During the period 1845 to 1848 Ireland abounded in food especially grain. Daniel O’Connell pleaded with Government to close the ports and retain grain crops on the island, this was policy in times of famine in the past and standard procedure throughout Europe. In 1847 there were 5,239,000 acres under every description of crop to use the words of the Pall Mall Gazette of 5th May, 1870; here it provides a comparison of acreage use in 1869 with that of 1847, two years into failing potatoe crops. OATS were the most prolific crop in 1847 with 2,200,870 acres, the entire Irish land mass is circ 20,000,000 acres, click on the image. The 26 counties is 17,367,060 acres, Northern Ireland is 3,493,823 acres. The total combined acres of the Island of Ireland is 20,860,883.
The British Census returns for Ireland in 1851 provided crop figures for a number of years between 1841 and 1851, 2,200,000 acres were dedicated to Oats in 1847, the figures for Oats show slight fluctuations from 1847 through to 1851 when it returned to near the same figure. It is indispensably necessary that the grain should remain in the country while scarcity is apprehended… whole fleets, laden with the produce of our soil, are unfurling their sails and steering from our harbour, while the cry of hunger is singing in their ears… a wise government should at once issue an order prohibiting the exportation of provisions from this country, until the wants of the people have been sufficiently provided for. (The Waterford Freeman, October 1846)
From the book, Survivors of the Great Irish Famine, (Jack O’Keefe, PhD)The British Governement was aware of the disaster in Ireland; Lord Luietenant of Ireland Lord Clarendon wrote to Prime Minister John Russell about the house of Commons, “I dont think there is another legislature in Europe that would disregard such suffering as now exists in the West of Ireland or coldly persist in a policy of extermination”. In 1849 the British Head of the Poor Law Commission, Edward Twistleton resigned because “many were wasting away in the west of Ireland and that it is quite possible to prevent the death of any from starvation by the advance of a few hundred pounds”, “the destitution here is so horrible and the indifference of the House of Commons to it so manifest that I am an unfit agent of a policy that must be one of extermination”.
A variety of sources show that much food was removed and under protected guard. Waterford Harbour British army commissariat officer wrote to Treasury Chief Charles Trevelyan on April 24, 1846; “The barges leave Clonmel once a week for this place, with the export supplies under convoy which, last Tuesday, consisted of 2 guns, 50 cavalry, and 80 infantry escorting them on the banks of the Suir as far as Carrick.” Oscar Wildes mother as a young woman wrote this poem in 1846; Fainting forms, hunger‐stricken… Stately ships to bear our food away… There’s a proud array of soldiers—what do they round your door? They guard our masters’ granaries from the thin hands of the poor. A quotation by coastguard officer, Robert Mann, Cork in 1846, “We were literally stopped by carts laden with grain, butter, bacon, etc. being taken to the vessels loading from the quay. It was a strange anomaly“.
Ireland must in return behold her best flour, her wheat, her bacon, her butter, her live cattle, all going to England day after day. She dare not ask the cause of this fatal discrepancy – the existence of famine in a country, whose staple commodity is food – food – food of the best – and of the most exquisite quality. (The Chronicle and Munster Advertiser, May 1846)
“The circumstances which appeared most aggravating was that the people were starving in the midst of plenty, and that every tide carried from the Irish ports corn sufficient for the maintenance of thousands of the Irish people.“ William Smith-O’Brien, land owner from Dromoland Castle observed in 1846. The Times Newspaper further reported.. We gave or lent them last winter £10,000,000, but we did not give them, for we could not give them, one sixpen’orth of sense.
The Times in London What is given to the Irish is so much filched from the English distress…the English labourer pays taxes from which the Irish one is free – nay, he pays taxes by which the Irishman is enriched. Before our merciful intervention, the Irish nation were a wretched, indolent, half-starved tribe of savages, ages before Julius Caesar landed on this isle, and that, notwithstanding a gradual improvement upon the naked savagery, they have never approached the standard of the civilized world. (The Times, January 1847) The astounding apathy of the Irish themselves to the most horrible scenes immediately under their eyes, and capable of relief by the smallest exertion, is something absolutely without parallel in the history of civilized nations. In one article it described the sight of “whole fleets of provisions continually arriving from the land of starvation to the ports of wealth and the cities of abundance” as a “visible contradiction” or rather a “painful anomaly”. It wondered whether Britain was comparable to “Imperial States subsisting, waxing fat and wanton, on the vital wealth of their dependent provinces”, because if Ireland did not receive anything in return for its food, it would be “hard to escape the inference that there exists some sort of oppression” and that those exports were in fact the “tribute of a weak and conquered realm”.
Some records showing individual export and shipping details during Famine years; From Cork harbor on one day in 1847 the AJAX steamed for England with 1,514 firkins (a firkin refers to 56 lbs or 25 kilo)of butter, 102 casks of pork, 44 hogsheads of whiskey, 844 sacks of oats, 247 sacks of wheat, 106 bales of bacon, 13 casks of hams, 145 casks of porter, 12 sacks of fodder, 28 bales of feathers, 8 sacks of lard, 296 boxes of eggs, 30 head of cattle, 90 pigs, 220 lambs, 34 calves and 69 miscellaneous packages.
On November 14, 1848, sailed, from Cork harbor with 147 bales of bacon, 120 casks and 135 barrels of pork, 5 casks of hams, 149 casks of miscellaneous provisions (foodstuff); 1,996 sacks & 950 barrels of oats; 300 bags of flour; 300 head of cattle; 239 sheep; 9,398 firkins of butter; 542 boxes of eggs. On July 28, 1848; a typical day’s food shipments from four ports: includes the ship names, destinations, foodstuff and quantities. From
LIMERICK The ANN, JOHN GUISE and MESSENGER for London; the PELTON CLINTON for Liverpool; and the CITY OF LIMERICK, BRITISH QUEEN, and CAMBRIAN MAID for Glasgow. This one-day removal was of 863 firkins(48,328lbs/ 21.92 tonnes)of butter; 212 firkins, 1,198 casks and 200 kegs of lard, 87 casks of ham; 267 bales of bacon; 52 barrels of pork; 45 tons and 628 barrels of flour; 4,975 barrels of oats and 1,000 barrels of barley. From Kilrush: The ELLEN for Bristol; the CHARLES G. FRYER and MARY ELLIOTT for London. This one-day removal was of 550 tons of oats and 15 tons of barley. From Tralee: The JOHN ST. BARBE, CLAUDIA and QUEEN for London; the SPOKESMAN for Liverpool. This one-day removal was of 711 tons of oats and 118 tons of barley. From Galway: The MARY, VICTORIA, and DILIGENCE for London; the SWAN and UNION for Limerick (probably for transshipment to England). This one-day removal was of 60 sacks of flour; 30 sacks and 292 tons of oatmeal; 294 tons of oats; and 140 tons of miscellaneous provisions (foodstuffs). From the Irish Emigrant Database The British Government and the Irish landlords, influenced by Malthus, were obsessed by the idea that the country was over-populated. Mass murder by artificial famine provided only a partial solution to the problem.’ The time was never more opportune to force the impoverished populace from the country. Conditions were deliberately worsened by legal means. The repeal of the Corn Laws as Professor George O’Brien has pointed out, deprived Ireland of her last means by which she could support her population. Landlords converted their farms into pasture. The evicted tenants had the choice of death from starvation or joining the great exodus. The Gregory clause of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1847 provided that no person in possession of more than a quarter of an acre of land could be deemed destitute and that it was unlawful to assist such persons. ‘A more complete engine,’ wrote John O’Rourke, 1907 historian of the Great Famine, ‘for the slaughter and degradation of a people was never designed.
Punch Magazine Cartoon promotes Emigration while also reinforcing indolent Irish.
The Waterford Freeman reported in March 1847 that people were picking Doolamaun (seaweed) on the beach in Dungarvan and eating it raw. In coastal districts fish, usually herring, was eaten along with potatoes. The severe weather conditions of 1845/46 prevented the fishermen going to sea, particularly in boats which were in poor repair. Many fishermen had pawned their gear in the hope of recovering it the following year. Boats, oars, etc., were burned for fuel. As a result the supply of fish became scarce and prices went up, putting it out of the reach of the poor. Other sea foods were accessible at low tide such as limpets and seaweeds, but supplies did not last long with the large numbers picking them. In November William Edwards of Helvick Fishing Station remarked that: ‘the fishermen are literally starving, not for the want of fish, but for want of proper fishing boats and fishing tackle, fit for deep water.’ He noted that their boats were too small, without sails or compass. (www.waterfordmuseum.ie) Preface to the Census of 1851: “…we feel it will be gratifying to your Excellency to find that the population has been diminished in so remarkable a manner by famine, disease and emigration between 1841 and 1851, and has been since decreasing, the results of the Irish census of 1851 are, on the whole, satisfactory, demonstrating as they do the general advancement of the country. “ I have heard much of the misery and wretchedness of the Irish people…but I must confess, my experience has convinced me that the half has not been told. Here you have an Irish hut or cabin, such as millions of the people of Ireland live in, in much the same degradation as the American slaves. I see much here to remind me of my former condition, and I confess I should be ashamed to lift my voice against American slavery, but that I know the cause of humanity is one the world over. He who really and truly feels for the American slave, cannot steel his heart to the woes of others. (Frederick Douglass, August 1845)