OSullivan & Paddy Kelly - Beara Famine Victims
The Great Famine of Ireland struck as a result of the failure
of the potato crop in the autumn of 1845. The Beara peninsula
was not exempt from the horrors that inevitably accompanied
it. The present generation of Berehaveners cannot realise
the appaling conditions that prevailed there at that time.
The people had no voice in public affairs, they were treated
like serfs, with the shadow of eviction always darkening
their doors. The landlords and the Gombeen shopkeeper
exacted their pound of flesh. The people were helpless and
starving. The famine of 1845-50 left its mark on Beara as
well as West Cork in general, as the following story tells.
Tadhg OSullivan was an honest man who lived in Adrigole
at the foot of Hungry Hill. He had a small farm which he
rented at a high rent, and he kept a small potato garden
to feed his family of seven. Like many others in that area,
he would go out fishing to supplement the family diet. Most
of the produce from the land would be sold to pay his rent
to the landlord: otherwise the bailiff and his men would
come along and evict them and wreck the house. Times were
hard and they were to get harder still.
When harvest time came, Tadhg went to his small patch of
potatoes that usually kept his family fed during the long
winter until spring returned, and he could plant anew. When
Tadhg dug up the earth, instead of the crop of potatoes
he expected , there was nothing but a black slimy mess.
There wasnt a potato there, nothing for the coming
He had sold all his other crops to pay the landlord his
rent. It was the same for all his neighbours, and all were
in for a hard winter. Tadhg sold off everything they owned
as the weeks passed, and himself and one of his sons, Danny
went looking for work. There was only relief work
available which the Government had started to help the poor
people who were beginning to starve.
This was the work of building roads to nowhere, and walls
enclosing barren and unusable land, except for mountain
sheep, up to the top of the hills. This work paid very little
but it was either that or go to the Workhouse for poor Tadhg
and his family, so he and Danny went to work building the
road. They worked all day, and it was a long day, and they
were exhausted at the end of it. As they walked wearily
along, they came to Hungry Hill and had to cross over a
small patch of grass to order to continue their journey
But as soon as their feet hit the grass, they were struck
by severe pangs of hunger and they cried out for assistance,
but nobody heard them. They came so overcome with weakness
they lay down on the grass and, shortly after, they died.
In the meantime, Tadhgs wife and six other children
were waiting at home for the breadwinners to return, but
they had been struck by the fever caused by the lack of
food. In a matter of days the whole of Tadhgs family
perished and what few neighbours they had buried them in
a communal pit.
Some time later, the bodies of Tadhg and Danny were found
near Hungry Hill, frozen to the ground with a look of helpless
resignation on their faces.
Another story often told in Beara is that of Norry Kelly,
who was also known as Norry na Bunmahon! When Allihies copper
mines shut down during the famine years one of the miners
working there was Paddy Kelly. Paddy left to seek work in
the Waterford copper mines at Bunmahon, telling his wife
Norry that if she didnt hear from him within a couple
of weeks to follow him there.
After a couple of weeks she didnt hear from Paddy,
Norry started off on the road to Bunmahon, a distance of
150 miles, with her seven children. When she reached Bunmahon
with only three of the children sill alive, the other four
having died on the journey, she was told the her husband
Paddy had been buried the day before.
Norry turned, raving and crying, to take the road back to
Beara. Her three remaining children died on the way home,
and when she arrived in Castletownbere, the dead baby was
still on her back. Norry spent the rest of her days rambling
the roads and praying that God would give back her children,
and with her hands pile up seven little heaps and put flowers
on them, crying out to God all the time.
In the face of a million stories like these, people wonder
that the Irish people do not take more kindly to foreign
rule, and do not appreciate this character of benevolent
Courtesy of the Southern Star
16th July 2005