[chapter 3][p. 58]
“Man’s a king — his throne is Duty
Since his work on earth began.”
THE responsibility of a stewardship is a great one, and doubly so where the results are connected with life as well as property; and where the last is in the hand of the steward, who at option, may save or destroy the former. Had a commission been intrusted to me, under certain restrictions, and a salary paid, on condition of a right performance of duty, the path would have been open and plain; but working for no reward, under no restrictions but conscience, in the midst of the “valley and shadow of death,” emphatically, where some would stumble and fall, and where all had an equal claim upon the bounties which were to be applied, was a fearful task. This task must be entered upon, and the first duty, after securing a room for a deposit, was to find suitable objects — by this is implied objects which were not only needy, but which, in the jumble of so much machinery as was attached to so many different Associations, were overlooked. These Associations had now multiplied to such an extent, that the time in getting the varied instruments into harmonious action was considerable; many died in sight of boilers pre- [p. 59] paring to feed the hungry, or when prepared, they must wait till the “Relieving Officer had time to enter their names on the books.”
I stopped for no books, knowing that a faithful unerring record would be kept in the council chamber above, where the rich and the poor would soon meet before the Maker of them all; and my only prayer was, that when that book should be opened, I should not find there noted the name of any who had gone before as a witness of my neglect.
Cook street furnished a tolerable supply; and the remainder I found scattered in desolate places; some who had despaired of relief, because having neither courage nor strength, to make their way through the tumultuous revolting crowds which congregated about every place of public relief, submitted to their fate with a patient coolness and apparent resignation, which I have never been able to comprehend. One woman I found sitting in her chamber, looking respectably clean; upon inquiry into her real condition, the facts proved to be these; — she had heard of the Government Relief and had exhausted the last farthing for food, and when hunger became pressing, she sought her way timidly to the Relieving Officer’s station, and made her wants known; she was then suffering extremely, but she was sent away with the promise that he would call in the morning and make inquiries, and if he found her worthy she should have her name entered into the “books;” she went to bed supperless, and arose the next morning, waiting for the officer — be came not; she feared if she [p. 60] should go out he would call and then she should lose her opportunity; that night she went to her bed without the least relief; the next day she did the same; the third morning I found her in that state of patient suffering, with her mind fully made up to die, without making any further effort.
These facts are recorded to show the incomprehensible features of that famine; and to inquire of the Christian, the philosopher, and the physiologist, what is the nature of that kind of suffering, which could bring the mind into such a cool passive frame, especially to operate so upon a nation naturally impetuous in their passions, and keenly alive to the tenderest sensibilities of the heart. Was it their hereditary suffering that had become a second nature — was it the peculiarity belonging to hunger alone — or was it their religion, that had produced that submissiveness which overcame the natural propensities, and brought them into passive obedience, when the hard of affliction pressed them sore?
My first donation was Indian meal, with a few pounds of money. A store-room was made of my lodging apartment, which was three floors from the ground; the carpet was removed; the meal which had been put in sacks, by the order of government, was getting heated, and much of it must be emptied. The government had, for reasons which are not fully understood by all, sent to Ireland sacks which were sold for half-a-crown each — the meal was taken from the barrels and deposited in them, which answered two [p. 61] purposes, it made sale for thousands of sacks, at a tolerable profit, and was an effectual method of heating the meal, which soon gathered dampness, then became mouldy and wholly unfit for use. The hungry, in some cases, took it gladly; the consequences in many instances were fatal, producing a state of the system often beyond the power of nature or medicine to cure.
The meal sent from New York was of the best kind, the hull being taken off, and the meal kiln-dried, which had it been left in barrels, would have remained for a year or more in good order. This, the government, being unacquainted with the nature of the article, probably did not understand. If the inquiry be made — Why did the government interfere with donations sent to the “Dublin Central Committee,” as donations? — the answer can only be, that they must have acted upon one of two principles; that as they paid the freight of the American grants, they had a right to use a little dictation in the arrangement, in order to secure a partial remuneration; or, they must have acted upon the principle, that their interference would forward the exertions making in behalf of their subjects. Is the inquiry made — What became of the barrels? — why every commercial man knows the use of these articles in trade, and every housekeeper who has ever had a broken one, knows the convenience of making a rapid fire to hasten her dinner. What became of all the tens of thousands of sacks, or in other words, who paid for them? For one, I must answer, that when mine were delivered through the “Central Committee,” [p. 62] a promise was made, that the money paid for them should be refunded when the sacks were returned. This was immediately done; but the money was withheld with no other explanation, but that I must sell meal enough to pay for them. This meal was the property of the poor, and a property most sacred, because life was suspended on it, and the meal was sent in the best manner to preserve it, and taking it out injured it most seriously, and sometimes fatally, and the article taken from their hungry mouths to pay for sacks, was, besides robbing them of their own, deducting so much from life. I could not, I dare not, and I did not comply.
This circumstance is important, not only because it involves a great principle, but as furnishing a solution, as far as it goes, why the poor were so little benefited by the bounties sent them from abroad. The hungry, it should be borne in mind, for whom these donations were sent, had no control of what was virtually their own exclusively, but must be content to receive it by proxy, in great or small parcels, in a good or bad state, at the dispenser’s option; consequently, they did not always have what belonged to them, and if the meal and rice paid for the sacks, as mine were required to do, a great deduction must be made from the original amount. I once heard a woman observe, whose husband had large donations intrusted to him, that they had £200 worth of sacks; which must be paid for out of the meal, as they could not do it. These two facts are the only tangible ones on this sub- [p. 63] ject, which came under my cognizance. I name them, not to expose faults which should be concealed, nor to find fault for the gratification of doing so; but reading in a book often quoted for its veracity, that “on the side of the oppressor there was power, but they had no comforter,” conscience compels me to throw into the scale every particle of truth which belongs to the poor, who have been so much accused of ingratitude toward their benefactors. They never were ungrateful to their real benefactors; but second-handed ones, like me, who had power intrusted, did not all of them act wisely, nor for the best good of the poor at all times. Some of this was ignorance; some who did not know how to prepare the food sent it to them in the most economical way; and others, who had never felt hunger, took care to guard their own stomachs in good time against its attacks, which necessarily, required much free feeding and drinking to keep up health and strength for the arduous work; consequently all this caused delay, and twenty-four, forty-eight, and often more hours, were the starving obliged to wait till their time should come to be served.
My labors were constant, but not complex, having arranged that eight in the morning must be the time for giving the donations, and that a delay till nine on the part of the beneficiaries, would debar them the twenty-four hours’ supply. They had all been lectured and duly trained previously, that if any appeared dirty, or brought a fresh beneficiary without my knowledge, they should forfeit their own donations. The requirement [p. 64] of eight o’clock attendance was necessary, because my visits in Cook street were requisite through the day, and I was obliged to rise at four in the morning to copy manuscript and correct proof sheets till seven; then my penny roll was taken, and all put in due readiness for the distribution. The rooms below me were occupied as offices, which were opened at nine, and the appearance of bare feet, tatters, and sacks of meal, would not be at all in unison with the refinement of gentlemen; and above all it was done so early, that the train of beggars, which would have been drawn at any other hour, was avoided. Thus, every hour was time occupied, without the least self-denial. The greatest suffering was, during the few hours devoted to sleep, when I was occasionally awakened by hearing some moan of distress under my window. My lodging-places in Ireland had been sometimes of quite a peculiar kind; and here, in the beautiful city of Dublin, in a tall house overlooking the Liffey, was my proud heritage — my bed was a short sofa, or apology for one, placed in the middle of barrels of meal, spread upon blankets on the floor, and one crazy old chair, which served to make out my lodging at night, and provide a seat while copying manuscripts; an old deal table, with a New York Tribune for a table-cloth, made up the furniture of that happy room. But this bliss was limited, every day the quantity of meal lessened, and my purse grew lighter. The poor looked on, and said, “Praise God, we shall all be destrawed;” but God was better to them than their fears — they did not die.[p. 65]
Mine was more than a happy lot. Never before in all my privations in Ireland, had I tested the value of being early trained under the discipline of a rational mother, who fitted me, when a child, for the exigencies of life; who not only by precept taught me, that in going through the journey of this world I should meet with rough roads and stormy weather, and not always have a covered carriage; that sometimes I should have a hot supper, sometimes a cold one — sometimes a welcome greeting, and sometimes a repulsive one; but she had instructed me too, by precept and example, that my hands were to be employed in all that was useful, and that idleness was both disgraceful and sinful. This practical knowledge was never more extensively useful to me than now; knowing how to prepare the Indian meal and rice so that it was palatable, and no waste. Yet with these appliances, the meal at last failed. No skill in cooking would make it last like the widow’s barrel; and though I had learned not to distrust, yet it cannot be said that I felt the same animation in giving out the last day’s mess as the first. I had a little money left, and the weather was getting warmer: a portion, at least, of what had been wanted for fuel, could be reserved for food. I hoped that on the ocean there might be something destined for me; though not the least intimation was given to these poor ones, but they were urged to apply to some of the Relief Associations.
One unfortunate man was the only one that died who had received any aid from me; and his life was forgetfully left to go gradually out, when it might have [p. 66] been saved. A curate called and found him recruiting from the last stage of starvation in which I first found him, and kindly gave him a little money and food, promising that he would provide for him in future, and relieve me, as so many were on my hands. The curate forgot him. Three weeks after I called to see him; — a girl of two years was dying on a litter of straw in the corner, nestled by the emaciated father, who was too weak to know the suffering of his child; and in two days they were both dead. He had been “forgotten by his neighbors,” his wife was in the hospital; he sat waiting, as was common, in patient hope, till death relieved him.
Cases of death were not so common in Dublin as in many cities; the Society of Friends did much to stay the plague, and their work was carried on by different means; their laborers, in most cases, were volunteers, who asked no reward but that of doing good. How many of the poor bless the name of William Forster, and Joseph Crosfield, from England, for their labors of love; who, on the 28th of December, 1846, reached Dublin, made their object known to that Committee, whose views and operations harmonized, and thence they proceeded on their mission of love and mercy. Their graphic report is before the world, as well as others of that denomination of Christians, James Luke, Marcus Goodbody, William Dillwyn Sims, and William Todhunter. These men, moved by high and lofty feelings, spent no time in idle commenting on the Protestant or Papist faith — the Radical, Whig, or Tory [p. 67] politics; but looked at things as they were, and faithfully recorded what they saw. Not only did they record, but they relieved. They talked and wrote, but acted more; and such a lasting impression have their labors left, that the next summer, as I followed in their wake through the country, the name of the “blessed William Forster” was on the lips of the poor cabiners, and it was from their testimony that his name and good deeds first reached me. William Bennett, too, passed six weeks in Ireland, and a clear and concise account was recorded by himself, of the state of the famine; though his own beneficence, which was not scanty, has not been definitely known, because he acted as an individual; therefore he was not responsible to any society. As the pestilence followed the famine, the entire country seemed to be sinking into the vortex, and a knowledge of Ireland was gaining by all classes of people, both in and out of the country. An innovation was made, promising good results, into the long-established habits and condition of that people, which nothing before had done. Poverty was divested of every mask; and from the mud cabin to the estated gentleman’s abode, all strangers who wished, without the usual circuitous ceremony, could gain access. The landlord, who had long sported at his ease, was beginning to pay a penalty of which he had never dreamed; the tree, which was planted centuries ago, was now beginning to yield an exuberant crop; the starved tenants are driven into the “Union,” or turned defenseless into the storm, and, in either case, the rents were left [p. 68] unpaid. The landlord growls, but growls in vain: the “lazy dogs,” who are not in the poor-house, drawing enormous rates from his extensive farms, are at his doors, begging bread, or lying dead under his windows, waiting for “the board to be put on ’em,” as they called a coffin. Coffins were now becoming scarce, and in the mountainous regions and islands, two rough boards, with the corpse, in the rags which were about it when the breath departed, placed between these, and a straw rope wound about, was the coveted boon which clung to them to the last.
The winter passed, but the spring brought no fresh hopes; onward was the fearful march — many faces that were ruddy, and limbs that were robust, and hearts that had scarcely had a fear that the wolf would enter their dwelling, now began to fade, stumble, and finally sink under the pursuer. My purse was low, my meal gone, when a letter, the choicest and best, arrived, written by a teacher of a pauper school in New York, and signed by the Corresponding Committee there of the Dublin Friends’ Society, transmitting me a few barrels of meal, from the children of that pauper school. This was an offering richer than all, it was the interest of the widow’s mite, coming through the channel of the orphans, whose willing hearts and ready hands had gathered from their scanty comforts a few pounds without solicitation, and begged the privilege to send it to me. It came: I had previously been informed that a school in the poorest convent in Dublin was in a state of the greatest suffering. These schools [p. 69] were composed of children who had no means of support, many of them orphans, or the offspring of parents reduced to beggary, and gathered into convents and other schools of charity, where they were fed once a day. The nuns were of the order belonging to the poor, and in time of plenty had only been able to feed sixteen daily; and when some hundreds were added, the distress was almost overwhelming. This donation, coming from children of the poorest emigrants in New York, particularly belonged to such as were in like condition, for if such children were turned from the schools, many, and most of them, must inevitably perish, notwithstanding the Friends’ Society were acting with the greatest vigilance. The British Association, too, was in motion; besides the Government had been bountiful. America was doing much — private individuals, of the Irish in America, and in all other countries where they were scattered, were sending one continued train of remittances, to the utter astonishment of the postmasters; yet death sharpened his teeth daily, for new victims. With gladness of heart I hastened to the committee-rooms — presented the letter — was requested to wait an answer till the next day; the next day another day was demanded; called the third day, and was denied in toto. The clerk returned the letter without an explanation, only saying, that “the committee had concluded not to grant it.” Had I that moment been summoned by a policeman, to appear before a court, and answer to a charge of swindling or fraud, I could not have been more astonished, [p. 70] and certainly not so disappointed, for my heart had been most intensely fixed on this, as the most sacred offering ever sent me. The deep sense of injustice which was felt, drew these remarks: — That if the Americans had misplaced their confidence, in sending remittances through that channel, I was sorry that I had requested them to send mine in that way, and would immediately write them to desist. No other explanation was given than a plain decided denial; but when I had passed the door, the solution began to open. The fault was mine, God had sent me to Ireland, in His own way, and instructed me to lean entirely on Him; His promises had never failed toward me — nothing had been wanted, but had been supplied to my wonderment; and now, when daily He had been explaining for what purpose I had been sent hither, that I should lean to the creature, and ask aid, which in reality was not needed, and only retarded my operations, He had sent a rebuke upon my unbelief, which silenced the severity I at first felt toward those instruments in whose hands I had foolishly placed myself. I do not censure them, they acted from motives no matter to me; and God might have used them as a corrective most effectual, because in them I had placed both confidence and power, which were in safer hands before. Man may do well, but God can do better; and it would be fulsome flattery to say, that the “Central Committee of Dublin” were infallible; and cruel injustice to assert, that they did not act effectually, [p. 71] liberally, and, taken as a whole, do the best that was done.
On my way home, with my rejected letter in my hand, Richard Webb met me, took the letter, and entered the committee-room; what barriers he removed I know not, but the meal was sent. This was the only co-working that I attempted in Ireland; not because my strength and wisdom were complete, but because they were so inefficient; that an Almighty arm was requisite to effect the object.
The next morning early I went to the convent. They knew not of my object; but learning that I was an American, — “ Bless God,” said the Abbess, “that I see one of that nation, to say how much we owe in this convent to their liberality. These children here must have died, but for what they have sent them; and this morning they have assembled to receive the last bit we can give, and we have been saying that we should be ashamed to ask from the Americans any more, had we an opportunity to do so.” They then led me into the school-room, and called the attention of the children to see one of that kind nation who had fed them through the winter, and that through me they must send thanks to my people. They were then told what the pauper children of New York had sent — children like them, who were poor, but who saved all the pence they could procure, and had sent the little gathering to them. I have not the least doubt, had the benevolent friends of that “Dublin Central Committee” witnessed the happy scene of joy and gratitude which was there manifested, [p. 72] they would have better understood my feelings, and rejoiced too.
July 6th, I took the steamer for Belfast. Here was a work going on, which was paramount to all I had seen. Women were at work; and no one could justly say that they were dilatory or inefficient. Never in Ireland, since the famine, was such a happy combination of all parties, operating so harmoniously together, as was here manifested. Not in the least like the women of Dublin, who sheltered themselves behind their old societies — most of them excusing themselves from personal labor, feeling that a few visits to the abodes of the poor were too shocking for female delicacy to sustain; and though occasionally one might be prevailed upon to go out, yet but for a few days could I ever persuade any to accompany me. Yet much was given in Dublin; for it is a city celebrated for its benevolence, and deservedly so, as far as giving goes. But giving and doing are antipodes in her who has never been trained to domestic duties. The faithful John Gregg thundered his powerful anathemas on the indolent in God’s vineyard, who labored not among the poor, nor descended to the duties of women in emergencies like this. They heard it: some said it was beautiful; some declared he was the most witty man they ever heard; and others said his remarks were quite amusing; — but how many ever through the week were influenced to practice his preaching, eternity will best tell.
The Belfast Ladies’ Association embraced an object which lives and tells, and will continue to do so, when [p. 73] they who formed it shall be no more on earth. It was on January 1st, 1847, that the first meeting was held in the Commercial Buildings, by ladies of all religious denominations; and they there resolved to form a Society, for the purpose of raising a fund to be appropriated to afflicted localities, without any regard to religious distinctions. Visiting soon commenced, under the titles of Corresponding Committee, Industrial Committee, Clothing Committee, and Collecting Committee. Without inserting the names of these indefatigable ladies, it may be recorded that more than one hundred and fifty were associated in this work; the highways and hedges were faithfully visited, the poor sought out, their condition cared for, and the children of the most degraded class were taken and placed in a school, which continues to flourish on an extensive scale. This school has the benefit of being taught the elementary branches of an education, and the most useful needlework and knitting; and the squalid looks of the children were soon exchanged for health, and that indifference to appearance which the hungry, neglected poor soon wear, was, like magic almost, transformed into a becoming tidiness and self-respect.
Though many had never before known anything of sewing or knitting, yet they soon produced specimens praiseworthy to teacher and scholar, and by this industry earned a little each week which they could call their own. Other schools of the kind multiplied in almost every part of Ireland, especially in Connaught, where the exertions of Dr. Edgar, who explored this [p. 74] province, have been a great blessing in this respect. Many a poor child by these schools has been made to look up with a hope which was entirely new — a hope that in after days she might wear a shawl and a bonnet, write a good letter, make a dress, &c. The happy effects of industry on the minds of the children were striking. That passive indifference to all but how a morsel of bread should be obtained, was exchanged for a becoming manner and animated countenance, lighted up by the happy consciousness that industry was a stepping-stone which would justly and honorably give them a place among the comfortable and respectable of the earth. And again, to quote Dr. Edgar, every look seemed to say, “They have had in their work a full reward.” And he adds, “Thus an independent, self-supporting, and useful generation may be raised, who will be less at the mercy of changing seasons; and who, when the day of trouble comes, will have some resources on which to draw.”
My greatest object in writing this sketch of the famine being to show its effects on all classes, rather than to detail scenes of death by starvation, a few sketches only of this kind in passing along will be given, for the purpose of illustrating the principle of mind as it developes itself in the varied changes through which it is called to pass. These Industrial Schools, which I afterward visited when passing through Connaught in 1847 and 1848, were subjects of the deepest interest; for to me they told the whole story of Ireland’s wrongs and Ireland’s remedy. They told me, that when usurpation [p. 75] robbed them of the means of industry, for their own good, that oppression confined this industry to the personal benefits of the oppressor, and thus deadened every natural excitement to labor, which promised nothing but a bare subsistence among the children of men who looked down with contempt upon them, because, by this “hewing of wood and drawing of water,” they had been kept in degraded, unrequited servitude; but now that an industry, founded on righteous principles, was springing up — an industry that not only rewarded but elevated — the convenient term, “lazy Irish,” was hiding its slanderous head.
The Belfast Association felt this more and more, as they received returns from Connaught of the happy effects of these schools, and their hearts were more and more encouraged in pursuing these labors of love. They met often, they planned, they talked together of the best means to accomplish the most good; and one great beauty of these meetings was, no one said to her sister, “Stand by, for I am holier than thou.” Different parties who had never mingled, now felt one common interest. She who had much brought in of her abundance, and she who had little brought in her mite. While these benevolent women were teaching the practice of industry to the poor, they found the benefit react upon themselves, for they too must be industrious. This new, this arduous, long-neglected work, required not only their skill but their energies, to put and keep the vast machinery in motion. Money was not all that was requisite in the work. The abodes of the most [p. 76] wretched must be visited; and, though before the famine they had scarcely dreamed of the suffering that was in their city, and could not believe that their intelligent, industrious town was in much real want, when they found that many uncomplaining children of distress had been struggling for life long before the famine, they doubled if possible their energies, and cheerfully showed by individual exertion, that if they had previously overlooked this pleasing duty, they would repair as far as possible all that had been neglected before on their part. The men, too, showed themselves efficient coworkers; they contributed, many of them bountifully, and some visited too. They erected a bath-house for the benefit of laborers and the poor of all classes, to which was attached a laundress, that the poor in the most economical way could be provided with materials for this important handmaid to health and respectability — cleanliness.
I loved to linger in Belfast. All seemed to be life, and life to some purpose. All hearts seemed to be awakened to one and the same object, to do good most efficiently; and one peculiar trait was here perceivable — none of that desire for who should be greatest seemed prevalent. A mutual confidence prevailed. One would tell me enthusiastically, that she did not know how the association could manage without Maria Webb; her judgment was always the turning point in all difficulties. Maria Webb would expatiate on the efficiency of Mary Ireland, as a visitor and manager; a third would regret that the indefatigable Miss M’Cracken, she feared, [p. 77] would soon leave us, as her age had passed the line of three-score years and ten; another expatiated on the faithful Miss — , who was a Roman Catholic, but whose labors of love had been untiring; and she was quite sorry that difference in religious profession had so long kept so many useful members at a distance, &c. This to a stranger could probably be viewed with a sober, impartial eye, that those moving in the machinery could not; and to me it looked like a heavenly influence distilling unperceived into the hearts of all, like the dew, which falls alike on the garden flower or mountain weed.
Another most valuable principle was illustrated by this famine, which a God-loving heart must admire, viz., the difference between a hireling and a voluntary worker, and so clear was this difference, that whenever, in going the length of Ireland, I met any of either class upon coaches, in trains, visiting the poor, or distributing donations in soup-shops, or elsewhere, a mistake was not once made in pronouncing who was a paid officer, or who was there moved by an innate voice, to do what he could for the poor. Allow me to dwell a little on this and make it as clear as I can.
An officer paid by government was generally well paid, consequently he could take the highest seat in a public conveyance, he sought for the most comfortable inns, where he could secure the best dinner and wines; he inquired the state of the people, and did not visit the dirty hovels himself when he could find a menial who would for a trifle perform it; and though sometimes [p. 78] when accident forced him in contact with the dying or dead, his pity was stirred, it was mingled with the curse which always follows: “Laziness and filth, and he wondered why the dirty wretches had lived so long; and he hoped this lesson would teach them to work in future, and lay up something as other people did.” When his plan of operation was prepared, his shop opened, and books arranged, and the applications of the starving were numerous, he peremptorily silenced this, and sent away that without relief; many who had walked miles without food for twenty-four hours, and some died on their way home, or soon after reaching it; and when the story was told him, and he entreated to look into the cases of such, the answer was, that he must be true to the government, and not give out to any whose names he had not entered into the books; if they died how could he help it, &c. If all did not do precisely as has been stated, all manifested a similar spirit, more or less.
The Hon. William Butler, who was appointed as an overseer by government, was an exception, so far as language was concerned; he spoke feelingly, but his personal habits were not brought to that test of many with a lower station; he acted kindly as an inspector, and devised the best means which he could, and I was informed, when making the inquiry respecting his distinguished humanity, that he accepted his appointment from principle, and not from necessity, that he might see that justice was better administered.
Let us now follow the self-moved or heavenly-moved [p. 79] donor. He was found mingling with the poorest, often taking the lowest seat, curtailing all unnecessary expense that he might have more to give, seeking out the most distressed; looking into the causes of distress, that he might better know how to remove them, never up-braiding with harshness, and always seeking some apology for their misdoings, when representing their case to the uninformed. Many, both men and women, among this class, took most responsible donations without any reward, and acted in the kindest and most judicious manner; always minding to serve first those who needed most and had come the farthest. This kindly spirit was reciprocated at once by the poor, and with an astonishing discernment they often manifested this knowledge; sometimes much to the uneasiness of the party who were guilty. Through the whole of the famine, I never heard any of the poor complain of one who was giving from his own purse, and seeking out his own objects; nor, on the other hand, did I ever hear one say, who gave him true benevolence, that he ever met ingratitude. This might have been, but I speak only from personal observation.
While stopping in Belfast, at the hospitable “White House,” so called, owned by the family of Grimshaws, I became acquainted with a Miss Hewitson, whose father resided in Donegal. My destiny was to that county; hearing that the distress there was very great, I wished to see it.
William Bennett and his son had visited that part, in March, distributing donations at his own expense [p. 80] mostly, and his painful descriptions had awakened a strong desire to see for myself, and though I had no means in hand, I had reason to hope that there might be some on the ocean. I took the coach for Derry, a few miles from that town. The mother of Miss Hewitson was to meet me in her own carriage, and conduct me to her house in Rossgarrow. Derry had not suffered so much as many other towns, and a stranger passing through would not notice any particular change from its condition in past years. But this little relief was only to make what followed appear the more painful. Mrs. Hewitson met me with her son, and we took tea at a delightful little mansion on the sloping side of one of Ireland’s green lawns, looking down upon a beautiful lake. “And is there,” I asked, “on this pretty spot, misery to be found?” — “Come and see,” was the answer of my kind friend. It was twilight when we stepped into the carriage, and few painful objects met us till we reached her dwelling.
Her paternal cottage was nestled in a pretty wood, its roof thatched, and its windows shaded by the creeping vine in front. On one end, a window gave one of the most beautiful peeps upon a lake that can be imagined; and the back contained a garden which was one of the most pleasant retreats I had met, for the gooseberry was just ripe. Here had this discreet, this “virtuous woman,” lived, and by precept and example trained a family of sons and daughters, which will, which do arise and call her blessed. Her husband had been an officer, and was then receiving a small pension, [p. 81] and during the first season of the famine had been employed by government as an overseer of the Board of Works. His heart had sickened at the scenes which came under his eye, some sketches of which have been before the public.
The morning lighted up a pretty cottage, well ordered, and the breakfast-table presented a treat unseen before by me in Ireland. Instead of the bread, butter, tea, and egg, which are the height of the best Irish breakfast, there was a respectable corn-cake, made as it should be, suitable accompaniments of all kinds, with the best of cream for me; and were it not that the hungry had then commenced their daily usages of assembling in crowds about the house for food, that breakfast would have been a pleasant one. When I ascertained that her husband had been in America, and from him she had been told of the virtues of corn-cake, and that her skill had been exercised till she had brought it to perfection — I valued it if possible still more. Had the Irish mothers throughout Ireland managed as did this woman, their task in the famine would have been much lighter — the poor, many more of them, would have been saved, and multitudes who have gone down might have retained their standing. Had the higher classes known how to have changed the meal into the many palatable shapes contrived by this economical housekeeper, when the wheaten loaf was so high, immense money might have been saved to all parties. It was brought in such disrepute by bad cooking, that many would be ashamed to be found eating [p. 82] it, and one man who was begging most earnestly for food, when offered some of this prepared in Irish style, turned away in contempt, saying, “No, thank God, I’ve never been brought to ate the yeller indian.”
This industrious woman, like Solomon’s prudent wife, had not only risen “while it was yet dark,” to prepare meat for her household, but she had been in her meal-room at four in the morning, weighing out meal for the poor, the Society of Friends in Dublin having furnished her with grants. This I found was her daily practice, while the poor through the day made the habitation a nucleus not of the most pleasant kind. The lower window-frame in the kitchen was of board instead of glass, this all having been broken by the pressure of faces continually there.
Who could eat, who could work, who could read, or who could play in such circumstances as these? Certainly it sometimes seemed that the sunshine was changed, that the rain gave a stranger pattering, and truly, that the wind did moan most dolefully. The dogs ceased their barking, there were scarcely any cocks to be heard crowing in the morning, and the glad-some mirth of children everywhere ceased. O! ye, whose nerves are disturbed at the glee of the loud-laughing boy, come to this land of darkness and death, and for leagues you may travel, and in house or cabin, by the wayside, on the hill-top, or upon the meadow, you shall not see a smile, you shall not see the sprightly foot running in ecstacy after the rolling hoop, leaping the ditch or tossing the ball. The young laughing full [p. 83] faces, and brilliant eyes, and buoyant limbs, had become walking-skeletons of death! When I saw one approaching, with his emaciated fingers locked together before him, his body in a bending position, as all generally crawled along, if I had neither bread nor money to give, I turned from the path; for, instead of the “God save ye kindly,” or “Ye look wary, lady,” which had ever been the salutation to me on the mountains, I knew it would be the imploring look or the vacant sepulchral stare, which, when once fastened upon you, leaves its impress for ever. The kind Hewitsons seemed not only to anticipate my wants, but to enter into my feelings as a stranger whose heart was tortured with unparalleled scenes of suffering, and they did all to make my stay pleasant, and if possible to draw away my mind a little from the painful objects around me. They conducted me from place to place, and showed me much of the beautiful scenery with which Donegal abounds, as well as all Ireland. Lakes bountifully dot this part of Donegal. Rathmelton, Milford, Letterkenny, Dunfanaghy, all lie in this region, as well as a romantic spot on the sea-shore, called M‘Sweeny’s Gun, so called on account of the report that the sea makes when it rushes with tremendous force under the rock which overhangs it, and through which a round hole has been made, and as the waves dash, shooting through, high into the air, a loud report, like that of a gun, is heard; but as natural curiosities are not the object of this sketch, they cannot be dwelt upon: curiosities of a most unnatural and fearful kind have fallen [p. 84] to my share. As fond as I had always been of looking upon the grandeur of the sea-coast in Ireland, which has no rival probably, taken as a whole; now the interest was so deadened, by the absence of the kindly children, who were always ready to point out every spot of interest, and give its name, that a transient look sufficed. At Letterkenny, the Roman Catholic Bishop invited us to his house, and treated us with much courtesy; showed us his robes and badges of honor, given him at Rome; and though he knew that we were Protestants, yet he appeared not to suspect but that we should be as deeply interested as though we were under his jurisdiction. Many favorable opportunities presented, to become acquainted with the effects of the famine upon the Romish priests. Some were indefatigable, and died in their labors; while others looked more passively on. They had two drawbacks which the Protestants in general had not. — First, a great proportion of them are quite poor; and second, they, in the first season of the famine, were not intrusted with grants, as the Protestants were. These difficulties operated strongly upon the minds of the benevolent class among them. One Protestant clergyman informed me, that so much confidence had he in the integrity of the Catholic priest in his parish, that when he had a large grants sent to him, he offered as much of it to the priest as he could distribute, knowing, he added, that it would be done with the greatest promptitude and fidelity. No ministers of religion in the world know as much of their people as do the Catholics, not one of their flock is forgotten, scarcely [p. 85] by name, however poor or degraded; and consequently when the famine came, they had not to search out the poor, they knew the identical cabin in which every starving one was lying, and as far as knowledge was concerned were in a condition to act most effectually.
My next visit was to the far-famed Gweedore, the estate of Lord George Hill. This gentleman is too well-known to need a description. His works will live when he is where the “wicked cease from troubling.” His facts on Gweedore are the most amusing of anything I have read on the habits of the Irish; and to understand what Lord George Hill has done, whoever visits that spot should first read these “facts,” and then all objections must be silenced respecting the capacity of the most savage of that nation being elevated. These “facts” I had never read till some time after my visit there, which I now much regret. It would not be supposed that during a famine this spot could be seen to much advantage; but there was, even then, a degree of comfort which did not exist in any other part I had seen. It lies in the parish of Tullaghobegly, on the north-west coast of Ireland, where the wildest scenery stretches along the bold coast, in many places; and where it would seem that man, unless driven from the society of his fellow-being, would never think of making his abode. But here men had clustered, and here they had constructed rude huts, of loose stone or turf, and with but little law, they were a “law to themselves,” each one doing as he listed. The system of Rundale prevailed, “one tenant had his proportion [p. 86] in thirty or forty different places, and without fences between them;” and the strips were often so small, that half a stone of oats would sow one of these divisions; and these “Gweedore facts” tell us that one poor man had his inheritance in thirty-two different places, and abandoned, in despair, the effort to make them out. There were no resident landlords, the rent was paid any how, or not at all, as the tenant was disposed. Sometimes a little was picked up, as they termed it, by some agent going from cabin to cabin, and receiving what each might please to give. Their evenings were passed in each other’s huts, till late at night, telling stories, drinking potteen, &c. Perpetual quarrels arose from the Rundale system; for the cattle, on a certain day, were brought from the mountain, to graze on the arable land; and if Mikey or Paddy had not his crops gathered, they were injured, and then a fight set matters at rest again. The animals, too, were often divided, according to the Rundale system: if four men, for instance, owned a horse, each must provide a shoe; in one case, but three men had a share in one, consequently the unshod foot got lame; a dispute arose, one of the two complained to a magistrate, that he had kept his foot shod decently, and “had shod the fourth foot twice to hoot!” Let modern socialists take a few lessons from these originals.
Their materials for agricultural labor were at one time quite novel: when a field was to be harrowed the harrow was made fast to the pony’s tail; a rope was fastened to the horse’s tail, and then to the harrow; [p. 87] but if the hair of the tail was long it was fastened by a peg into a hole in the barrow; thus equipped, a man mounted his back, and drove him over the field. Whoever lacks invention let him learn from Paddy. The following true description of that district is given by Patrick M’Kye, the teacher of the National School, in 1837, in a memorial sent to the Lord Lieutenant; nor was Patrick’s memorial in vain, for it not only awakened an Englishman to send these naked ones clothing, but it will be handed down to future generations, as a memento of both the suffering state of that people, and the faithfulness of the writer; and, above all, it will show in very lively colors what persevering enlightened philanthropy can do, when in the heart of such a landlord as Lord George Hill.
Here follows the document; and if every schoolmaster in Ireland had so turned his parish inside out, many more Lords, like George Hill, might have long since arisen to their help: —
[letter]“To His Excellency the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland,
“THE MEMORIAL OF PATRICK M’KYE“MOST HUMBLY SHOWETH,
“That the parishioners of the parish of West Tullaghobegly, in the Barony of Kilmacrennan, in the County of Donegal, are in the most needy, hungry, and naked condition of any people that ever came within the precincts of my knowledge, although I have traveled a [p. 88] part of nine counties in Ireland, also a part of England and Scotland, together with a part of British America; I have likewise perambulated 2253 miles through seven of the United States, and never witnessed the tenth part of such hunger, hardships and nakedness.
“Now, my Lord, if the causes which I now lay before your Excellency, were not of very extraordinary importance, I would never presume to lay them before you.
“But I consider myself in duty bound by charity to relieve distressed and hungry fellow-man, although I am sorry to state that my charity cannot extend farther than to explain to the rich where hunger and hardships exist, in almost the greatest degree that nature can endure.
“This I shall endeavor to explain in detail, with all the truth and accuracy in my power, and without the least exaggeration, as follows: —
“There are about 4000persons in this parish, and [p. 89] all Catholics, and as poor as I shall describe, having among them no more than —
This is an error; the population of Tullaghobegly being 9049 in the year 1841. Paddy M’Kye, however, when he wrote in the year 1837, had no means of ascertaining this, as he had all the other particulars in his statement.
This error of the faithful Paddy is certainly a very modest one, and serves rather to brighten than eclipse the picture. It looks as though the mind of the writer was not so perverted, nor so lacking in material, as to be driven to exaggeration to make out a vivid, exciting story.
“One cart,No wheel car,No coach, or any other vehicle,One plow,Sixteen harrows,Eight saddles,Two pillions,Eleven bridles,Twenty shovels,Thirty-two rakes,Seven table-forks,Ninety-three chairs,Two hundred and forty-three stools,Ten iron grapes,No swine, hogs, or pigs,Twenty-seven geese,Three turkeys,Two feather beds,Eight chaff beds,Two stables,Six cow-houses,One national school,No other school,One priest,No other resident gentleman,No bonnet,No clock,Three watches,Eight brass candlesticks,No looking glasses above 3d. in price,No boots, no spurs,No fruit trees,No turnips,No parsnips,No carrots,No clover,Or any other garden vegetables, but potatoes and cabbage, and not more than ten square feet of glass in windows in the whole, with the exception of the chapel, the school-house, the priest’s house, Mr. Dombrain’s house, and the constabulary barrack.
“None of their either married or unmarried women can afford more than one shift, and the fewest number can afford any, and more than one half of both men and women cannot afford shoes to their feet, nor can many of them afford a second bed, but whole families of sons and daughters of mature age indiscriminately lying together with their parents, and all in the bare buff.
“They have no means of harrowing their land, but with meadow rakes. Their farms are so small that [p. 90] from four to ten farms can be harrowed in a day with one rake.
“Their beds are straw — green and dried rushes or mountain bent: their bed-clothes are either coarse sheets, or no sheets, and ragged filthy blankets.
“And worse than all that I have mentioned, there is a general prospect of starvation, at the present prevailing among them, and that originating from various causes, but the principal cause is the rot or failure of seed in the last year’s crop, together with a scarcity of winter forage, in consequence of a long continuation of storm since October last, in this part of the country.
“So that they, the people, were under the necessity of cutting down their potatoes and giving them to their cattle to keep them alive. All these circumstances connected together, have brought hunger to reign among them to that degree, that the generality of the peasantry are on the small allowance of one meal a day, and many families cannot afford more than one meal in two days, and sometimes one meal in three days. Their children are crying and fainting with hunger, and their parents weeping, being full of grief, hunger, debility and dejection, with glooming aspect, looking at their children likely to expire in the jaws of starvation.
“Also, in addition to all, their cattle and sheep are dying with hunger, and their owners forced by hunger to eat the flesh of such. ‘Tis reasonable to suppose that the use of such flesh will raise some infectious disease [p. 91] among the people, and it may very reasonably be supposed, that the people will die even faster than the cattle and sheep, if some immediate relief be not sent to alleviate their hunger.
“Now, my Lord, it may perhaps seem inconsistent with truth that all I have said could possibly be true, but to convince your noble Excellency of the truth of all that I have said, I will venture to challenge the world to produce one single person to contradict any part of my statement.
“I must acknowledge, that if reference were made to any of the landlords or landholders of the parish, they would contradict it, as it is evident it would blast their honors if it were known abroad that such a degree of want existed in their estates among their tenantry. But here is how I make my reference and support the truth of all that I have said; that is, if any unprejudiced gentleman should be sent here to investigate strictly into the truth of it, I will, if called on, go with him from house to house, where his eyes will fully satisfy and convince him, and where I can show him about one hundred and forty children bare naked, and who were so during winter, and some hundreds only covered with filthy rags, most disgustful to look at. Also, man and beast housed together, i.e., the families in one end of the house, and the cattle in the other end of the kitchen.
“Some houses have within their walls, from one cwt. [p. 92] to thirty cwts. of dung, others having from ten to fifteen tons weight of dung, and only cleaned out once a year!
“I have also to add that the National School has greatly decreased in number of scholars, through hunger and extreme poverty; and the teacher of said school, with a family of nine persons, depending on a salary of £8 a year, without any benefit from any other source. If I may hyperbolically speak, it is an honor for the Board of Education!
“One remark before I conclude. I refer your noble Excellency for the authenticity of the above statement to the Rev. H. O’F—, Parish Priest, and to Mr. R—, Chief Constable, stationed at Gweedore, in said parish, and Mr. P—, Chief Officer of Coast Guard, in same district.“Your most humble and obedient Servant,
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