Irish Potato Famine - The Great Hunger - DEATH AND DYING

DEATH AND DYING (Illustration) Civil Rights Famous Historical Events Geography History Social Studies STEM Tragedies and Triumphs World History Disasters

The Irish village of Moveen was one of many places where tenant-farmers were ejected from their homes. With no place to live, no means to earn a living and little-to-no food to feed their families, the predicament of Irish peasants was dire. This image depicts the abandoned village of Moveen, with its many roofless houses, as it appeared in the December 22, 1849 issue of The Illustrated London News. Click on the image for a larger view.


Death, from "The Great Hunger," had descended on the Emerald Isle.

People everywhere were dying. By January 16, 1847, an eyewitness reported reported there were unattended bodies by the roadside and in homes. Surviving family members had neither the strength nor the money to care for their deceased loved ones. Some people were dead as long as 11 days before they were buried.

So many people died the coroners were overwhelmed. Burdened beyond their capacity, they stopped holding inquests for people who died in the streets. Funerals, when they were held, had few mourners. People weren’t strong enough to attend.

There wasn’t enough wood to make coffins. Undertakers developed coffins with sliding bottoms so they could be reused after people were buried in mass graves. Later, the Sliding Cross Memorial was made from one of those temporary boxes.

Mothers who had no food to give their children gave them seaweed. Ireland, the beautiful country with some of the best farm land in the world, had become a place that was littered with bodies and abandoned villages. Families began to think they had no other option but to leave Ireland.

A reporter and artist, working for The Illustrated London News, witnessed an entire village of people who were leaving their homeland.  The story and sketch is in the ILN’s May 10, 1851 issue:

...I came to a sharp turn in the road, in view of that for which we sought, and of which I send you a sketch, namely, the packing and making ready of, I may say, an entire village– for there were not more than half-a-dozen houses on the spot, and all their former inmates were preparing to leave.

Immediately that my rev. friend was recognised, the people gathered about him in the most affectionate manner. He had a word of advice to Pat, a caution to Nelly, a suggestion to Mick; and he made a promise to Dan to take care of the “old woman,” until the five pounds came in the spring to his ‘Reverence’ to send her over to America.

Then ensued a scene of tears and lamentation, such as might have softened a much harder heart than mine or that of the priest. He stood for awhile surrounded by the old and the young, the strong and the infirm, on bended knees, and he turned his moistened eyes towards heaven, and asked the blessing of the Almighty upon the wanderers during their long and weary journey.

Many were the tears brushed quietly away from the sunburnt cheeks of those who there knelt, and had implicit faith that the benediction so fervently and piously asked, would be vouchsafed to them.

Many others who had survived the famine and desperation shared the same thought: 

Leave the country.

Within four years, about 1 million people did just that.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jan 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: May 02, 2019

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"DEATH AND DYING" AwesomeStories.com. Jan 01, 2002. May 31, 2020.
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