« PreviousContinue »
The famine now raged in every part of the afflicted country, and starving multitudes crowded the thoroughfares of the cities and large towns. Death was everywhere—in the cabin, on the highway, in the garret, in the cellar, and even on the flags or side paths of the most public streets of the city. In the workhouses, to which the pressure of absolute starvation alone drove the destitute, the carnage was frightful. It was now increasing at a prodigious pace. The number of deaths in the Cork workhouse, in the last week of January 1847, was 104. It increased to 128 in the first week in February, and in the second week of that month it reached to 164-or 396 in three weeks! During the month of April, as many as 36 bodies were interred in one day, in that portion of Father Mathew's cemetery reserved for the free burial of the poor; and this mortality was entirely independent of the slaughter in the workhouse. During the same month, there were 300 coffins sold in a single street in the course of a fortnight, and these were chiefly required for the supply of a single parish. From the 27th of December 1846 to the middle of April 1847, the number of human beings that died in the Cork workhouse was 2,130! And in the third week of the following month the free interments in the Mathew Cemetery had risen to 277-as many as 67 having been buried in one day.
The destruction of human life in other workhouses of Ireland kept pace with the appalling mortality in the Cork workhouse. According to official returns, it had reached in April the weekly average of 25 per 1,000 inmates; the actual number of deaths being 2,706 for the week ending the 3rd of April, and 2,613 in the following week. Yet the number of inmates in the Irish workhouses was but 104,455 on the 10th of April the entire number of houses not having then been completed.
More than 100 workhouse officers fell victims during this fatal year to the Famine Fever, which also decimated the ranks of the Catholic clergy of the country. Mr. Trevelyan gives the names of 30 English and Scotch priests, who sacrificed their lives to their zealous attendance on the immigrant Irish, who carried the pestilence with them in their flight to other portions of the United Kingdom.
The pestilence likewise slew its victims in the fœtid hold of the emigrant ship, and, following them across the ocean, immolated them in thousands in the lazar houses that fringed the shores of Canada and the United States.
In meal, and coffins, and passenger ships, was the principal business of the time. A fact may be mentioned which renders further description of the state of the country needless. The Cork Patent Saw Mills had been at full work from December 1846 to May 1847, with twenty pairs of saws constantly going, from morning till night, cutting planks for coffins, planks and scantlings for fever sheds, and planks for the framework of berths for emigrant ships.
The People rush from the Country into the Towns--Instances of the
THE destruction of life amongst those who rushed into the towns, scared by the naked horrors of the starved country districts, was almost beyond belief. A single instance will afford an idea of this frightful carnage.
In a small house in one of the lanes off Clarence Street, a crowded thoroughfare of Cork, some two or three families from the country had sought refuge. The writer was in the company of another gentleman of the city, when his attention was directed to this wretched abode of famine and pestilence. A tall man, of once powerful frame, stood leaning against the door-post, and apparently indifferent to everything in this world-even to the moans and cries which proceeded from a kind of closet, a few feet from where he stood. Every trace of expression, save that of blank apathy, had been banished from his face; and the skin of his face, neck, and breast-for his discoloured shirt was open in front-was more of the hue of a negro than of a white man. It was the dark colour of the famine. In the front room lay, stark and stiff, stretched on the bare floor, the dead bodies of two of his children—one a girl of thirteen, the other a boy of seven; and in the closet, on a heap of infected straw, raving and writhing in fever, lay the dying mother of the dead children, and wife of the dying father and husband then leaning against the door-post. Sixteen human beings sought an asylum in that dwelling, and in less than a week eleven were taken out dead!
One or two other facts witnessed by the writer during the month of April 1847-not in the midst of some wild mountain district, but in the heart of a populous city--will afford a further idea of the reality of the famine The writer, accompanied by a friend, as in the preceding instance, entered a wretched house in the same district, a room of which was occupied by a destitute family, who had also come in from the country. On opening the door of the apartment, a miserable sight presented itself. On the floor was the dead body of an infant; on a kind of bed-a bundle of straw, on which was thrown a man's coat-lay the mother of the child, tossing and moaning in the delirium of fever, with another infant, in the last stage of the disease, lying
collapsed by her side; and crouching over the scanty embers of an almost empty grate, were a great gaunt man, and a little girl, her head resting upon his lap. The man, on whose shoulders was some kind of female garment, was nearly speechless, and could with difficulty articulate a word, or indeed be induced to notice that he was spoken to. The air of the apartment was thick and deadly, and the odour intolerable. Fever the true Famine Fever-was here in all its malignity. The mother was removed to the nearest hospital, whose wards were then crowded with the victims of the terrible typhus, and relief was administered to the other members of that afflicted family. When the door of that chamber was opened in a few days after, the consummation of the tragedy was then beheld. In the middle of the floor, his face turned to the boards, the father was stretched-a corpse. He had evidently fallen in that position, and died where he fell. On the straw which had been recently occupied by the poor mother, lay one of the children, also dead; and crouched up under the grate, with its little. arms crossed on its bosom, was another dead child. Of that family of seven-five children and their parents-there was but a single survivor.
Among many others who suffered the penalty of their devotion to the relief of suffering humanity, was a respectable gentleman of the city, a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul-a society which, having its origin in Ireland with the Famine, has since then become the most important charitable organisation in the south of Ireland. The funeral, from the character and position of the deceased, assumed somewhat of a public nature, and was attended by the local bodies, and the society of which he had been a member. Father Mathew was among the clergymen who marked their respect for the virtues of this martyr to charity. As the procession reached the church of St. Anne Shandon, a cry of horror was raised at the spectacle which was there beheld. Under a kind of open shed, attached to a guard-house which has since been removed, lay huddled up in in their filthy fœtid rags, thirty-eight or forty human creatures-men, women, children, and infants of the tenderest age-starving and feverstricken-most of them in a dying state-some dead-and all gaunt, yellow, hideous, from the combined effects of famine and disease. Under this open shed they had remained during the night, and until that hour-about ten in the morning-when the funeral procession was passing by, and their indescribable misery was beheld by the leading citizens of Cork, including the Mayor and several members of the Board of Guardians. The odour which proceeded from that huddled-up heap of human beings was of itself enough to generate a plague. On their return from paying the last mark of respect to the *Mr. John Lynch.
A CATALOGUE OF HORRORS.
deceased member of the Society of St. Vincent, the authorities sent for carts to convey the unfortunates to the workhouse; but before they were placed, carefully and tenderly, on the straw with which the carts were supplied, the necessary precaution was taken of sprinkling their clothes plentifully with chloride of lime, which was also profusely distributed over the place on which they had lain during the night. It was a sad sight to behold those helpless and unconscious creatures borne off to almost certain death; for, in all probability, by the end of the week, there were not five out of the entire number that had not found a shallow grave in the choked cemetery of the Union.
The public mind became familiarised with the horrors which were of daily occurrence. A little group clustered round some object in the street: you enquired what was the cause of the apparent interest, and you found it was some one who had just dropped from the hunger,' or, perhaps, it was an emaciated human being who was actually drawing his last breath on the public highway of a populous city. I have myself witnessed more than one awful occurrence of the kind. I have beheld women, in scanty rags that did not reach much below the knee, whose legs had no more flesh on them than there is on the leg of a crane. From knee to ankle, there was nothing but bone and shrivelled skin-not the faintest indication of the ordinary calf. Literally, the streets swarmed with walking skeletons. In every face was care; on every brow was gloom; in every heart was sorrow and depression. The healthy hue seemed to have been banished from the countenance even of youth; the brightness of the eye was dimmed, and the once gay laugh of a light-hearted people was hushed. The very atmosphere was charged with sorrow and suffering and death. It was indeed a sad time for that stricken people.
But although there was no class in society that did not feel the terrible pressure of the hour, either through positive loss of income, or the multiplied burden of taxation, there existed a noble feeling of charity pervading the whole community. Few indeed were there hard-hearted enough to refuse the application of a suffering neighbour, or to turn the wandering beggar from the door, notwithstanding that infection was disseminated by the starving beings who had rushed in from the country, and that in every fold of their wretched rags and filthy blankets the deadly typhus lurked.
It was a time truly in which to try the souls of men; and at no period of his career did the character of Theobald Mathew shine out with a purer and holier lustre, as in this terrible crisis. He was the life and soul of every useful and charitable undertaking; and there were many such at a moment which called into activity the best feelings of our common nature, and united those who had been pre
viously opposed, in fraternal and Christian concord. Industrial schools, clothing societies, relief associations, visiting committees-these and similar efforts sprang from the necessity of the time, and the compassion of the good; and there were few of them that did not derive aid and strength from the cooperation or countenance of Father Mathew. What influence he could employ, he brought to bear upon those whose interest it was to make a profit of the great necessary of life, upon every ounce of which depended the safety of a fellow-creature; and by his lavish and unbounded charity-for the excess of which he was afterwards to endure many a moment of mental torture—he supplemented the public relief, and thereby rescued thousands from an untimely grave.
Between Father Mathew and the Irish people no ordinary bond of sympathy and affection existed. He was their leader in a movement such as the world scarcely ever before witnessed, and they were his obedient and devoted followers. If no such link had united them to him, they would have equally claimed his best services in their behalf, and he would have spared no effort or sacrifice for their relief; but as their leader, who had shared with them the joy and exultation of happy days, he felt bound, in a hundred-fold greater degree, to stand by them in their hour of mortal peril. In a letter addressed to an American correspondent, we find this feeling strongly expressed :Cork: January 30, 1847.
DEAR MR. ALLEN,-There is no desire more ardent in my breast than to visit the United States, that great and glorious Republic. Obstacles, not of great magnitude, impeded my wishes heretofore. Now there is an insurmountable impediment in the Famine that desolates our stricken land. It would be inhuman, it would be a flagrant act of baseness, to abandon, in the hour of their sorrow, my dear, my dying countrymen-men who, in the pride and joy of their hearts, enrolled themselves, at my word, under the banner of Temperance, and who now, though tempted to violate the pledge, to drown their agonies in drink and die, cling to their sacred engagements with desperate fidelity, braving every temptation. A brighter day is dawning. Our Government and the benevolent people of England are liberally contributing to save us from destruction. Your happy land, through its length and breadth, sympathises in our sufferings, and is making mighty efforts for our relief. Tenfold more effectual would American aid be, if, out of your abundance, bread-stuffs were shipped for Ireland instead of money. We are in the deadly grasp of corn monopolists, who compel starving creatures to pay 19. a ton for what could be purchased in your country for little more than one-third of that famine price.
When it will please a Merciful Providence to stay the hand of the Destroying Angel, and bless with plenty old Ireland, I shall gladly avail myself of the opportunity, and gratify the dearest wish of my heart.
Again thanking you for your great kindness, I am, with high respect, dear Mr. Allen, your devoted friend,
Not only did Father Mathew expend his last shilling, and involve