Evictions and Disease (the Potato Famine)
In the autumn of 1847 the potato crop was a total failure. The government was no longer providing relief so responsibility for feeding the starving masses was left to the limited resources of Irish landowners. Many Cavan County landlords responded to the best of their ability and bankrupted themselves in doing so. Others tried a more pragmatic approach. Landlords were assessed a local poor law tax based on the number of tenants on their property. To relieve themselves of the burden of paying this tax, they payed their tenants to emigrate, or simply evicted them and hoped they would move out of the local area. [further research in estate papers for Hamilton's response to famine, include Poor law report information on Scrabby parish]
The following account of a brutal eviction in the fall of 1848 on an
estate in Tonagh, County Cavan was given by a young priest:
|In the very First year of our ministry, as a missionary priest in
this diocese we were an eye-witness of a cruel and inhuman eviction, which
even still makes our heart bleed as often as we allow ourselves to think
of it. Seven hundred human beings were driven from their homes in one day
and set adrift on the world, to gratify the caprice of one who, before
God and man, notably deserved less consideration than the last and least
of them. And we remember well that there was not a single shilling of rent
due on the estate at the time, except by one man; and the character and
acts of that man made it perfectly clear that the agent and himself quite
understood each other.
The Crowbar Brigade, employed on the occasion to extinguish the hearths and demolish the homes of honest, industrious men, worked away with a will at their awful calling until evening. At length an incident occurred that varied the monotony of the grim, ghastly ruin which they were spreading all around. They stopped suddenly, and recoiled panic-stricken with terror from two dwellings which they were directed to destroy with the rest. They had just learned that a frightful typhus fever held those houses in its grasp, and had already brought pestilence and death to their inmates. They therefore supplicated the agent to spare these houses a little longer; but the agent was inexorable and insisted that the houses should come down. The ingenuity with which he extricated himself from the difficulties of the situation was characteristic alike of the heartlessness of the man and of the cruel necessities of the work in which he was engaged. He ordered a large winnowing-sheet to be secured over the beds in which the fever victims lay - fortunately they happened to be perfectly delirious at the time - and then directed the houses to be unroofed cautiously and slowly, because, he said, `he very much disliked the bother and discomfort of a coroner's inquest.' I administered the last Sacrament of the Church to four of these fever victims next day; and save the above-mentioned winnowing-sheet, there was not then a roof nearer to me than the canopy of heaven.
The horrid scenes I then witnessed I must remember all my lifelong.
The wailing of women - the screams, the terror, the consternation of children
- the speechless agony of honest, industrious men - wrung tears of grief
from all who saw them. I saw the officers and men of a large policed force,
who were obliged to attend on the occasion, cry like children at beholding
the cruel sufferings of the very people whom they would be obliged to butcher
had they offered the least resistance. The heavy rains that usually attend
the autumnal equinoxes descended in cold, copious torrents throughout the
night, and at once revealed to those houseless sufferers the awful realities
of their condition. I visited them next morning, and rode from place to
place administering to them all the comfort and consolation I could. The
appearance of men, women, and children, as they emerged from the ruins
of their former homes - saturated with rain, blackened and besmeared with
soot, shivering in every member from cold and misery - presented positively
the most appalling spectacle I have ever looked at.
The landed proprietors in a circle all around - and for many miles in every direction - warned their tenantry, with threats of their direst vengeance, against the humanity of extending to any of them the hospitality of a single night's shelter. Many of those poor people were unable to emigrate with their families, while, at home, the hand of every man was thus raised against them. They were driven from the land on which Providence had placed them; and, in the state of society surrounding them, every other walk of life was rigidly closed against them. What was the result?. After battling in vain with privation and pestilence, they at last graduated from the workhouse to the tomb; and in little more than three years, nearly a fourth of them lay quietly in their graves."
One of Ireland's most famous ballads "By Lough Sheelin Side" is based
on an eviction of a family in County Cavan. Lough Sheelin is a lake in
the southern part of Cavan just ten miles southeast of Lough Gowna on a
Over one million persons died during the famine. Starvation was a serious threat, but the main killer was actually disease. Dysentery and diarrhea were already common ailments before the famine, but were especially prevalent during the famine.
|Fever was also a regular feature of the famine. There were two types of fever, both spread by the common louse. Especially in urban areas where people flocked and congregated in the relief centres, in the close conditions, the fever spread easily. The typhus fever caused a spotted red or purple colored rash accompanied by headache, pains, high temperature and delirium.A second type of fever, relapsing fever, was also called "gastric fever" or "yellow fever". Lasting seven to ten days the gastric fever would come and go several times, causing vomiting and sometimes jaundice.|
poorer families, with no room to isolate those who were ill, all the members
were apt to get sick. Females were stronger, more likely to survive the
fever and more deaths were reported among males. Children were especially
vulnerable, not necessarily dying of fever but from the dehydration and
complications as a result.