Athenry and the Great Famine 1846-1862


Famine Soup Pot.   Photo: Noel Dillon.

MARCH 21st, 1846

GALWAY – Annadown Dispensary

  1. Donnellan, M.D., states that diarrhoea and fever are on the increase which he attributes to unsoundness of potatoes. Number of patients increased (about 50 a week); a great number of labourers. Fears the disease will increase.


ATHENRY PUBLIC WORKS  – Report in the Galway Vindicator Newspaper

A very respective meeting of the inhabitants of Athenry and its vicinity was held on Monday last to consider the provisions of the new act of parliament. Those in attendance were: Burton Persse, John Lopdell, Honourable Denis Daly, Martin K. Blake, Walter P. Lambert, John D. Bodkin, John Taylor, Laurence Smith, Mark Loughnane, Michael Hennaelly, & C&C.  Several resolutions were welcomed to meet the coming state of distress, and application made for £20,394 to be expended in local improvements.


British Part Papers Vol. 5. Page 301.

Board of Works return of the number and nature of amount applied for and amount of money given:

Barony: Athenry: New roads, improving old ones

Date: March 23rd 1846

Amount: £2144

Area in acres; 12435

Population:  4193     

Total Amount: £1.59 5s od     

Amount of grant: £26 0s 0d

Advanced for aid of rates for relief –purposes and fever hospital.

The sum of £26 was advanced for the Athenry hospital including the electoral division numbered 2 and 4:  Athenry = 2 and Cloonkeen = 4


British Parliamentary Papers

Feb. 17, 1846.

Loughrea dispensary: H. Clovan M.D,

Nature of report States that Monivea dispensary is the only one in the barony of Tiaquin, and that he attends on the property of subscribers when called on, although nine miles from the institution. States that between Jan 1 & 17, 1846 there was an increase of 308 patients in the dispensary compared with the corresponding period of 1845, which he attributes to heavy rains, want of food, and bad clothing. He suggests the erection of a general hospital to be attached to the dispensary.


Feb. 19, 1846.

Return Medical, Officer Monivea dispensary: B French

He states that Monivea Dispensary is the only one in the Barony of Tiaquin, and that he attends on the property when called on, although nine miles from the institution.




To:  Sir John Burke Bt Vice-Lieut.



3rd Nov, 1846.

Dear Sir John,

I forwarded  to  you  to Kingstown on  the  27 Oct M. Daly’s  letter  to me, with the  paper  nominating  the Chairman and  Secretaries  to Athenry Relief Committee, which I hope  you have seen as  it will  be necessary to  form a  new committee  under  the  late  instructions  in order that lists may  be  forwarded  to Captain Ainslie containing  the  names of destitute persons  to  be employed  on the  public works, which cannot be done  until  the Committee  is  formed,   the  former  one  being now virtually dissolved.

Waiting your directions on the subject.

I remain,

Yours faithfully,

John Lobdell





C.G Sir R.J.R.  having  received  from the Vice-Lieutenant  of  the Co Galway  your  letter  of  the  3rd  inst – we  forward  for  your information a copy  of  the additional  instructions  to  the Relief Committees, which do not  require any  new organisation as  you  suppose  but enable Bishops and Curates  to  sit  ex  officio as members:  also  the Commissioners of Public Works.

C.G Commissary General

Sir RJR – Sir Randolph J. Routh




Relief Committee Athenry, 9th Dec. 1846.


I have been directed by the Athenry Relief Committee to ascertain from you on what terms and conditions the assistance from the Government will be afforded in and of the Relief fund now in collection in this district.

The subscription list remains open until Monday next.

Waiting for your reply.

I have the honour to be Sir,

Your obedient servant,

Henry Mackay.



To Sir Randolph Routh,

Commissiniat General,




In reply to your inquiry, I am directed to draw the attention of the Athenry Relief Committee to the 25, 26 & 27 of the enclosed instructions, as pointing out the manner in which a donation is to be obtained from in aid of local subscriptions.

Dove 10/12.


16/1 2/1846


As it appears that you have addressed a letter to Sir Thomas Burke Bart Vice -Lieutenant of the Co. Galway, urging the immediate appointment of a Relief Committee for Athenry.

Commissioners Gentleman Sir R,J.R desires to acquaint you that a committee has been already formed, at which Mr. Lopdell of Raheen is Chairman, and Henry IVjackey is Secretary.

The Relief District includes the whole Parish in the Baronies of Athenry, Ola re, and Dunkellin.

I leave you,

The Rev. Dr. Cullinane



Athenry Jan 25, 1847


The Relief Committee  of Athenry hereby  acknowledge  receipt  of your form of  21st January and  pledge themselves on receiving your donation of £62  starting  from his Excellency  the Lord Lieutenant for  relief  of  poor  from our  district  that  the whole relief will be applied  in conformity with Government regulations

I have the honour  to  be, Sir,

Your obedient servant,

R.W Maxwell.


To:  Mr.  Stanley, Esq.,

Relief Office,

Dublin Castle

25 Rathmines Mall,

Feb. 4, 1847


I  have  been directed  by  the Relief Committee  to apply  to  you for the  donation of £62 which Commissary General Sir Randolph Routh has recommended  to his excellency, the Lord Lieutenant  to grant to that Committee.

As I  shall  be absent  from home  for some  time  your answer directed to Mr. Joseph Barrett,  Athenry, who acts  as Treasurer  in my absence, will  be  laid  before  the Committee and  should  you make a remittance will  you have  the kindness  to make  the Post Bills  payable  to him. I am responsible for the use he may make  of same.

I  have  the honour to be, Sir,

Your obedient Servant,

Mark Perrin.

Treasurer to Athenry Rural Committee


To:  William Stanley Esq

Mr Barrett  is  recognised  by  the Committee as  their acting Treasurer.


Answer  to above letter

Athenry donation authorised to be paid  from Galway

22 Jan 1847


Will you have  the  goodness  to  direct Mr. Barrett, who acts in your absence at Athenry as  stated  in  your  letter  received yesterday, to apply  by  letter  to Galway  for  the  grant made to your Relief Committee.


To: The Revd.Mark Perrins,

Relief Committee Athenry,

Feb. 4, 1847.


I am directed by the Relief Committee  to  inform Commissary General Sir R. J. Routh that  they would  thankfully  receive a  boiler of 60 gallons as they are about  to begin  to make soup  for  the starving people of much distress.

The  nearest  seaport  is Galway.

I have the honor to  be, Sir,

Your obedient servant,

P W Maxwell




To: W. Stanley Esq., Sec.,

Parish Relief Office,

Dublin Castle,


Feb. 6th, 1847.


Considering  that we have a population of 5000  souls  including a town of  1400, would  you be so good  as  to  recommend  of Athenry Relief Committee  to Commissary General Sir R Routh  for a  gift  of two large  boilers  instead  of  only  one applied  for  in my  letter of Feb.4th. 800 quarts  of  soup  daily will  by  no means meet  the wants  of  our people.

I have the honor to be, Sir,

Your obedient Servant,

R.W Maxwell.

Sec to Athenry Relief Committee


47 Lower London,

March 15, 1847.

Dear Sir,

I have  to acknowledge with thanks and  gratitude  the  receipt of twenty  five pounds  (£25)   from the Irish Society  of London per Sir Randolph Routh  for  the  relief of my suffering poor.            

May God help them.

I have  been informed  when  in Dublin  by Sir Randolph Routh  that the Lord Lieutenannt will  give me an equivalent  sum  (£25). Please to  forward  it  to me  directly  as follows:

The Very Revd. Doctor Smith,

Care of Mr. Howard,

47 Lower Brand (Brook) St.,


I  am, dearest Sir,

With much respect,

Your obedient servant,

Peter Smyth D.D   

(The  Very Revd. Dr. Smyth, Esker Convent, Athenry)

P.S: Please to give my very respectful compliments to good Sir Randolph Routh.

God Bless.


A grant  of £25 w as recommended.

Note: The Rev. Dr. Smyth  is at  present  draining  the waste  lands around him and  building an Agricultural College  for  the  benefit  of Ireland.

Note extra: There are at  present 600  children  receiving a liberal and  religious  education and  26  of  the  boys apprenticed  to the tailoring and  shoemaking trades.

For  the girls  there  is a matron who  instructs  them in the making up of every article  of  dress  suiting  to all  classes  of society. There are also  fifty of  the  poor  children clothed  anually  and 200 destitute  paupers  daily fed at  this  establishment.  There are no funds or means  to  carry  on  this work of mercy  but  for the benevolence of the public.



Saturday, May 27th, 1848

The following letter was read from the Relieving Officer of Athenry District.



I beg leave to inform you that I commenced the issue of cooked food to persons receiving outdoor relief in the Electoral Division of Kilconirane and Craughwell in my district on Monday,  the 22nd inst.

Owing to some difficulty experienced in obtaining a house in the division of Athenry, I could not commence the issue of cooked food in that division until next week.

I have the honour to be, Gentlemen,

Your obedient servant,

William Procter.


The following letter was also read:


May 23rd, 1848.


You will please pardon my again calling your attention to the wretched state of some poor families near here who have been affected with fever. I would merely name those on the Athenry road, Tyrrells and Fallons who I just visited and found literally sinking for want of nutriment in their convalences.

I never witnessed many such eases and many families have perished in this way. Surely with the rapid increase of epidemic disease, which is likely to continue during this season, something should be done for their relief.

We called the attention of the proper authorities to this subject, then our Relief Committee and afterwards the Board of Health, but have been unsuccessful in obtaining any relief.

I am gentlemen,

Respectfully yours,

Dr. French.

Medical Officer, Monivea


It was ordered by the Vice Guardians

The Vice Guardians are not prepared to open a hospital in Monivea but consider that a temporary hospital at Athenry would meet the wants of Cloonkeen District. The Vice Guardians will open a hospital at Athenry as soon as they can procure fitting accommodation.


Volume III – British Parliamentary Papers


Major M’Kie to the Commissioners

March 31, 1848.

I have to honour to forward returns of rates due by immediate lessors and occupiers rated at a valuation of 1.01 and above in the electoral divisions of Claregalway, Annaghdown, Lackagh and Athenry.

The cause of non-collection is stated in each case; some of the road contractors and others have promised to pay after assizes, but there are many who will not pay until compelled, and the collector asserts that the presence of the military is absolutely necessary. The resident magistrates have been prevented from attending with the military in consequence of the assizes: but as they have now terminated, I hope no further delay will take place.


Sir T. Burke to Mr. Lloyd.

May 6, 1848.

I have repeatedly called for the printed lists of the recipients of out-door relief in the electoral divisions of the Loughrea Union. I have not yet been able to obtain more than those for Loughrea, Athenry, and Ballinakill.    I am, therefore, obliged to call upon you to postpone this inquiry till I am furnished with those lists. Numerous abuses have been already proved; and if you continue to desire a continuance of the inquiry this required postponement becomes unavoidably necessary, the more so as those lists have been unavoidably delayed.


Mr. Lloyd to the Commissioners,

May 20, 1848.

William Proctor, relieving officer for 1he Athenry district, comprising the electoral divisions of Athenry, Cranghwell, and Kilconaran, was duly sworn.  His evidence is appended. Eight objections were made to this relieving officer’s list for Athenry.


Number and Name

1          Winny Boyns – Age 40   able bodied -7 lbs

2           Margaret gahillon – and 4 children – 28lbs.  Deserted by husband, information sworn.

3          Michael Cannon -Age 36, wife and 4 children -28 lbs 

4          Robin Newman –  Aged 50 and wife, In. – 14 lbs

5          Margaret Lawless – Aged 60,   In,  -7 lbs. Has a son able to maintain her

6          Brid Gleeson – Aged35 and 3 children -11lbs.  Deserted, information sworn.

7          Winny Cunningham – Aged 80 -7lbs.  Has more than a quarter acre of land.

8          Mary Mulkearan – Aged 50 and 2 children  -21lbs. Has half an acre of land 

Of the above list, two objections 7 and 8, can be sustained, and it was not until lately the relieving officer learned that either of the women had land. The relieving officer, William Proctor, has submitted his books for examination to the ratepayers.  Out of a list of 430 recipients of relief, four only have been found disentitled to such.



The paid Guardians are totally ignorant of the parties to whom they are giving out-door relief, and the most, flagrant o^-vUtS  £buees are the consequence;  yet they studiously avoid seeking information from any of the respectable rate-payers, nor do they publish j;he names of the recipients of such relief. / William Proctor, relieving officer for the Athenry district, comprising the electoral divisions of Athenry, ^ranghwell and Kilconaron, being duly sworn saith – that 1. Winny Rogers, aged 40 years, able bodied, recieves 7 lbs Indian meal weekly 2. Margaret Cahillon deserted by her husband, 28 lbs, for self and four children, has sworn information against her husband.    % Michael Cannon, aged 36, wife and four children, receives 28 lbsr    I brought this family to the workhouse, because the family were sick and ftie man infirm.    4. Robin Newman, aged 50, and wife receive 14 lbs, weekly refused to come to the workhouse relief;    Vice Guardians considered him infirm, and from hisvappearance I think him infirm.    I would not feed him for his work. 5.   Aargaret lawless, aged 60 receives 71bs meal weekly, refused a ticket for the workhouse until she came before the Guardians, when she was placed upon out-door relief;    has a son enabled to maintain her.    6. Bridget Gleeeon, aged 35, deserted by her husband an able bodied man, engaged by a man, named Healy, at 1s. per week: and his diet:    receives 8 lbs of meal weekly for self and three children:   Vice-Guardians directed me to give her provisional relief, and flet her to lodge informations against her husband which she did.    7. winny Cunningham, aged 80 years, receives 71bs meal weekly, has more than a quarter acre of land;    ^ did not know she had land until G;ood Friday.    8. Mary Mulkeeran, aged 50, infirm, receives for self and two children 21 lbs, meal weekly;    was lately lessened;    she holds half an acre of land:

The Vice Guardians have gone to Athenry to adjudicate upon the cases I submitted to them.    The vice Guardians have taken means to ascertain the proper cases to be relieved;    not feeing satisfied with my representations they have inquired from rate-payers and others in Athenry,  but not in the other electoral divisions in my district to my knowledge;    they could have made inquiries without my knowledge. I do not know of women with illegitimate children receiving out-door relief, with the exception of one instance, the person being sick. I have submitted my books “b the ratepayers of Athenry for examination of one of them, in the presence of the others.    ± think Mr. Loughnane, expressed his approval of them andAiadded that there was not sufficient number of persons upon his list.     as received recommendations from several rate-payers to give out-door relief to persons who, upon inquiry, I found not entitled to it.

Wm. Proctor

Sworn and acknowledged before me, at the Loughrea Union Workhouse, being first duly read, 28th April 1848.

Owen Lloyd.

Poor Law Inspector.


Thomas Lally, bailiff to James Barret of Athenry, being duly sworn, saith that James Meyrick did not give up his land, nor offered to give it up to him.

William Proctor being duly sworn, saith – I am relieving officer for No. 2 District, comprising the electoral Division of Athenry, Cranghwell, and Kilconiron, in the Union of loughrea. j.1 live in the centre of the district as nearly as possible. I have visited the house of every person who had a permanent residence and the lodging of others who are in receipt of outdoor relief that is not entitled thereto, and there are very many in a destitute state, so far as not having provisions, who must very soon part with their land to be entitled to relief.    In the Athenry electoral division, 430 are at present receiving out-door relief, and this number must increase to 1,000 before long, unless some employment be provided for them.     n the Cranghwell electoral division 70 persons are relieved and this number, unless as stated before, will increase to 200 at the least;    and in Kilconiron electoral division there a re 68 on the list, that must increase to 200, unless the people are employed;    there is a probability of work being carried inihis division.    There is an average crop of wheat, but not much oats,   fotatoes are very extensicely planted.    In none of the three divisions have the small holders of land the quantity of cattle they used to have, not are they in the same condition, as they could not purchase hay to feed them last winter.    I was clerk and store keeper to the Kilconiron Selief Committee last year, and over 400 persons were daily fed, many of whom were in possession of both cattle and land,    ^couplers of not more than five teres of land were permitted by the committee to receive relief, and those who had a cow or sheep had a reduction made from their rations* I have discovered persons receiving relief last year, who had more than five acres of land, more than one cow, a horse and ccart, and in employment.    There willte less imposition this year if relieving officers are honest, th/ough many of the small landholders will give up their land to get relief, if they do not get employment. There are also many who will struggle at the risk of their lives to hold what they have, rather than part with it to go into the workhouse.

Wm Proctor, Relieving Officer. Sworn and acknowledged before me at Loughrea this 9th of May, 1848.

Owen Lloyd,

Poor Law Inspector.





Land Improvement Acts. (Loans in progress and applied for etc.)

Barony Athenry-John Lopdell applied for £250, was granted it and got an instalment of £50 on March 28 1862.

Parish of Athenry by John O’Donovan

SOURCE: Ordnance Survey letters of County Galway by Michael Herity MRIA Name   This parish lying between those of Monivea and Killeeneen, derives its name from the town ...