David M. Quinn

It May Be Forever: An Irish Rebel on the American Frontier

Irish Potato Famine — Related Excerpts

The townland of Cloonfower, which means “meadow of the spring,” sits on the western edge of Kilkeevin Parish, in the County of Roscommon. Blotched by bog land, the district produced more turf than crops. Where good land could be found, it was often devoted to grazing. Still, the potato was the staple for the Quinns, as it was for over three million peasants in Ireland. This was most unfortunate as the country was reeling from the partial failure of the previous potato harvest. Ireland’s great hunger had begun, though it was not yet recognized as such. Its full horror had yet to fall upon the land...

Then in August of 1846, in the course of a few days, the new crop of potatoes turned. The plants blackened and collapsed, unleashing a sickening odor from lazybeds across the breadth of the country. Fully three quarters of the nation’s crop was laid waste. Fear and confusion gripped families as the specter of famine crouched in the dark corners beside their hearths...

Centuries of confiscation and colonization had left most of the native Irish with no land of their own. In Roscommon, nearly all the land was owned by a handful of British proprietors...

As the worried priest traveled his parish, he had seen much evidence of the growing hunger and homelessness. Whereas only a few families in the parish had been ruined last year, now virtually all were severely impoverished. Dressed in little more than rags, they scavenged the fields for charlock and nettles to make their meager soups. A realization of impending doom imprinted the faces of his parishioners like a brand...

The new year, 1847, brought on the worst stage of Ireland’s famine. Starvation, sickness, and emigration were erasing whole communities...

Now the British government in London was bent upon lowering the cost of Irish relief. Expressing concern over the potential for abuses, they cancelled all funding for “make-work” projects. Rather it was determined that direct provision of food should replace public works. District Relief Committees were ordered to establish outdoor soup kitchens in the major towns to feed the hungry masses. Initially the promised food was not available due to delays in locating and securing the necessary staples. When food did finally arrive, the quantities were woefully inadequate. Food prices had been driven to treacherous heights as Irish traders insisted upon the freedom to ship their commodities to the highest bidder and opposed any importations that would collapse their heady profits. Absent leadership by the government, great quantities of Irish wheat, barley, and oats were exported to England, under armed guard, throughout the famine years...

The English Parliament had decreed that no relief, whether open air or workhouse based, should be allowed to any person or family employing greater than one-quarter of an acre of land. The regulation forced many Irish to choose between their homes and food. Some peasants put their own cabins to the torch to qualify for the sparse relief being offered. It became increasingly evident that the propertied interests would see the land cleared of its surplus cottiers and way made for cattle and sheep...

The workhouse at Castlerea had been built two years prior. It was designed to house nine hundred souls, giving temporary shelter, food, and labor to the indigent. But there had been no anticipation of famine with its numbers, sickness, and the inability of inmates to work. The workhouses of Ireland were administered under a punitive philosophy, aimed at discouraging malingerers and the undeserving.

Families were separated according to gender and age. Typhoid fever and dysentery made admission nearly a guarantee of contagion. Fully eight hundred thirty of the current nine hundred and ninety inhabitants were so stricken. The Master and Matron of the house had recently died of the fever. Its medical officer had left town in such a hurry that he neglected to collect his wage...

Sad, ragged figures populated these yards—females and the very young on the left, men and boys on the right. Most inmates, however, were not well enough to use the exercise yards, despite the clement weather. Those not down with fever were often too weak from the meager diet of bread and “stirabout.” ...

Irish Potato Famine - Related Excerpts

A three-storied residence building ran nearly the width of the compound. On its ground floor were the day rooms where the few who were able were required to work. The upper floors served as great open dormitories. Behind the residence were the dining hall, the chapel, the laundry and the kitchen. At the very rear of the compound was an infirmary, a ward for those deemed idiots, a small mortuary, and the toilet block...

By 1850, the scale of what had occurred in the previous four years had become hugely visible to Britain and to the world. County Roscommon alone had lost, through death and emigration, wholly one third of its population. The degree of devastation varied around the country but, in total, about three million were gone. While both Lord Lorton and William Wills-Sandford had engaged in clearances through eviction, they nevertheless undertook personal initiatives to assist their remaining tenants. Subscriptions for aid to the poor of Roscommon, however, went unanswered by most of those of means...

Above related excerpts are from the book It May Be Forever by David M. Quinn concerning the Irish potato famine.

It May Be Forever: An Irish Rebel on the American Frontier

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It May Be Forever An Irish American Rebel on the American Frontier

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Rising from famine, child labor in England’s textile mills, and a foiled Irish rebellion to eventual prosperity on the American frontier, Michael Quinn lost love, friendship, and family in his single-minded pursuit of fortune. Only a dramatic encounter with a Lakota holy man provides the catalyst for personal redemption

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