1784, Benevolence of Richard White (Later Lord Bantry) in making Provisions Available to Tenantry in Famine and other Famines.
Richard Pococke (1704 – 1765), the English-born Bishop of Ossory, travelled in the South West and in 1758 wrote the following in respect of Bantry ‘he chief support of the town is fish and a clandestine import of French brandy’ and re the Beara area, which would have a reference to the other peninsulas ‘they keep their sheep and black cattle …. They can legally send no fish to France but salmon, all the rest goes to Spain’…… ‘They make huts to keep their cattle in the mountains in summer and live on new churn milk’. …… ‘Girls married at the age of thirteen and boys at sixteen’ … ‘People here live to a great age, notwithstanding they drink drams immoderately, living on fish and potatoes, and the sea air makes this custom less pernicious … but then smallpox is very mortal among them, supposed to be owing to the first died. A sort of scurvy also, which sometimes come near to a leprosie, is frequent among them. They have great notions of fairies in all these parts, which take the place of witches in other places. ….. All workmen, though only making a ditch or thrashing, do all sorts of handicraft in a private house or fields, had the shameful custom these parts more than any other, of holding a string or something across the way and begging money’. In relation to smallpox it might be noted that in 1842 the Ordnance Survey Name Book for Rooska mentions a disused sand pit since levelled formerly used to bury smallpox victims. A Bandon doctor, John Milner Barry had noted in 1800 that exposure to cowpox gave immunity to smallpox; this was known in West Cork as ‘shinach’ from ‘sine’ the Irish word for teat. There were outbreaks of fever in the mid-1740s, 1762, 1771 and a major epidemic in 1800, 1801
Famines and Disease
There was a ‘Great Frost’ from December 1739 until September 1741 which had severe effects on crop losses and precipitated a food crisis. Within this period there was drought in the spring of 1740 which decimated the barley and wheat sown the previous autumn. It was followed by an outbreak of typhus, dysentery and smallpox in children. In Cork the Duke of Devonshire in January 1740 prohibited the export of corn except to Britain.
In March 1741 Thomas Prior, founder of the Royal Dublin Society, said that Sir Thomas Cox of Dunmanway related that due to a failure of the potato crop 500 people had died in his area. Around 350,000 people died including one fifth of Munster’s population. It was referred to as Bliain an Air, the year of the slaughter. This famine may have been even more severe than the great famine of 1847 in terms of mortality from starvation and disease
Famine threatened in 1784. Richard White, later Lord Bantry was praised for his foresight in providing relief and food at reduced prices for people in the area.
here were ‘minor’ famines in 1817 and 1822 at least 14 partial failures of the potato crop between 1816 and 1842. There was a very wet cold summer and autumn in 1816, a typhus epidemic broke out and up to 65,000 died countrywide from fever.
In 1822, reports of distress commenced in April. Among the relief measures were the efforts of the City of London Tavern, a grouping of business and banking people in London who sent the Rev. John Jagoe (Schull) a cargo of meal for Schull and Durrus.
The Rev Alcock and Father Keleher (Kelleher) gave evidence to the Royal Commission on the Poorer Classes in Ireland poverty in 1835, the population being 9,606, and said that as regards illegitimacy there were not more than 15 illegitimate children in the previous 3 years out of a population of 9000 with no deserted children. Not less than 50 widows with 2-3 children each will get potatoes from their relatives must beg for the wretched rags they wear and their children will go into service and at first get little if any wages. Scarcely any old men or women in this parish that have never been married and are supported by their children in a wretched way. Beggars do not like to beg in their own parish those that come are from outside parishes and they are an encumbrance on the cottier and poor farmer and are rarely refused shelter and apart from getting food seek wool and flax. Some 20 men have gone looking for seasonal work in August with a further 150 in September they return in the first week of December; few have gone to England in the last 3 yeas having heard poor reports and some there from the parish have gone to America. Some are married men and while they are away their wives and children have as much in their cabin and potato garden as if the head of family was at home. Evidence was also given by Messrs Timothy O’Donovan J.P. and Alex Evanson J.P. that they were not aware of any deaths by lack of food in the immediate past, suggesting that the famine of the previous decade may not have been fatal.
Cholera struck Cork in April 1832 and in the city nearly 500 died in the fever hospital, Skibbereen was deserted, the wife of the Protestant Curate of Schull Rev. O’Neill was dead within ten hours. William Stanley Vickery who wrote an account of his early years including his years with his grandparents in Moloch and Bantry lost his parents in Skibbereen to cholera in this period. There was a further outbreak in early 1849; casualties usually were half of those affected, 82 died in Bantry.
The pre-famine period was one of extreme poverty for those at the bottom. Father Mathew said “if you wish to seek out the poor, go to Bantry”… This is shown in the following extract from the journal of Asenath Nicholson an American Missionary who visited Bantry in 1845 and found a wild dirty sea-port with cabins built upon the rocks and hills’ the people going about, not with sackcloth upon their heads, for this they could not purchase, but in rags and tatters such as no country but Ireland could hang out. I found some deplorable cabins and looking into one, the sight was appalling….I saw a pile of dirty broken straw, which served as a bed for family and pigs; not a chair, table, or pane of glass, and no spot to sit except upon the straw in the corner, without sitting in mud and manure’.
Poor times affected all. William Justin Dealy, who ran ships from Bantry to Canada writing to his brother in New Brunswick 1840, said that the fishery had collapsed, there was no demand for timber and trade was terrible. He had difficulty remaining solvent and feared he would not be able to pay for his boys’ education in Rosscarbery. He managed to stay afloat as a fellow timber merchant Mr Riordan from Kenmare chartered a cargo from him.