Famine in Kerry
County Kerry
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Famine in Kerry

These excerpts compiled by Waterlilys are from some major resources on the starvation in Kerry 1846-1852.

  1. The resources are:
  2. Black '47 and Beyond
  3. The Great Calamity
  4. Flight From Famine
  5. Workhouses of Ireland
  6. Evictions in Dingle

"Black '47 and Beyond"

by Cormac Ó Gráda

Regarding folklore about the famine:
"In defence of folk tradition, it must be said that it tends to do a good job of preserving the memory of particular events and tragedies, at least for a few generations. Moreover, some of its silences are eloquent. The record is rich in its condemnations of local land lords, merchants and officials. Landlords such as Lord Landsowne of south Kerry...and Lord Ventry* and Betsy

*Note: Much of the land on the Dingle Peninsula/Corkaguiny Barony was owned by Lord Ventry and when you check the Griffiths Valuations you will see his name over and over again as the landowner many of our ancestors "rented" land from (that land was often in the familes of our ancestors for centuries prior to being "owned" by the Lords Ventry; so our ancestors ended up renting the land their forefathers had for generations.)


"This Great Calamity"

by Christine Kinealy

"The counties which demonstrated the largest increase in emigration over their pre-Famine levels were Clare, Kerry, Kilkenny, Limerick and Tipperary., in which approximately 16-18 per cent of the local population emigrated.

Overall emigration was highest from areas which were poor, but not absolutely destitute, which usually meant that the population possessed the means to emigrate. The fact that emigration was not highest from the areas most devasted by the distress was due to the complex factors involved in the decision to emigrate; apart from financial considerations, emigrants needed to possess the necessary will, motivation, information and health to move.

Many deaths from starvation and famine-related diseases had already occurred in some parts of Ireland and Jones warned that if this system continued, even heavier mortality was likely in counties Clare, Cork, Galway, Kerry, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Tipperary and Wicklow.

Although 1849 marked the first of a series of good harvests in many parts of Ireland, in counties Clare, Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary the reappearance of blight made on-going distress inevitable. In counties Clare and Kerry, where it was most severe, the demand for relief was even higher than it had been in the previous year. ...

Following the 1849 harvest, therefore, the demarcation between the areas in which the condition of the population was improving and those in which it was getting worse, was considerable.

The eating of diseased potatoes was confined to the poorest sections of society, who had been deprived of their subsistence diet. To a large extent the increase in disease correlated with areas in which the population suggered the greatest loss of their staple food. Counties Cavan, Clare, Cork, Galway, Kerry and Waterford recorded the greatest increase. In each of these areas, the local medical officers warned the government that if demand for medical assistance continued to increase, the dobuted their ability to deal with it. Although the rate of mortality showed no significant incrdease following the first appearance of blight, it left a large portion of the population physically more vulnearable when the potato crop failed again in 1846. The localised distress of 1845-1846 also indicated that in the poorest areas the medical resources were stretched to the limit and would be unable to cope with a more extensive demand for medical relief if the need should arise."


"Flight From Famine"

by Donald MacKay

"My hand trembles as I write," said William Bennett on his six-week journey through western Ireland. "The scenes of human misery and degradation we witnessed still haunt my imagination, with the vividness and power of some horrid and tyrannous delusion, rather than the features of a sober reality. We entered a cabin. Stretched in one dark corner, scarcely visible, from the smoke and rags that covered them, were three children huddled together, lying there because they were too weak to rise, pale and ghastly, their little limbs - on removing a portion of the filthy covering - perfectly emaciated, eyes sunk, voice gone and evidently in the last stage of actual starvation. Crouched over the turf embers was another form, wild and all but naked, scarcely human in appearance. It stirred not, nor noticed us. On some straw, sodden upon the ground, moaning piteously was a shrivelled old woman, imploring us to give her something - baring her limbds partly, to show how the skin hung lose from the bones. Abover her on something like a ledge, was a young woman, a mother I have no doubt, who scarcely raised here eyes in answer to our enquireies but pressed her hand upon her forehead in a look of inutterable anguish and sorrow.

"Visiting Kenmare, Bennett wrote, "The poor people came in from the rural districts in such numbers, in the hopes of getting some relief, that it was utterly impossible to meet their most urgent emergencies, and therefore they came in literally to die in the open streets, actually dying of starvation within a stone's throw of the inn."


"Workhouses of Ireland"

by John O'Connor

Workhouses in Kerry:
Listowel, Tralee, Dingle, Killarney, Cahirciveen, Kenmare

"WS Trench has left an eye-witness account of conditions in one part of the country in 1849:

When I first reached Kenmare in the winter of 1849-50, the form of destituiton had changed in some degree; but it was still very great. It was true that people no longer died of starvtion; but they were dying nearly as fast of fever, dysentery, and scurvy within the walls of the workhouse. Food there was now in abundance; but to entitle the people to obtain it, they were compelled to go into the work house and 'auxiliary sheds', until these were crowded almost to suffocation. And although outdoor relief had also been resorted to in consequence of the impossibiltity of finding room for the paupers in the workhouses, yet the quantity of food given was so small, and the previous destitutuon through which they had passed was so severe, that nearly as many died now under the hands of Guardians, as had perished before by actual starvation.

I spent six weeks in Kerry; and having completed an elaborate report describing the past an preasent condition, and probably future of the estate, I forwarded it to Lord Lansdowne. The district of Kenmare at  that period - January 1850 - was not a in a desirable condition. 'The famine', in the strict acceptation of the term, was then nearly over, but it had left a train behind it, almost as formidable as its presence." Lansdowne Estate Assisted Emigration

" On 5 Nov 1847 a crowd of destiture people marched on the workhouse at Tralee carrying a black flag marked 'flag of distress', declaring they would enter the workhouse by force. They had been deprived of outdooor relief of a 'halfpenny a day' by the Guardians, 'because the Board's finances could not bear even so small an allowance.' They succeeded in breaking down the main gate. Police and troops were called out and the people were forced, after a struggle, to depart."

"by autumn 1846, the full disaster of the failure of the potato crop became apparent. Having endured the partial failure of 1845 and the hungry summer months of 1846, people looked at their blackened and rotting crops and realised that starvation stared them in the face:

'The desolation which a sudden failure of the staple food of the people, in a remote valley like this (Kenmare) must necessarily bring along with it, may be imagined. As the potato melted away before the eyes of the people, they looked on in dismay and terror; but there was no one with energy enough to import corn to supply its place. Half Ireland was stunned by the suddenness of the calamity, and Kenmare was completely paralysed. Begging, as of old, was now out of the question, as all were equally poor; and many of the wretched people succumbed to their fate almost without a struggle.' WS Trench


Evictions in Dingle

which appeared in Famine Journal #21, The Shanachie Newsletter
published by the Connecticut Irish-American Historical Society.

"Evictions in Dingle"
London Times, Jan. 6, 1849

---The Limerick Chronicle publishes the subjoined 'black list' of evictions in Kerry:
From the lands of Cahirtrant, the property of Lord Ventry and in a parish whence that nobleman's title is derived, 36 families, comprehending 188 souls, have been expelled. From the lands of Dunshean, the property of Lord Ventry, 24 families including 113 individuals, have been exterminated. From the same townland, belonging to the same nobleman, 7 families of con-acre holders, comprehending 37 persons, have been driven forth. From Cahirquin, the property of Lord Ventry, 11 families numbering 49 human beings, have been thrust out by process of law. From Clountys, in the parish of Dunurlin, the property of Lord Ventry, 10 famlies, numbering 40 human beings, have been deprived of house or holding. From the townland of Capagh, in the parish of Clahane, nor far from the shores of Brandon, and belonging, too, to Lord Ventry, 19 families, comprising 97 Christian beings, have been ejected by a posse of bailiffs acting under the power of English law. Total of recent evictions from Lord Ventry's property near Dingle, 170 families, 532 souls."
Thanks to: Margaret Walsh for contributing this excerpt.


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