Thursday, April 24, 2014

Famine Houses

We drove from Sligo through County Mayo to Westport and the route was covered with famine houses. Being new to the area and country, we wondered about all these abandoned ruins that obviously dated back a few hundred years. Our host Maeve told us there are famine houses all across the country especially in the counties where farming was the primary source of food for the people. When the Great Famine hit in 1845, food was being shipped to England while the Irish began to starve. England turned a blind eye to the folks who were tenants on their land. The Irish folks sustained on potatoes while the other harvest foods were shipped to England. So when the blight hit the potato crop in 1845, folks began to starve. Folks became too weak to plant thus were evicted by English landlords from their one room houses on the English held land. Those who were not tenants and had their own piece of land planted and replanted their potato crops only to watch their crops turn black and rot in the ground. By 1847 (The Black Year) half of the population of Ireland were dying from starvation and disease as a result of bodies rotting in the roads. So many families were lost. Entire families died in their homes, on the roads and were buried where they died. I read that the priests begged the landlords to help the people and the Quakers even collected money for soup pots but even that practice was tainted with greed. England brought in Indian corn from America and the merchants sold it for such inflated prices that no one could afford to buy it.Those who did not die in their homes, walked away from their homes and villages to go to America, Australia and Canada by way of coffin ships where half died in route. I wondered why the houses still remain and though you will see other houses built around the famine houses and the land used for farming, the famine houses remain. Maeve told us the Irish were very superstitious. (Which I knew growing up in my own Irish family). I cannot describe the feeling I had while we passed all these houses and cemeteries. I can tell you how it impacted me. It was as if I could hear the moaning of the people who once occupied these homes who suffered and died such horrible deaths and for those who manged to survive such horror (my own family) and move on to rebuild their lives whether in a new country or in the country of their birth.

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