Ballyshannon Herald. Famine 1848-1850.

1848/49/50. Ballyshannon Herald.
 
January 28th: Report and accounts of the Ballyshannon Destitute Sick Society and the minutes of the Ballyshannon Poor Law Union are printed. On January 22nd there were 550 in the Workhouse plus 150 in the additional Workhouse. There were 50 in the fever shed and 181 had been admitted during the week and 760 discharged. The huge discharged figure included those sent to outdoor labour and those who died. The people on outdoor relief were paid five pence to eight pence each per day, depending upon size of family. The paper this week also carried an advertisement for a dispensary doctor for Pettigo with the offer of a salary of £60 p.a.
 
February 4th: noted the comments of Mr. Allingham, one of the P.L.U. Guardians, who said that it was frightful to see the overwhelming number of applications for relief. At the rate matters were going the Guardians, ratepayers and all would soon be paupers.
 
February 11th carried a report on the Ballyshannon Temporary Fever Hospital for the week ending the previous Saturday. In the hospital were nineteen patients, nine had come in during the week, three had been discharged cured and one had died. Since the previous August 11th when this fever hospital had been set up 157 had been admitted and eleven people had died. (The settling of up this hospital was the work of Dr. Shiel the local Dispensary Doctor and was the forerunner of the Shiel Hospital in Ballyshannon, now a Nursing Home).
 
April 7th:- John Smith was elected dispensary doctor in Pettigo from Monday 28th March. Hundreds had crowded into the town to congratulate him and a celebratory meeting had been held in Hazlett Hamilton’s Hotel, (until recently the Cosy Bar, Pettigo).
 
May 11th carried news of a Repeal Meeting in Ballyshannon in Brown’s Hotel at which very few turned up. A Mister H (the paper’s description) was the only man of property to turn up. No one could be persuaded to take the chair; so a Mr. Crumlish, a tinsmith, (i.e. a gipsy as he would have been known at the time), was carried in from the street to be chairman. The meeting passed over peacefully.
 
1848. May 26th reported that all crops were looking very good and praised the excellent new potatoes from Mr. J. Tredennick of Camlin near Ballyshannon. There is nothing of local note reported in the paper all through the summer and the earlier hopes have gone badly astray as recorded on September 15th. The potatoes are not as bad as the blackened state of the stalks in the field suggest. The rot has got much worse in the past ten days than in months before. Perhaps half can be saved. The Harvest Fair in Ballyshannon was badly disturbed. There were many beatings and there was very little money circulating. All other crops are doing well.
 
The rest of the year passes with no comment on local conditions, although these were certainly bad. The last item of interest in 1848 was fortuitously noted ten minutes before the Library closed for the evening and ended at least a ten year search for concrete data about a tragedy which occurred near Lettercran about 5 miles from Pettigo, lying between Pettigo and Castlederg. It brightened the end of a long day. This is how the newspaper reported the matter on December 8th:
 
“On Friday last, James McGrath of Scraghy 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 on 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 seemed that the boy was overpowered first and the girl was trying to preserve him at the risk of her own life.”
 
This tragic story survives in the folklore of the Pettigo area, but not quite in the form which the newspaper has the story. Basically the local version goes that the girl, Peggy McGrath was 17 years old and had a boyfriend that the father strongly disapproved of and had forbidden her absolutely to see him or go near his house. One lady’s account published in the Irish Independent May 22nd 1968, has it that the young pair had run away and been brought back. The local story has it that the father and children were in “Gearg Fair,” i.e., Castlederg Fair and that the children in coming home would have had to pass the house of the boyfriend or go across the mountain home and unfortunately took the mountain route. A blizzard arose and they perished and the same local details remain of the girl trying to save her little brother. The above account was (from a Mrs. Rose Haughey, Meenclougher who lived be to be 106 and died April 12th, 1936) printed in the Irish Independent has it that they perished not far from the house of an old, feeble woman who heard their cries as they grew fainter through the night, but who could not help because of her infirmity. Anyhow the unfortunate children are buried in Lettercran Chapel graveyard in a unmarked grave. But the local people can still point out a little grassy hollow in the townland of Carrigaholten, Co. Tyrone, on a heathery hillside where the children died. The strength of detail of this story is remarkable and it has had powerful reinforcement in that a school textbook carried the story under the title “The Tragedy of Termon Mount” — the Termon River flows nearby. Older people remember this story in their school textbooks.
 
1849. Ballyshannon Herald.
 
The scarcity of local news in the Ballyshannon Herald continues into 1849. The death of Colonel Conolly is reported at length in the issue of January 12th and his passing is much regretted. (Indeed he seems to have been a man who did as much as he could to alleviate famine conditions in his area).
 
February 16th tells of a boy caught in the machinery of a Belleek mill and killed instantly and February 22nd has the story of Owen Scullen arrested for stealing two pigs from his employer, Colonel Barton, and trying to sell them in Donegal Fair. March 9th has a brief report that seven were drowned in a fishing boat accident at Mullaghmore, Co. Sligo.
 
April 6th carries the story of the shooting of a boy of sixteen, James Tunney, who was shortly to go to America. With his brother he had gone to céili at the house of William Lynch at Shawnagh, near Laghey. He had stayed on when his brother went home and the paper said that he might have been murdered for his American money. Two Barclays were arrested and the possibility of a Ribbon conspiracy was also mentioned. The next issue of the journal corrected some of its earlier reporting and said that it was the wrong person who was shot. It was the other brother who was going to America and he had been the intended victim of the shooting. The shooting was the result of a row which the Tunneys had won. The boy’s father had awakened in the middle of the night with a vision of his son being killed by the Barclays and a man called McGlinchey standing by. These were later tried and found not guilty as reported in the July 27th issue.
 
Agrarian discontent is reported from the Pettigo area on May 11th. On May 3rd fifteen men carrying pistols and staves arrived at the house of Patrick McCaffrey at Crocknacunny near Pettigo at 10p.m. They fired three shots, one of which wounded McCaffrey and then beat him and his wife up for taking this farm “over another man’s head”. Molly Maguire, he was told, would not allow this crime to go unpunished and if he did not give up the farm they would be back. The intruders said that they had marched from Innishowen and they fired shots over the house before leaving. Patrick and Peter Conaghan and Owen Gallagher, a former tenant of the farm, were tried for this affray and Gallagher was transported for life.
 
May 25th:- Seven people were drowned at Rossnowlagh on Monday last, 21st. These were the four sons of James Tumoney of Drumlongfield and a farm servant, O’Donnell, and two girls, Madden and McGarrigle. They had gone to collect seaweed and dulse and the girls had been met along the way and had gone along for the fun. The boat had been too heavily laden and it sank only fifty yards out, due to inexperience.
 
1849. June 1st and the grim reality of the Famine bursts into the paper again, seemingly despite all the best efforts to keep it out: “The poor in this locality are in the most wretched state of starvation we ever remember them. They have no employment and therefore no
means of procuring food which is plentiful and cheap — but what is that to them when they cannot procure a penny? In the year of the blight they had public relief extended to them. Now there is no such thing. They are more like skeletons than living beings. A man last week carried a creel of turf from the Loughside, seven miles (near Garrison to Ballyshannon) for one penny and said that he had not eaten for forty-eight hours. There are innumerable petty thefts especially fowl of all descriptions and even beehives. There are signs of blight”
 
Apart from this unaccustomed outburst of local news there are only four worthwhile notes for the rest of the year. August 10th notes a huge fire in Ballyshannon which began in a barn loft of J. Bonner, a tanner. It began on Sunday last at two o’clock in the afternoon and despite the best exertions nine dwelling houses were burned down. August 31st carries a note of a local visit paid by a famous son of Ballyshannon, Sir Robert Campbell, a director of the East India Company. Sadly we only can use our imagination as the paper records Folliott Barton reducing his rents 25% (Nov. 16th) and Mr. Conolly reducing his rents 25% also (Dec. 14th). as these are the only visible signs of the condition of the locality.
1850. Ballyshannon Herald.
 
The meagre diet of local news carried on yet again in 1850. February 15th reports a violent storm recently which destroyed many beautiful trees at Magheramena and Castle Caldwell. There is scarce any spring work done.
 
March 29th:- Ballyshannon Quay and the whole shoreline is bustling with people buying and harvesting seaweed. Thousand of people here and in surrounding areas use seaweed as a fertilizer. October 11th gives the Poor House Returns for Ballyshannon. Last week there were 272 inmates; four were admitted last week, six discharged, and one died. Total: 297 and of this three were in the fever hospital and 26 in the Workhouse hospital.
 
October 25th gives an account of a partial re-run of the Tunney v. Barclay conflict. Denis Tunney was again going to America and he was in Donegal Town buying sea-stores. He got into a fracas in a pub with about thirty or forty of the Barclay connection. (Tunney seemed to start the row). Patrick Barclay wanted revenge on one of “Tunney’s Pets”. Barclay got four months in jail.
 
Thus ends the combing of the Ballyshannon Herald for the “Famine Years” 1845—1850 — maddeningly obscure or ignorant in many things but throwing very interesting sidelights on the manners, customs and general society of these troubled years. Not a journal to record the affairs of the poor or needy of the time — but then they could not afford the price of the paper.
 
Revised John B. Cunningham 7-5-2007.
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