Black 47: Sketches on Dunmanway

20th February 1847
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In the entire period of the Great Famine in Ireland (1845-1851) the most dramatic population decrease from death and emigration occurred in "Black '47".

The accounts from the Irish provincial papers continue to detail the unmitigated sufferings of the starving peasantry. Indeed, they are stated to be on the increase, notwithstanding the very great exertion of public bodies and individuals to assuage their pressure.

With the object of ascertaining the accuracy of the frightful statements received from the West, and of placing them in unexaggerated fidelity before our readers, a few days since, we commissioned our Artist, Mr James Mahoney, of Cork, to visit a seat of extreme suffering, viz., Skibbereen and its vicinity; and we now submit to our readers the graphic results of his journey, accompanied by such descriptive notes as he was enabled to collect whilst sketching the fearful incidents and desolate localities; premising merely, that our Artist must already have been somewhat familiar with such scenes of suffering in his own locality, (Cork), so that he cannot be supposed to have taken an extreme view of the greater misery at Skibbereen.

“Having heard much of the wants of Dunmanway, I proceeded thither, and am delighted to say that this large and thriving town (of which I send you a sketch, taken from the bridge on the Cork road) seems to be the barrier to the dreadful want further west. Not, at the same time, but that much want does exist here, though nothing beyond what may be expected upon land where nature is not bountiful. The worst feature presenting itself, at this moment, all through the West, is the entire abandonment of agricultural occupation; and, during my entire excursion from Clonakilty round to Dunmanway, not more than ten or a dozen fields seemed to have been prepared for the spring; and the answer of all those to whom I addressed myself on the subject was, that if they put down, they did not know who would reap; and that, in case the crops were sown, the poor famished wretches would be there to eat them up long before they had time to grow.

“Again, all sympathy between the living and the dead seems completely out of the question; and the revolting practice will, doubtless, go on until it works its own remedy. I certainly saw from 150 to 180 funerals of victims to the want of food, the whole number attended by not more than 50 persons; and so hardened are the men regularly employed in the removal of the dead from the workhouse, that I saw one of them, with four coffins in a car, driving to the churchyard, sitting upon one of the said coffins, and smoking with much apparent enjoyment. The people also say that whoever escapes the fever is sure of falling sick on the road (the Public Works), as they are, in many instances, compelled to walk from three to six miles, and sometimes a greater distance, to work, and back again in the evening, without partaking of a morsel of food. Added to this, they are, in a great number of instances, standing in bogs and wet places, which so affects them, that many of the poor fellows have been known to drop down at their work.”

// SOURCE Illustrated London News - Saturday 20 February 1847

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