The Great Famine which devastated Ireland between 1845 and 1850 was certainly the most terrible tragedy ever to occur in Ireland.
Sligo Town and County were particularly badly hit with more than 52,000 local people either dying of starvation or disease, or through emigration in a five year period.
Amongst the causes of the famine was the failure of the potato crop, a cheap, easily grown, vitamin packed food which was the stable food of most of the population of Ireland at the time.
News of the disease came in 1853 from newspapers which carried news from America of a disease which was attacking potatoes there.
Two years later, in June 1845, reports were coming in the Belgium and other European countries of the same disease which was attacking their potato crops.
The disease finally spread to England in August 1845 and to Ireland during the following month, though the extent to which the disease had effected the Irish crop was not evident until the crop’s were being dug up during the month of October.
Initially the disease had no name, though it was known as “the potato blight”, “the rot”, “distemper” or “the blackness” and eminent botanists were unable to either identify the disease or to find a remedy for it.
During the month of November, the Poor Law Guardians reported that the disease was widespread, with a half of the total crop of potatoes in Ireland being lost, even potatoes which were in good condition whilst being dug, were rendered useless after only three weeks due to the disease catching hold of them.
Amongst the hardest hit were the landless labourers who were unable to purchase food to feed their families, nor pay for a passage to the “new world“.
The Famine Monument (co-ordinates 54.27370 -8.47700), which is located opposite The Harp Tavern in Quay Street, and was erected here in July 1997 in memory of all those who died and suffered during the famine,
including the passengers aboard numerous ships bringing emigrants to a new life in America and Canada, including those who lost their lives aboard the Carrick of Whitehaven (the remains of which are pictured left) which ran aground off the coast of Quebec in April 1847, killing 119 of the 187 passengers aboard, most of them emigrants from Lord Palmerston‘s estate.
The monument depicts a family in the depths of despair, starving and with no hope for the future, yet the child, a young girl can be seen pointing towards the ships, one of which would carry them to a new life in America or Canada.
The plaque on the monument reads as follows:
‘Letter to America, January 2, 1850’
I am now I may say alone in the world all my brothers and sisters are dead and children but yourself… We are all ejected out of Mr Enright‘s ground the times was so bad and all Ireland in such a state of poverty that no person could pay rent. My only hope now rests with you, as I am without one shilling and as I said before I must either beg or go to the poorhouse… I remain your affectionate father Owen Larkin be sure answer this by return of post.