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My name is Merida O’Donald, I am twenty seven years old and currently living with my mother Ailis and Father Neil. The year is 1856, September 30th, seven years after the Great Famine. Life as of right now is rather calm compared to before, the hunger had decimated our crops and ruined the land back then but it has slowly recovered. Everyone in our village of D?n Laoghaire had decided to move to the bigger cities to find some sort of job to feed their families and avoid the sicknesses, and frankly at the time I did not blame them.
My family and I had went through alot during 1845-49. We made many moves back then, father mades us, he told me in his kind voice so many years back, ” We need to move forward…the Lord has bigger and better things in sight for us, we have only to reach our destination.” I understood what he meant by telling me this, but my faith had dwindled much due to the circumstances at the time.
My life story starts when the Potato Famine came through Ireland in the early 1840’s, I was 15 years of age and my mother, Aillis (O’Donald), 35, and father, Neil (O’Donald), 37. We all lived in a one story tiny cottage in D?n Laoghaire which cost around 3 shillings, where I was one of many children who worked as farmers or laborors on the land of Killiney Castle near the park with the same name. (“Our Location at Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel.
”). It was an absolutely beautiful area, there was nothing but hills around with beautiful trees surrounding the estate. Around this time we had a couple children working the land with me. Their names were Allannah (age 11), Padraig (7), Afric (9), Artur (12), little Garvean (3), and the eldest Dehnilin (17). We all grew rather close together being we worked with each other everyday, and being that we and all of our parents were labors. We began to notice that something was off with the land and cattle as the days passed. We all had come to realize that the Great Hunger had come to ravenge the lands of Ireland. As time had passed life became rather hard the living standards at ther time were very low. We began to heavly rely on the farming of potatos to live. I was now unable to work the land at Killiney anymore because the crops would grow no longer there.
In October 1845, it had started to rain a lot, which was fairly odd considering it did’t rain that much in Ireland. We usually only receive a fairly normal amount of rainfall.(“Lambert, Tim.”). Then at the blink of an eye, a thick deep blue/black fog had taken home over our crops. An strong, nauseating scent of rot filled the air. Once the wind and rain dwindled away and came to an abrubt clean stop, there was nothing but a horrible stillness to land. All of the potato crops that my mother, father, village, and I had worked so hard to live off of was ruined, destroyed by what we later learned was Phytophthora Fungus. (“Goss, Erica M., et al.”).
Over the next couple of years, life was absolutely unberable. My family and I were serverly hungry and lost an unimaginable amount of weight in such a sort period of time. It wasn’t just us though, the whole village was starving. It was hard to watch those I grew up with dwindle away to nothing before your eyes. Padraig had succumb to dysentery along with Allannah and Afric. The one person who had it the worse was poor little Garvean…he passed away from starvation and smallpox due to his undeveloped immune system. He was only five years old and had so much life to live, yet this damned epidemic took his life before it could even begin. After awhile of struggle England had decided to give us some grains and beans, but those Brit cockneys had decided to send half ground grain which had caused stomach pains, head aches, and gave youthe runs, which eventually lead to dysentery. (“The Poor Law in Ireland.”).
Money was now becoming a huge matter of concern as time went on, I rushed to aquire some sort of job to support my family. Eventually my father decided to move us all from D?n Laoghaire to the capital itself, Dublin. When we first moved we could not find one single cottage to live in. We were forced to live in the slums, it was absolutely horrible. The smell was awful and it was full of people who were riddled with all sorts of diseases. We lived there for about one month before my father decided to move us into a fairly small shack still located in the slums. By the time all of this had occured my father and mother had managed to find jobs. My mother had became a chambermaid for an older wealthy woman named Eesold, and my father had landed a job as a railroad track worker. Neither one of them earned much at all. They both got paid around 2 to 4 pence for all of the hard work they did, which was a complete dodder for them being that that small amount of money did not even add up to a shilling.
I eventually was able to find a job myself and joined a road/railroad construction company that was inforced by the Brits. We wasted so much of our time creating bothrin and laying railroads that seemed to have very little purpose to me at the time. Even though it felt as if I was wasting all of my time it did pay quite handsomely at the amount of 9 pence per day, which was almost triple my pay as a potato farmer back home in D?n Laoghaire. Before I knew it September had came around and many of the neighbors I had from my village had joined me in this work effort as a bothrin builder, and because of this increase of people the industry increased to what seemed like fivefold the starting amount.
In 1848 my mother had convinced my pa to move back to our village to see if they could possibly start farming again because she could not stand working for Mrs. Eesold for she was a wicked woman. Once we made the move back we immediately began to farm our potatoes in our old crops, but the stalks and leaves of the potatoes were completely blackened, accompanied with a stomach turning stench, and within only 2 to 4 days the whole crop was obliterated. (“Goss, Erica M., et al.”). We were devastated, we all moved back to our village to try and start anew. My mother and father had both quit their jobs with the hopes that the fields would be in better shape to farm. I was the only person who kept their job, because of that I was the one who fed the family, but I was not bothered by that fact.
Looking back on the event as a whole I came to realize that our family was very fortunate. We somehow ended up avoiding the pestilence that many of our neighbors succumbed to like little Garvean. We very narrowly avoided having to leave to go to one of the area workhouses in town. The Irish Poor Land System had resulted in building a large amount of such workhouses, with enough beds to house around 100,000 or so, but honestly the British goal was quite perplexing: they wanted to make poverty so unbelievably unendurable that we, the victims, would embrace the righteousness of the “saved,” namely to be more industrious, self-reliant, and very disciplined. (“Cousins, Mel.”). This was extremely hard to do, in my opinion, when one is starving to death and out of steady work.
Many of the Brits took on this attitude that the famine was God’s punishment toward a sinful people, referring to us. Well being that nearly half if not all of Southern Ireland were devout Catholics and didn’t agree with this nonsense. (“Jones, Emrys, and Jim Smyth.”). Those hard necks could only fool over the Northern traders with that rubbish. Despite the very noticeable fact that many of us were starving and dying from scurvy, fever, smallpox, and etc., our country kept having to export foods to the English. (“Epidemic Diseases of the Great Famine.”). These foods included oats, bacon, eggs, butter, lard, pork, beef, and fresh salmon. And in return, the Brits ended up finally opening up a few soup kitchens for us, but of the couple thousand they had planned, only half were opened and in operation in early 1848. (“Soup Kitchens and Workhouses.”).
In late 1848 nearing 1849, I was now finally able to do some agricultural work again in the potato fields, as now the crop were healthy enough to use again. (“Fanning, Ronan, and John O’Beirne Ranelagh.”). The only downfall was that now the crops were only one-fourth its normal size. Because of this we had to resort to eating the seed potatoes and grain over the winter to stay alive. It seemed like all hope was to be lost again. That same year Britain passed the Extended Poor Law which shifted the cost of feeding the massive amounts of starving people and the maintenance of poorhouses to the Irish landowners. (“The Poor Law in Ireland.”). With this now in effect it made the eviction of tenant farmers like myself and my parents an efficient way for the landowner to lower his tax or poor rate. Between 1847 and 1851, the eviction rate rose tremendously and left thousands of people out of a house and job. (“The Poor Law in Ireland.”).
My family and I held on until June of 1849, when the owner of the Killiney estate, where I used to work as a young child, decided to burn down the cottages of other tenant farmers in our village. We all escaped with no injures thankfully, the old man that owned the estate had saw me and my parents as we walked down the street aimlessly and told us he was sorry for burning our houses, that it just had to be done. My father was passed mad and began to give him a piece of his mind. The man apologized but he offered to buy us passes to move to Britain, nice of him. My family and I survived in temporary shelters, until May 19, 1850, when we set off to board the next ship to Liverpool. We all climbed aboard the ship with the little bit of belongings we had. We were one family of many who were aboard, they all had a worried look in their eyes, wondering what was going to happen next. I too had the same worries·.
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