Day 6 - Feast AND Famine?August 6 in Ireland ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C
Overslept & was awoken about 8.30am by a WhatsApp message dinging from Craig Boswell moaning (unlike him!) that I hadn’t posted yesterday’s blog yet. I think he was struggling to get to sleep on the train.
As planned we had a leisurely morning & a hearty breakfast of cereal & toast. It wasn’t until about 11.30am that we ventured out for the day. We headed to Skibbereen to the Heritage Centre to learn all about The Famine Story. Skibbereen is synonymous with the Great Famine, particularly because it was frequently visited by James Mahony of the Illustrated London News who documented the plight through graphic records and stark drawings.
We parked up in the car park next to the pair of high-heeled ladies shoes, presumably abandoned after a good night out! We paid our €6 admission & entered the Famine Story exhibition which consisted mainly of headphones providing verbal accounts of the horrors of life & death during the famine in Skibbereen occasionally narrated by Jeremy.
Prior to 1845, Ireland relied on a diet of potato, because it yielded three times more per acre than other crops. On average, men ate 6.4kgs of potatoes per day, women 5kgs & children 2.3kgs, but in September 1845 they were struck by The Blight. It was a new airborne infectious fungal disease that had arrived from America that rotted the potatoes causing the loss of a third of that years crop.
The Blight quickly resulted in severe poverty & starvation, because most Irish people had to provide potatoes they had grown to pay for the rooves over their heads. People were so poor they pawned literally everything they owned including their clothes, despite having to work in the fields in snow & ice. People were dying on roadsides through starvation and/or hyperthermia and people sought shelter in workhouses that had been set up. One workhouse in Skibbereen became so crowded that 500 people were crammed into a school room to the extent that they each were allowed a floor space of just 2 square feet. The deaths in the workhouses & town of Skiberreen averaged 25 per day & the majority of the bodies were buried without coffins.
Between 1845 & 1850, one million people died in Ireland & 400,000 births did not take place. One & a half million people emigrated during that period. No wonder there is an Irish Pub in every town in the world!
The population of Ireland went from 2.6 million in 1750 to well over 8.5 million in 1845 which was the fastest growing population increase in Europe during that period, possibly due to their contraception methods! Ireland then lost 45% of her people in the half century after the Great Famine. Today, Ireland is the only European country that still has a population lower than in 1841.
Among the horrors told in the exhibition was the story of 3 year old, Tom Guerin, who in 1848 was thought to have died & spent two days in a mass grave at Abbeystrowry before being found alive. His feet pointed in opposite directions, because his knees were broken caused either by his mother trying to force him in a makeshift coffin or by shovels at the mass grave. Tom was rescued & lived to the ripe old age of 65, but he was a cripple for the rest of his life.
Before leaving the Heritage Centre, we watched a short film about Lough Hyne that we had visited two days previously. It should have been really interesting to the extent that it inspired us to return, it wasn’t & Chris fell asleep during it. Maybe it was because he was sat next to Jackie!
Afterwards we commenced the Skibbereen ‘The Famine Story’ self guided walking tour around the town using our €.25 maps we had purchased. The walking tour took us to various buildings & locations of interest from the Great Famine, including Soup Houses, Workhouses, the Town Square, Windmill Lane, Abbeystrewry Church, St Patrick’s Cathedral, the Court House & the scene of a riot.
This may sound easy, but only the Irish could have the apparently same 2 walking tours, only each in a different order, which caused some confusion. Also some of the plaques were missing or were on the opposite side of the road. We identified most of the things we were supposed to be looking at.
During the walk, Angela & Jackie somehow managed to get into a conversation with a little old man with no teeth, but pink hair. He had a handbag, dungarees, a floral skirt & doc martens with roses on them. Funnily enough, he had a good knowledge of Brighton.
Now having worked up a decent hunger, we settled on the Paragon Bar & Restaurant for lunch. Chris had a cottage pie, Angela had fish chowder, Jackie a prawn sandwich & I had chicken breast with black pudding wrapped in bacon with lumpy mash & veg.
After our ‘Feast’, we took a much needed walk, the mile or so, to Abbeystrowry Burial Pits, which has mass graves that hold some 10,000 unidentified Famine victims. It was a serene place to sit & reflect on the horrors of the Great Famine. The only thing that subsequently annoyed me was a sign at the entrance gates that talked about the Famine being Ireland’s Worst Single Disaster, then at the end added “A CHILLING REMINDER OF MAN’S INHUMANITY TO MAN”. Really & I thought it was The Blight or was it?
We walked back along the river into Skibbereen to the car, the drove to Fields for more wine & mussels, farmed on our doorstep. Unfortunately they only sell mussels on a Tuesday & Thursday, but not this Tuesday because it had been a Bank Holiday yesterday.
It was around 5.30pm when we returned to the Cottage & relaxed for an hour or so, before setting off on the mile & a half uphill hike up a country road to the local pub. En-route we encountered a rather disturbing signpost that had us giggling like little schoolgirls!
Eventually we arrived at Minihan’s Bar, which is not much more that 2 rooms on the side of a house & the only pub for miles around. There were half a dozen locals in one room so we sat in the bar area & ordered 3 pints of Guinness & a cider from Brian, the young barman. Brian grew up locally & was full of chat. He told us about the local way of life & that unless you were a farmer or fisherman you were likely to move away. Skibbereen U18 rugby team had just won the National cup, which was a big achievement. The sky was clear & he pointed out the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse that was 4.5 miles out to sea. We enquired about live music in the pub & were informed that music & singing starts up about 10.00pm every Thursday night once enough Guinness has been sunk. We would be back.
Just before 9.00pm & after 3 pints of Guinness each, except Jackie who has a whisky, we strolled back home. Luckily it was all downhill!
After a quick game of Logo with cheese & biscuits & a bottle of wine, we called it a night after another cracking day AND virtually rain free again.
Song of the Day - Famine by Sinead O’ConnorRead more