A Brief History of the Great Famine in Mallow

 

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The number of people who perished in Ireland during the Great Famine of 1845/6 will never be known due to a combination of incomplete census data before 1841 and the failure to record death rates in the years during the famine. Hundreds died unknown as complete families were eliminated by starvation and disease. Various estimates place the death toll at between one and one and a half million. Another million people emigrated during the same period, and in the years that followed emigration levels continued to grow and reach new heights. The population of Ireland never fully recovered and to this day has not exceeded pre‑famine figures. The Irish way of life had begun to change and the gulf between Ireland and England had deepened, foretelling of trouble in the years ahead.

It has often been stated that Mallow did not suffer as much as other towns in County Cork during the famine years. This assumption is based on the fact that there was very little Poor Law Relief distributed in the town.

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Why was this? Primarily because of the high number of labourers employed in the area - landlords within the union needed a relatively large number of agricultural labourers to work their vast holdings; and this was the time of the great railway-building boom in Ireland. The Great Southern and Western railway line from Dublin to Cork was constructed in the Mallow area during the famine years and with it came a strong demand for local labour. But also, the niggardly way in which Mallow guardians discharged their obligations towards the poor kept down the Relief rolls on the one hand, while exacerbating the distress of the unemployed and smallholders on the other.

 

Some landlords did their best to help the poor in their areas. A number of them set up work schemes on their estates, allowing labourers to earn money to feed themselves. Some even provided food for the starving in their area. However, a significant proportion of land owners welcomed the opportunity to clear their lands of cottiers and smallholders. The worst culprits were the large farmers ‑ it was not uncommon for them to withhold plots from those who could not pay in advance. And even withhold wages from those for whom only cash could ensure the most minimal of diets.

 

The population in the Mallow Union in 1841 was estimated at 64,364. Despite all of the advantages that people in the area had, by 1851 this figure had fallen to 42,145 - a decrease of 34.5%. The fall in population can be attributed to two factors beyond deaths from starvation, dysentery and cholera. Emigration ‑ so great was the demand for state-aided emigration by women who entered the workhouse that the scheme had to be suspended. And transportation for stealing and sundry other petty crimes was a common punishment at this time.

Mallow did not suffer as horrifically as some other areas but neither did it completely escape the effects of the Great Famine. Just as in the south west and far west of the country, the famine left its indelible mark on the peoples of Mallow.