The Famine Years in An Rinn 1845 - 1850

As I sit and listen to the news and shows on television about “An Gorta”, the Famine years in Ireland, I immediately think of my ancestors and wonder how they survived without potatoes when the blight occurred. In stark contrast is life nowadays when we throw our food out the back door for the birds to feed on. I can almost hear in my inner soul the cries of the people with nothing to live on when they realised that their potatoes were inedible.
I spoke to my grandparents and asked them for some information about the famine. One line my grandpa spoke to me was, “I Reilig an tSléibhe tá na céadta acu treascartha.” This was a line from a famine poem by a great poet in the area of An Rinn (‘Ring’) called Máire Ní Dhroma. This poem is called, Amhrán na bPrátaí Dubha. Any time I read it now I think of the pain they must have gone through and it brings a little more than a tear or two to my eyes.
There was an increase in the population of An Rinn before the Famine but it fell again from 2,591 to 1,841 in the year 1851.
It has often been said to me that the people of An Rinn did not suffer as badly as other parts of the country because fishing provided a good source of nourishment. Unfortunately with the famine came bad weather. This meant that the fishermen could not take to sea in their little boats.
As a result of bad weather and the famine a lot of the fishermen had to use their fishing equipment and their boats as a deposit to buy food. On one or two occasions they even had to burn their boats in order to have some fuel.
The houses were very badly furnished and imagine the thoughts our ancestors must have had when going to sleep at night. “Where am I going to get something to eat? How am I going to live another day?
In the year 1846 the amount of seaworthy boats in Baile na nGall (near An Rinn) was down to eight. The people were at this time beginning to get fever and dysentery. I hate to think of anyone living in this kind of situation. I once heard a story from my grandparents in Lemybrien of a man who came across four small children under a rug crying and dying with the hunger. Unfortunately all those children died shortly after.
Things started to look up for the people of An Rinn when Reverend Alcock got some help from the Society of Friends. This society gave approximately 178 loans to purchase new boats and trammels. The reason for this was to help fight the famine. This money was used for repairs and new equipment for boats. After about one month these men began to pay back their loans.
By October 1847 the crews of 48 boats were able to support their families. From then on the people of An Rinn began to see a small light at the end of a long harsh tunnel.

©: Máiréad Breathnach, the Dungarvan Leader, Friday, February 17, 1995. We are grateful to the author and to the Editor for permission to reproduce it.

Published in The Green Dragon No 3, June 1997.