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The Great Famine and Scariff Workhouse
East Clare historian Ger Madden who has written an new book "The Annals Of The Poor" Scariff Workhouse Union Counties Clare And Galway (1839-1851) pictured in the old workhouse burial ground at Bodyke. Photograph by John Kelly.

The Great Famine and Scariff Workhouse

THE Annals of the Poor: Scariff Workhouse Union Counties Clare and Galway 1839-1851 will be launched this Sunday in Scariff by John Minogue, assistant principal of St Flannan’s College. The MC is Colm Madden.

Gerard chose to conduct research and write this book because so little was known about the workhouse in Scariff and very little has been documented about it. Although he, together with Michael O’Gorman, published a book on workhouses in 1974, this book is a chronological account and references records that have only since been made available online in the last 15 years and, in particular, the work of Dr Richard Robert Madden.
Dr Madden, no relation of Gerard’s, offered up a first-hand account of life in the Scariff Workhouse and his reports shed a lot of light on what was happening there, particularly with regard the diet of the inmates and mortality rates there.

“His work was really important. He visited the actual workhouse; he visited Kilrush as well. In a statement on October 1850, there were something like 2,008 inmates. Half of the inmates were female and most of them would have been of childbearing age. He said not one single child survived. It was absolutely shocking. It wasn’t just a figure out of his head – he went on and explained why, that it was because of the diet because the mother couldn’t even live on the diet, never mind have a child,” Gerard said.

Dr Madden also stated that human life could not be contained long on the diet given to the poor in the great majority of Irish workhouses.

The diet of the men in Scariff consisted of eight ounces of meal in porridge and half a pint of milk at breakfast, 16 ounces of bread and two pints of soup for dinner.
The women got seven ounces of meal in porridge and half a pint of new milk for breakfast and 12oz of bread and one and a half pints of soup for dinner.

He noted, “The food was not sufficient to support life.”

Dr Madden stated, “In Scariff and its auxiliaries, there were, at the beginning of September 1850, 2,008 inmates, of which number 1,088 were in the parent house and the females in proportion to males nearly two to one.

“All infants born in the parent house die – and, if they remain some time in the house, generally within 12 months of the time of birth. It is the same in the auxillaries; the infants born in them all die. It can only be accounted for that they all perish on account of the insufficiency of the accommodation for the living in women and the insufficiency and the unfitness of the food for them.”

Gerard said Dr Madden “made a brilliant statement”, which is quoted in the book. It reads, “It may be sometimes forgotten but should never be unknown, that there is but one law of God for the observance of all rulers, and the protection of the poor of all climes; and when that law is signally violated in their persons, there is no amount of sophistry that can fritter away the responsibility or guilt of a great crime against humanity.”

“It is as apt today as it was then,” Gerard said, adding that Scariff Workhouse was one of the first in the county, and in the country, to open.

“I think, when it opened, there were just six people and, for the first four years, nothing at all really happened there, other than maybe complaining about the smoke in the kitchen, which would have been a fire,” he said.

However, he explained that, from January 27, 1847, when Henry Labouchere, the chief secretary of Ireland, said Ireland was free from the fever that followed the Famine, the accounts in Scariff could not have been more to the contrary.

“It was only starting in this area at that stage. 1847, 1848 and 1849, they were the disaster years,” Gerard said.

He outlines in the book that, by January 1848, there were 1,979 individuals in workhouse accommodation and 6,771 on outdoor relief in a workhouse built to accommodate 600.
By April of that year, deaths in the workhouse were averaging 10 per day. By June, five carpenters were employed daily to make coffins.

Through his research, Gerard located “a huge piece of genealogical work that has never been published before”.

“The deaths and causes of deaths were registered in the parish of Killuran during the Famine. It is the only place to date that I have found in Ireland where deaths were recorded during the famine and where the cause of death was also recorded. Killuran is the present-day parish of O’Callaghan’s Mills and it was in the Scariff Union at the time,” he said.

It is not known exactly how many died in Scariff during the Famine, but Gerard says the figure of 8,000 would be a “conservative estimate”. As a historian, he said the cause of deaths noted in Killuran made for some fascinating, yet harrowing, reading.

“There were no coroners’ reports. Interestingly, there were very few deaths down to actual starvation, a lot were down to diseases associated with the Famine. Another aspect of it was that no one died by suicide. I couldn’t imagine a husband and wife sitting around in a hovel, with their three children, and they all died there in the hovel, one after the other. Suicide was a mortal sin and to be buried without a coffin was worse – you were an animal if you were buried without a coffin. That was why a lot of them went into the workhouse, to get a coffin,” Gerard outlined.

He added that the East Clare community has for the past 20 years maintained the Casaoireach Famine Memorial Park in Tuamgraney, “the only memorial park in the country that is a proper full famine memorial park”.

He explained that thousands were buried in this graveyard and the trenches can still be seen.

“There is only one headstone in the whole graveyard, to a Mary Kerrigan, who died in 1859. It has never been disturbed in 150 years,” Gerard pointed out.

He explained that his own fascination with this period of time is associated with his own family, who survived the Famine in the Scariff Union.

“We survived on turnips and fish, mainly pike. I always appreciate the fact that we did survive it and didn’t have to emigrate. We didn’t walk on anyone to survive it. We were poor tenant farmers at the time,” he said.

Some remnants of the old workhouse still remain in Scariff, at the site of the Scariff Creamery, where the porters’ quarters have survived the test of time. There are also some sections of the walls and an iron gate dating back to the workhouse. However, illustrating the book was always going to prove challenging.

Gerard engaged the help of Paul Berg, who is Dutch but living locally, to illustrate the book.

“I was having great difficulty getting photographs for it because there are only two buildings, belonging to the workers, that have survived. Paul, who also did the illustrations on my last book, built the illustrations on what was in the book and he did an excellent job of it,” he said.

Gerard said one great example was the illustration relating to the death of the workhouse horse.

“There was more said about that and about how they were going to replace him than there was about anyone else who died in the workhouse and Paul did an illustration about that. They nearly put up a monument to the horse,” he said.

The book also outlines that the Famine continued far longer in the Scariff Poor Law Union than most other places in Ireland.

The Annals of the Poor: Scariff Workhouse Union Counties Clare and Galway 1839-1851 offers up a chronological history of the workhouse union. All are invited to attend the launch at Rodger’s, Scariff, on Sunday evening at 5pmIrish workhouses.

The diet of the men in Scariff consisted of eight ounces of meal in porridge and half a pint of milk at breakfast, 16 ounces of bread and two pints of soup for dinner.The women got seven ounces of meal in porridge and half a pint of new milk for breakfast and 12oz of bread and one and a half pints of soup for dinner.

He noted, “The food was not sufficient to support life.”

Dr Madden stated, “In Scariff and its auxiliaries, there were, at the beginning of September 1850, 2,008 inmates, of which number 1,088 were in the parent house and the females in proportion to males nearly two to one.

“All infants born in the parent house die – and, if they remain some time in the house, generally within 12 months of the time of birth. It is the same in the auxillaries; the infants born in them all die. It can only be accounted for that they all perish on account of the insufficiency of the accommodation for the living in women and the insufficiency and the unfitness of the food for them.”

Gerard said Dr Madden “made a brilliant statement”, which is quoted in the book. It reads, “It may be sometimes forgotten but should never be unknown, that there is but one law of God for the observance of all rulers, and the protection of the poor of all climes; and when that law is signally violated in their persons, there is no amount of sophistry that can fritter away the responsibility or guilt of a great crime against humanity.”

“It is as apt today as it was then,” Gerard said, adding that Scariff Workhouse was one of the first in the county, and in the country, to open.

“I think, when it opened, there were just six people and, for the first four years, nothing at all really happened there, other than maybe complaining about the smoke in the kitchen, which would have been a fire,” he said.

However, he explained that, from January 27, 1847, when Henry Labouchere, the chief secretary of Ireland, said Ireland was free from the fever that followed the Famine, the accounts in Scariff could not have been more to the contrary.

“It was only starting in this area at that stage. 1847, 1848 and 1849, they were the disaster years,” Gerard said.

He outlines in the book that, by January 1848, there were 1,979 individuals in workhouse accommodation and 6,771 on outdoor relief in a workhouse built to accommodate 600.
By April of that year, deaths in the workhouse were averaging 10 per day. By June, five carpenters were employed daily to make coffins.

Through his research, Gerard located “a huge piece of genealogical work that has never been published before”.

“The deaths and causes of deaths were registered in the parish of Killuran during the Famine. It is the only place to date that I have found in Ireland where deaths were recorded during the famine and where the cause of death was also recorded. Killuran is the present-day parish of O’Callaghan’s Mills and it was in the Scariff Union at the time,” he said.

It is not known exactly how many died in Scariff during the Famine, but Gerard says the figure of 8,000 would be a “conservative estimate”. As a historian, he said the cause of deaths noted in Killuran made for some fascinating, yet harrowing, reading.

“There were no coroners’ reports. Interestingly, there were very few deaths down to actual starvation, a lot were down to diseases associated with the Famine. Another aspect of it was that no one died by suicide. I couldn’t imagine a husband and wife sitting around in a hovel, with their three children, and they all died there in the hovel, one after the other. Suicide was a mortal sin and to be buried without a coffin was worse – you were an animal if you were buried without a coffin. That was why a lot of them went into the workhouse, to get a coffin,” Gerard outlined.

He added that the East Clare community has for the past 20 years maintained the Casaoireach Famine Memorial Park in Tuamgraney, “the only memorial park in the country that is a proper full famine memorial park”.

He explained that thousands were buried in this graveyard and the trenches can still be seen.

“There is only one headstone in the whole graveyard, to a Mary Kerrigan, who died in 1859. It has never been disturbed in 150 years,” Gerard pointed out.

He explained that his own fascination with this period of time is associated with his own family, who survived the Famine in the Scariff Union.

“We survived on turnips and fish, mainly pike. I always appreciate the fact that we did survive it and didn’t have to emigrate. We didn’t walk on anyone to survive it. We were poor tenant farmers at the time,” he said.

Some remnants of the old workhouse still remain in Scariff, at the site of the Scariff Creamery, where the porters’ quarters have survived the test of time. There are also some sections of the walls and an iron gate dating back to the workhouse. However, illustrating the book was always going to prove challenging.

Gerard engaged the help of Paul Berg, who is Dutch but living locally, to illustrate the book.

“I was having great difficulty getting photographs for it because there are only two buildings, belonging to the workers, that have survived. Paul, who also did the illustrations on my last book, built the illustrations on what was in the book and he did an excellent job of it,” he said.

Gerard said one great example was the illustration relating to the death of the workhouse horse.

“There was more said about that and about how they were going to replace him than there was about anyone else who died in the workhouse and Paul did an illustration about that. They nearly put up a monument to the horse,” he said.

The book also outlines that the Famine continued far longer in the Scariff Poor Law Union than most other places in Ireland.

The Annals of the Poor: Scariff Workhouse Union Counties Clare and Galway 1839-1851 offers up a chronological history of the workhouse union. All are invited to attend the launch at Rodger’s, Scariff, on this Sunday evening at 5pm.

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