The Silent Famine of Athenry

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The Great Famine (1845-49) marked a turning point in Irish history.  In 1845 the population of Ireland was over eight million; by 1851 it had fallen by two million – one  million of these people died of starvation or disease and another million managed to emigrate. An article in the Tuam Herald of 2/5/1846 entitled ‘what is to be done for Ireland’ presents a startling but true picture. ‘The people are starving – they want employment – food to enable them to work – work to enable them to pay for food. Ireland is on the point of anarchy if her people be not fed.’ How did the parish of Athenry fare in this great catastrophe? As Athenry had no workhouse there are no specific records. A list of  public works for the repairs of roads and fences at Moyode, Boyhill, Lodge, Rockville, Kingsland, which would give employment to the poor, is the only mention of Athenry in the Tuam Herald of 2/5/1846.

Loughrea workhouse served Athenry and it was extended in 1847, as the original buildings to serve 800 people was unable to cater for the huge influx of  starving people. It is reasonable to assume that some of these people came from the Parish of Athenry. We can only try to trace some of the story from the Census of 1841 and 1851.

According to census figures the population of Athenry Parish dropped by almost 25% between 1841 and 1851.  In the Barony of Clare, which comprises the 25  townlands of Ballinloughaun, Ballybackagh, Ballybrone, Ballyglass, Barnaboy, Barretspark, Caherbriscaun, Carraunduff, Carnmore, Coshla, Castlelambert, Cloonavaddoge, Coolarne, Cussaun, Deerpark, Derrymaclaughna, Kilskeagh, Knocknacreeva, Lisheenkyle East, Lisheenkyle West, Mirah, Moor, Peakroe, Pollagooil, and Tobbernaveen, the population of 1,277 in 1841 was reduced to 641 in 1851 (almost 50%). In 1851 there were no people at all living in the townlands of Carraunduff, Carnmore, Coshla, and Pollagooil.

The Barony of Dunkellin which has only seven townlands – Coldwood, Derrydonnellbeg, Derrydonnell North, Mountain West, Moyveela, Palmerstown and Shantallow, dropped from 520 in 1841 to 401 in 1851 (23% reduction). Derrydonnellbeg reduced from a  population of 157 in 1841 to 21 in 1851.There were no houses or people living in Derrydonnell North in 1841  but by 1851 there were eight houses and 46 people.

The town of Athenry actually increased in population from 1236 in 1841 to 1487 in 1851 (increase of 20%).  In times of crises people very often desert the countryside in the hope of finding work in towns or cities.  The rural area of Athenry dropped from 2,956 people in 1841 to 1,976 in 1851 (34% reduction).

The worst affected townlands were Mountain North, which had a population of 101 and Fahys’ village, which had 25 in 1841; these were totally depopulated in 1851.

Montpelier dropped from 88 to 32, Tobberoe from 77 to 13, Moanbaun from 70 to 23, and St Ellens from 51 to 10.

Behind these cold statistics lies the personal story of the famine in Athenry.  It   is not recorded – has anybody got a story of his or her own townland?  Let us try to  record any oral memories which still exist of this sad event before we pass into the 21st century.

The late John Hanley, Kingsland, told me that relations of his – Monaghans – were evicted from Moanbaun and his grandfather got them a place in Backpark, where the family lived up to recent times.

Moanbaun, which consisted of 601 acres, was part of Newford Estate of 2556 acres, owned by Robert Whaley. It was offered for sale under the sale of Encumbered Estates Act on 13th January 1852.

Castlelambert Estate comprising 4,686 acres was also for sale on 14th June 1855.  Clorane and Mulpit owned by Francis Bruen, who also had estates in Carlow and Wexford, was for sale on 14th June 1866.

Other landlords were Jonathan Corbishey who owned or leased all Rathmorissey; Maurice Colles who owned Polnagroagh, Stephen Roche who owned Caheroyan, and Ballydavid South.

Robert French owned Caherfinisker, Derrydonnellmore and Greethill; Thomas Kelly owned Blean and John Lopdell owned Raheen.  William V. Hickman was landlord of a large number of properties in Chapel Street, (now Old Church Sreett), most of Chapel   Lane, some properties in Court Lane, Mc Donald’s Lane, Barrack Lane, Cross Street, and Clarke St, while Hon. B Sewell owned approximately half of Cross St, Bridge St, Court Lane, and Barrack Lane.

Let us try to uncover some of the real live history behind the sparse recorded facts. Please contact me with any stories or memories!

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About this record

Written by Murial Nolan

Published here 08 Feb 2021 and originally published 1999

Page 166 of the The Lamberts of Athenry Book archive.

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