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(Note: This is the second of two articles appearing on this site under the heading "Workhouse Famine Records". They were compiled by a local history group under the guidance of Mr. Anthony Begley, West Rock, Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal. Mr. Begley's approval to release them on the Internet is gratefully acknowledged.)

Number 2
Workhouse Famine Records
A Local History Group's Findings

Large numbers emigrated from Donegal, principally to America and Canada, from the ports of Derry and Sligo, Ballyshannon and Donegal Town.

The Earl Grey scheme to send orphan girls to Australia was availed of by most Donegal Workhouses.

In Ballyshannon sixteen female orphans were selected in 1847 for emigration to Australia. Lieutenant Henry, the Emigration Commissioners agent, visited the workhouse and selected 16 orphan girls aged between 14--18 whom he felt would be suited to employment in Australia. It was agreed that each girl should be equipped with six shifts, two flannel petticoats, six pairs of socks, two pairs of shoes and two gowns. It was envisaged that it would cost 5 per head to equip the girls, and they were to have free passage from Plymouth to Sydney.

The orphans from Ballyshannon set out on their long journey from Ballyshannon to Plymouth under the stewardship of Sergeant Healy, the Assistant Master of the Workhouse. On Monday, 30th October, 1848, the 16 girls set sail from Plymouth on board The Inchinan, in the company of 148 orphan girls from other Irish workhouses.

They landed in Sydney on the 13th January 1849, but what became of them has not been recorded. Did they view their arrival in Australia as a great adventure? Did they feel disorientated? The government orphan scheme, which was a short lived experiment, ended in 1850.

The Ballyshannon orphans who sailed on The Inchinan were: Jane Carleton, Margaret Sweeney, Mary Maguire, Mary McCrea, Ellen Feely, Jane Carberry, Sally McDermott, Rose Reid, Ann McBride, Margaret McBride, Letty McCrea, Anne Rooney, Mary Anne McDermott, Mary Allingham, Sally Lennon and Biddy Smith.

Details of the dock-side procedures for emigrants can be found in the diary of William Allingham, Ballyshannon poet, who was appointed customs officer to Donegal Town in 1846. He describes his official duties as: "Outdoors, there came the occasional visiting of vessels, measurements of logs and deals, and 'bread-stuffs' (chiefly maize) and - by far the most troublesome, but the most interesting - the examination of the fittings and provisions of emigrant ships, and the calling over, when ready for sea, of the lists of Passengers, who came forward one by one, men, women, and children, to pass the doctor and myself."

Strangely, during this period the poet was preoccupied not with famine but with love and poetry. "My inner mind was brimful of love and poetry," he wrote, "and usually all external things appeared trivial save in their relations to it." He complained of suffering from over-clouding anxieties arising from his "longing for culture, conversation and opportunity". However, he had the consolation of corresponding with Leigh Hunt to whom he wrote in February 1847: "fuel as well as food is much harder to the poor in this unfortunate time".

This is the only acknowledgment of the famine to be found in Allingham's writings of the period, apart from a description of a workhouse inmate whom the poet met in Ballyshannon Workhouse: "November 30 1847: Visit Poorhouse. Tom Read, crazy man with small sharp black eyes; sometimes keeps a piece of iron on his head to do his brain good; plays on a fiddle, the first and second strings only packthread, "Ain kind Dearie," "Pandun O'Rafferty," grunting and groaning all the while and groaning fiercely when he struck a note out of tune. I promise him strings. 'Does your Honour live far away?' "

One would not deduce from a reading of Allingham's letters and diary that he is living in the midst of starvation and death or that the Allingham family were involved in all Relief Committees set up during the Famine and, despite the poet's apparent aloofness, played a practical role in Famine Relief.

Allingham is not alone in this literary denial of the reality of famine. Chris Morash, in his introduction to "The Hungry Voice", discusses the failure of so many Irish poets to find expression for the experience of famine. He attributes their silence to the fact that there was no precedent in English literature for expression of such a catastrophe. Whereas the native Gaelic tradition "embraced a long history of famine, exile and destitution", there was no such tradition in English.

"Famine, perhaps more than any other agent of change, forces the poet to make difficult choices; for while the sight of so many of his fellow creatures driven to the limits of existence cries out for some sort of response, famine does not sit comfortably in any of the established poetic idioms of the English tradition....Had the same number died in battle as died from hunger and disease, there would have been a tradition on which to draw....Famine, however, left the poets of the 1840s abandoned by tradition." It took Allingham another thirteen years to find expression for the tragedy in his narrative poem "Lawrence Bloomfield", a widely acclaimed indictment of landlordism and eviction.

Meanwhile another Ballyshannon diarist, Mary Anne Sheil, is less reticent. She reports: "The fever carries off all it attacks, it is most fatal", and details local disturbances: "21 April 1848--A great confusion in the town this day about the arrest of some people called Ribbonmen", and later in July 1848--"The markets are well stocked, so are the jails. I do not know what folly the people are going on with. I think they would do well to wait till times would mend".

The unsettled state of the country resulted in the billeting of British officers at her husband's home at Willybrook in Ballyshannon.

A breakdown in social order is to be expected as a consequence of a catastrophic event such as famine. In many parts of Ireland serious crime increased dramatically during and after the famine years .

While Donegal experienced some increase in crime, this was on a relatively minor scale. James Hack Tuke wrote with admiration of the "patience and resignation of the simple peasantry of Donegal....Never have I witnessed so much good feeling, patience and cheerfulness under privation, of the existence of which there can no longer be any doubt....Out of the scores of families which we visited and the many poor people with whom we conversed in Donegal, I hardly remember an instance of their murmuring or begging, although they were at same time suffering from hunger and disease."

Nevertheless, as the winter of 1846 drew in, distress in the Ballyshannon Union was evident in a series of crimes reported in The Ballyshannon Herald--two tons of meal taken from the Abbey Mill and conveyed across the Erne under cover of darkness; the severed head of a cow left in the chain where it had been tethered, and the remainder carried off; meal stolen from the local Poor Relief Committee's meal store in College Lane; and, on Christmas Eve, an act of piracy when bacon and ham were taken from a schooner leased by Mr Chism, a Ballyshannon merchant, which was lying inside the river bar.

Also reported was a pathetic procession of poor through Ballyshannon, led by a man carrying a loaf speared on a pole.

The attempted collection of the poor rate from farmers who were already destitute, led to violent resistance. In November 1847 the Poor Law Inspector at Ballyshannon forwarded a report from a rate collector: "I have met with opposition, and a forcible rescue at Connanger, where the opposing party was armed with a scythe and a grapes, from which I providentially escaped being killed."

Nevertheless, serious crime, reflected in the numbers sentenced to transportation to Australia, falls to six during 1846. This compares favourably with the previous two years when the numbers were 17 and 21. The adjoining County Fermanagh, with a population which was half that of Donegal, has 24 references in the transportation records in 1846.

During 1847 Donegal experienced a minor crime wave. Transportation sentences rose to 31 for crimes relating principally to theft, cow-stealing, sheep stealing, larceny and receiving stolen goods. In Fermanagh, in the same year, the number sentenced to transportation was 114.

In 1848 there were 32 persons sentenced to transportation in Donegal, once again for thefts which, in this year, included food and clothing.

Allingham witnessed one of these sentencings and allowed reality to intrude briefly into his diary: "December 29 1848 : To Session Court: girl convicted of stealing a purse and sentenced to seven years' transportation; she is removed shrieking violently. It seems a severe sentence." The Transportation archive also records the occasion: "Surname: Raddins; Other names: Mary; Age: 17; Crime Description: Larceny; Sentence: Transportation 7 years."

While these figures indicate an increase in Donegal in what the courts chose to regard as serious crime, the figures compare favourably with adjoining counties, with the exception of County Sligo which also had a low rate of transportation. On the other hand, an examination of the records often reveals that "serious crime", by 1849 included vagrancy, which carried a 7-year transportation sentence. Five such sentences were handed down by Donegal courts in that year. Four of the convicted were female, and the ages of the guilty parties ranged from 16 years to 20.

Today, in Donegal, there are many famine roads bearing names such as "brachan road" or "line".

The expression "taking the soup" is remembered, and also the term "malebag" (meal-bag) which, applied to a family, expresses the same concept. These expressions are sometimes linked to speculation as to how families came into prosperity.

There are many sites of paupers' graves, and in 1995, in Ballyshannon, a monument was unveiled to mark the burial place of the town's famine dead.

The massive iron boilers provided for famine soup and gruel are to be seen at many locations in the county.

Donegal Historical Society has received, on permanent loan, a large gruel pot which was previously kept at Coolmore House, Rossnowlagh, once the home of the unpopular agent and landlord, Alexander Hamilton. In famine times the pot was installed for use at Brachan Bray, the highest point in the neighbourhood, a site chosen so that only those strong enough to climb the steep hill would be fed. This pot will now be placed on a site at the Franciscan Friary, Rossnowlagh, to commemorate the famine.

Dunfanaghy Workhouse has already been restored as a museum and heritage centre, while in Ballyshannon plans are afoot to restore one wing of the Workhouse which has remained in a state of remarkable preservation, unaltered since famine times. These once-dreaded buildings now stand to remind us of the long agony of our ancestors 150 years ago.

(The End)

Source material and reference works used in preparation of the two articles included:
Anthony Begley, "Poverty, Famine and the Workhouse at Ballyshannon", Donegal Annual 1989.
Minutes of the Meetings of the Ballyshannon Union Board of Guardians1840--1922.
Jack Bardon, "A History of Ulster", Blackstaff Press.
John B Cunningham, "The Ballyshannon Herald 1845--1850", Donegal Annual.
James Hack Tuke, "Narrative of the second, third and fourth weeks of William Forsters Visit to Some of the Distressed Districts in Ireland" Donegal Annual 1994.
John B Cunningham, "The Ballyshannon Herald 1845--1850", Donegal Annual.
Thomas Gallagher, "Paddy's Lament", Poolbeg Press.
C.W.P.MacArthur, "Visit to Some of the Distressed Districts in Ireland", Donegal Annual 1994.
Anthony Begley, "Poverty, Famine and the Workhouse at Ballyshannon", Donegal Annual 1989.
Mary McDaid, "History of Land Ownership and Agrarian Structure of the Estate of William Connolly", Donegal Annual 1994.
Ewing John, "Statistical reutrns, Ordnance Survey memoirs, Co. Donegal", Royal Irish Academy, Ref. Box 21 XIII.
Report of the Devon Commission, Part II. Evidence of witnesses pp. 155-156.
John O'Connor, "The Workhouses of Ireland", Anvil Books, Dublin 1995.
John Mitchell, "The Last Conquest", p.116.
Christine Kinealy, "The Great Calamity - The Irish Famine 1845-52", Gill & Macmillan 1994.
James Hack Tuke, "Narrative of the Second, Third and Fourth Weeks of William Forster's visit to some of the Distressed Districts of Ireland", Pamphlet (London 1847).
Caitlin Mhic Amhlaigh, b. Carrick.
Conall MacCuinneagain, "The Great Famine in Glencolmcille", Donegal Annual 1995.
"Famine Echoes", Ed. Cathal Poirteir, Gill & Macmillan 1995.
William Torrrens, b. 1872, Lisminton, Ballintra, Co. Donegal.
Minutes of Glenties Board of Guardians 1841-1850.
Papers relating to the proceedings for the relief of distress, and state of the unions and workhouses in Ireland, Glenties Union p. 56.
Padraig Ua Cnaimhsi, "The Great Famine in the Rosses", Donegal Annual 1995.
Asenath Nicholson, Letter to "Londonderry Journal" 1847.
Public Records Office Dublin, Relief Committee Correspondence, Ref, No. 1A/50/50.
"The Ballyshannon Herald" 1846
Minutes of the Ballyshannon Union Board Guardians 1846--51.
Edwards and Williams, "The Great Famine" (1956)
Ibid.1 John B Cunningham, "The Ballyshannon Herald 1845 - 1850", Donegal Annual 1993.
Ibid.15, Ballyshannon, pp 99-113
Sean Beattie, "Workhouse and Famine in Inishowen (1845-49)", Donegal Annual 1980.
Ibid.13, Sean O Domhnall, b.1873, Cahir, Co Tipperary
Barney's Report on the Execution of contracts for Certain Union Workhouses in Ireland.
Ibid.13, Michael Gildea, b. 1872, Dromore, Ballintra, Co. Donegal.
Ibid.13, William Torrens
Ibid 21
William Allingham, Diary, (Centaur Classics 1967).
Letters to William Allingham Ed. H. Allingham and E. Baumer (Williams London 1911).
"The Hungry Voice" Ed. Chris Morash, Irish Academic Press.
Anthony Begley, "The Diary of a Ballyshannon Lady 1844--1848", Donegal Annual 1993.
N.A.I., TR 8, p 201

"" is indebted to Ms Soinbhe Lally of Ballyshannon, whose computer and word processing skills have made it possible to place this material, based on original workhouse records, on the Internet.

The oral history of events in Ballyshannon during the Famine, cited in these articles, was supplied by a gentleman who, fortuitously, already has a connection with this Home Page. He is the "Big Bob" Gallagher who appears at the extreme right of the third row in the photograph of the famous "cycling" G.A.A. championship team celebrated in Chapter 7: Of Sports and Games of "The Kindly Spot". The Gallagher family have traditional ties with Ballyshannon stretching over many generations.

Readers who have not already done so, may also wish to consult the series The Famine--"The Times"--and Donegal and The Tale of the Workhouse Inmate in "The Hawk of the Erne".

Attention is also directed to a review of a book, "Good Samaritans of the Famine", which appeared in "The Irish Times" of Thursday, January 9, 1997.

Among the many intriguing questions raised by the list of orphan girls transported from Ballyshannon to Australia is one connected with the name Mary Allingham. Why was this orphan girl not reclaimed by the poet Allingham's family? To what branch did she belong? Mayhap a clue will be found by some Australian reader of this Home Page.


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