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The Famine Pot Story

  Potato blight was recorded in America in 1843. By 1845, the little-understood fungus was seen in Flanders, Scandinavia, Prussia, Poland, Spain, Britain and even North Africa. When Ireland’s potato crop failed in 1846for the second time, the Religious Society of Friends / Quakers, followed by their own brethren in England and America, plus several other groups, decided to help. They started fundraising to provide relief. A Dublin Quaker, Joseph Bewley, contacted Quakers all over Ireland highlighting the seriousness of the situation. Word quickly spread.
   For example, in 1847, the Choctaw community in Oklahoma donated US$170, equal to about €4,000 today, passing it on to Ireland’s Quakers for distribution here.   The Government of the day refused to provide free food thinking it might encourage laziness!   They set up Public Work Schemes instead in what happened to be the harshest winter for a hundred years. It may seem strange today that starving paupers should do heavy manual work, building roads famine-walls etc., for payments a low as one shilling per day. Farm labourers earned a maximum of 15 pence per day at that time.
   British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, was accused by his successor Lord John Russell of over-reaction to Ireland’s plight wasting public money on “exaggerated claims” from Ireland. He cancelled outstanding orders for American corn placed earlier by Peel. By this time, the Quakers were already importing cast iron Boilers or Famine Pots for the making of soup to combat starvation. Very generously, they even hired ships to import the pots, food, medicine, and supplies.
  The Government’s Public Work Schemes did not succeed as expected. They then copied the Quaker initiative. Many cast iron soup pots were made in a foundry owned by the Quaker Darby family in Shropshire, England. The " Coalbrookdale Iron Company" informed our Dalkey Tidy Towns team, that 56 Boilers were provided free of charge to the Society of Friends Committee here of the 294 total which they sent via Quakers. By August 1847, a staggering three million people were being fed each day. However, in Autumn of that year, the Government shut down the soup kitchens.   Those suffering were expected to live off the new potato harvest to be picked soon after. Unfortunately this yielded just one quarter of a normal harvest. The three million people depending on the soup for survival were left to fend for themselves at a time when social security as we know it did not exist.
   While the West of Ireland suffered the worst deprivation, in Templecrone in Donegal, four Famine Pots were used twice daily providing 600 gallons of soup. Nearer to home, Wicklow also had its crisis. Dalkey was on the border of this calamity.

  We were thrilled to be contacted by our Dalkey neighbour Rosa Murray (nee Thomas ) her family owned a Dairy Farm off Tubbermore Road from the late 1800’s. Dalkey Farmer Jack Thomas, grazed his cattle on Dalkey Commons Townland - and also farmed nearby in Wicklow.

  Rosa still had in her garden off Tubbermore Road, Farmer Jack’s Thomas 1800’s possession which her family very kindly wished to donate to Dalkey Tidy Towns. We were astounded to discover that this partially consealed family heirloom was in fact a very large inverted cast iron Famine Pot.

The clue to its history is the very thin copper lining which prevented rust contamination of the soup.

If only this Famine Pot could speak !