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by Tom Kenny

Our illustration today was published in the Illustrated London News on June 25th, 1842, and was intended to “Convey an idea of the desperation to which the poor people of Galway have been reduced by the present calamitous season of starvation. The scene represented above is an attack upon a potato store in the town of Galway, on the 13th of the present month, when the distress had become too great for the poor squalid and unpitied inhabitants to endure their misery any longer, without some more substantial alleviation than prospects of coming harvest; and their resource in this case was to break open the potato stores and distribute their contents, without much discrimination, among the plunderers, and to attack the mills where oatmeal was known to be stored”.


“During the entire of the day, the town was in the possession of a fierce and ungovernable mob, led on apparently by women and children, but having an imposing reserve in the rear of Claddagh fishermen. The Sheriff, with a strong force of police and the depot of the 30th Regiment, which constitutes the garrison, vainly attempted to restrain them. They assailed him and his armed bands with showers of stones, which wounded the commanding officer of the military in the head and hurt several of his men. But with singular humanity and forbearance, the gallant Thirtieth held their fire, as it was impossible to disperse such a mob without firing amongst them, the millers were induced to promise that meal should be retailed on the following morning at 15d. a stone.

The discontent of the sufferers had been aggravated by the unfeeling, and, there was some reason to suspect, the dishonest artifices of those who had food to sell. Farmers, known to have abundant supplies of potatoes, had not only refused to part with any portion of them at the present high prices, but had actually sent in to the markets and made purchases, in order to augment the scarcity. Numbers of dealers, also, speculating on a rise, had stored quantities off provisions, which they refused to give out at a fair profit: and in several instances these persons had cleared out the markets the instant they were opened and left the poor famishing housekeepers, with their money in their hands, in the midst of apparent plenty, unable to procure even the supply of a single day.

To this cause is to attributed the various disturbances which occurred at Loughrea and Galway; the people insisting upon the farmers retailing provisions to them out of the sack, instead of disposing of its contents wholesale to huxters and forestallers; and the magistrates generally, with proper discretion and humanity, enforcing the reasonable demands of the people.

The Claddagh fishermen, to signalise their victory, insisted upon a general illumination of the town, and ordered the joy-bells of the Collegiate Church to ring out a merry peal. Their requisitions were complied with in both cases. The joy-bells rang out and the inhabitants in general put lights into their windows. Thus, for several hours, the capital city of Connaught remained in possession of a lawless rabble, while the armed authorities of the country retired before them”.

“The following is the latest account from this distressed district: “Galway, June 20 (from our own correspondent.) Since the disturbance of Monday last, this town has been perfectly tranquil. The fishermen took their boats and went to sea early in the week, and provisions having experienced a seasonable reduction in price, no further commotion is apprehended. It was feared that the country people, hearing of the violence committed on Monday, would not bring their goods into market; and on Wednesday the supply was scanty from that cause. But an abundance of potatoes was brought in on Saturday and sold at four pence a stone. This is not an extravagant price, though a fraction ever threepence always pinches the poor man; but in the present dearth of employment, any price at all must distress him. Of the scarcity of money you may judge from this fact, of which I can assure you from personal observation, that at Loughrea, in this county, when the famishing people were riotously assembled to oppose the forestallers in the potato market, eggs were offered at five for a penny, and chickens, quite fit for the pot, were sold for seven pence a couple.

After a long drought we have been visited with seasonable and refreshing rain, which only seemed to confirm our anticipation of an abundant and early harvest”.

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