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Nicholson, Asenath, 1792-1855 / Annals of the famine in Ireland (1851)

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[chapter 5]

  [p. 134]  
“However darkly stained by sin,
He is thy brother yet.”

IT was at the house of Mr. Savage, at the Sound, where I first met with the Hon. William Butler. He insisted on my going to Erris, as a spot of all others the most wretched, offering kindly to pay my passage in an open boat, which was to take him there. We went: he observed on the passage, that be had always feared the water, and would prefer any death almost to that of drowning. He was drowned the next season while on a visit to the continent.

We reached Belmullet; he secured me a lodging; but the rector called and invited me to spend the time at his house, and I did so. But here was a place which might justly be called the “fag-end” of misery. It seemed to be a spinning out of all that was fearful in suffering, and whoever turned his eye there needed no other point of observation, to see all that famine and pestilence could do. It appeared like a vast crucible, where had been concocted all that was odious, all that was suffering; and which had been emptied, leaving the dregs of the mass unfit for any use.

Well did James Tuke say, in his graphic description   [p. 135]   of Erris, that he had visited the wasted remnants of the once noble Red Man in North America, and the “negro-quarter” of the degraded and enslaved African; but never had he seen misery so intense, or physical degradation so complete, as among the dwellers in the bog-holes of Erris.

“Figure and mien, complexion and attire,
Are leagued to strike dismay.”

The few resident landlords in this barony, containing in the year 1846, a population of twenty-eight thousand, were now reduced, by the extreme poverty of the tenantry, to a state of almost hopeless desperation. The poor-house was a distance of forty miles to Ballina; and the population since the famine was reduced to twenty thousand — ten thousand of these on the extreme borders of starvation — crawling about the streets — lying under the windows of such as had a little food, in a state of almost nudity. Being situated on the north-east coast of Mayo, it has the Atlantic roaring and dashing upon two sides of it; and where the wretched dwellers of its coasts are hunting for seaweed, sand-eels, &c., to appease their hunger, and where in many cases, I truly thought that man had nearly lost the image in which he was created. This coast is noted for shipwrecks; and many of the inhabitants, in former days, have subsisted very comfortably upon the spoils.

A Mrs. D. called one morning to take a walk with me upon a part of the sea-coast, called “Cross.”   [p. 136]   Nature here seemed to have put on her wildest dress, for in the whole barony of Erris there is but one tree, and that a stinted one; and this barony extends thirty-five miles. But here our walk seemed to be through something unlike all I had seen. In some places nature appeared like a maniac, who, in her ravings, had disheveled her locks and tattered her garments. In others, she put on a desponding look, as if almost despairing, yet not not unwilling to be restored, if there were any to comfort her; in others, the bold cliffs dashed by the maddening waves, seemed like a lion rising from his lair, and going forth in fury for his prey. Three miles presented us with grand, beautiful, and painful scenes; the air was salubrious — the sun was bright; the unroofed cabins silent and dreary, told us that the ejected inmates were wandering shelterless or dead, many of whom were buried under the ruins, who were found starved in a putrid state; and having no coffins, the stones of the cabins were tumbled upon them. Mrs. D. was one of those sensitive beings who are capable of enjoying the beauties of nature, and capable too of suffering most keenly. She had tasted deeply of sorrow — was a new-made widow — her mother had died but a few months previous — an adopted child, a lovely niece of ten years old, had died a few weeks before. As we neared the burying-ground she pointed to the spot, saying, “There I put her, my fair blossom; and there, by her side, I put her uncle,” (meaning her husband,) “five weeks after; but you must excuse me from taking you there, for I could not venture   [p. 137]   myself where they lie, because they will give me no welcome, nor speak a kind word, as they used to do.” We passed over sand-banks and ditches, to the cottage where her father and mother had lived and died, leaving two sisters and two brothers on the paternal estate. The cottage had no wicket-gate, no flowers nor shrubs; but standing upon the margin of the lake, it seemed modestly to say, “Walk in, my comforts shall be equal to all I have promised.” The interior was neat. Here were the remains of an ancient family, who had “lived to enjoy,” who could walk or ride, could entertain guests in true Irish hospitality, for many a century back; but death had removed the head of the family; famine had wasted the tenantry; the fields were neglected; “and here,” said the sister who kept the cottage, “we are sitting as you see, with little to cheer us, and less to hope for the future.” We visited the churchyard, which my companion thought she could not see — a brother offered to be her companion — and we found it upon a rising hillock, by the sea-side; it was a Protestant one, and a snug church had stood near; but the landholder, Mr. Bingham, had caused it to be taken down, and another built in a town or village called Bingham’s town. Here was another specimen of the peculiar grave-yards on the sea-coast of Ireland. The better classes have a monument of rough stones put over the whole surface of the grave, elevated a few feet, and cemented with mortar. The poorer classes must be content to lie under a simple covering of rough stones, without being   [p. 138]   elevated or cemented. We waited a few moments till the sister, who sat down upon the grave of the little one, had indulged her grief for the two departed, and I only heard her say, “Ah! and you will not speak to me.” An ancient abbey was near, said to be a thousand years old; and so closely had the Catholics buried their dead there that it appeared at a little distance, like one vast pile of stones tumbled together. The Protestants and Romanists do not choose to place their dead in contact; and these two were distinct; but they, also, had their “respectable monuments,” for we saw, on a nearer approach, that this grave-yard had elevated cemented tombstones; the ground was high, and no walls, but the roaring old sea upon one side — which sometimes boldly reaches out and snatches a sleeper from his bed. The scattered bones that lay about, told that it must long have been the “place of skulls.” The last year had made great accessions to the pile, which could easily be known by their freshness, and ropes of straw and undried grass brought here by relatives, to put over the uncoffined bodies of their friends. Here were deposited five or six sailors, belonging to a vessel from Greenock, which was wrecked on this coast the preceding spring. The bodies washed ashore, and a brother of the lady with me dug a pit and put them in, spreading over their faces the skirt of one of their overcoats, “to screen,” as he said, “the cruel clay from their eyes.” These poor sailors, unknown and unwept, were buried by the hand of a stranger, on a foreign shore; but somewhere   [p. 139]   they might have had mothers who waited and asked in vain for the absent ship.

As these sailors have no monument to tell their parentage, let it be recorded here, that in the spring of 1847, a vessel was wrecked on the desolate coast of Erris, and every soul on board was lost. The vessel sailed from Greenock, in Scotland. While sitting in the cottage, in the evening, the lady who accompanied me brought a lid of a box, which was taken from among the wreck of that lost ship, and on it was written “Soda Biscuit, by — , Corner of Beekman and Cliff Street, New York.” The name was so defaced it could not be made out. This added new interest to the shipwreck, when meeting an inscription from the street where I had lived, and the shop in which I had traded, and was told that the vessel was freighted with provisions for the starving of Ireland. This was a mistake.

In the morning, when the sun was rising, we ascended a hill, among the desolate cabins, where once was the song of health, and where far off in the west, the sea stretched wide, and the variegated clouds gilded with the morning sun, were dipping apparently in its waters. This, said a daughter of the family, was once a pretty and a grand spot; here, two years ago, these desolate fields were cultivated, and content and cheerfulness were in every cabin. Now, from morning to night they wander in search of a turnip, or go to the sea for sea-weed to boil, and often have we found a corpse at the door, that the brother you see “might   [p. 140]   put a board on ’em.” We have often seen an ass passing our window carrying a corpse, wound about with some old remnant of a blanket or sheet; and thus, flung across its back, a father or mother, wife or husband, was carried to the grave. Sometimes, when the corpse was a little child, or it might be more than one, they were put into a couple of baskets, and thus balanced upon the sides of the ass, this melancholy hearse proceeded on without a friend to follow it, but the one who was guiding the beast. These burials tell more of the paralysing effects of famine than anything else can do; for the Irish in all ages, have been celebrated for their attention to the interment of their dead, sparing no expense.

When I stood in the burying-ground in that parish, I saw the brown silken hair of a young girl, waving gently through a little cleft of stones, that lay loosely upon her young breast. They had not room to put her beneath the surface, but slightly, and a little green grass was pulled and spread over, and then covered with stones. I never shall forget it.

“The blast of the desert comes,
Her loose hair flew on the wind.”

In some parts the soil was manured with the slain. When the famine first commenced, efforts were made to procure coffins; but the distress became so great to the living, that every penny that could be procured must be given for food; and the famished relatives, at last, were grateful if some hand stronger   [p. 141]   than theirs would dig the pit, and put down the uncoffined body.

One Sabbath, when I was in Erris, the day was so stormy that the church service was suspended. A barefooted woman, who one year before had called to sell milk and kept a fine dairy, came into the house where I was, and calling me by name, said: “Will ye give me something to buy a coffin to put on my husband; he died yesterday on me, and it would be a pity to put him in the ground without a board, and he is so swelled, ma’am, not a ha’porth of his legs or belly but is ready to burst, and but a fivepence-halfpenny could I gather, and the little boys are ashamed to go out and ask the charity for him.”

This is an illustration not only of the state into which famine has thrown the country, but the apathy of feeling which the most tender-hearted people on the globe manifested. A woman compelled to go out in a most perilous storm, upon a wild sea-coast, unprotected by clothes, and without a morsel of food for twenty-four hours, to procure a coffin for her husband, who had died by starvation!

THE SOLDIERS OF BELMULLET.

Among the marvels and dreadfuls of Erris, the Queen’s soldiers certainly deserve a place in history. Government in her mercy had deposited in a shop some tons of Indian meal, to be sold or given out, as the Commissariat should direct, for the benefit of the people. This meal was in statu quo, and hunger was   [p. 142]   making fearful inroads. One hundred and fifty-one soldiers, cap-à-pie, were marching before and around this shop, with bayonets erect, from early dawntill late in “dusky eve,” to guard this meal. They certainly made a warlike bloody-looking array, when contrasted with the haggard, meager, squalid skeletons that were grouped in starving multitudes about them, who, if the whole ten thousand starving ones in the barony had been disposed to rise en masse, scarcely had strength to have broken open a door of the shop, or to have knocked down a soldier; but here they were, glistening in bright armor, and the people dying with hunger about it. These soldiers were alive to their duty on all and every occasion. One Sabbath morning when the church prayers were in full progress, they marched up under arms, with fife and drum playing merrily the good old tune of “Rory O’More.” The modest rector suspended operations, the congregation in breathless silence, most of them arose from their seats; the army entered, doffed their caps, planted their arms, and quietly, if not decently, took their seats, and sat till prayers and sermon were ended; as soon as “Old Hundred” closed the worship, these soldiers resumed their arms, and the musicians, upon the threshold of the door, struck up “The Girl I Left Behind Me;” and the congregation, a little confused, walked out. I never heard it applauded nor ever heard it censured, but by one. To say the least of the morality of Erris, their drinking, and card-playing, and dancing habits, would well comport with the army or navy; but they   [p. 143]   were quite in advance of anything I had seen in any part of Ireland. Here I saw the cobweb covering flung about fallen man, to hide his deformity, torn aside, and scarcely a vestige was there of beauty, amiability, or even decency left.

The hotel keeper was in the habit of collecting a few shillings from lodgers and travelers, and distributing them in pennies, to the starving, in the morning. These recipients were as ravenous as hungry lions and tigers, as void of reason, and more disgusting to the sight. If man is to be guided by reason, then when reason is extinct, upon what can he fall back? If the instinct that is planted in man is the image of God, in which He is made, then where this God is extinguished there can be nothing but a wreck — a mass of neither man nor brute; for if he have lost the image of God, and has not the instinct of animals, he stands out an unnatural growth, to be wondered at rather than admired. I could scarcely believe that these creatures were my fellow-beings. Never had I seen slaves so degraded; and here I learnt that there are many pages in the volume of slavery, and that every branch of it proceeds from one and the same root, though it assumes different shapes. These poor creatures are in as virtual bondage to their landlords and superiors as is possible for mind or body to be. They cannot work unless they bid them; they cannot eat unless they feed them; and they cannot get away unless they help them.

From Belmullet, Rosport was my destiny, a distance of twelve miles — a romantic place on the sea-coast,   [p. 144]   where resided three families of comparative comfort; but their comforts were threatened most fearfully by the dreadful scourge; fever was everywhere, and hunger indeed had filled a grave-yard, which lay at the foot of a mountain, so full that scarcely any distinction could be seen of graves, but now and then a stick at the head or foot of one. By the road-side a family of four or five had made a temporary shelter, waiting for a son to die, whom they had brought some miles across the mountains, that he might be buried in a grave-yard where the dogs would not find him, as there was a wall about this. He died of consumption, and the family were fed while there, and then went away when they had buried their boy. The family of Samuel Bourne were the most comfortable, but they had a burden like an incubus, with the mass of starving creatures. Mr. Carey, the Coast Guard, was kind, and his wife and daughters patterns of industry and attention to the poor; but with limited means, what could they do to stay the plague? Everything that could be eaten was sought out and devoured, and the most hazardous attempts were made to appease hunger by the people. This coast has some of the greatest objects of curiosity; and so long have the inhabitants been accustomed to look at them, that they walk fearlessly upon the dangerous precipices, and even descend them to the sea, in search of eggs, which the sea-gulls deposit there, in the sides of the cliffs. Two women presumptuously descended one of these cliffs, not far from Mr. Carey’s, in search of sloke, which is gathered from the sea. They, in   [p. 145]   their hunger, ventured to stop till the tide washed in and swept them away. Two men were dashed from a fearful height and dreadfully mangled; — one was killed instantly — the other lingered a few weeks and died. They were both in search of eggs to appease hunger. They seemed to face danger in a most deliberate manner, and go where none but the goat or eagle would venture. In this parish I found a specimen of that foolish pride and inability of a class of genteel Irish women, to do anything when difficulties present themselves. It was a young lady who lived back two miles upon the mountain, who belonged to one of the faded Irish “respectables;” she was educated in the popular genteel superficial style, and the family had some of them died, and all broken down: she, with her brother-in-law, from Dublin, was staying in a thatched cottage, which had yet the remains of taste and struggling gentility. Two of the peasant women had seen Mr. Bourne and me going that way, and by a shorter path had hastened and given the Miss notice, so that when we entered, the cottage was in trim, and she in due order to receive us. But that pitiful effort was to me painful to witness, having been told that she suffered hunger, and knew no possible way of escape, yet she assumed a magnanimity of spirit and complained not, only expressed much pity for the poor tenants on the land about her, and begged us if possible that we would send some relief. Her table was spread with the fashionable ornaments which adorn the drawing-rooms of the rich; and she, with a light scarf hung carelessly   [p. 146]   about her shoulders, genteel in form and pretty in feature, was already looking from eyes that were putting on the famine stare. “What can be done with that helpless, proud, interesting girl?” said Mr. Bourne, as we passed away; “she must die in all her pride, if some relief is not speedily found! she cannot work, she would not go to the work-house, and there, upon that desolate mountain, she will probably pine away unheeded!” I have not heard what became of this pretty girl of the mountain since. “ She was covered with the light of beauty, but her heart was the house of pride.” Another interesting character, the antipodes of the mountain girl, resided in the family of Mr. Bourne. Nature had endowed her with good sense, education had enlarged her intellect, and traveling had given her that ease of manner and address that made her accessible to all, without stooping from that dignity which properly repels all uncourteous familiarity. She had passed through great reverses: — had been to India — there had a handsome legacy bequeathed — was shipwrecked and lost all; — went to South and North America — her health was destroyed, but her heart subdued, and brought into sweet submission to Christ, and she resolved to spend the remainder of her days in doing good to others, however humble their station might be. She had heard of this family, stationed on this desolate spot, who had interesting sons and daughters that wished for instruction. There she went, and determined to die and be buried there, secluded from the world. She had written her travels, but had placed   [p. 147]   her manuscripts in hands who were not to publish them till after her death. On that bleak coast she had found where a company of seventeen shipwrecked sailors had been buried, in a mound, and she had requested to lie near their resting-place. She took me to walk, and showed me the forbidding-looking spot. I could scarcely think her sincere, but she assured me that it was a lovely spot to her. She was then perhaps not yet fifty, and why she should think of soon dying and lying there I could not tell; but the intelligent and accomplished Miss Wilson died in a few months after, in the full hope of a happy immortality, and was buried with the shipwrecked sailors on that rocky coast.

“She sleeps in unenvied repose, and I would not wake her.”

Here in a humble cabin the kind Miss Carey commenced a little school, to do what she could to keep alive the scattered lambs of that desolate parish, in order that she might give them, through some relief society, a little food once a day, and teach them to read. Her cabin was soon filled, and without the promise of any reward she labored on, happy to see the avidity with which these poor children received instruction, and for a year she continued her labor of love with but little remuneration, and at last, with much regret, was obliged to return them to their mountain home — perhaps to perish. It was affecting everywhere in the famine, to witness the pale emaciated children, walking barefoot for miles to school, and study and work till three o’clock, for the scanty meal of stirabout, or piece   [p. 148]   of bread. Dr. Edgar had established an industrial school among the tenantry of Samuel Bourne, but when I visited it no other instruction had been given but knitting and sewing. It was at Samuel Bourne’s that I met with James Tuke, whose faithful researches and candid recitals of the state of Erris and Connaught have lived and will live, in spite of all opposition. I rode with him from Rosport to Ballina, and many a poor suffering one received not only a kind word, but a shilling or half-crown, as we passed along. His friendship for Ireland overlooked all accidental discrepancies in that misjudged people, and from effects he went to causes, and placed the defects at the door of the lawful owner. My stay in the pretty town of Ballina was a short one, and again I reached the dismal Belmullet. Drinking and its sad concomitants were everywhere manifest; not among the “vulgar lower order,” but the “respectable” class. The sad fate of a Protestant curate who was in the asylum, is well known, as well as that of the hotel keeper, who died shortly after my visit there.

A fresh curate had been stationed in Bellmullet, and his prudent sober course indicated good. Three miles from the town lived a single lady, who went by the name of the Queen of Erris, on account of some clever doings in a court; and one sunny morning I took a walk to her dwelling near the sea. A sight which had never before fallen to my lot to witness, was here in progress. Two well-dressed men, mounted on fine horses, furnished with pistols, accompanied by a footman, passed, and I   [p. 149]   turned into a miserable hamlet, and instantly all was in motion; every man, woman, and child who had strength to walk was out. Soon I perceived the footman driving cows and sheep into the main road, while the armed gentry kept all opposition at bay, by showing that death was in their pistols if any showed resistance. It was a most affecting sight. Some were clasping their hands, dropping upon their knees, and earnestly imploring the good God to save them the last cow, calf, or sheep, for their hungry little ones; some were standing in mute despair, as they saw their only hope departing, while others followed in mournful procession, as the cattle and sheep were all gathered from every field, in the parish, and congregated at the foot of a hill, where the brisk “drivers” had collected them, to take them, in a flock to the town. My visit to the Queen was postponed. I followed in that procession; a long hill was before us, the sun was shining upon the clearest sky, and lighted up a company which illy contrasted with that of Jacob, when he went out to meet his angry brother Esau. The flocks and herds might be as beautiful; but the warlike drivers, and ragged, hungry, imploring oppressed ones that followed, could hardly claim a standing with Jacob and his family. The hill was ascended, and the poor people halted and looking a sad adieu turned back; and a few exclaimed, “We’re lawst, not a ha’porth have the blackguards left to a divil of us,” others spoke not, and a few were weeping. Death must now be their destiny.

All returned but one boy, whose age was about four-   [p. 150]   teen years; he stood as if in a struggle of feeling, till the people had gone from his sight, and the “drivers” were descending the hill on the other side. Instantly he rushed between the “drivers” and flock, and before the mouth of these loaded pistols he ran among the cattle, screaming, and put the whole flock in confusion, running hither and thither, the astonished “drivers” threatening death. The boy heeding nothing but the main point, scattered and routed the whole flock; the people heard the noise and ran, the “drivers,” whether in astonishment, or whether willing to show lenity, (let their own hearts judge,) rode away, the inhabitants exulted, and the flock were soon in the inclosures of the owners. But that noble-minded heroic boy was the wonder; facing danger alone, and saving for a whole parish what a whole parish had not dared to attempt! His name should never be forgotten, and a pension for life is his due.

A letter is here inserted, which will show faintly the manner of distributing donations, and the habits of the people.

“MY DEAR SIR: — Please prepare yourself. I am about applying some of those “offensive points” in my character, which I so eminently possess; and which may require not only your true charity, but untiring patience, to plod through. I have been riding and walking through desolate Erris, and in worse than despair, if possible, have sat down, asking, What am I to do? What can I do?

  [p. 151]  

“Every effort of the friends of Ireland is baffled by the demoralizing effects that feeding a starving peasan try without labor has produced. And now the sound again is echoing and re-echoing, that on the 1st of November, the boilers upon mountain and in glen would be foaming and splashing with Indian meal; while the various idlers shall have nothing to do but fight their way over necks of old women and starved children, missiles of policemen, elbows and fists of aspirants, to secure the lucky hodge-podge into can and noggin, pot and bucket; and trail over ditch and through bog, from a quarter of a mile to five, as his hap may be; then to sit down in his mud-built cabin, sup and gulp down the boon, lie down upon his straw till the hour of nine or ten will again summon him to the next warlike encounter.

“Indeed, sir, your friend who was last here said he could think of nothing better, than to take up a turf cabin with its inmates and appurtenances, and set it down in England. I can outdo him in invention. I would take some half-dozen of your George Thompsons — if so many truly independent members you have — and would transport them through the waste lands of Erris, and seat them snugly around a boiler under full play. They should sit unobserved, and see the whole working of the machinery. The array of rags — each equipped with his canteen to hold his precious gift, should approach; the ghastly features, staring eyes, bony fingers, slender legs; in fact, ghosts and hobgoblins, hags and imps, should draw near, the fighting and tearing, tumbling arid scratching should commence and go on, till the   [p. 152]   boiler was emptied, and these fac similes of fighting dogs, tigers, and wolves, had well cleared the premises. I then would invite them to a seat in Samuel Stock’s, Samuel Bourne’s, and James O’Donnell’s parlors. Then let them patiently watch from ten to twelve, from twelve to two, and perchance from two till four, and witness the intensity of action in making out lines, and diagrams, and figures, to show in plain black and white to government that Pat Flannagan, Samuel Murphy, Biddy Aigin, and Molly Sullivan, had each his and her pound of meal made into a stirabout, on the 3d of November, Anno Domini 1847. And let it be understood that these Pat Flannagans, Aigins, and Murphys had only to spend the day in the terrific contests before described, to earn this pound of meal, and then betake themselves to mountains and dens, turf hovels, and mud hovels, to crawl in, and then and there ‘sup up’ this life-giving, life-inspiring stimulus. They should further be told that these Stocks, Bournes, O’Donnels, &c. had the privilege of handing over these nightly made out documents to officers, paid from six to ten, from ten to twenty shillings per day, that they might have the promise of a six months’ nightly campaign, should papers be found to be true and legible, as aforetime.

“This is but a short preface to the story; my heart sickens at looking over the utter wasting of all that was once cheerful, interesting, and kind in these peasantry. Hunger and idleness have left them a prey to every immorality; and if they do not soon practice every vice attendant on such a state of things, it will be because   [p. 153]   they have not the power. Many are now maniacs, some desperate, and some idiots. Human nature is coming forth in every deformity that she can put on, while in the flesh; and should I stay in Ireland six months longer, I shall not be astonished at seeing any deeds of wickedness performed, even by those who one year ago might apparently have been as free from guilt as any among us. I have not been able yet, with all my republican training, to lose the old-school principle of man’s total lost state. I have never yet seen him without the restraints of custom or religion anything but a demon in embryo, if not in full maturity; doing not only what he can, but sighing and longing to do more. The floodgates in Ireland are certainly set open, and the torrent has already made fearful ravages.

“From Clare and Tipperary what do we hear? One post after another runs to tell that not only deeds of darkness are done, but deeds of daylight desperation, sufficient to startle the firmest. What Moses shall stand up to plead with God? What Phineas shall rush in to stay the plague? Where are your men of moral, yes, of spiritual might? You have them; then bring them out! I look across that narrow channel. I see the graves of martyrs. I see the graves of men whose daring minds stood forth in all the majesty of greatness, to speak for truth and justice; and though they may long since have taken flight, where are their mantles? Where is your George Thompson? He who shook the United States from Maine to Georgia, in pleading long and loud for the down-trodden black man? Can he not,   [p. 154]   will he not lift his voice for poor Ireland? She who stands shivering, sinking on the Isthmus, between two worlds, apparently not fit for either. Will he not reach forth a kindly hand, and try to snatch this once interesting and lovely, though now forlorn and forsaken creature, from her fearful position? Must she, shall she die? Will proud England lose so bright a gem as Ireland might have been in her crown? Will she lose her; when the distaff and the spade, the plow and the fishing net, might again make her mountains and her valleys rejoice! — When the song of the husbandman and the laugh of the milkmaid, might make her green isle the home of thousands, who are now sinking and dying in wasting despair.

“Do you say she is intriguing — she is indolent and treacherous? Try her once more; put instruments of working warfare into her hands; hold up the soul-stirring stimulus of remuneration to her; give her no time for meditating plunder and bloodshed; give her no inducement to be reckless of a life that exists only to suffer. Feed her not in idleness, nor taunt her with her nakedness and poverty, till her wasted, palsied limbs have been washed and clothed — till her empty stomach has been filled, and filled too with food of her own earning, when she shall have strength to do it. Give her a little spot on the loved isle she can call her own, where she can ‘sit under her own vine and fig-tree, and none to make her afraid,’ and force her not to flee to a distant clime to purchase that bread that would be sweeter on her own native soil. Do you say you cannot feed and   [p. 155]   pay four millions of these your subjects? Then call on your transatlantic sister to give you food for them. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; and though she has a right to say she will not send Ireland food to keep them strong in idleness, she has no right to say she will not send them food to give them strength for labor. She has not a heart to say it; foul as her hands may be with slavery, yet she will feed the hungry with a cheerful hand. If she has not done her duty there is room for repentance, yes, effectual repentance. Her fields, the past season, have been waving with rich corn, and her storehouses are filling with the golden harvest. You have given her gold in profusion, for the produce of her soil. The blast of the potatoe has been to her the blossoming and ripening of her pastures — her waving fields of pulse and corn. The husbandman has been stimulated to plow up fresh lands, so that he might fill his granaries abundantly with the rich harvest, because free trade has opened your ports, and you will demand more of his corn; and why should he not send over a few sheaves, as a thank-offering to God, for all this bounty? America will do it if required; but an inquiry has come across the ocean: Is it right to feed a country to encourage idleness — will not the evil be much greater than the good? Answer, you who are statesmen — you who are Christians; answer, you who can. Look at the peasantry of Ireland three years ago, and look at them now! Even their enemies must acknowledge that they are a tractable race, to have developed so much intrigue and cunning under the train-   [p. 156]   ing of the last two years. Shall I scold, shall I preach, shall I entreat any more? What is woman’s legislating amid the din of so many wise magicians, soothsayers, and astrologers, as have set up for Ireland the last two years. Prophets and priests have so far failed; but certainly there must be a true chord to strike somewhere; for what is now wrong, when traced to its source, may disclose the hidden cause of the evil, and put the willing investigator into a position to work an amendment.

“You, sir, who know Erris, tell, if you can, how the landlords can support the poor by taxation, to give them food, when the few resident landlords are nothing, and worse than nothing, for they are paupers in the full sense of the word. What can Samuel Bourne, James O’Donnell, and such like men do in their present position? If they have done wrong, and do it no more, the torrent is so strong that they cannot withstand it. I must, and will plead, though I plead in vain, that something may be done to give them work. I have just received a letter from the curate of Bingham’s Town, saying that he could set all his poor parish, both the women and children, to work, and find a market for their knitting and cloth, if he could command a few pounds to purchase the materials. He is young and indefatigable, kind-hearted and poor, and no proselyte. Mrs. Stock has done well in her industrial department. The Hon. William Butler has purchased cloth of her, for a coat to wear himself, which the poor women spun, and gave a good price for it.

  [p. 157]  

“I pray you, sir, if this malignant letter do not terrify you, write and say what must be done.

“A. NICHOLSON.”

A week had I been watching a passage to the Sound, and November 9th, 1847, at six o’clock on Monday morning, I stepped into a filthy looking boat, with filthy looking men jabbering Irish, and sat down on a pile of wet straw, for the rain and sea were still pouring and splashing upon us; and there soaked and drenched, amid rain, wave and tempest, I sat till nearly sunset, when the storm ceased, the clouds made an opening for the sun, the air became sultry, and the sea like a molten looking-glass. “How long have you sailed this boat around this fearful coast?” the captain was asked. “Twelve years, and not an accident has once happened to me.” The boatmen were obliged to row us in with oars, for not a motion was upon the sea, nor a breeze in the air. Strange and sudden change!

The poor fishermen at the Sound had loosened their boats from the fastenings, and gone out with their nets upon the calm waters.

My wet clothes were not adjusted, when in awful majesty the Almighty seemed riding upon the whirlwind and storm; the rushing of the tempest lashed the affrighted sea to a fury, the waves in fearful roar dashed over the lofty pier, the blackened clouds were tossing and rolling like a scroll together, and the earth seemed moved as if at the coming of Christ. I actually sat down in a window that overlooked the Sound, and waited   [p. 158]   in glad suspense the approach of that cloud which should bear the chariot wheels of the Savior to judgment; slates were hurled from the roof — windows were broken — doors burst open, and the confused crash so astonished all that none attempted to speak. So black were the clouds, that night scarcely was perceived, and had the “graves opened,” and the “sea given up her dead,” the living would not have known it, for the breath of the Almighty had not kindled the grand conflagration; till past midnight the wind and the sea kept up the sublime roaring.

But where were the poor fishermen and the captain who had never met an accident? He was wrecked. The morning dawned, the sun looked out upon a molten sea again, whose placid face seemed to say, “I am satisfied.” But the stillness of the sea was soon broken by the wail of widows and orphans who were lamenting in loud cries the loss of those they loved. Nineteen of these fishermen, the “stoutest and best,” said Mr. Savage, are swallowed in the deep. Honest and industrious, they had stood waiting in fearful suspense, in hunger, and looking in despair upon the tumultuous waves that morning, saying, “If the good God don’t still the storm we’re all destrawed.” He had stilled it, and nineteen were lost. Three among the hapless crew struggled with the fearful tempest, and reached the shore, crawled up the cliffs, and were found upon the mountains dead, on the way to their cabins.

On the 28th of November, a fisherman’s widow called in, who had been twenty miles, to “prove,” as she said,   [p. 159]   her husband, who had been washed ashore, and buried without a coffin; she bought a white coffin and took it to the spot with her own hands, she dug him from his grave, and “proved” him by a leather button she had sewed upon some part of his clothes.

December 3d. — Another night of darkness and terrible storm. The lightning threw a blue luster upon everything, — the affrighted daughters turned pale, — the mother sat in a dark corner, now and then giving a stifled groan, — shrinking before the voice of Jehovah when he thundered in the heavens. The next morning while the tempest was still high, a sorrowing old mother and young wife had come, bearing on a cart the body of the son who was drowned on the 9th. The white coffin besmeared with tar stood upon the pier; the mother, wife, and sisters were beside it, mingling their loud lamentations with the storm. “He was as fine a young lad as ever put the oar across the curragh, and had the larnin’ intirely,” said the old mother.

The scenes on this coast that dreadful winter, are scenes of awful remembrance, and one bright spot alone cheered the sadness. It had been the practice for the mother and daughters to assemble in a retired room in the evening for reading the scriptures and prayer. One evening a daughter of the family came from the kitchen with the strange glad message, that one of the laboring men had requested that the lady should, (“if it wouldn’t be too much,”) come down to the kitchen and read to them there. Joyfully we all went, and found there a company of more than twenty, all quietly seated   [p. 160]   on forms; the kitchen in the best order, and a bright fire upon the hearth. They all rose as we entered, and one said, “We wouldn’t be bold, lady, but may be ye wouldn’t refuse to raid a little to us.” Testaments were procured — candles lighted — and these simple-hearted rustics in their turn read with us, making comments as we passed, till the scene from the interesting became affecting. We prayed together, and when we rose from our knees, one said, “We never haird so much of the good Christ before.” They all thanked me, and gave me hearty blessings, and said good night, calling after me, and “may the good God give ye the long life, and happy death.” Every night, when it was possible to do so, the kitchen was put in order, and a messenger sent to ask if the lady was ready. I saw one of these men twenty miles from there, standing by his cart, when he spake (for I did not know him,) “God save ye, lady, we’re lonesome without ye entirely, we don’t have the raidin’, and maybe ye’ll come again.”

I passed the Christmas and New Year’s-day in Achill, in the colony of Mr. Nangle, and to the honor of the inhabitants would say, they did not send me to Molly Vesey’s to lodge; but more than one family offered to entertain me. Mr. Nangle I heard preach again, and as he figured considerably in the first volume of my work, it may be said here that he refused any reconciliation, did not speak though a good opportunity presented; and when he was expostulated with by a superintendent of his schools, who informed him that I had visited numbers of them, and put clothes upon some of   [p. 161]   the most destitute, he coolly replied, “If she can do any good I am glad of it.”

He had eleven schools scattered through that region, reading the scriptures, and learning Irish; but all through these parts might be seen the fallacy of distributing a little over a great surface. The scanty allowance given to children once a day, and much of this bad food, kept them in lingering want, and many died at last. So with workmen. Mr. Nangle had many men working in his bogs, near Mr. Savage, and so scantily were they paid — sometimes but three-pence and three-pence-halfpenny a day — that some at least would have died but for the charity of Mrs. Savage. These men had families to feed, and must work till Saturday, then go nine miles into the colony to procure the Indian meal for the five days’ work. This he truly called giving his men “employ.”

Another sad evil prevalent in nearly all the relief-shops was, damaged Indian meal. And here without any personality, leaving the application where it belongs, having a knowledge of the nature of this article, it is placed on record, that the unground corn that was sent from America, and bought by the Government of England, and carried round the coast and then ground in the mills, which did not take off the hull, much of it having been damaged on the water, became wholly unfit for use, and was a most dangerous article for any stomach. Many of the shops I found where this material was foaming and sputtering in kettles over the fire, as if a handful of soda had been flung in, and sending   [p. 162]   forth an odor really unpleasant; and when any expostulation was made, the answer was, “They’re quite glad to get it,” or, “We use such as is put into our hands — the government must see to that.” Such meal, a good American farmer would not give to his swine unless for physic, and when the half-starved poor, who had been kept all their life on potatoes, took this sour, mouldy, harsh food, dysentery must be the result. One of the Dublin Relief Committee stated, that the government had kindly offered to save them the trouble of carriage by taking the American donations, as they arrived, and giving them an equivalent of that which was already on the coast, which they had purchased: this equivalent was the corn above-mentioned, and the American donations were in the best possible order, and the very article to which the poor were entitled.

Let the policemen speak if they will speak, and testify, if many an injured ton of meal has not been flung into the sea in the night, from ports in Ireland, which was sent for the poor, and by neglect spoiled, while the objects for whom it was intended died without relief. The novel prudence, too, which prevailed nearly everywhere, was keeping the provisions for next week while the people were dying this, lest they should come short of funds, to buy more, or no more would be given them.

The author of the Irish Crisis, January, 1848, gives a clear statement of many things relating to Grants, Public Works, and many other valuable statistics, and upon the whole it presents a fair picture for future   [p. 163]   generations to read of the nice management and kindly feelings of all parties; and “that among upward of two thousand local officers to whom advances were made under this act, there is not one to which, so far as Government is informed, any suspicion of embezzlement attaches.” It further states that the fasts set apart in London were kept with great solemnity, and that never in that city was there a winter of so little gayety. But he has not told posterity, and probably he did not know, that the winters of 1847 and 1848 in Dublin were winters of great hilarity among the gentry. The latter season, particularly, seemed to be a kind of jubilee for “songs and dances.” The Queen appointed fasts on both these winters, the people went to church, and said. they had “all gone astray like lost sheep, and there was no soundness in them,” and some who heard believed that this was all true; but it may be scrupled whether many priests “wept between the porch and the altar,” or that many Jeremiahs’ eyes ran down with water, “for the slain of the daughters of the people.” That the people of England felt more deeply, and acted more consistently than did the people of Ireland, cannot be disputed. Ireland felt when her peace was disturbed and her ease was molested, and she cried loudly for help in this “God’s famine,” as she impiously called it; but ate her good dinners and drank her good wine, as long as she could find means to do so — famine or no famine; her landlords strained for the last penny of rent, and sent their tenants houseless into the storm when they could pay no longer.

  [p. 164]  

This, her sirs, her lords, and her esquires did. “No suspicion of embezzlement attached!” when a company of more than two thousand were intrusted with money at discretion, they must indeed have been a rare lump of honesty if some few glasses of wine had not been taken out of it, to drink the Queen’s health on their days of festivals, or a pound now and then to pay off some vexatious debt, &c. And who shall tell Government of that? shall the United Fraternity themselves do it? — shall the poor, who are powerless and unheeded, tell it? or shall “Common Fame,” that random talking tell-tale, fly through the kingdom, and declare that Mr. — , “head and ears in debt,” suddenly came out “clear as a horn,” that Mr. Somebody was fitting up his house, and where did he get his money? and that the cattle and horses of Farmer G — were getting fat and thriving astonishingly, &c.

It was my fortune to be placed in a position among all classes, acting isolated as I did, to see the inner court of some of these temples — (not of the Committees), with these my business ended when at Dublin. But I had boxes of clothing, and am obliged to acknowledge what common report says here, that the people of the higher classes in general showed a meanness bordering on dishonesty. When they saw a goodly garment, they not only appeared to covet, but they actually bantered, as though in a shop of secondhand articles, to get it as cheap as possible; and most, if not all of such, would have taken these articles without any equivalent, though they knew they were the   [p. 165]   property of the poor. Instead of saying, “These garments are not fit for the cabin people, I will pay the full worth and let them have something that will do them good,” they managed most adroitly to secure them for the smallest amount. These were people too who were not in want. The poor were shamefully defrauded, where they had no redress and none to lift the voice in their favor. Among the suffering it was not so; whenever I visited a neighborhood or a school, and clothed a naked child, or assisted a destitute family, those who were not relieved, never, in my presence or hearing, manifested the least jealousy, but on the contrary, blessed God that He had sent relief to any one. This so affected me, in schools where I went, that a garment for a naked child was riot presented in the school-room; I could not well endure the ghastly smile of approbation that some child sitting near would give, who was nearly as destitute as the one that had been clothed. In one of Mr. Nangle’s schools the teacher was requested to select the children most in want, and let me know, that I need not go into the room with new garments for a part, to the exclusion of others. These little suffering ones had not yet learnt to covet or envy — always oppressed, they bowed their necks patiently to the yoke.

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