|Organisation :||Waterford County Museum|
|Article Title :||Desperate Haven - The Famine in Dungarvan|
|Page Title :||The Plague Year|
|Page Number :||6|
|Publication Date :||08 February 2011|
|Expiry Date :||Never Expires|
|Category :||Irish Famine 1845 - 1852|
Cold Dawn of '49
'Many of the farmers and landowners will cease giving the employment which they do at present on the grounds that they cannot continue to pay wages and meet the heavy and rapidly increasing demands of the poor rate...a greater and more permanent evil will be caused by having a great breadth of land thrown out of cultivation...by striking a rate at present it will have the effect of increasing the emigration at present going on amongst the farmers and shopkeepers and those classes at present paying rates, and upon whose minds the conviction is daily forcing itself that their only hope of safety is in flight, and that if they remain at home they will be shortly overwhelmed by the universal deluge of pauperism which is daily overspreading the entire country.'
The Guardians decided that they could only repay the loan to the Treasury at £150 per week if they had sufficient funds to meet it. By the end of January the number of inmates had increased to 3,028. The minutes of 1 February record that the bodies of five men were brought to the Workhouse by the police to enable an inquest to be held. One of these was an unidentified homeless man who had been found suffocated in a lime kiln at Barrack Lane in Dungarvan. Another of the men was identified as Cornelius Flynn from Stradbally who had died from exposure in the haggard of Thomas Power at Knocknagranna. He had been discharged from the Workhouse on 26 January.
The Cholera Epidemic of 1849
In early February Henry Villiers Stuart wrote to the Guardians concerning the health of the inmates and the overcrowding in the auxiliary Workhouses. He suggested that they should revise their system of 'exclusive indoor relief ' and that paupers selected for discharge should be confined to the infirm classes who had been long term inmates. The Guardians did not agree with his comments, noting that the number applying for relief was decreasing. They were committed to renting auxiliary buildings (temporary Workhouses) until September, therefore they could not see the point in discharging people and paying rent for empty buildings. The Guardians also explained that a new floor had been inserted in the auxiliary Workhouse at Abbeyside which relieved the overcrowding. Proper clothing had been distributed to the inmates and a new system of discipline had been introduced.
By mid February the numbers in the Workhouse hospital and fever hospital had more than doubled to 300 compared to early January. In March the Poor Law Inspector reported on the overcrowding in the Workhouse and auxiliary buildings. He recommended outdoor relief immediately to those who came under the first section of the Irish Relief Extension Act.
A number of Workhouse inmates were sent to work on relief schemes in 1849. In February, James and Michael Noakler, William and John Harney and J. Roach, all from Colligan East Division, were discharged from the Workhouse and sent to work on a drainage scheme at Knockenpower. In March, William FitzMaurice, relieving officer, wrote the following letter to the Guardians:
'Sir, I beg leave to acquaint you that your exertions to lighten the Workhouse of our 130 persons viz. 46 heads of families with their dependants sent to work at the drainage going on at Kilgobnet, have been but partly successful, 16 heads of families having been obliged to return to the Workhouse for want of spades, shovels or picks - two more of the same list with their families are this moment at the Workhouse gate to be re-admitted or, to be supplied with implements and one days provisions and they say they will trouble the Workhouse no more.''
A report by the Medical Officer, Dr. Thomas Christian, on March 29 1849 was as follows:
'I consider the Workhouse and the various auxiliaries to be overcrowded, - a great many fever cases have occurred in them in the last 2 or 3 weeks, which tho' not very severe would seem to arise in part from the numbers collected together, a few cases of smallpox have also occurred but it has not spread to any extent,-I think that at the utmost these houses should not contain more than 2,500 persons, and should any severe epidemic arise should be reduced to 2,000.
I estimate them thus:-
Keating's store in particular is overcrowded. Carbery's store is likewise so, the second part of Kiely's store is very imperfectly ventilated and is consequently only used as a dormitory for a limited number of able-bodied women. All buildings require improvement, as to privies and sewerage.'
The figures above were adopted as the quota of paupers on the Indoor Relief List. The Guardians also decided that should accommodation prove insufficient, then further accommodation should be provided by erecting sheds in suitable places on the Workhouse grounds. Additional auxiliaries were acquired in April 1849. Around the same period the Master commented on the large numbers seeking temporary relief at night and that most of them appeared in a 'wretched state.' At this time the Guardians decided that the Aglish fever hospital would be re-opened in the event of an outbreak of cholera. They also decided to get in touch with the Waterford Guardians to learn if they would re-open the 'former fever hospital of Kilmacthomas and Knockmahon.'
To provide further accommodation within the Workhouse it was decided to create lofts over the dining hall and in the sheds. At the Guardians meeting in April Lord Stuart de Decies resigned because the Guardians did not agree to reduce the number of inmates and place them on outdoor relief.
The Apex Of The Cholera Epedemic
'The present condition of the country as to disease renders this a matter of deep importance to every one. The mortality in the house has increased considerably within the last two weeks...it occurs amongst those who entered in a worn out condition, than from acute disease in the able bodied. A genuine case of spasmodic cholera has occurred and is now under treatment.'
The visiting committee commented on the state of the cholera patients in Carbery's store: 'Persons attacked with cholera are not reported or removed in first stage of attack until the ignorant attendant is convinced by the appearance of blackness setting in, it is only then a conveyance is sent for, to take patients to the cholera hospital.'
The Medical Officer in Dungarvan submitted the following report on the progress of the cholera epidemic:
'Previously to 26 April when cholera commenced, fever and disease prevailed, but were not attended with any remarkable mortality, being about 16 persons weekly out of 3,300 inmates, many of whom had entered in a very delicate state - with respect to fever, it was chiefly slight gastric fever, requiring little treatment beyond a few days rest and change of diet. Any severe cases were separated and treated in the stable or sent to the Fever Hospital...since the advent of cholera, the mortality has of course, much increased and will appear as occurring in the Workhouse. Upwards of 200 cases have occurred amongst the inmates of the house and auxiliary houses, since commencement. The greatest attention is necessary to personal cleanliness, bedding, and the avoidance of crowding within limited spaces as at present.'
Later in the month the visiting committee complained about the treatment of paupers who were refused admission to the Workhouse. They specifically referred to the case concerning Michael Long, his wife and four children. They had arrived with a ticket for indoor relief, but were refused admission. As a result they were forced to sleep on the road outside the Workhouse walls. The committee complained that there had been many similar cases. This was happening in spite of the fact that the Guardians had two unoccupied houses in Dungarvan capable of housing 400 people. 'Can we be called Guardians of the Poor, and suffer such things through the neglect of our officers?'
Dr. Henry Anthony, Cholera Inspector for Dungarvan, gave the following details on cholera cases from the 10 to 17 May: There were 22 cases, six of whom died, seven were recovering, eight were in hospital and one patient was under treatment.On the same date Dr. Ronayne informed the Clerk that there had been 10 cases of cholera at Clashmore fever hospital, all of which were fatal.
Dr. Anthony's report on cholera cases in Dungarvan and Abbeyside from 10 to 24
May: 15 patients were sent to hospital, 6 died, 15 recovered and 5 were under treatment.
The Guardians responded to these criticisms by explaining that there were no yards attached to any of the auxiliary buildings so the inmates had to walk around the town for exercise. They also found it difficult to employ competent staff to look after the auxiliaries. However, they were taking steps to improve the situation. Dr. George Walker's first report on the Bonmahon cholera district on 26 July: There had been 5 deaths, 15 had been discharged and two remained. All were treated 'out of hospital.' The following were the figures for those treated in hospital: 2 deaths, 2 discharged and 2 under treatment. He submitted a second report in August. Six had been discharged from hospital and 2 remained. Outside patients included 2 under treatment and 6 discharged. By October the cholera epidemic had abated. To a people suffering from famine it was but one more scourge. While the cholera epidemic in itself was very serious its effects on a populace debilitated by famine and malnutrition was exacerbated.