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Central Relief Committee of the Society of Friends

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

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

In the latter part of Fifth-month, 1847, Sir Randolph J. Routh, Commissary-general, placed at the disposal of the Committee about 40,000 lbs. of green-crop seeds, which were in the hands of the Government. The gratuitous distribution of these seeds was committed to the care of a member of the Committee, and by using the mails and other quick modes of conveyance it was effected in a very short space of time. By the liberality of James Hartley, coach proprietor, and of the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company; who, under the circumstances, made no charge for the carriage; the expense of the distribution was inconsiderable. Owing to its being so late in the season, and to the land not being properly prepared in many places, some small quantity of the seeds remained unsown. On the whole, however, the results were truly valuable and encouraging. It appeared that 36,196 lbs. of seeds were distributed, in grants to 40,903 destitute land holders; and that 9,652 acres were sown, the greater part of which, through the extreme poverty of the occupiers, would otherwise have lain waste. The produce was generally abundant; and it is estimated that upwards of 190,000 tons of turnips were thus raised, by small farmers and cottiers, whose resources had been almost exhausted.

In the spring of 1848, encouraged by the success of the previous year, and impressed with the great importance of such assistance, (an impression which the concurring testimony of all our correspondents from every quarter confirmed) we resolved to appoint a sub-committee, to endeavour to carry into effect a larger distribution. Great care was taken in the selection and purchase, and we received from many quarters very gratifying acknowledgements of the good quality and successful growth of these seeds. The experience acquired in the preceding year enable the sub-committee to make a more satisfactory distribution. From the returns which were received, it appeared that including the seeds purchased by the Committee, and the remainder of those which had been transferred from the commissaariat depots, the total distribution amounted to 133,796 lbs. The number of acres sown was 32,446, and the number of persons supplied was 148,094. These grants were wholly gratuitous; the local correspondents were merely expected to satisfy themselves that the applicants were really in need of assistance, and that the requisite quantity of ground was properly prepared. The expenditure for this object was 6,271 14s.2d. *

A portion of our funds was also applied to the assistance of industrial schools. These institutions were generally under the superintendance of ladies, who in several instances shewed much energy and perseverance in conducting them. Numbers of poor children, many of them very young, received in these schools their breakfast daily, which was too often their only meal during the day. Special attention was directed to such work as might enable them, when instructed, to earn a livelihood; the girls being in many instances taught knitting and sewed-muslin work. Some support was also given by the Committee to a local manufacture of lace; and to the praiseworthy thought unsuccessful attempts of the vicar of Newport, to introduce the linen manufacture into that part of the county of Mayo. By these means, a considerable amount of relief was given.

The promotion of the Fisheries on the southern and western coasts was one of the first objects bearing on the industry of the country, to which our attention was turned. It appeared to the Committee that this branch of national industry promised, beyond most others, to reward the enterprise of the intelligent and persevering; while at the same time it possessed the important advantage, in those parts where the produce of the land was insufficient for the support of its population, of affording immediate supplies of wholesome food. In the beginning of 1847, some grants were made by William Forster to the Claddagh fishermen at Galway, to enable them to redeem their nets from pawn and to repair their boats. In Sixth-month of the same year, application for a loan for similar purposes was made on behalf of the Arklow fishermen. We complied with the request, and granted the sum of L50 to a resident gentleman, who became responsible to us for the amount. From a statement furnished towards the close of the year, it appeared that the money had been expended in releasing 161 nets; that in the next month L33 was repaid; and that before Eleventh-month, each separate loan, except in three instances, was repaid. His report further stated, that by this loan upwards of 160 families were supported during five months, and that many of them had a surplus for their use during the winter.*

In Fifth-month, 1847, a letter was addressed to one of the secretaries by William T. Mulvany, Commissioner for the Fishery department of the Board of Works, suggesting to us the allocation of some of our funds in assisting the fisheries throughout Ireland. He proposed that we should make grants of money to suitable persons, as loans for poor fishermen, to enable them to provide fishing gear, and for the repairs of boats, and similar purposes. Some communications afterwards took place with Sir John Burgoyne, Chairman of the Government Relief Commission, and Sir James Dombrain, commander of the coast-guard. The latter officer addressed letters to the officers of the coast-guard in different parts of the county, and from their representations of the probable utility of the grant, and their promises of co-operation, it was agreed to place L250 at the disposal of Sir James Dombrain, to be by him allocated to the care of such of the coast-guard officers, as he might consider most likely to carry out the object efficiently. This arrangement was not carried into effect; and it is alluded to here only to shew the interest which was felt on the subject of fisheries, by these as well as other official persons. *

About the same time, the attention of the Waterford auxiliary committee was called to the condition of the fishermen at Ring, near Helvick-head, about nine miles from Dungarvan, who were reduced by the pressure of famine to great distress. An appeal on their behalf was made to that committee by James Alcock, the vicar of the parish of Ring, and small loans were made through him, to enable the fishermen to replace their nets and fishing gear, most of which had been sold or pledged to obtain food. In almost every case, these loans were faithfully repaid. Shortly after these poor fishermen had been set to work, two Scotchmen visited the place; and were so struck with the advantages which it presented, that they decided on forming a curing establishment there. The Committee, thinking it right to give encouragement to private enterprise, advance them L1000; and, in the following year, a similar loan was made to assist them in building a larger and better kind of boats than those hitherto in use. For some time the prospects of these men were satisfactory; they shipped to England a considerable quantity of cured fish, which there met with a ready and profitable sale. Unfortunately, however, they were induced to add the management of a farm to their proper occupation of fish-curing. They do not appear to have possessed the requisite knowledge of agriculture; and the distance of their farm from the station increased the difficulty of the undertaking. A misunderstanding with their landlord occurred, which finally resulted in a forced sale of their property at very low prices, and in their return to Scotland. Although, from these causes, the money we advanced has not been repaid, we have no reason to consider the loan as having been injudicious under the circumstances. Whilst the curing establishment was in operation, the direct and collateral employment kept many persons from the work-house; and even still its good effects are perceptible, in the increased skill which the people so employed have acquired. They are now able to carry on their fishing operations from their own resources with considerable success. We have been informed that the quantity of cured fish retained for their own use last season, was unusually large; and that very few of the fishermen have emigrated, although many possess means quite sufficient to enable them to do so. *

Towards the latter end of the year 1847, after the new poor-law had come into effect, we ventured to extend our operations for the encouragement of fisheries, by making loans to a considerable amount to several persons, who undertook to act in conformity to regulations carefully framed, with respect to the interests both of the owners and crews of the boats employed. With these views, and in the hope of bringing about an improved system of fishing, while direct relief was afforded where it was much required, we established stations at Ballinakill-bay, near Clifden, in the county of Galway; at Achill-sound and a Belmullet, in the county of Mayo; and at Castletown, Berehaven, in the county of Cork. At the last of these stations, a curing-house was also established. The establishments at Ballinakill-bay and Achill-sound were not carried on to any great extent, and were soon discontinued: and after a year's trial, it was found that the prospects of the two remaining establishments were not sufficiently encouraging, to warrant their continuance by the Committee. It had become evident, that the continued care and economy necessary for the success of such undertakings required the energy of private enterprise, and could not be attained by the agents of such associations as ours. After full deliberation, and a careful investigation into the affairs of both concerns, it was resolved to wind up the Belmullet establishment at once. The case of the Berehaven establishment was somewhat different. A much larger sum had been expended upon it, and the well-being of many of the fishermen in that district appeared to be involved in its continuance; we were therefore willing that it should have a more extended trial. A change was made in the management, and the concern was continued for three years longer; but we regret to have to state, that the result of this experiment has proved very unsuccessful, and it has since been given up.*

Urgent representations were made in Twelfth-month, 1847, by the rector of Castlehaven, and transmitted to our Committee by Sir Thomas N. Redington, Under-Secretary for Ireland, stating the advantages that would arise from the employment of a vessel of larger size, to assist the smaller boats when fishing in uncertain weather. These representations were supported by the opinions of other persons acquainted with fishing, and the Committee, after much consideration, hired a trawler of fifty-three tons for this service, in order to test the value of such assistance to the local fisheries. Shortly after she arrived at her station, it became apparent that the special purpose for which she was engaged was not likely to lead to any useful result; and she was subsequently employed in inspecting the fishing grounds and fishing stations on the western and south-western coasts. The report of the master of the trawler was not very encouraging, as respects the greater part of the fishing ground on these coasts. He suffered a considerable loss in nets and gear, in consequence of the rocky nature of the bottom. Perhaps a more complete knowledge of the ground may hereafter lead to greater success. The entire amount advanced to the fisheries, both in loans and grants for fishing materials, was L5,365 1s.1d. of which L480 3s.9d. was repaid, leaving the sum of L4,884 17s.4d. expended for these objects.*

There were other cases, also, in which we sought to combine direct relief with profitable industry. As early as the spring of 1847, L200 was advanced, on his personal security, to a landed proprietor at Dungloe, in the county of Donegal, to enable him to carry on the manufacture of kelp in that district. In the spring of the following year, it appeared that the undertaking had proved so unprofitable, that it was considered undesirable to hold him to an engagement the main object of which had been the employment of the destitute. It was therefore agreed to cancel the debt, on receiving from him the balance in his hands of L15 1s 1d.

The attention of the Committee had been called, on several occasions to the domestic manufacture of flannels and other articles, which has long existed in the west of Ireland; with the view of making some endeavour to support and extend these manufactures, by placing them on a commercial basis. Some inquiries were instituted in England for a person competent to conduct a manufactory of flannels; and in Third-month, 1848, a native of Yorkshire, acquainted with the business as a practical weaver, was invited over. He proceeded to the west, accompanied by a friend who kindly volunteered his services on the occasion. They visited the principal places in Mayo and Galway, and reported that there was a considerable supply of wool of good quality in Connemara; and that they had been offered for L100 some machinery for spinning wool, which had been previously erected in a mill in the county of Galway, and which appeared suited for the purpose and good value. They further stated that such an establishment would give employment to about 150 persons; would require a capital of about L500 in machinery, and a working capital of from L1000 to L2000; and would have a fair prospect of success. After some consideration, it was decided that we could not with propriety undertake such a business on our own account, but we offered, if one or two trustworthy persons of skill and knowledge of the business would undertake it, to advance L1500 by way of loan, secured upon the machinery and stock. It was proposed that this sum should be repaid out to the profits of the business; or, in the event of the trade turning out to be unprofitable, that the loss should be borne by the Committee. The persons to whom this offer was made did not avail themselves of it; and no further opportunity was presented for any attempt to develop this promising branch of manufacturing industry.

An improved system of cultivation of the soil, and the introduction of new and useful crops, appeared to us to be objects of the utmost importance. It appeared also that this could be best effected by mean of spade-labour, and that thus the additional advantage would be gained, of affording a great amount of present relief. An agreement was accordingly entered into Second-month, 1848, with Colonel George Vaughan Jackson, of Carramore, near Ballina, county of Mayo, and with several other proprietors in that vicinity, under which about 550 Irish acres of land, equal to nearly 900 statute acres, were given to us, free of rent and poor-rate, for one year. We undertook to pay the county cess; to provide the labour, manure, and seed; and to give up the land when the crops had been disposed of. Some assistance was afforded by a local committee in superintending these operations, and by one of the Practical Instructors of the Royal Agricultural Society. The cultivation was entirely by spade-labour, and employment was thus given for many weeks, to upwards of one thousand persons, who would otherwise have been totally destitute. The crops were selected with a view of uniting the greatest beneficial outlay in manual labour, with the lowest expenditure for manure and seed; and consisted chiefly of turnip and other green crops, (excluding potatoes) with a small quantity of grain planted by dibbling, and about seventy acres of flax. We refused to purchase manure collected in the neighbourhood; preferring to make use of guano and other foreign manures, or of sea-weed, lest we might interfere with the cultivation by the small farmers themselves. The wages were calculated by task-work; but as the persons employed were very generally chosen from among those whose strength had been greatly reduced by previous starvation, the rates of payment were necessarily considerably higher than would have been required, if none but strong, able-bodied labourers had been employed.

In the course of Seventh-month, 1848, two members of our Committee were requested to visit these farms. They recommended that a properly qualified person should be immediately sent down, to superintend the farming operations, and to dispose of the crops when they arrived at maturity. A competent person was accordingly appointed, whose services were very efficient. The proceeds from the sales of the produce fell far short of the amount expended in this operation, yet it was gratifying to know that the money thus spent was not wasted; for besides the large amount of relief given by the employment of destitute peasantry, there was great advantage derived from the practical instruction given, as to the cultivation of the various crops, in part of Ireland in which green crops had previously been scarcely at all cultivated by the small farmers. The amount advanced for this undertaking was L7,469 7s. 9d. of which L1.756 2s 2d. was repaid out of the sales of produce, leaving the sum of L5713 5s. 7d. as the nett expenditure.*

Other advances were also made for the encouragement of spade-labour, but on a different plan. About the same time with our experiment at Ballina, Lord Wallscourt proposed to take into cultivation fifty additional acres at Ardfry, in the county of Galway; and so give employment to many unemployed and able-bodied destitute labourers in his neighbourhood; on receiving from the Committee the loan of L200 for twelve months, payable without interest. Lord Wallscourt undertook the whole risk, the Committee merely advancing the money on his security, and taking care that it was properly applied. The loan was accordingly made; and it was intimated to Lord Wallscourt that if he doubled the number of acres, the loan would also be doubled. This was not done, but the sum lent was repaid, and the Committee have every reason to be satisfied with the result. Early in 1849, Colonel F. A. Knox Gore, of Belleek Manor, county of Mayo, urged us again to encourage spade-labour, by the application of the same principles as had been adopted in the case of Lord Wallscourt. He proposed to appropriate one hundred acres of land, which would otherwise have remained wasted, and to employ at fair wages an adequate number of labourers at his own risk, provided we would advance him the sum of L800, free of interest, for twelve months. It was agreed to make this advance, in the hope that it might tend to give a further impulse to this mode of farming in that neglected district, and also because it would furnish a large amount of present employment to the destitute population. This loan has been repaid by Colonel Gore; and the Committee are well satisfied with the result of this experiment also.*

Our efforts to extend this mode of cultivation were not confined to the west. In the spring of 1849, the rector of Aghalurcher, in the county of Fermanagh,—encouraged by his success in relieving the poor of his neighbourhood, by the judicious distribution of the green crop seeds which he had received from us,—undertook to cultivate by spade-labour about fifty acres, on receiving a loan of L350. There were several causes which rendered this experiment less successful than the others; so that a heavy loss was incurred. The Committee, on considering the subject, and knowing that their first object had been fulfilled, by the large amount of employment given, and the many destitute persons relieved, did not think it right to allow the rector to be a pecuniary sufferer by his benevolent exertions; and therefore resolved to relinquish one half the amount on the remainder being paid; which has accordingly been done, and the account closed. In all these cases, we required returns to be made to us, showing the number of persons employed, the rate of wages, the quantity of land cultivated, and other particulars. In addition to the loans for this purpose, some small grants were made with a similar object.*

In 1849, a loan of L500, payable with interest at the rate of five per cent. in five instalments, was made to Hay Brothers, of Ballina, in the county of Mayo, to aid them in the establishment of a rettery in the vicinity of that town, for steeping and preparing flax on Schenck" patent. It was gratifying to us to find that our experiments in the preceding year had not been without result; as the inducements for commencing this useful undertaking arose from the large quantity of flax produced on our farms, and that which had been grown by some of the neighbouring farmers after our example. As a further means of promoting the cultivation of flax in this part of the country, it was agreed to lend the sum of L400 to Colonel Knox Gore, who offered with this assistance to erect a flax-scutching-mill on a suitable site, and with good water-power. It was arranged that the amount should be secured by a mortgage on the property, and the advances repaid with interest at the rate of five per cent., by instalments of L80 per annum. The parties concerned did not carry this arrangement into effect. Only L200 were advanced, and in Second-month, 1851, repayment of this sum without interest was accepted, and the former agreement cancelled. Nevertheless, the means were provided by Colonel Gore, from other sources, and this undertaking is now in operation.*

In Fifth-month, 1848, an application for a grant was made to us by Dr. Edgar, on behalf of the "Belfast ladies' Industrial Association for Connaught." This association had exerted itself with great success, to promote the establishment of industrial schools throughout the west, in which young women and girls were taught the sewing of muslin and other kinds of needlework. We heard with much interest an account of their endeavours to extend to the province of Connaught this branch of industry, which had proved so useful in Ulster; and offered to grant L500 as a donation, provided an equal sum should be raised from other quarters. About the end of the year, Dr. Edgar came before us with a list of subscriptions, somewhat above the required amount; and we gladly made the promised grant, and have every reason to believe it was well and usefully bestowed.*

In the spring of 1849, numerous enquiries were made as to the opinions our experience had led us to form of the condition of the country, and of the success of the various undertakings in which we had from time to time engaged. We were at first reluctant to trespass upon the public attention with a detailed statement of our views; but at length an "Address to the Public" was prepared, and, after mature consideration, was unanimously adopted on the 8th of Fifth-month. In this address, we alluded to the great exertions made by the British Relief Association and other similar bodies, and the large amount of their distribution; and also to the numerous contributions of private benevolence, and the remittances from emigrants in America. But we had to state our belief that, while these exertions had afforded a large amount of relief at a period of great distress, and had preserved many from starvation, yet the condition of our country was not improved. We declared our conviction, that until freedom was given to the sale and transfer of land, it was vain to hope that Ireland could emerge from a state of poverty and degradation. Before our address was published, but after it was drawn up, it was announced that the Government had resolved to introduce into Parliament a measure which had a tendency to promote this object; and in the course of that session the Act for the Sale of Incumbered Estates was passed.*

In Sixth-month, 1849, a letter was addressed to one of our secretaries by Sir Charles E. Trevelyan, Assistant-Secretary to the Treasury, on behalf of Lord John Russell, enquiring what plans the Committee were pursuing for the alleviation of the great distress which still prevailed; and offering a contribution of L100 towards renewed efforts for its relief. The subject received the anxious consideration of the Committee; but, after full deliberation, we were of opinion that, in the event of undertaking the distribution of relief as heretofore, the sum which we could hope to collect would be utterly inadequate for such an object; that even if sufficient funds were placed at our disposal, we could no longer calculate upon the assistance of many of our most efficient agents and correspondents; and that the relief of destitution, on an extended scale, should in future be entrusted to the arrangements which Parliament had provided for that purpose. We felt bound, therefore, though reluctantly, to decline being the almoners of Lord John Russell's liberality; yet we highly appreciated the kind feeling towards our distressed fellow-countrymen which prompted him to make the offer.*

In the course of the following month, the attention of the London Friends' Relief Committee was attracted to the severe distress which prevailed among the small holders of land, who were excluded by the provisions of the poor-law from receiving assistance out of the poor rates. They resolved to remit to our Committee the sum of L2000, to be applied to the prompt relief of this class. The extreme privations were well known, and we had to some extent sought to alleviate them. Several cases had been reported to us, on credible evidence, in which individuals had suffered members of their family to die of want, rather than render themselves entitled to poor-law relief by the surrender of their land. We accepted the charge of distributing this sum, and endeavoured to carry the views of the London Committee into effect. Grants were made in various districts, to those on whom full reliance could be placed. In the expectation of making it more useful, it was agreed that no grants of money should be made, without a previous understanding that the persons assisted should be required to engage in some useful labour on their own holdings, and that the largest sum to be given to any one family should not exceed L3. The sums sent to those undertaking its distribution varied from L10 to L30. The adoption of this plan was attended with gratifying results; and several letters were received from the grantees, stating their opinion of the good which had been effected.*

In Ninth -month, 1848, a proposition was laid before the Committee for the establishment of a model farm, in which relief might be combined with industrial and agricultural improvement, in a more permanent manner than had been done at Ballina. After much consideration, the Committee were of opinion that it was desirable to undertake the project; and a sub-committee was appointed to carry it into effect, and to prepare a plan for the management of the new institution. Considerable delay arose from the difficulty of procuring a suitable farm, of which a permanent tenure could be given. At length, in Second-month, 1849, an agreement was entered into with Myles W. O'Reilly, of Knockabbey Castle, county of Louth, for the farm of Colmanstown, in the parish of Clonkeen, county of Galway. This farm consists of abut 400 Irish acres, being equal to nearly 650 statute measure; and is taken on a lease for 999 years, at a rent of 16s. per Irish acre. The land had been previously inspected, and was represented to us to be in many respects suited for the purpose. The objects contemplated by this undertaking were, first, to test by experiment how far the agricultural resources of Ireland are capable of being developed by better modes of culture; and to institute, in an ill-cultivated district, a model where the neighbouring farmers might see an improved system of husbandry; and, secondly, in case the farm should hereafter be made sufficiently profitable, to establish an agricultural school for training young men in the practice of scientific farming. Arrangements were made for the permanent management of the institution, and a sum of L12,000 was transferred to trustees, to form a capital stock; to which L500 was afterwards added for some extra expenses, which the Committee considered not to be fairly chargeable to the new undertaking.

This farm has now been nearly three years under the care of the Committee appointed for its management. Farm buildings have been erected on a large scale and of a superior character, and a considerable portion of the land has been drained and brought under fair cultivation. The outlay for these purposes has been heavy, as will appear by the report of the Model Farm Committee given in the appendix, but as the greater part of the capital invested has been expended in wages, we consider that it has so far subserved the primary object of our association, by the large amount of employment it has afforded. It will be obvious from the report, that, up to the present time, the crops have not paid for their cultivation. It should, however, be observed, that the land, which was in very bad condition when the committee got possession of it, has been greatly improved; although it cannot be considered that the improvement effected is equivalent to the expenditure.

The farm has lately been inspected by a deputation from the Central Committee. They reported it as their opinion, that the undertaking has not yet had a fair trial; and recommended that the remainder of the land which requires it, should be properly drained, and brought into the same good condition as the most improved parts; considering that the whole farm should be brought into a good state of cultivation, before it can be fairly pronounced successful or the contrary. It has therefore been determined to make the Farm Committee a further grant of L1,000, to enable them to drain and carry on the other improvements without delay; as they have expressed their expectation that, by increased attention to economy, the farm will be made to support itself. In this case, it will be useful to the neighbouring farmers, by exhibiting a god system of husbandry; and will enable the original object to be carried out, by the establishment of an agricultural school, in case it appears desirable to do so.