The Distress Papers in the National Archives, Ireland, can tell us many stories behind the grim statistics of Famine Ireland.
'Away with tedious formalities, the people must not die'. Thus Fr. James Duffy, Parish Priest of Tydavnet, Co. Monaghan, writing on 15 October 1846 registering his frustration at the delays in implementing the public works schemes in his district.
The works were sanctioned at a meeting of the Barony of Monaghan on 28 September 1846, 'where a considerable sum of money was voted for'. Over two weeks have passed and with hundreds of his parishioners' 'on the verge of starvation' he implores the Lord Lieutenant to act swiftly.
A government official arrived on 13 October and the priest again takes issue with the administrative procedures and ongoing delay:
'That a commissioner from the government came here on Tuesday the thirteenth (October) for the purpose of examining personally into the destitution of each family, with a view to their being employed in the public works. That though he had sat until eight o'clock at night, he could not have got through the examination of one third of the families in a state of immediate destitution.
That many who had only the provision of a few days for the sustenance of life were rejected on the principle that they did not come under the designation of destitute.'
Only one in each family will be permitted on the works,
'no matter how destitute and numerous a family…that this rule of admitting only one of a family is calculated to make an impression on the people that the government employment is a mere mockery; the ordinary wages, given to the government employees, being little more than sufficient to support one individual. What then must become of the other two, four, six, eight, ten or twelve starving members of the family?'
He appeals to the government for immediate help:
'Delay is already doing the work of death; fear has set in and a few days, unless immediate relief be given, will exhibit this district, if not in a state of desolation, at best in that of the utmost anarchy.
Again, he beseeches the government to respond to his urgent pleas for help.
'For Christ's sake send immediate relief; if not, a few posts, it is to be feared, will convey to your excellency the melancholy intelligence of the death by starvation of many of your countrymen, or what is worse, if possible, an indiscriminate disregard of property with its fearful consequences'.
Source: National Archives of Ireland, CSORP FAMINE DISTRESS PAPERS 1846 D6711/0001/0002/0003; Letter is transcribed in the Clogher Record, 2001, pp. 460-461
Find out more about the Distress Papers and what they contain here.