Athy during the Famine
Oxford, March 1, 1847.
Below is an extract from
"Narrative of a Journey from Oxford to Skibbereen During the Year of the Irish
By Lord Dufferin and The Hon. G. G. Boyle.
We have just returned from a visit to Ireland, whither we had gone in order to ascertain
with our own eyes the truth of the reports daily publishing of the misery existing there.
We have found everything but too true; the accounts are not exaggerated--they cannot be
exaggerated-- nothing more frightful can be conceived. The scenes we have witnessed during
our short stay at Skibbereen, equal any thing that has been recorded by history, or could
be conceived by the imagination. Famine, typhus fever, dysentery, and a disease hitherto
unknown, are sweeping away the whole population. The poor are not the only sufferers:
fever is spreading to every class, and even the rich are becoming involved in the same
A detailed account of our expedition will probably afford you some satisfaction. We left
Oxford on Friday evening, and reached Dublin late on Saturday night. Our time being
limited, we had originally determined to go no farther than to some of the counties near
the capital; but upon mentioning our intention to an Irish friend, we were advised to
proceed at once to Skibbereen, in the county of Cork, which was reported to be the very
nucleus of famine and disease. Finding, however, that the Cork coach did not start till
eleven o'clock on Monday, we thought it would be as well to run down early in the morning
to a village about 45 miles distant from Dublin, where the coach would overtake us later
in the day. The name of this village was Athy. Upon our arrival there, we proceeded
through the principal streets, and learning that a Soup kitchen had been recently
established, we determined to visit it. Here we ascertained that the population of Athy
has been divided into districts, to the poor of which tickets are issued, entitling them
to two meals of Soup in the week. Above a thousand poor persons mainly look to this
kitchen for support. Had we stopped at Athy, one would have brought back to England
sorrowful intelligence enough, but not so bad as is usually represented in the newspapers.
There were misery and hunger it is true, some deaths too had occurred, but still the
village seemed brisk and lively, more distressed than famished. Perhaps the tenfold deeper
misery which succeeded, has thrown a more cheerful aspect over this spot. By the time we
had finished our enquiries and visited the different districts, the coach had arrived; and
at two o'clock we were crossing the bridge out of Athy. It was six on Tuesday morning,
before we reached Cork; nothing very particular had occurred during the journey; we had
passed several places where the roads were very much cut up, and gaunt, sickly men were
languidly hammering stones by the way-side; these were the public works. At the end of
every stage, the coach was surrounded by crowds of wretched creatures begging for
something to eat, wan little faces thrusting themselves in at the window, praying
"the kind gentleman just for one ha'penny to buy a penn'orth of bread.".....