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Central Relief Committee of the Society of Friends

Introduction (Transactions of the... of the Society of Friends...)

Citation Information:"Introduction," Transactions of the Central Relief Committee of the Society of Friends during the Famine in Ireland. Dublin: Edmund Burke Publisher, 1852. (1996).

In presenting this statement of the proceedings of the Relief Committee of the Society of Friends, we feel that it is required of us to offer some explanation for the delay which has taken place, in supplying the contributors to the fund entrusted to our care with a full account of the distribution of their bounty. Some account of our proceedings for the first eighteen months, accompanied by a statement of receipts and expenditure during that period, was published in Sixth-month, 1848*; and at that time we fully anticipated that our final report would not be very long delayed. It did not appear practicable to realize this expectation, as several of the measures which had been adopted, with the view of affording encouragement to the productive industry of the country, required a considerable time for a fair trial. A main cause of delay, however, was the delicate state of health of Joseph Bewley, one of our honorary secretaries; and by his decease, which took place in Ninth-month last year, we were deprived of his important and highly valued assistance. He was the first promoter of this Committee, and as he had throughout taken a much larger share than any other of its members, of the labour and responsibility attendant on its proceedings, we hoped that he would have been able to prepare the report of its transactions. A few months before his death, he stated to the Committee that he felt himself unable to undertake this task; and at the same time presented to us some memoranda, as "heads for a report," which have been of great use in preparing the present statement. It was then agreed to place the necessary documents in the hands of another person. Various circumstances, including the time required for supervision and correction by a numerous committee, have prevented an earlier publication.

To convey to our readers a clear view of our transactions, it appears necessary to give a general account of them from the formation of the Committee, although this course will oblige us to repeat some of the statements already published. While thus detailing the measures which were adopted in the hopes of alleviating distress, we think it right to advert to some circumstances in the condition of Ireland prior to 1846, which appear to us to have aggravated the difficulties arising from the loss of the potato, and to have impeded the exertions made for the relief of the consequent destitution. We also feel it to be our duty to state the views we have been led to form, as to the injurious effects which these defective social arrangements must continue to produce, so long as they exist; and as to the measures which would appear to us likely to remove them.

In venturing thus to place before the public our opinions on social and economical questions of great moment, respecting some of which the public mind is deeply interested, we feel that we are going beyond what some may consider the duty of the Committee of a charitable association; and that in so doing we may expose ourselves to censure, as out-stepping our province, and interfering in matters in which we have no proper concern. We do not claim for our suggestions any peculiar authority; but the circumstances in which we have been placed have forcibly attracted our attention to these subjects, and have produced in our minds, strong convictions of the truth of the principles we advocate, and of their important influence on the future well-being of our country.

The object of the improvements in legislation, which we have ventured to suggest, is the encouragement of industry, by the removal of obstacles which now obstruct its course and endanger its reward. Were a free scope given to exertion, it would remain for the people, by persevering industry in agricultural, manufacturing, and commercial pursuits, to improve their material condition, and acquire a larger share of the comforts and conveniences of life. Nevertheless, these views are not put forward as offering a panacea for the various evils which afflict Ireland. Many other subjects might be noticed. Even the best laws must to a great extent depend, for their successful working, upon the general knowledge and intelligence of the people. We feel the great importance of education--of that intellectual instruction which tends to raise the condition and to civilize the manners of a nation, and above all, we desire to express our conviction that pure religion and sound morality are the only solid basis for national happiness. For the opinions stated in this report, the Society of Friends as a body is not responsible, and we are aware that some of those in religious profession with us entertain different views on some points. The responsibility rests on the members of the Central Relief Committee alone. We have little pecuniary interest in land, either as owners or occupiers; and if any class prejudices have influenced us, they are those derived from the mercantile pursuits in which nearly all the members of the Committee are engaged. We cannot claim an exemption from those sources of error to which all are liable; but we have no private objects to serve, and no interests other than the general welfare of the community.

It is with some hesitation that we again obtrude ourselves on the public attention, so long after the active exertions of the Committee have ceased. We ought to have been prepared to make our report earlier; but the delay which has been suffered to take place in the performance of this duty is not a reason for omitting it altogether. Some statement of our transactions is due to the contributors, and it may be useful to leave on record a selection of authentic information, connected with a famine so memorable and so extraordinary. The time which has elapsed has afforded us an opportunity of judging of the means adopted for relief, by the results of some of the operations in which we were engaged. We are now enabled to review the whole course of our proceedings, and we see but too clearly that we have failed in several undertakings, in which we at first entertained sanguine hopes of success. Although public opinion has, on several occasions, been favourably expressed as regards our proceedings, we feel that we can only claim the merit of an honest intention, to dispose of the funds under our care to the best of our ability, for the temporary relief or for the permanent advantage of our distressed fellow-countrymen. In endeavouring to carry these intentions into effect, we have made mistakes of judgment in the selection of the means of relief, and committed errors in the details of administration; so that the means placed at our disposal have perhaps been less useful than they might have proved in other hands.

But while we have to acknowledge these deficiencies, we feel bound to express our thankfulness to the Almighty that we have been made the means, to a large extent, of relieving destitution and of saving life. The awful visitation with which it pleased Divine Providence to afflict our country, was doubtless intended in wisdom for our good. His bounty has again given to us abundant harvests and a plentiful supply of food. Still, many of the difficulties are but in part removed, and much distress exists around us. One of the results of the late visitation of famine has been, to fix the public attention on various social evils, which it brought more prominently into view; and we venture to indulge the hope, that the attention thus called to these subjects will continue to be devoted to them, until such amendments are effected in the social and economical condition of our country, as will place the people in a state of much greater comfort than they have heretofore enjoyed.