Irish Potato Famine - Begging Mothers

Irish Potato Famine - Begging Mothers Ethics Nineteenth Century Life Civil Rights Famous Historical Events Social Studies Visual Arts World History Disasters

In early 1847, the editors of The Illustrated London News (ILN) wanted to provide accurate information for their readers on conditions in Ireland.  They recruited one of their artists, James Mahoney, to take a trip, draw pictures and report what he found in an unbiased way.

ILN’s February 13, 1847 issue includes the details of Mahoney’s assignment:

With the object of ascertaining the accuracy of the frightful statements received from the West [of Ireland], and of placing them in unexaggerated fidelity before our readers, a few days since, we commissioned our Artist, Mr. James Mahoney, of Cork, to visit a seat of extreme suffering, viz., Skibbereen and its vicinity; and we now submit to our readers the graphic results of his journey, accompanied by such descriptive notes as he was enabled to collect whilst sketching the fearful incidents and desolate localities; premising merely, that our Artist must already have been somewhat familiar with such scenes of suffering in his own locality, (Cork), so that he cannot be supposed to have taken an extreme view of the greater misery at Skibbereen.

In other words, the ILN hired Mahoney (who was already living in a famine-ravaged part of Ireland) to report what he observed.  Among other things, Mahoney describes his drawing of a distraught woman from Clonakilty:

I started from Cork, by the mail (says our informant), for Skibbereen and saw little until we came to Clonakilty, where the coach stopped for breakfast; and here, for the first time, the horrors of the poverty became visible, in the vast number of famished poor, who flocked around the coach to beg alms: amongst them was a woman carrying in her arms the corpse of a fine child, and making the most distressing appeal to the passengers for aid to enable her to purchase a coffin and bury her dear little baby.

This horrible spectacle induced me to make some inquiry about her, when I learned from the people of the hotel that each day brings dozens of such applicants into the town.

As the ILN learned, a national catastrophe was, in fact, spreading throughout Ireland.

Media Credits

Sketch by James Mahoney, in the Illustrated London News (February 13, 1847), from the news article "Sketches in the West of Ireland."  Online, courtesy Vassar College.




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"Irish Potato Famine - Begging Mothers" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Jan 29, 2020.
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