January 1st, 1847, This issue contains a classic tale of drama in this famine stricken countryside. On Christmas Eve a schooner lay at anchor just inside the Bar of Ballyshannon Harbour. The Bar is a high sandy ridge about four miles downstream of the town which constantly tries to block the river’s exit to the Atlantic. The ship was waiting here for a favourable tide or wind and was bound for Liverpool with a cargo of bacon and lard. She had been chartered by Mr, Edward Chism of Ballyshannon. (Food was being constantly exported from the country during the famine). A boat of Mr.Wade’s, carrying men who said they were salt-makers from the Ballyshannon salt works, pulled alongside. (Salt-workers would have been making their way out to the sea to fill barrels of salt water for evaporating on their salt-pans).
Some asked to come on board to light their pipes and then, suddenly, produced pistols. These pirates then stole a large quantity of bacon and lard from the ship after overpowering the crew, The men made off with as much as possible and no doubt an unexpectedly happy Christmas was had by many. The police and soldiers were alerted and found some of the booty buried in the sand dunes on the following day. Later three people were arrested and the newspaper says that scarce a night passes without a robbery in the town or vicinity.
January 8th, 1847, There is great distress in the Ballyshannon area. One man died just after being admitted to the Ballyshannon Workhouse. People will not look for aid until the last moment. The dead from the famine are not being buried properly in the Abbey Graveyard Ballyshannon as there is too little depth of clay, A man on his way from Ballyshannon to Donegal heard the sound of lamentation from a house and found a girl of sixteen dying there and her parents trying to keep her warm. In the tradition of the good Samaritan he gave money for food but it was too late and the girl died soon after.
January 22nd, 1847, From Fermanagh is is reported that the Rev Grey Porter of Lisbellaw has imported 150 tons of Indian meal on the ship ” Peru”, The grain had cost him £10-10s-6p per ton and inclusive of carriage to his tenants he hoped to sell it at a cost price of less than £12 per ton. This compared with current prices of £24- 10s-0 for Indian meal and £30 for oaten meal.
In a continuation of the saga of the Christmas Eve piracy on the Erne, James Currie, was tried for receiving a ham knowing it to be stolen. The ship’s name is now given as the “Confidence” and it’s master as Joseph Davidson. Nine bales of bacon had been stolen and several hogsheads of ham. Sub-Constable Davis had arrested Currie on Christmas day in Ballyshannon carrying the ham. Currie said that he had found it in a hole in the sand dunes. He was found guilty with a recommendation for mercy and was sentenced to 9 months hard labour.
April 30th, 1847. There is a great fever sweeping Fermanagh. It is most common in the countryside and arises largely from the people who have left or been sent out of the Workhouse. These have gone home and infected their friends or relations who have generously but fatally taken them in.
May 14th, 1847, The deaths around Clones Co., Monaghan are said to be “inconceivably great” and in Enniskillen the poor and starving had rushed the meeting of the Board of Guardians meeting and had to be admitted. Col., Connolly has given his tenants 8 tons of rice free and also given free turnip seed. William and John Tredenick have reduced their rents by between 40% and 50%. These were local landlords in the Belleek-Ballyshannon area.
In the Lowtherstown or Irvinestown Poor Law Area there are 9 Electoral Areas and 5,008 people receiving free rations and 407 persons paying for them.
September 17th, 1847, No rot can be seen in the potatoes so far this year but a great famine rages around Enniskillen.
October 1st, 1847, The forcible dissolution of the Lowtherstown [Irvinestown] Poor Law Union is reported. The immediate cause was the raising of the Roman Catholic chaplain’s salary. In the row that followed the Protestant Chaplain’s salary was also raised. Further rows caused the dismissal of the Master of the Workhouse and then the Board of Guardians of the Workhouse were themselves dismissed.
[ This is the newspaper version of the dismissal of the Irvinestown P.L.U. but in fact there were much more serious reasons why the Union was dissolved by the Government and a Commissioner appointed in their place. The Guardians failed to levy anywhere near a sufficient rate to enable the starving population of the area to survive. The famine here was therefore far more severe than it might have been and the Irvinestown Workhouse possibly the worst run in the country.An Inspector who visited the Lowtherstown Workhouse reported that he had found people almost naked, lying dying on the floor, in their own vomit and excrement. He said that it was the worst Workhouse that he had ever visited.]
April 7th, 1847. John Smith was elected Dispensary doctor for Pettigo and hundreds crowded into the town to congratulate him. A celebratory meeting was later held in Hazlett Hamilton’s Hotel [later Egan’s Cosy Bar]
December 8th, 1847, This tragic story concerns the freezing to death of two lost children on a mountain near Lettercran,about five miles from Pettigo. “On Friday last, James Mc Grath of Scraghv Mountain had gone to Pettigo with his daughter of fifteen and boy of twelve. Their father had to stay in Pettigo for the night and the children went home on their own across the mountain. A storm came and the children died of exposure. The boy had his shoes and socks off, possibly to walk more quickly. The children were found the next day with the girl’s heavy flannel petticoat wrapped around the boy’s feet and the girl lying with her arm around the boy’s head. It seems that the boy was overpowered first and the girl was trying to preserve him at the risk of her own life.”
This tragic story is preserved in the folklore of the Pettigo area, but not quite in the form, as the newspaper reports it. The local story is that the girl, Peggy Mc Grath, was seventeen years old and had a boyfriend. Her father strongly disapproved of him and had absolutely forbidden her to have anything to do with him or even pass his house. An old woman, Mrs Rose Haughey of Meenclogher, who lived near where the children perished and who died at the age of 106 on April 12th 1936 gave her account of the events in a newspaper article, later reprinted in the Irish Independent, May 22nd 1968. She would have been 18 years old when the tragedy occurred. She said that Peggy and her boyfriend had run away but had been brought back and that the two children and their father had been in “Gearg Fair” i.e.Castlederg fair and not in Pettigo.
The children coming home would have had to pass the boyfriend’s house or cross the mountain and unfortunately they chose this as a blizzard sprang up. They died quite close to the house of an old woman who heard their diminishing cries for help through the night but was too infirm to be able to assist them. The children were buried in Lettercran graveyard with a headstone with an incomplete inscription. It began,”In loving memory….” and their father who had tried to carve the stone was unable to complete it.
Sadly the stone was destroyed in recent renovations to the graveyard. A little green hollow on a heather covered hillside in Carrigaholten Townland is still pointed out as the deathbed of the children. It is a remarkable story and so widely known at one time that it was carried in a school textbook under the title of “The Tragedy of Termon Mount.” The Termon River flows nearby. From this a generation of schoolchildren all over Ireland were familiar with the story.