William Loney R.N. - Irish famine
William Loney R.N. - Irish famine

William Loney R.N.DocumentsLetterbook

The following extracts from William Loney's reports [not included in his letter book] to the British Association for the relief of the extreme Distress in Ireland & Scotland are taken from Appendix 'A' to the Report, published in 1849, with which the Association was wound up.

Extracts from the Reports of Dr. Loney, R.N. Agent for the District of Sligo, Leitrim, and Barony of Boyle.

Sligo, May 10, 1847.

I returned to Sligo on Saturday last, after having visited Tobercurry, Ballymote, and several other Relief Committees in that quarter of the Sligo Union, in company with Captain Gilbert, the Government Inspector, who made several small grants to the most necessitous, out of the 500l. lately placed by me at his disposal.

The destitution, in many places, in this quarter, is very great, and the individual cases of extreme misery numerous, and of such a nature as to render (in the present state of things) their relief a matter of impossibility. The people both great and small, have such a deep-rooted dread of infection, that the desertion of fever cases, by their nearest relatives, is a matter of daily occurrence, and consequently their relief an impossibility, without some efficient sanitary regulations, such as the new Fever Bill affords, but which I fear will be found insufficient, from the want of energy, or ability, or both, of the local Committees to bring it into operation. One case, which occurred on the 6th near Greyfoot, in the Riverstown Electoral Division, and which was told to me by a magistrate living near the spot, is worth relating, to show to what excess this morbid fear of disease occasionally impels people otherwise kind and humane; and how imperative it is to put a stop to it by establishment of district hospitals, which might be done with trifling outlay, and without any increase to the present medical staff of the country, the fever hospitals supplying proper attendants. Five persons had been seized with fever in one house; two died, the other three lingered on without receiving relief from out of doors, when the people in a moment of alarm, and without venturing in to satisfy themselves if all were really dead, fired the house, with the view of consuming the bodies, and so prevent the spread of infection. Happily the police were passing soon after, and rescued the survivors from destruction.

In Leitrim Unions, and Boyle in Roscommon (to all of which I lately paid a hurried visit), the distress is also very great, especially in the Mohill and Carrick-on-Shannon Unions. I received from the Government Inspector in each, such information as will, I trust, enable me to apply with satisfaction any sums the several districts may stand in need of, and the Committee be pleased to empower me to grant. One grant lately made by the Committee to Kilbryan, in Boyle Union, I thought better to merge into the 600l. placed at the disposal of Captain Burmister by Count Strzelecki, a gentleman who, for ability and zeal, cannot, I think, be surpassed, nor one better deserving the confidence placed in him by Count Strzelecki.

To the Eslin electoral division, in the Union of Mohill, with a population of 3100, Poor Law valuation 2880l. 1s. 2d., I have made a grant of 20l. worth of provisions, which will, I hope, supply all their wants until the new system comes into operation with them.

In every Union, with the exception of a few electoral divisions, a general indisposition is shown to strike the rate. The lists of estimates for many divisions are not yet complete, and, consequently, very few have as yet, brought the new system into operation. Two things have conspired to foster this inactivity — the continuance of the public works, and the very great facility of obtaining donations from charitable associations, on the product of which they have been subsisting altogether for some time past. For the Committee must know that the supplies from Sligo depôt have been entirely gratuitous for some weeks, and so large as seriously to affect the merchants of this place, whose stores are now, and have been, well stocked since the closing of the depôt to sales. I am of opinion that a less liberal system would have stimulated the Committees to exertion, and hastened the operation of the new relief measures, while not a single life would be sacrificed by such a course; inasmuch as, in many districts, they would have discovered some local resources, and in all economized the supplies given to them by charitable associations, better than they have.

The country through which I passed showed, on the whole, a greater extent of cultivated land than I was led to expect in such a poor district, but certainly not in any degree sufficient to balance the loss of the potato crop. However, on this subject it is extremely difficult to procure correct information, and I ought not, therefore, to venture any opinion on the probable comparative sufficiency of the forthcoming and the past crops.

I think that the land lying untilled is composed altogether of the one and two acre, and smaller holdings, which, in the aggregate, may not amount to a great deal, and which will, I hope, be shortly further diminished by the sowing of turnip seed, now very extensively done, and which I have endeavoured to impress upon the several Relief Committees to extend by every possible means.

Sligo, June 14, 1847.

Much irregularity still goes on in the distribution of rations in the different Unions, some giving it out in the dry state, occasioning much dissatisfaction in the neighbouring division where the Committee may be desirous of issuing it cooked. Even in the same Union a want of uniformity in the amount and description of food between the several electoral divisions causes great inconvenience. However, it is an evil difficult to be remedied, occasioned by very many conflicting interests, with numerous boards, each too numerously constituted to be efficient.

In no case was the want of unanimity and consequent inefficiency more manifest than with the Board of Health at Sligo; but to give them their due, I will say that they appear at last disposed to adopt more decisive measures. An officer is appointed and authorized under Act of Parliament to inspect and cause to be cleansed and purified the dwellings of the poor. And to-day he commences to clear the streets of the hordes of poor, who, sick or not, made it the practice of late to locate themselves snugly hedged round with heaps of straw, with the additional warmth of a fire by night, close to the gates of the hospitals, and in other public places, many of them with the hope of extracting charity from passers by. Impressed with the belief that they were all strangers to the town, I inquired of one of them on Friday, where he came from, when to my surprise I found he had merely adjourned from his house in Pound Street, to expose his whole family in the way I mention. I moreover learned, as I anticipated, that this man had never applied to be admitted to the workhouse, and that even in his then apparent distress, evinced a reluctance to apply. While the regulations now about to be enforced may prevent such unsightly exhibitions, they will, I trust, be made sufficiently comprehensive to relieve every case of positive suffering.

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