The Death of a Family

The famine came and Síle and her father and her mother and little Diarmaidín had to go down to Macroom and go into the poorhouse.
As soon as they were inside they were all separated from each other.

The father was placed with the men.
The mother was put with the women.
Síle was put with the small girls.
Little Diarmaidín was put with the youngest children of all.

The whole place and all the poor people there was ridden with wretched sicknesses of every kind. The people, almost as soon as they arrived, became sick and they died as fast as they became infected. There wasn’t room for half their number and those who could not get in had no choice but to lie on the riverbank.
You would see them there every morning, stretched out in rows, some stirring and others lying motionless.
After a while the motionless ones would be gathered up and put into carts. They would then be taken up to a place near Carraig an Staighre, where a huge wide trench had been opened up for them and they would be put into the trench together. Those who had died in the poorhouse during the night would receive the same treatment.
Not long after they had entered the poorhouse, and after being separated from his mother, death came to Diarmaidín. The little body was thrown into the cart, taken to the trench and thrown in among the other bodies.
It was not long afterwards that Síle followed Diarmaidín.
The father and mother asked as often as they could about Síle and Diarmaidín. The two were not long dead when they heard about it. They decided to get out of the place. Cáit was the woman’s name.
Pádraig slipped out of the place first. He waited for Cáit on the road. After a while he saw her approaching, but she was walking very slowly. The sickness was on her.
They made their way on up towards Carraig an Staighre. They came to where the huge trench was. They knew that the two children were down there in the trench, along with hundreds of other bodies. They stood by the trench and wept their fill. Their cabin was up in Doire Liath. So they made their way towards it – six miles to go and the night falling. They were hungry and Cáit was sick with the fever. They had to walk very slowly. After a couple of miles they had to stop. Cáit could go no further.
A neighbour met them and gave them something to eat and drink, but everyone was afraid to give them shelter because they had come from the poorhouse and the woman was sick with the fever. Pádraig put her on his back and pressed on towards the cabin.
The poor man was weak enough and it would have been hard for him to complete the journey without any kind of load. With the weight he was carrying he had to stop often and rest his load on the side of the road for a while. But no matter how weary he was he carried on. He did not abandon his burden.
They reached their cabin. It was empty and cold, without fire or heat.
The next morning a neighbour came by and entered the cabin. He saw the two inside. They were both dead. Pádraig had his wife’s two feet against his chest as if he had been trying to warm them. It seems that he had realised that Cáit was dying and that her feet were cold so he had put them on his chest to draw the chill out of them.
Thousands of similar things were done all over Ireland at that time and no one looked on them as being special in any way. In the eyes of everyone Pádraig Ó Buachalla had done no more than what any man worthy of being called a Christian would have done.


Translated and adapted from the book, Mo Scéal Féin (‘My Own Story’) by an tAthair Peadar Ó Laoghaire (Father Peadar Ó Laoghaire, 1839 – 1920) by the Wales Famine Forum.
It is stock at the Cardiff Central Library as part of the John Breese Collection

As a mark of respect the names of the family members and of the places linked with their deaths have been left in the Irish language they would have used among themselves.

Sa Ghaeilge / In Irish.

Yn y Gymraeg / In Welsh.

The John Breese Collection Part 3.

Baile / Home / Hafan.