The Famine

Found by Eugene Daly while researching for his book:  “Leap and Glandore – Fact and Folklore”

The Famine struck in 1845 and West Cork was one of the worst affected parts of Ireland, especially Skibbereen and the Mizen Peninsula. One would think that the people living near the coast would be better provided for to meet the ravages of hunger than the inlands parts. However, the fishermen were not sufficiently geared to meet the crisis. It is said that the first death from starvation in West Cork was a fisherman from South reen in Myross. The parish priest of the united parishes of Kilmacabea and Kilfaughnabeg, Fr. Joseph Sheahan wrote many letters to the newspaper during the Famine years, drawing attention to the plight of the people. Fourteen parishioners were waked in the parish on Christmas night, 1846. In a letter published in the Cork Examiner on December, 19th, 1846, Fr. Sheahan wrote that Kilmacabea had no resident landlord and that those in Kilfaughnabeg were “so few, or so incompetent, as to be of no avail. There is one exception, the benevolent family of James Redmond Barry, who are using every possible means which human effort could devise to administer to their distressed and starving fellow creatures”. Over one hundred were given relief every day at Glandore House, whether they belonged to his estate or not.


Barry established a soup kitchen in Glandore. In September, 1846, 2500 pounds had been voted for relief work for Kilmacabea which would give employment. The men employed on the making of the roads were too weak for the back-breaking work. Some of them haven’t eaten for several days. The coastal road from Glandore to Leap was the most important project undertaken. It must have been very difficult to construct, most of it quarried out of the rock. Although Fr. Sheahan praised Barry for his efforts to help the needy, the curate, Fr. Walsh, accused Barry of paying very low wages (sixpence per day).


In February 1847, H.M.S. Tantarus visited several ports in West Cork, calling first to Glandore. Barry gave an account of conditions in the Glandore area, which was published in the Cork Constitution of 11th March, 1847. “Six months ago the place had 2500 inhabitants; now all have died or run away [emigrated]. Fever, dysentery and starvation stare you everywhere … children of nine or ten years old mistaken for decrepit old women”. In the decade of 1841 – 1851, the population of Glandore town fell from 402 to 131 (70% decrease); Rushanes from 265 to 126 (53% decrease); Gortyowen fell from 54 to 8; Carriglusky 51 to 23.


In the Famine years wretched life and hunger came which broke the people’s strenght and spirit. There was nothing to do but to try to stay alive. All fellow feeling was lost. All sport and merriment disappeared. Poetry and singing and dancing were no more. An ancient culture was lost and forgotten and when things improved in other ways, it never came back as it had been. The famine killed everything. In 1847 Ireland was predominantly Irish-speaking outside the cities. Her people were a virile folk, big of body and spirit, exuberant in manner. Their life with their boisterous fairs, the fireside seanchaí, the country dance, the flowing wit and ready song, has lingered in the Gaeltacht up to now. But the Gaeltacht, which covered most of the country side on the Faimne’s eve, shrunk rapidly and a new puritanical, dourer Ireland emerged.