Starving suffer as fever sweeps land


March 29th, 1847: With a fever epidemic sweeping the country, scenes of unbelievable suffering abound. Ireland seems about to turn into a Golgotha, John Mitchel predicts in the Nation.

In Co Armagh, 400 paupers have died in Lurgan workhouse in the past eight weeks.

There were 50 deaths in Kilkenny poorhouse last week, with 520 patients in the fever hospital.

In Co Clare yesterday, a correspondent reports: "I met 50 skeletons of cows, scarcely able to move, driven to pound for the last May rent ... Fever in every cabin in one house a corpse lies for the last four days; no one could be got to enter it to relieve the dying, or remove the putrified victim."

In Rosscarbery, Co Cork, a man decapitates two children while stealing food. In the same neighbourhood a woman is jailed for taking vegetables; on being released she finds her children have died of starvation.

There are nearly 1,000 prisoners in Cork county jail charged with larceny and sheep stealing, one tenth of whom have typhus fever.

In Kilkenny, a 13 year old boy breaks three panes of glass in a shop window so as to be transported and taken "from his hardship".

In Dublin scenes of misery makes even the humane callous, the Nation observes. "Many, obviously unskilled in the hard lessons of mendicancy, creep out of alleys and lanes and make mute signs, stretching out their hands with an indecision which plainly shows the struggle going on within.

"But the most doleful of all sights and sounds is to hear and see starving women and children attempting to sing for alms ... Hundreds - thousands - bred to industry, have now to make fellowship with the hardened vagrants, the makers of their own sores, with broken bully and the outworn prostitute.

In Ballaghaderreen, a child aged two dies of hunger in its mother's arms during Mass.

When a poor woman comes home to her children in Killeshan, Co Carlow, one of them, maddened by hunger, bites off part of her arm.

In Donoughmore, Co Cork, Father Michael Lane writes in the baptismal register: "There died of the Famine from November 1846 to February 1847, over 1,400 of the people (almost a third of the population) and one priest, Dan Horgan. Requiescant in pace. Numbers remained unburied for over a fortnight, many were buried without a coffin. Four men were employed to bury the dead and make graves and two, and sometimes four, carpenters to make coffins."

In Galway, the Sisters of Mercy - with Quaker support - feed up to 600 children daily; the Presentation convent provides about 500 breakfasts.

Pope Pius IX takes the unprecedented step of issuing an encyclical, Praedecessores Nostros, appealing to the Catholic world on behalf of the Famine victims. He has already sent 1,000 Roman dollars to the Irish bishops.