Famine Times

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In 1846 the potato crop was abundant in the district; so plentiful was the return, that the farmers had to bury the surplus in large pits in the headland. The following year the seed or settings rotted in the ground, resulting in a complete failure of the potato crop. Old people say this was a cross sent by God owing to the great waste the previous year. Hundreds died of hunger because potatoes and buttermilk formed the staple food of the working classes. Cooking utensils were now seldom used and a story is told of a young boy who, on awakening from sleep, asked his mother if he heard the pot hooks rattling or had it been a dream? The people received very little help from the government or from the upper classes. While the poor was in great distress shiploads of cattle and grain were sent to the English market. Clanricarde insisted on the rents being paid and evicted those who failed to pay. This time committees were established who distributed indian meal called "Committee Meal". Huge vats of Indian meal porridge were in readiness for distribution at the workhouse. Many of those sufferers who survived 1847 were the victims of cholera, resulting from the prolonged hunger. The people died in vast numbers many of them were buried in a graveyard on the Shannon road now long closed up. A temporary workhouse was built about this time for the care of the sick, and the ruins are still to be seen near Anne's pasture, called after an old woman who owned the field. At the rear of an old distillery owned by the Monahan family-- a noted incident during this period was that women from Stoney Island came in to Portumna and knit socks all day in a house now occupied by Dan Molloy carpenter and received 1 lb of Indian meal in the evening as wages-- a story is told of a woman who, during the famine period, lived near Willmount and had no food, so she went to this gentleman's estate McDonagh's and took some turnips. The gentleman warned her not to come again, so she tried a second time to get some turnips for her starving family but was caught in act by the gentleman and shot.