1847. The issue of January 1st records a classic tale that ought to be filmed for it has all the ingredients of high drama or perhaps more accurately melodrama. On Christmas Eve a schooner lay just inside the Bar at Ballyshannon. The Bar is a high sandy ridge four miles down river from Ballyshannon that constantly threatens to block the exit of the Erne to the sea and the schooner was sheltering here waiting on a favourable wind. The ship was bound for Liverpool later with bacon and lard and had been charted by Mr. Edward Chism of Ballyshannon (Food was constantly being exported from Ireland during the famine). After a time a boat owned by Mr. Wade pulled alongside the vessel and men who claimed that they were from the saltworks at Ballyshannon asked to come aboard to light their pipes. (The real salt workers would have had to row outside the bar (sandbar) of Ballyshannon estuary) to the open sea to get saltwater which was then evaporated at Portnason, Ballyshannon, to get the salt for preserving the fish and meat exports from the area). Several men came on board and then produced guns, overcame the captain and crew and took a large quantity of bacon and lard from the ship. This is the Irish famine equivalent of Bob Cratchet’s Christmas turkey, especially when (as it turned out later that) it was hogsheads of ham and bacon that were on board. Many a starving household must have had an unexpectedly happy Christmas as a result of this piece of local piracy. By Christmas day the police recovered some of the booty buried in the nearby sand dunes and the soldiers were out combing the area. Three were arrested. Scarce a night passes by without a robbery in town or the vicinity, the paper reports.
1847.January 8th. There is great distress in the area. One man died after just being admitted to the Ballyshannon Workhouse. People won’t come in for aid until the last moment. The dead from the famine are not being buried properly in the Abbey graveyard in Ballyshannon as the graveyard has not deep enough soil. A man on his way from Ballyshannon to Donegal heard the sound of lamentation from a house along the way. Going into the house he found a girl of about sixteen dying and her parents trying to keep her warm. He gave money for food, etc., in the tradition of the good Samaritan, but the girl died in a short time.
January 22nd reported that Colonel Conolly and his family were staying at Cliff for the winter in order to give aid to their tenantry and a terrible increase of poverty, sickness and death was recorded by the paper. Unfortunately and damningly for the paper the above words were all they reported. It says volumes for their social attitude and incomprehension of the situation that they could write: “The details are too horrid to be published.” From Fermanagh the paper reports the action of the Rev. Grey Porter, whose principal estate was at Lisbellaw and who had brought in 150 tons of Indian meal at Derry per the ship Peru. He had bought in the grain at £10-10s-6d per ton and was going to sell it to his tenants at cost price which he hoped would be less than £12 per ton. This compared with £24-10-0 for Indian meal or £30 for oaten meal at market prices. Robberies for money, cattle or arms are a nightly occurrence.
On February 19th the Ballyshannon Herald published a very long letter from John Hamilton of St. Ernan’s near Donegal Town. This man was estate agent for the Conolly Estate around Ballyshannon and possibly for the Leslie Estate of Pettigo and other estates as well. In his own way he seems a man sensitive to the situation and practical for the future, although badly lacking in short term solutions. He seeks to combat apathy and fatalism in the tenantry which is admirable, if the person has the energy to look some distance ahead, but useless if starvation is a matter of days away.
John Hamilton begins by asking everyone to work hard in order to hold on to their tenancies. “Stir yourself and be doing. Drain a rood of ground and dig it eighteen inches deep and you will be paid for it if it done right and get many years to repay this money” (not a generous bargain and in the same vein) “seed will be provided and can be paid for later. Sow corn and not potatoes in rows nine inches apart and the seed two inches apart. This requires two stone of seed and repays 200 stone if the !and is well dug or well ploughed and is dry”. Tenants will be allowed to burn as much as they like and he (John Hamilton) will say nothing for this season (burning the dried sods of the land gave a short term fertility but was ultimately ruinous and absolutely forbidden normally). Tenants were urged to burn as much as they liked on black land i.e., bog land and to cart it to other ground to grow turnips. Sow “pease” (sic) and barley and field and garden beans (and mangle wozzels. Come to him for help. Uncommon work is required and he will not help anyone who holds land but will not work it. He, Hamilton, works hard himself and expects others to do likewise.
In the same issue Colonel Conolly has imported 500 tons of rice and one ton has been sent to the Bundoran schools and two to the Ballyshannon Relief Committee. The columns were illuminated by a row between the Vicar of Drumholm Mr. M. G. Fenwick and a local land agent. Alexander Hamilton, on the question of who should be allowed to get a place on the Relief Works. Should a man who has paid his rent get on the Relief? — if he is able to pay his rent does he need relief work? (as long as you managed the rent you could do what you liked afterwards and if you hadn’t the rent you could work until you could pay the rent — either way the rent was sacrosanct and Catch 22 was born long before Joseph Heller).
From now until April the Famine cannot squeeze into the Ballyshannon Herald and on March 12th we are informed that Fermanagh is improving and that petty thefts and slaughter of cattle had completely ceased, according to the Erne Packet. The reporting of the Donegal Assizes on March 12th at Lifford hints at what the newspaper doesn’t report. Bartley Loughlin, a former bailiff to Mr. H. Coane of Waterloo Cottage, Higginstown, Ballyshannon was alleged to have sent a threatening letter to Mrs. H. Coane saying that their family would be blown up with gunpowder for their oppression of the tenantry. Laughlin had been bailiff for Coane for fifteen years and his handwriting was familiar to his former master. In his capacity as bailiff Laughlin had been ordered to serve notice to quit on thirty tenants and ordered to distrain those persons who had not paid — as far as the landlord was concerned it would not be hard to seize fodder in lieu of rent. For inability or unwillingness to carry this out Bartley Loughlin was sacked. Councillor Doherty defended the ex-bailiff and demolished the case by asking if Laughlin’s handwriting was so well known to Coane then why would he be so stupid as to write the letter in his own hand? A not-guilty verdict was returned. In the next case a John Donald got seven years’ transportation for stealing sheep from Michael Ward, but a woman, Rebecca Brack, (Brock?) was found not guilty of exposing a child to die at Finner, near Ballyshannon.
1847.In an echo of the Christmas Eve piracy in the Erne Estuary, James Currie, was accused of receiving a ham knowing it to be stolen. The ship’s name is now given as The Confidence and its Master as Joseph Davidson. The ship had been boarded by two boat’s crews and nine bales of bacon and hogsheads of ham had been stolen. Sub-Constable Davis arrested Currie walking through Ballyshannon on Christmas day carrying a ham. Currie said that he had found it in a hole in the ground among the sand dunes. He was found guilty with a recommendation for mercy and got nine months hard labour.
At Fermanagh Assizes at this time Daniel Nealy was convicted of stealing valuable property, plate, etc., from J. C. Bloomfield at Castle Caldwell. He was sentenced to seven years’ transportation. For a similar crime in the same area, the breaking into the house of Launcelot Corcoran near Castle Caldwell on the previous December 27th the following were tried:- James Mulrean, Maurice Connor, Peter Gallagher, Francis Gallagher, Maurice Lannon, William Lannon, George W. O’Connor and Edward Muldoon. All were found guilty and sentenced to fourteen years’ transportation except the last four, who got seven years’ transportation.
The March 26th issue details a brutal occurrence in the Pettigo area which happened on March 23rd. George Allingham with one Patterson and “the notorious Melanefy, the bailiff” came to the house of John McCrea of Clonaweel. Their purpose seemed to be to execute on order upon the person of John McCrea who wasn’t present. Only his two sons were there and after some persuasion they managed to get the three intruders out of the house. They seemed rather inebriated and threatened the sons and finally Melanefy fired at young Edward McCrea “wounding him dreadfully” in the head. Melanefy has run off and the countryside is now in pursuit!
By 2nd April, 1847 things have got so bad in the area as to force its attention upon this blinkered newspaper. It reports that the poor house is crowded to excess and fever and dysentery are spreading alarmingly. “Deaths are frightfully numerous. A fever hospital is urgently needed and its building would give employment to the poor.”
- April 23rd:- Captain Fortescue has arrived to take charge of the Commissariat Department, i.e., to give out food for the starving. A vessel with breadstuffs for this town and Enniskillen is waiting for a fair wind to get into port. It is hoped that she will get in today as the people discharged from the workhouse are in great distress. There is plenty of food coming in from America, but it is still at famine prices. Captain Lang is to superintend the public charities. Arrangements are in hand to setup a public soup kitchen to the plan of Mr. Sayer (but the paper notes with unaccustomed concern). “We fear it will not answer the purpose.”
Between Garrison, Derrygonnelly and Holywell many hundreds of acres wilt be left without crops because of the utter poverty of the people. Farmers and graziers cattle are being stolen nightly.
April 30th: There is a great fever sweeping Fermanagh especially in the country districts and arising largely from those who have left (or been sent out) of the workhouse and had now gone home and infected their friends who had generously but fatally taken them in.
- May 7th: Reports the hanging of Samuel Crumrner at Lifford. He was hanged for the murder of his father. His wife had also been sentenced for the same crime, but the sentence was commuted to transportation for life. It was the first hanging in Donegal for fourteen or fifteen years and about a thousand people came to watch. On the scaffold Crummer said (the name was not printed) swore his life away for small money in these times. He was a big man of 6’-2” and he said goodbye to his wife and children from the scaffold, although they were not present, before he was launched into eternity.
The steamship Albert under Commander Geary arrived in Ballyshannon with breadstuffs. It also towed in two ships which had been waiting outside the Bar for a favourable wind. The Albert is 147ft long, 42 feet wide, can carry 600 tons and has a capacity of 200 horse power. Many people have been shown over this ship.
On May 14th it is reported that the deaths around Clones, Co. Monaghan, are “inconceivably great”. In Enniskillen the poor and starving rushed the Board of Guardians meeting and all had to be admitted. Colonel Conolly has given his tenants eight tons of rice this week free plus free turnip seed. John and William Tredennick (local landowners between Ballyshannon and Belleek) are reducing their rents by 40% to 50%.
1847.May 21st reports the melancholy death of Captain Drake of the 92nd Regiment and a young local man, Henry Lipsett of Ballyshannon, who were drowned when their sailing boat was upset in the estuary.
Hundreds of the poor are being provided for by the Johnstons of Magheramena Castle near Belleek and their rents are reduced also.
There is great fever in Fermanagh and the well known Dr. Collum has recently succumbed. “God knows who will be next sacrificed on the altar of pestilence and death”. This last item is reprinted taken from the pages of the Erne Packet.
- May 28th: reports great fever in the locality of Ballyshannon and all classes were affected. People are warned not to feed beggars at their own door, especially strange ones. Heaps of manure must be removed from thoroughfares, lanes and alleyways as otherwise the Committee of the Ballyshannon Board of Guardians will cause them to be removed and prosecute the offenders. This is signed by M. Davis J.P., chairman.
In the June 11th issue the fever has greatly moderated and not a single death has been reported last week. There is a huge plague of snails affecting crops and people are advised to gather them as they are very suitable for feeding pigs.
June 18th: issue contains a very indignant letter protesting about a pauper with fever lying on Ballyshannon Bridge since Sunday last. The Board of Health should have put him in a lodging house and had a doctor visit him. Only one death has been reported in the past three weeks and that was of Matthew Donohue, an inoffensive, industrious man who kept a public house in Main St., Ballyshannon. There are very good prospects for the harvest. Enniskillen jail is said to be the most crowded in the kingdom.
At the Donegal Petty sessions reported on June 25th a little boy pleaded guilty to stealing a few ship’s biscuits from Messrs Bradshaw of Donegal Town. He was given six months’ jail. He cried as he was led away. Mary Ward got two months jail for stealing two hens.
Sept. 17th: reports that no rot can be seen in the potatoes and that a great fever rages about Enniskillen. The news from Fermanagh continues in the Oct 1st newspaper as it reports on the dissolution of Lowtherstown (Irvinestown) Poor Law Union. The immediate cause was the raising of the salary of the R.C. Chaplain to the Workhouse. In the row that followed the Protestant Chaplain’s salary was raised. Further rows caused the dismissal of the master of the workhouse and finally the Board of Guardians themselves were dismissed! This is the newspaper version of the dissolution of Lowtherstown P.L.U., but in fact there were much more grievous reasons why this
Union was taken over by a Government appointed Commissioner. The Guardians failed to levy anywhere near sufficient funds to support the poor and starving of the locality, thus causing the effects of the Famine to be even worse than need have been and the Workhouse which they were in charge of was very badly run. An inspector who visited Lowtherstown Workhouse wrote that he found people half naked dying in their own vomit and excrement, lying on the floor. He said that Lowtherstown was the worst workhouse that he ever visited. (See Parliamentary Papers: Irish Famine).
October 15th: reported the dissolution of Ballyshannon P.L.U. Commissioners and the appointment of a new government inspector. November 19th sees a letter saying that the people of the country are living on turnips and nothing else. The Gentlemen of the country must unite to stave off famine as they did last year.
The final note of 1847 reports the death of Mr. William Hassard of Garden Hill near Belcoo in Fermanagh. He was shot in the leg and died later. Suspicion pointed to one Creagh, (probably a Mc Grath from the Irish rendering of the name Mc Creigh) but there was insufficient evidence. Creagh’s father had been jailed by Hassard for non-payment of arrears of rent and had died in jail. (This is the type of indirect evidence of the Famine and its effects which makes one wish that this paper had made any decent attempt to write about the momentous events it was living through).