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The Alleged Destitution in Donegal #TroveTuesday

November 24, 2020

My Boyle family line came to Australia in 1857, from Donegal, Ireland, so I was very interested when I came across the following newspaper article about allegations of destitution in Donegal.

From: The Star, Ballarat, Friday 15 October, 1858, page 3

The following is the Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons appointed to inquire into the alleged destitution in Donegal.

“That the district of Gweedore and Cloughaneely is a wild and mountainous tract of country, inhabited for the most part by tenants, holding small portions of land; that there are among them, many who are very needy, who, on any failure of their crops, are subject to more or less distress and poverty in consequence at one portion of the year”.

” That at the present time, it appears to your committee that destitution, such as complained of in the appeal of 8th January, 1858, contained in the Appendix, did not and does not exist; and that the general condition of the people is certainly not worse than it has been for many years, nor does it appear to your committee that there was, during the winters of 1857 and 1858, any increase of sickness in the district, or any increase in the number of applications for admission to the workhouse”.

” That this poverty among the people is not attributable to the landlords. No attempt has been made to drive the tenants from their holdings, or take from them, any lands over which they had any real rights; and it has been proved before your committee that the statement in the appeal to the effect that last year had brought a sad change in those warm hearted peasants-that all the landlords of these districts, save one, simultaneously deprived them of their mountains, giving them to Scotch and English graziers for sheepwalks, and at the same time, doubled and trebled, and in many instances, quadrupled the rents on the miserable patches left to them, is totally devoid of foundation”.

”Your committee have also had under their consideration the following statements made in the appeal :-‘Countrymen and fellow Christians, in the wilds of Donegal, down in the bogs and glens of Gweedore and Clougbaneely, thousands upon thousands of human beings, made after the image and likeness of God, are perishing, or next to perishing, amid squalidness and misery, for want of food and clothing, far away from human aid and human pity, and they are now, at all events, in consequence of such treatment, perishing of hunger and nakedness in their damp and comfortless cabins. But we will venture a little into detail. There are at this moment 800 families subsisting on sea-weed, crabs, and cockles, or any other eatable matter they can pick up along the sea shore, or scrape off the rocks.’

“In the opinion of your committee, those statements are not borne out by the evidence taken before them, and your committee have come to the conclusion that those representations are calculated to convey to the public, a false and erroneous impression of the district.

” It appears to your Committee that an erroneous opinion existed in the minds of the people as to their rights over the mountains, near which they reside, and that not being well advised on this point has led to the outrages which have been committed, to the destruction of a large number of sheep, which brought upon the inhabitants of the districts the sheep and police tax burden, which no doubt pressed heavily upon them; but it was paid readily in money, and no stock or produce was sold under distress for the purpose of paying those taxes. Your Committee trust that this expression of their opinion will show to the people of the district that such conduct is not only contrary to the laws of God and man, but positively cruel to their helpless families, and fatal to their own best interests.”

THE ALLEGED DESTITUTION IN DONEGAL. (1858, October 15). The Star (Ballarat, Vic. : 1855 – 1864), p. 3. Retrieved October 27, 2020, from

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