Cork J.P Writes to the
Duke of Wellington
One of the most
often quoted documents of the Famine was published in "The London Times" on
Christmas Eve, 1846. Just as people were about to embark on sumptuous turkey and
lucious plum puddings, here was a letter describing unbelievable hardship just a
few hundred miles from their homes.
The write of the letter was Mr. Nicholas Cummins, a Justice of the Peace of Unionist persuasions who lived at Ann Mount, Cork. He wrote to the Duke of Wellington "without apology or preface" describing conditions in Ireland and imploring for help.
Here we publish the letter in full:
"To His Grace,
Field Marshall, The Duke of Wellington.
My Lord Duke,
"Without apology or preface, I presume so far to trespass on your Grace as to state to you, and, by the use of your illustrious name, to present to the British public the following statement of what I have myself seen within the last three days:-
"Having for many years been connected with the western portion of the County of Cork, and possessing some small property there, I thought it right personally to investigate the truth of the several lamentable accounts which had reached me of the appaling state of misery to which that part of the country was reduced. I accordingly went on the 15th. inst. to Skibbereen, and to give the instance of one townland which I visited, as an example of the state of the entire coast district, I shall state simply what I there saw.
It is situated on the eastern side of Castlehaven Harbour and is named South Reen, in the parish of Myross. Being aware that I should have to witness scenes of frightful hunger, I provided myself with as much bread as five men could carry, and on reaching the spot I was surprised to find the wretched hamlet apparently deserted. I entered some of the hovels to ascertain the cause, and the scenes that presented themselves were such no tongue or pen can convey the slightest idea of. In the first six famished and ghastly skeletons, to all appearance dead, were huddled in a corner on some filthy straw, their sole covering what seemed a ragged horse-cloth, naked above the knees. I approached in horror, and found by a low moaning they were alive, they were in fever - four children, a woman, and at what had once been a man. It is impossible to go through the details, suffice to say, that in a few minutes I was surrounded by at least 200 of such phantoms, such frightful spectres as no words can describe. By far the greater number were delirious, either from famine or fever. Their demonic yells are still yelling in my ears, and their horrible images and fixed upon my brain.
My heart sickens at the recital, but I must go on. In another case - decency would forbid what follows, but it must be told - my clothes were nearly torn off in my endeavours to escape from the throng of pestilence around, when my neck cloth was seized from behind by a grip which compelled me to turn. I found myself grasped by a woman with an infant, just born, in her arms, and the remains of a filthy sack across her loins - the sole covering of herself and babe. The same morning the police opening a house on the adjoining lands, which was observed shut for many days, and two frozen corpses were found lying upon the mud floor half devoured by the rats.
"A mother, herself in fever, was seen the same day to drag out the corpse of her child, a girl about twelve, perfectly naked, and leave it half covered with stones. In another house, within 500 yards of the cavalry station at Skibbereen, the dispensary doctor found seven wretches lying, unable to move under the same cloak, one had been dead for many hours, but the others were unable to move themselves or the corpse.
"To what purpose should I multiply such cases? If these be not sufficient, neither would they hear who has the power to send relief, and do not, even "though one came from the dead."
"Let them, however, believe and tremble that they shall one day hear the Judge of all the Earth pronounce their tremendous doom, with the addition, "I was hungered and ye gave Me no meat; thirsty and ye gave Me no drink; naked, and he clothed Me not." But I forget to whom this is addressed. My Lord, you are and old and justly honoured man. It is yet in your power to add other honour to your age, to fix another star, and that the brightest in your galaxy of glory. You have access to our young and gracious Queen, - lay these things before her. She is a woman, she will not allow decency to be outraged. She has at he command the means of at least mitigating the suffering of the wretched survivors in this tragedy. They will soon be few indeed in the district I speak of if help be longer withheld. Once more, my Lord Duke, in the name of starving thousands, I implore you, break the frigid and flimsy chain of official etiquette, and save the land of your birth - the kindred of the gallant Irish blood which you have so often seen lavished to support the honour of the British name - and let there be inscribed upon your tomb, Servata Hibernia.
"I have the honour to be,
"My Lord Duke,
"Your Grace's obedient, humble servant,
"N.M. Cummins, J.P
"Ann Mount, Cork,
"December 17th, 1846."