, lately declared, as would enable the Board to liquidate the debt.'
John McCormack of Dungarvan wrote a letter to the Cork Examiner in June 1847 commenting on the potato crop: 'I can assert with confidence that there has not been for many years a more cheering prospect and that the potato crop in the parishes of Whitechurch, Ardmore, Dungarvan, Kilgobnet, Ballinacourty, Ballinagoul and Gurthnadiha, never looked more promising...farmers from these localities have informed me that there is not the least appearance of blight up to this time.' 
Andrew Carbery and Father Halley were praised for their work in helping the poor:
'They devote their time from morning until 3 o'clock in giving out-door relief to our starving poor...they have employed several men to distribute carts of lime and whitewash brushes to the people in every street and lane.'
As a result of their efforts fever had decreased. The local Church of Ireland minister, the Rev. Morgan Crofton was also praised:
I cannot pass over in silence the praiseworthy manner in which the Rev. M. Crofton has exerted himself since the commencement of this awful calamity in clothing the naked and visiting the sick, I am well aware his private charities to reduced housekeepers far exceeds his public acts of benevolence - too much praise cannot be given to this Rev. clergyman for the pains he has taken to relieve a famine stricken people. 
In early November the Master reported that they would need to build two large ovens at the Workhouse to enable them to bake biscuits which would be distributed to those on outdoor relief. The following week the Medical Officer commented that he had found it necessary to convert a shed next to the stables as a ward for whooping cough.
At this period the state of the Dungarvan Union was described as 'disastrous.' The rate collectors were finding it impossible to collect rates from the small occupiers and in one area the rate collector had to be accompanied by 200 police.  The people were desperate to obtain food and resorted to theft to keep alive. On 24 December two sacks of flour were stolen from Roger Baker's shop in main Street. On the same night a heifer was taken from Thomas Healy of Knockateemore and eight sheep were taken from his uncle, William Healy. Both had been robbed a few weeks previously. 
He decided to accompany one of the meal carts on part of its journey to Dungarvan. An escort accompanied them consisting of one officer, two sergeants and 25 men. The carts were drawn by one horse and had from 12 to 14 cwt. of meal and the driver received one shilling per cwt. Somerville was surprised that these carts were able to make the long journey on bad roads as Charles Bianconi had ceased operating his coaches between Clonmel and Dungarvan. On the way he met 61 carts travelling towards Dungarvan. In his reports he particularly emphasised the brisk sale in guns and pistols in the Clonmel/Dungarvan areas and that few travelled without arms. Somerville gives very little information about Dungarvan other than mentioning the large landholders such as the Marquis of Waterford and the Duke of Devonshire. He noted the significant building improvements carried out in Dungarvan by the Duke but was not impressed with the management of the Duke's farmland. However, he admitted that he did not have enough information to comment further on the matter.