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although the distress was severe in many localities, it in no instance assumed the dreadful features which were soon to be almost universal throughout the country. A blight, however partial in its character, was far from being a fortunate preparation for the entire destruction of the principal food of a nation.
The Irish are a sanguine and a devout people; and implicit trust in the mercy of Providence is one of the beautiful forms in which their piety is manifested. Not that they, in this instance, blindly relied upon Providence, without adopting every human means of endeavouring to secure success in their industry; for the partial failure of 1845 only incited the people of Ireland to make greater efforts to till, and sow, and plant, for the harvest of 1846. How terribly their hopes were disappointed, we may best describe in the affecting words of Father Mathew, who thus writes to the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. (now Sir Charles) Trevelyan :
REV. THEOBALD MATHEW TO MR. TREVELYAN.
Cork: August 7, 1846.
I am well aware of the deep solicitude you felt for our destitute people, and your arduous exertions to preserve them from the calamitous effects of the destruction of the potato crop last season. Complete success has crowned your efforts. Famine would have desolated the unhappy country were it not for your wise precautions.
Divine Providence, in its inscrutable ways, has again poured out upon us the vial of its wrath. A blast more destructive than the simoom of the desert has passed over the land, and the hopes of the poor potato cultivators are totally blighted, and the food of a whole nation has perished. On the 27th of last month I passed from Cork to Dublin, and this doomed plant bloomed in all the luxuriance of an abundant harvest. Returning on the 3rd instant, I beheld, with sorrow, one wide waste of putrefying vegetation. In many places the wretched people were seated on the fences of their decaying gardens, wringing their hands, and wailing bitterly the destruction that had left them foodless.
I am well aware of the vast expenditure incurred in providing Indian meal as a substitute for the potato, but I humbly suggest a cheaper and more simple plan. I have already laid it before Mr. Redington, our excellent Under Secretary. If Government would purchase in America, and lay up in stores in the several seaports of Ireland, a supply of Indian corn, unground, and sell it at first cost to all who will purchase it, it would soon be bought up by the country millers and farmers, and the unholy hopes of the corn speculators and flour factors would be completely frustrated. I am so unhappy at the prospect before us, and so horror-struck by the apprehensions of our destitute people falling into the ruthless hands of the corn and flour traders, that I risk becoming troublesome rather than not lay my humble opinions before you.
Not only was the potato crop utterly destroyed, but oats and barley were deficient, and wheat was a barely average crop.
In subsequent letters, during the same month, Father Mathew urged his views upon the Government, and pleaded in moving accents for his myriad clients, who knew not that the good man who had devoted so many years of his life to rescue them from the evils of intempe
HIS CORRESPONDENCE WITH THE GOVERNMENT.
rance, was now employing his well-earned influence to try and save them from the horrors of impending famine. The letters, of which the following are extracts, were addressed to the same official :
Cork: August 22, 1846.
I unqualifiedly assent to your opinions, and hope they will become the rule of action. In defiance of the sophistry with which it is attempted to lull the Government into a false security, I would not entrust our-soon to be foodless -millions to affected sympathy. Desperate cases demand desperate remedies. More than 2,000,000 acres of potatoes, valued on the average at 207. the acre, are irrevocably lost; besides, the unhappy cultivators are all in debt to the small country usurers, the loan funds, or the cruel sellers on time of seed potatoes and seed corn, at a profit of cent. per cent. I hail with delight the humane, the admirable measures for relief announced by my Lord John Russell; they have given universal satisfaction. But of what avail will all this be, unless the wise precautions of Government will enable the toiling workman, after exhausting his vigour during a long day to earn a shilling, to purchase with that shilling a sufficiency of daily food for his generally large and helpless family? The bonds of blood and affinity, dissoluble by death alone, associate in the cabins of the Irish peasantry, not only the husband, wife, and children, but the aged parents of the married couple, and their destitute relatives, even to the third and fourth degree of kindred. God forbid that political economists should dissolve these ties! should violate these beautiful charities of nature and the Gospel! I have often found my heart throb with delight when I beheld three or four generations seated around the humble board and blazing hearth; and I offered a silent prayer to the Great Father of all, that the gloomy gates of the workhouse should never separate those whom such tender social chains so fondly linked together.
Cork: August 25, 1846.
This country is in an awful position, and no one can tell what the result will be. For the sake of our common humanity, I anxiously hope that Her Most Gracious Majesty's Government will adopt the wise precaution of providing as large a supply as possible of Indian corn, to protect the wretched people against famine and pestilence. With Indian meal at a penny per pound, we could, with the Divine blessing, set both the one and the other at defiance. At the present price of Indian corn, the Government loss would be trifling.
In a letter of the 30th of September, Father Mathew justly takes credit for the effect which the spread of temperance had in maintaining order and tranquillity under circumstances most likely to lead to disturbance and outrage :—
Cork: September 30, 1846.
The measures of Government to provide remunerative employment are above all praise, yet have not been accepted with gratitude. The Treasury minute directing that the rate of wages should be lower than that paid by the farmers, has afforded a pretext for much discontent. But no rate of wages will save the people from extreme distress, unless the price of provisions be kept down. A shilling a day, or even one and sixpence, is nothing to a poor man with a large family, if he is obliged to pay twopence per pound for Indian meal. At present it nearly averages that price in the country districts. If I may presume to give an opinion, it appears to me to be of more importance to keep down the price of Indian or other meal than to provide labour. There are so many opinions as to
the amount of blighted potatoes, and consequently of the required quantity of corn as a substitute, it would be of advantage to ascertain the number of acres that were under that crop throughout Ireland. In one week the constabulary force could supply the most accurate information on that important subject.
It is a fact, and you are not to attribute my alluding to it to vanity, that the late provision riots have occurred in the districts in which the temperance movement has not been encouraged. Our people are as harmless in their meetings as flocks of sheep, unless when inflamed and maddened by intoxicating drink. If I were at liberty to exert myself, as heretofore, no part of Ireland would remain unvisited; but the unavoidable expenses of such a mighty reformation are now an insurmountable obstacle. Were it not for the temperate habits of the greater portion of the people of Ireland, our unhappy country would be before now one wide scene of tumult and bloodshed. Thank God, temperance is now based on such a firm foundation, nothing can weaken its stability! Intemperance, with the Divine assistance, will never again be the national sin of the Irish people. If possible, dear Mr. Trevelyan, have the markets kept down, and thus save from woe unutterable our destitute population.
In the following timely appeal, Father Mathew appears more in his character of the Temperance Leader, interposing to protect the most helpless of his followers from a snare of the worst description
REV. THEOBALD MATHEW TO MR. TREVELYAN.
Cork: November 20, 1846. Concluding that you now enjoy a little relaxation of your excessive labour, I presume to address you on a subject of, in my estimation, the highest importance. I am not called upon to give an opinion as to the utility of the public works now in progress; necessity gave them birth, and they must be executed. But it afflicted me deeply to find the benevolent intentions of Government frustrated, and the money so abundantly distributed made a source of demoralisation and intemperance. Wherever these benevolent works are commenced, public-houses are immediately opened, the magistrates, with a culpable facility, granting
The overseers and pay clerks generally hold their offices in these pestiferous erections; even some of these officers have a pecuniary interest in those establishments.
It often happens that the entire body of labourers, after receiving payment, instead of buying provisions for their famishing families, consume the greater part in the purchase of intoxicating drink.
The same deplorable abuse takes place on the different railway lines.
As I have the honour to address you, I feel pleasure in stating that the noninterference of Government in the purchase of corn, though productive of much suffering, has eventuated in an abundant supply of grain. Prices are rapidly declining; and I confidently hope that our population will enjoy a comfortable and a comparatively happy Christmas.
If Indian meal can be had by the poor for a penny a pound, all danger of famine would be at an end.
We still follow Father Mathew, whose letters, assuming darker colours as he proceeds, will afford the reader an idea of the deepening horrors of the famine, which had now really set in. In the next month he thus writes:
THE FAMINE SETTING IN.
THE REV. T. MATHEW TO MR. TREVELYAN.
Cork: December 16, 1846.
Since last I had the honour to address you, I have been in several parts of this wretched country, remote from and near to Cork. I am grieved to be obliged to inform you that the distress is universal, though the people are more destitute in some districts than in others. Where the rural population is dense, and was accustomed to emigrate during the harvest to other parts of the empire, to reap corn and dig potatoes, no understanding can conceive, no tongue express, the misery that prevails. The money earned during the autumn enabled these 'spalpeens,' as they are called, to pay the rent of their potato gardens, and supply themselves and families with clothes and other necessaries. This resource has utterly failed, as well as their own stock of provisions, and they are now wholly dependent for their means of existence on public works.
The amount of loss sustained by the peasant whose acre of potatoes has been blighted, has not been sufficiently estimated. Bread stuffs to the value of 301. would not supply the loss.
The present exorbitant price of bread stuffs, especially Indian corn, places sufficient food beyond the great bulk of the population. Men, women, and children, are gradually wasting away. They fill their stomachs with cabbageleaves, turnip-tops, &c. &c., to appease the cravings of hunger. There are at this moment more than five thousand half-starved, wretched beings, from the country, begging in the streets of Cork. When utterly exhausted, they crawl to the workhouse to die. The average of deaths in this union is over a hundred a week. . . . . I deeply regret the total abandonment of the people to corn and flour dealers. They charge 50 to 100 per cent. profit. Cargoes of maize are purchased before their arrival, and are sold like railway shares, passing through different hands before they are ground and sold to the poor.
We are establishing soup shops in all parts of the city, to supply the nutritious and cheap cooked food.
After this long and painful detail, allow me, honoured dear sir, to thank you for your successful interference with respect to the temptations held out to the labourers on the public works. When I assure you that the few lines you addressed to the Board of Works accomplished more good than if I had written volumes on the subject, you will pardon me for having added to your multitudinous and most laborious duties.
Towards the close of the year 1846, the condition of the people throughout the country was becoming frightful, and no doubt could be any longer entertained, even by the most sceptical, that a calamity unparalleled in its magnitude had befallen the people. Death was already striking down its victims in every direction, and masses of the wretched peasantry were flinging themselves into the cities and large towns, in the desperate hope that there food was to be found. as they fled from their desolate homes, they carried with them in their miserable clothing, if such it might be called, the infection of disease and the seeds of death. A few instances of the state of things in the more remote districts of the county Cork, in the beginning of December 1846, will prepare the reader for the appalling horrors of 1847.
In the neighbourhood of Beerhaven, a gentleman visited several cabins, in which he saw their famishing and despairing occupants
stretched on beds of damp and broken straw, abandoned by all hope, and bereft of all energy. Their eyes were closed, and their voices feeble and tremulous. He besought them to rise, offered them money, spoke to them cheerily, and endeavoured to rouse them to some exertion; but in vain. Theirs was a mental and bodily prostration beyond human aid, and they continued to lie still and apathetic, evidently welcoming the death whose shadows were fast closing around them.
In Crookhaven, the daily average of deaths was from ten to twelve; and as early as the first Sunday in December, a collection was made to purchase a public bier, on which to take the coffinless dead to the grave the means to provide coffins having been utterly exhausted in that locality.
In Skibbereen numerous cases occurred, in November and December 1846, of the dead being kept for several days over ground, on account of the want of coffins; and even at so early a period, there were instances of the dead being consigned to the grave in the rags in which they died. Ere long, the name of Skibbereen became the representative of the worst horrors of the Famine. That desolate district was one of the longest to suffer, and the slowest to recover, for in none other was there a greater destruction of human life. Throughout the entire west of the county Cork, it was a common occurrence to see from ten to a dozen funerals in the course of the day during the close of 1846.
The Society of Friends-Their Reports on the Condition of the Country and State of the People-Frightful Mortality.
THE Society of Friends in Ireland commenced their beneficent labours in December 1846, and sought the cooperation of their brethren in Great Britain and throughout the United States. Their appeal was attended with the best results in both cases, but with extraordinary success in the United States. The account of their operations is recorded in a most interesting volume, published in 1852, the Report being from the able pen of Mr. Jonathan Pim. From the Appendix, which contains a number of highly valuable documents, I select some extracts, which exhibit, in simple and unexaggerated language, the sad condition to which the mass of the population was reduced.
The Friends in London deputed certain members of their body to visit the distressed districts of Ireland, and report upon the actual state