Famine Diary

December 13th, 1847: The charitable organisations begin to wind down their activities

December 13th, 1847: The charitable organisations begin to wind down their activities. But the General Central Relief Committee, formed in Dublin last December, warns that "in some respects the condition of the peasantry is this year more lamentable than it was during the past season".

The Quakers decide to withdraw from providing direct relief. They are exhausted after their life-saving efforts, especially last spring when the government ordered the closure of the public works before the soup kitchens were in operation. The Friends, with their intimate knowledge of the west and south, realise that the Poor Law is incapable of relieving the starving masses in the remote parts of Ireland, where no workhouse exists for up to 50 miles. They will still provide aid such as farm implements, seeds and fishing tackle.

The British Relief Association is feeding 200,000 schoolchildren daily throughout the distressed Poor Law unions. The inspector of the Skibbereen union reports: "You have no idea of the great good the British Association bounty is doing to this union: hundreds of lives have been saved by it, and were it not for this the scenes of last year would have been witnessed in Skibbereen again."

The Irish church, through its overseas network, continues to generate a substantial flow of relief money from all over the Catholic world.


The English Quaker philanthropist, James Hack Tuke, witnesses the eviction of six or seven hundred people in Erris, Co Mayo. He finds large families living in "human burrows"; they are "quiet harmless persons, terrified of strangers".

The barony's population last year was estimated at 28,000; 2,000 have emigrated and 6,000 died of starvation, dysentery and fever; of the 20,000 left, 10,000 are on the verge of starvation: "10,000 people within 48 hours' journey of the metropolis of the world, living, or rather starving, upon turnip-tops, sand-eels and seaweed, a diet which no one in England would consider fit for the meanest animal."

A crowd of almost naked, perishing creatures gather in Belmullet. They have no homes, no shelter, no land, no food. They sleep in the streets and beg during the day from neighbours scarcely richer than themselves. The innkeeper informs Mr Tuke that six people died in the last few nights. "And I am sure that several I saw there are now beyond the reach of earthly calamity. The ghastly smile which momentarily played on the countenances of these living skeletons, at the prospect of a little temporary relief, I cannot easily forget. It rendered still more painful the expression of intense anxiety and bitter misery which was exhibited in their livid and death-set features."

The Galway Mercury reports that several starving peasants have been jailed for 10 days for rooting tillage in search of potatoes. Thousands are famishing from cold and hunger in Galway union. The overcrowded workhouse has to refuse admission to 300 "wailing applicants".