Saturday, June 23, 2012

The archaeology of the Great Famine: time for a beginning?

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Let me tell you a story. Way back in 1997, not long after I first came to Belfast, I got a job working on the excavation of Portora Castle, Co. Fermanagh. The site was directed by Cormac McSparron, and during the course of the excavation we became good friends. Over a pint or two on a night out in Enniskillen, we discussed the potential for archaeology that the internet was opening up. One of our ideas was for an internet-based journal devoted exclusively to Irish archaeology. Our general feeling was that ‘someone’ should do it. By June of the following year no such site had materialized and we thought we’d give it a shot ourselves. This was the genesis of The Internet Journal of Archaeology in Ireland. Unfortunately, we had no resources and no track record of delivering projects such as this. The latter point was a huge stumbling block, as (understandably) it appeared that no one was prepared to trust us with their work. We were on the verge of closing the project down for lack of interest when we were approached by Thomas Gregory Fewer. He offered us his paper The archaeology of the Great Famine: time for a beginning? It had originally been published in Group for the study of Irish Historic Settlement Newsletter 8, (1997), 8-13, but he wanted to make an emended version of the paper available. This, and two other papers that arrived shortly after, became the content of IJAI 1 (2000). Unfortunately, mounting family and work responsibilities meant that we never managed to maintain the momentum and achieve any real, long-lasting, success. Eventually the site was taken down and – I thought – that was the end of it. In the back of my mind there has always been a degree of sadness associated with this project – not for myself, but for these ‘lost’ papers. Their authors had trusted us when no one else would and, while we did the best we could, I still feel that we let them down. A couple of years ago I discovered that a cached version of the site still existed on the Way Back Machine, via I spent some time looking over the old content – one part of my mind reminiscing, while another part contemplated ‘what might have been’. It occurred to me only recently that this blog, while not the format we had originally envisioned, might just be a means of resurrecting these papers for a new audience. I set out to contact the original authors and ask for their permission to republish their work here. I was delighted and gratified to find that Greg, who had been the first to offer us his work in 1998, was again first to enthusiastically embrace this new opportunity. Even 15 years after its initial publication, this paper has much to offer and much to make us think. Greg lectures at Waterford Institute of Technology and has written extensively on topics relating to Irish history and space heritage
Robert M Chapple | Twitter

The archaeology of the Great Famine: time for a beginning?

It is argued that archaeological survey and excavation has the potential to provide new images of conditions during the Great Famine that would complement the often over-used contemporary illustrations from The Illustrated London News. Through a non-exhaustive survey of the historical literature, various types of site (including mass graves, workhouses, fever hospitals, soup kitchens, public or private relief schemes, and abandoned villages) are identified that could be examined archaeologically. 

Until recently, few historians dwelt long on the theme of the Great Famine, while some of those who did (notably Cecil Woodham-Smith) were frequently ostracised for doing so. Although the silence of the historians has ended in the last fifteen to twenty years, particularly with the work of Cormac Ó Gráda, Joel Mokyr and Mary Daly, and more recently with the emergence of the growing mini-industry associated with the 150th anniversary commemorations, little work has ever been done on the Famine from an archaeological perspective. This is partly due to the recent nature of the event - most archaeologists in Ireland have concentrated on the country's prehistory and, in more recent years, its Early Christian and medieval periods. Indeed, the county archaeological surveys and inventories were intended, at their inception, to concentrate on archaeological sites pre-dating 1700 AD. Moreover, the former reticence of the historians in examining the Famine had left a void in historical scholarship that would not have helped spark an interest in the disaster's archaeological dimension.

With so much work done, and still to be done, on the history of the Famine, one might ask what contribution to our knowledge of the event could be made by archaeology? Primarily, archaeological research could provide new images of the Famine. Most of the contemporary illustrations of the Famine that are known today derive from the pages of The Illustrated London News and are used over and over again. These illustrations (what might be called the mid-nineteenth-century equivalent of today's 'ubiquitous billboard stereotypes of Third World children'[1]), need to be bolstered by other images that could be supplied by archaeological survey and excavation. Mass graves, workhouses, fever hospitals, soup kitchens, public and private relief schemes, and abandoned villages are among the types of site that could be investigated by archaeologists and which could supply new images of Famine conditions from architectural surveys and site plans to drawings and photographs of contexts and artefacts (not to mention the museum displays of the finds themselves). What follows is a non-exhaustive survey, from an archaeological perspective, of the mainly historical literature pertaining to these site types as they existed, for the most part, in southern and eastern parts of the country.

Famine graves
If excavated, mass graves could supply more accurate data on the immediate causes of mortality - whether by outright starvation, or by disease aggravated by malnutrition - as well as information on the way people were interred in these communal burials. The mortality level of a particular locality might also be determined more accurately since historical records such as the 1851 census are thought to under-represent the number of those who died, while others give conflicting information.[2] In particular, many still-born babies and the deaths of young, un-baptised, infants probably went un-recorded. Moreover, many unborn (and therefore undocumented) babies also presumably perished along with their sick or starving mothers. The deaths of older children and adults might likewise have gone unrecorded in communities decimated by mortality and emigration but where no parish records were kept until the 1850s. More intriguing, perhaps, are the mysterious, moonlit burials of workhouse inmates who had succumbed to fever at Glenties, County Donegal, in February 1848, their corpses being interred with the presence of 'neither friend nor clergyman'. The grave digger did not even have 'any line from any person to certify that the deceased parties had died in the poor house'.[3]

The bodies of some of those workhouse inmates who had the misfortune to pass away in the vicinity of a school of anatomy, however, may have endured a lengthy delay before burial (which was not in any workhouse graveyard either). In 1832, the Anatomy Act allowed paupers' bodies to be used for dissection and medical teaching. Prior to this act, only the cadavers of executed criminals could legally be used for dissection, although the variable supply from this source was clandestinely supported by a widespread industry in graverobbing.[4]. The requisition, whether legal or not, of paupers' bodies is a fact that should be borne in mind when determining the minimum number of burials in a graveyard or mass grave of the famine period.

As commemorative projects got underway in 1995, some known Famine graves were cleared of undergrowth. One, known as Reilig na tSléibhe ('The Mountain Graveyard'), had been opened during the Famine on a hill above Dungarvan, County Waterford, for the interment of the dead from the town's workhouse when all the other local graveyards were full. A number of undecorated and uninscribed stone slabs were found to delineate this temporary graveyard.[5] Such graveyards became necessary because the traditional ones were becoming grossly over-used. For example, the graveyard around the medieval church at Kilbarry, near Waterford city, was chosen to take the city's workhouse dead when its own burial plot became exhausted late in 1846. However, by mid-February 1847, a local newspaper reported that this graveyard had become 'so overcrowded that the coffins in many instances are only a few inches under the surface'.[6] A similar story was reported for Kilkenny workhouse in January 1847 - when the inmates there were buried, 'the lid of the coffin was only half on with the body exposed and [that] the graves were very shallow'.[7] In County Cork, the number of dead in March and April 1847 was so great that the notorious sliding coffins came to replace individual ones. The sliding (or 'slip bottom') coffin was designed as a re-usable box to transport the dead to the graveyard where the body was dropped into the grave by sliding open the coffin's base.[8] Folkloric sources recall the use of this type of coffin for the workhouse dead at New Ross, County Wexford, in 1847.[9] Shallow burials without coffins were noted in Schull, County Cork, in February 1847, and were expected to become a source of disease once the corpses began to decompose with the arrival of warm weather.[10] Although no cemetery or mass grave dating to the Famine has yet been fully excavated, part of a probable famine burial plot in County Limerick underwent trial trenching in 1990 and produced an east-west oriented burial in a shallow grave, another possible grave lying alongside it.[11] In April 1996, the remains of six coffins were dug up by workmen on a building site in Derry close to a former workhouse that opened in 1840. They have been initially interpreted as the burials of either workhouse inmates or of the victims of a tragic maritime disaster in which seventy-two people suffocated aboard the paddle steamer Londonderry in 1848.[12]

Many of the dead had to wait some time before they were buried as indicated by contemporary reports of corpses lying on the road or in peasant cabins in Schull, County Cork, and Dungarvan, County Waterford, during February and March of 1847.[13] Delayed burial exposed the corpses to predation by cats, dogs and rats, while the latter are said to have fed on the not quite dead as well.[14] That many graves dug during the Famine were shallow suggests the likelihood that dogs occasionally dug up corpses and fed upon them, an age old problem.[15] Presumably, the skeletal remains of some of the people buried in famine graves would bear physical evidence of such predation.

Many workhouses still survive today, some of them run down as at Lismore (County Waterford), others still in use as hospitals such as St Joseph's, Dungarvan (County Waterford), or Fermoy hospital in County Cork.[16] These were set up by the government as a refuge of last resort for paupers from 1838 (when the Irish Poor Law act was passed) until their dissolution (in the Irish Free State) in 1923.[17] In the words of Christine Kinealy:

The workhouse buildings embodied the poor law ethos: while on the one hand they were to be the medium for the provision of relief, they were simultaneously to be administered so as to deter all but the really destitute from applying to them. Their architect was directed to make them uniform, cheap, durable, and unattractive. Life within them was to reinforce this external drabness, while order, classification, discipline and a monotonous diet were considered necessary to limit their appeal. The central poor law commissioners believed that only a rigid adherence to these principles would make the workhouse an efficient 'test' of destitution.[18]

Stark conditions and strict discipline were not the only fate of many workhouse inmates. High death tolls were reported in workhouses around the country during the Famine, particularly in March and April 1847 with some areas worse affected than others - 3,909 persons are reported to have died in the workhouse of Skibbereen Union, County Cork, between 1842 and 1851.[19] Mortality was usually a result of disease, the workhouse acting as a hotbed of contagion. In February 1847, the workhouse at Dungarvan, County Waterford, 'became more like a hospital with people attending for both medical and poor relief' due to the widespread occurrence of fever and dysentery.[20]

Although intended to be uniform, there was considerable variation in the application of the Poor Law by the local guardians. Such variations included the giving of beef to inmates of the Lismore (County Waterford) workhouse at Christmas, while those in Waterford city were given snuff or tobacco.[21] Such variation might also, then, be expected in the architecture of workhouses, and indeed, the Waterford workhouse is a case in point. Here, the guardians built special wards to accommodate extra-marital children and their mothers and for women suffering from venereal disease.[22] Other kinds of workhouse adjustments included the enlargement of the workhouse infirmary at Belfast, the addition of 'sleeping galleries' and an extension in the men's yard at Lismore, an extension incorporating a hospital at Waterford, and the use of 'a ton of broken glass [...] for the top of the workhouse wall at Dungarvan "to keep paupers in and keep out vagrants"'.[23] At the New Ross workhouse, the idiot wards were put to use as a (somewhat overcrowded) fever hospital in late 1846. Meanwhile, the original fever hospital in the workhouse was catering for 130 patients though only built to accommodate 100.[24]

Severe overcrowding was a major problem in most workhouses around the country and was not alleviated until Poor Law Commissioners directed local guardians to obtain additional workhouse accommodation in December 1846.[25] As a result of this directive, a wide range of buildings were bought or rented to act as auxiliary workhouses. These included stores at Dungarvan and Lismore, and a barracks at Tallow, all in County Waterford; a Presentation Convent, a tanyard, a malthouse, four stores and two 'unspecified buildings' in Waterford city; and 'three small timber sheds' at Skibbereen, County Cork.[26] Land for building new workhouse buildings was also purchased such as the plot of ground acquired next to the New Ross Market House in 1848.[27] Conditions within these buildings varied as indicated by the unusual presence of gas lighting in one auxiliary workhouse in Waterford. This workhouse was connected to the city's gas main, allowing its women inmates to more safely and cheaply work after dark than would have been the case had candles been used.[28] Gas lighting first appeared on the bridge crossing the River Suir at Waterford in 1816.[16]

Living conditions, made bad by overcrowding, were also negatively affected by the poor construction quality of some of the workhouses. The dormitories and other rooms in the Lismore, County Waterford, workhouse suffered from flooding by rainwater in February 1846, a problem that does not seem to have been satisfactorily dealt with as late as May 1850 when the dampness of its hospital walls reached the bedding of the patients.[30] The workhouse at Glenties, County Donegal, was damaged by a 'hurricane' in January 1847 when 'great quantities of slates, tiles, lead and metal [sic] pipes [were] blown off' the building which consequently became flooded by rainwater.[31] While Bantry's wards were 'clean and orderly', bad odours were a major problem in the workhouses at Ballyshannon (County Donegal), Cork city, Dunmanway (County Cork), and Lismore (County Waterford). These were due to generally bad sanitation throughout the buildings as well as poor ventilation and unswept or badly-made sewers and drains. There was also 'medical concern' over the construction of the hospital extension at the Waterford workhouse in 1847 as it was being built on the site of a cesspit.[32] Archaeological excavation of workhouse latrines, where possible, might provide data on diet, parasitic and other infections and the medicines used to treat them (indicated, perhaps, by the presence of medicine bottles and medical apparatus).[33] Discarded medical apparatus might include items such as the 'cupping machine' purchased by Waterford workhouse in 1848/49 for drawing blood.[34]

Documentary records already indicate the variety of menus between the different workhouses in Ireland, especially by 1848 when 'local conditions rather than edicts from headquarters dictated the menu'.[35] In some areas, however, the paupers might have to go without food for a day or more due to the absence of cash or credit with which to obtain it. This situation occurred at the workhouse in Ballina, County Mayo, in late June/early July 1847 when it owed £6,000 in unpaid bills. The paupers at the workhouse of Bantry, County Cork, received only one meal a day in early February 1847 due to a lack of funds, and when supplies of milk were scarce the following April, little whey could be offered the inmates. No food could be offered by the end of the following May when the guardians had become temporarily bankrupt.[36] Of the range of foodstuffs used to feed the inmates, the workhouse at Lismore, County Waterford, offered oatmeal, bread and gruel from December 1845, adopting maize as an alternative to oats for breakfast in April 1846. In 1847, cabbage, rye and turnips came to be cultivated along with peas and beans in the workhouse garden, and when milk became relatively scarce in the winter of 1847-8, molasses was obtained instead.[37] Many workhouses, however, seemed to rely on a stirabout of Indian meal mixed with oatmeal, while others, such as that at Cashel, County Tipperary, served only Indian meal.[38] Meat was occasionally offered to workhouse inmates, but usually only to patients in the hospital. Unfortunately, the quality of the meat was not always good. In February 1850, the meat acquired for Lismore's inmates was so bad that the workhouse master was compelled to resign, while the beef used in the soup cooked at the Waterford workhouse in March 1848 was found to be derived from cheap cuts that contained more bone than flesh.[39] The standard of the irregular supply of meat to the workhouse in Bantry was also so bad that the medical officer there refused to give it to any of his patients.[40] The experience at Lurgan, County Armagh, was no better, the inmates being served 'sour bread and putrid broth made of rotten beef'.[41] Differences also existed between workhouses in the types of medical diets prescribed for inmates. While dysentery patients were fed only 'coarse brown bread and thin porridge' at Dunmanway, County Cork, in April 1847, fever sufferers at New Ross, County Wexford, were prescribed (in late 1847 and early 1848) high quantities of spirits, porter and wine![42] Inmates were occasionally able to smuggle food into the workhouse, though the illicit ingestion of salt herrings at Bantry in April 1847 only made infirmary patients who ate them even more ill.[43] There may have been many similar instances of food having been smuggled into a workhouse, but having gone undetected, they were therefore undocumented. Any cesspit contents and other refuse excavated at a workhouse site might add more information on foodstuffs (including smuggled items) consumed at an individual workhouse in the form of animal bones and seeds or other plant macrofossil remains, while the types of beverages imbibed might be indicated by different kinds of glass and earthenware bottles or the presence of beer casks.

Fever hospitals
Fever hospitals were set up mainly during 1847 as a direct response to the overcrowded conditions of the workhouse infirmaries at a time when typhus was rampant, but these were a largely ephemeral service as were frequently the buildings in which they were located. While the Barracks at Tallow, County Waterford, were requisitioned as a fever hospital and auxiliary workhouse in May 1847, many other hospitals were merely temporary wooden sheds built (at least in theory) according to an official plan.[44] Four of these sheds were built in 1847-48 in Waterford Poor Law Union - two in Waterford (one was located in the grounds of the city's infirmary), and one each at Bunmahon and Kilmacthomas. There were also a number of other temporary hospitals in Waterford Union, though it is not certain whether they were operated directly from the workhouse.[45] The temporary nature of the sheds is shown by the closure in 1848 of the establishments at Bunmahon and Kilmacthomas, while the Trustees of the Waterford City and County Infirmary gave over part of the hospital building to house cholera patients in 1849 provided that the workhouse guardians 'removed the abandoned and unsightly fever shed on their grounds'[46] Another cholera hospital was located in Shandon House, near Dungarvan, County Waterford, between April and September 1849.[47] The life of the extra (unspecified) accommodation rented as a temporary fever hospital in Hall's Lane in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, came to an early end when its roof collapsed in two stages four days apart during heavy rain in January 1848.[48] Even more temporary were the military tents utilised for caring the sick in Schull, County Cork, in March of that year.[49] Similar tents were supplied in greater numbers to various locations around the country in late May and June of 1847. In relatively mild weather conditions and with enough beds, these tents proved affective as hospitals because the air within them was fresher and fewer patients lay as close to each other as in more permanent establishments.[50]

Soup kitchens
Another ephemeral service was the provision of soup kitchens which were operated by the government in the summer of 1847 as an alternative form of relief to the then closed public works schemes, although some local relief committees in Ulster[51] had set up soup kitchens as early as November and December 1846. The kind of soup offered was extremely variable, partly because the Relief Commissioners thought that it entailed 'any food cooked in a boiler, and distributed in a liquid state, thick or thin, and whether composed of meat, fish, vegetables, grain or meal'.[52] The Quakers also ran their own charitable soup kitchens around Ireland generally in 1847, but as early as November 1846 in Cork city.[53] At least one of the heavy cast-iron soup boilers used by the Quakers in Waterford survives on private premises in the city. These boilers were manufactured at the English Quaker Foundry in Coalbrookdale and as many as fifty-five of them were distributed by the Waterford Quaker Relief Committee alone to locations in Counties Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford. By early 1848, if not earlier, all of the boilers provided by the Waterford Quakers had ceased being used due to lack of funds.[54]

Landlords also set up soup kitchens on their estates including the Stronge family of Tynan Abbey in County Armagh and the Marquess of Waterford who supplied £300 for the free distribution of soup on his County Londonderry property. Meat was an important component of Lord Waterford's recipe for the soup. Food other than soup might also be offered. The Leslie family of Castle Leslie, County Monaghan, offered stirabout and turnips to anyone seeking food, serving it 'from a great cauldron set up in the courtyard' of their residence.[55]

Public and private works
Many public works schemes, which were operated in 1846 and early 1847, involved the construction of roads, public paths and bridges.[56] For example, part of the post road running west from Donegal town underwent construction in November 1846.[57] By examination of contemporary records such as newspaper reports of the meetings of local relief commissioners and the various editions of Ordnance Survey maps, many other individual public works projects can be identified. A graveyard and one important road in Waterford have already been identified as Famine constructions by this method.[58] Folklore and/or place-name evidence, when used with caution, could be used to locate other examples of 'Famine roads', such as the Bóthairín na déirce in west Cork.[59] There were many other types of public works projects around the country. A 200-foot-long stone pier accompanied by a 500-foot-long approach road and retaining wall was built at Slade, County Wexford, in 1847-1848.[60] A harbour begun in the 1820s as a private enterprise was completed with public funds at Courtown, County Wexford, in 1847. This involved the construction of a fish-curing station and a screw pile pier, though the latter was destroyed twenty-two years later in a storm.[61] A four-and-a-half-mile stretch of a canal projected to link Dungarvan with the River Blackwater was built with public works funding in County Waterford at a cost of £10,000.[62] Railway construction also benefited from public works spending from October 1846, though Mary Daly states that 'only one company - the Waterford and Limerick railway company - took advantage of the provision'. However, other railway construction projects employed many people who might not otherwise have found work, including for example, the Great Southern & Western line from Dublin to Cork which was built 'through almost the entire length of Mallow union during the famine'.[63]

Many landlords took advantage of the government's decision to extend loans for estate drainage schemes in October 1846.[64] For example, £11,700 was spent on drainage works on the Duke of Devonshire's Irish estate.[65] Even following the closure of public works throughout Ireland in March 1847, employment on drainage projects continued to be offered to some individuals looking for work on the Duke of Devonshire's Lismore estate, though this might only be for two or three weeks.[66] The need for pipes and tiles used in drainage projects in Gorey Barony, County Wexford, in 1847, brought about the establishment of a number of brick-making concerns by local proprietors. Lord Courtown, for example, obtained a government loan of £7,900 with which he built brick-making kilns and slated drying sheds on his estate. This factory survived as the Courtown Brick & Tile Works until its closure in 1972. The success of the drainage works on the Courtown estate contrasts with those in the Macamore district in the same barony where 'the pipes were placed far too deep and the bore of the pipes was too small [thereby causing] the system to fail in a relatively short time'[67] However, landlords were not the only persons responsible for carrying out private relief works. In County Waterford, a pier was built from locally-quarried rock at Ballinagoul under the auspices of the Waterford Quaker Relief Committee in late 1848/early 1849. This was accompanied by a shop for selling fishing equipment while a fish-curing house was set up at Helvick.[68]

Many landlords around the country spent substantial sums providing employment on their estates that was not restricted to drainage works. At a cost of £1,500, the Earl Courtown had a new road built on his estate in County Wexford in 1846.[69] In County Cork, Sir George Colthurst was said to have spent £5,000 (equivalent to more than one year's rental) between 1846 and 1849 on 'buildings, drainage, fences, and roads on his Ballyvourney estate', while Viscount Midleton expended 'at least £20,000, or about one year's income from all of [his] estates, [...] for improvements between 1845 and 1848; more than half of this large sum [being] devoted to the building of a sea wall and esplanade at Ringmeen'.[70] The Duke of Devonshire's expenditure on estate works and repairs amounted to £52,000 with a further £4,500 granted to tenants for farm improvements from 1845 to 1852.[71] The Stronge family of Tynan Abbey, County Armagh, also offered employment to anyone applying for it.[72]

Abandoned settlements
Although many landlords provided relief in the form of estate works, others took the opportunity afforded by the Famine to clear their estates of smallholders, especially those holding plots valued at under £4. Such smallholders were exempted in 1843 from paying rates, the responsibility for which devolved upon their landlords. This situation was exacerbated by declining rentals after 1845 and by the passing of An Act to Make Further Provision for the Relief of the Destitute Poor in Ireland (10 Vic. cap. 31) in June 1847. This act contained a feature known as the Quarter Acre, or Gregory, Clause which disallowed any occupier with more than a quarter of an acre of land to receive either indoor or outdoor relief. Thus, many smallholders were encouraged to surrender their holdings to their landlords in order to claim relief.[23] Thousands of tenants were cleared from entire estates in Clare, Kerry and Mayo where they were encouraged to give up their holdings voluntarily in return for (often trifling) compensation and/or financial assistance to emigrate. The tenants also frequently assisted in the destruction of their own houses.[74]

Many villages virtually ceased to exist following either mass eviction, emigration or high levels of mortality (or a combination of all three factors). Villages affected in this way include Liscananoun, County Galway, which declined from 114 houses (688 people) in 1841 to 46 houses (257 people) in 1851, while Kilmacthomas, in County Waterford, was described in October 1847 by a contemporary local newspaper 'as the once busy, prosperous and wealthy village, now turned to pauper haunts, to charnel houses'.[75] Numerous individual dwellings, whether in towns and villages or scattered throughout the countryside, disappeared during the Famine. For example, in County Clare, the

… percentage living in the type 4 houses - the bothán scóir - dropped from 56 per cent of the population in 1841 to 31 per cent in 1851. 17, 739 one roomed cabins disappeared and this was more than three-quarters of all such houses. This process has continued and the only bothán scóir extant is the one in the Bunratty Folk Park.[76]

Little archaeological work has been carried out on this type of structure, although the ruins of a 7m by 6m bothán built of rough masonry were surveyed in 1986 at Glencurrane, County Limerick.[77] Their rarity today may account for the apparent absence of the bothán in the barony of Nethercross, County Dublin, which was surveyed for its vernacular architecture in 1987-88.[78] Conditions in such houses could be appalling as Quakers representing their Cork Relief Committee found in the Slieve Grine uplands of west Waterford in January 1847. One dwelling they visited contained a family of six 'without furniture, utensils for cooking, straw to lie on [...] and without food'.[79] Even worse, perhaps, were the cabins in Erris (Ballina Union) which, in 1847, were described as being

cut out of the living bog, the walls of the bog forming two or three sides; entrances were so low that it was necessary to crawl in on all fours, and the height inside - four to eight feet - made it almost impossible to stand upright. Floor space was usually from seven to ten feet square, but James Hack Tuke measured many which were less. Large families, sometimes of more than eight persons, lived in these 'human burrows'.[80]

Abandoned villages, where they survive either as a 'ghost town' or as subsurface features in an area of pastureland, can offer information on Famine (and pre-Famine) settlements, such as their layout or street pattern, details of their domestic architecture and information on living conditions within them. Already, some archaeological work has occurred in this area, including a survey of "The deserted village" at Slievemore (Toir) on Achill Island, in County Mayo, and a research project which has identified, by surface examination and phosphate analysis, the homesteads of three tenant families that lived on the Mahon estate at Gorttoose (near Strokestown House), County Roscommon.[81] Slievemore, though abandoned as a permanent settlement, remained in use for booleying as late as 1940.[82] In the summer of 1996, excavations were due to be carried out of 'the Murray clachan, one of the settlements that made up Gorttoose village' in order to 'clear up a long-standing mystery - namely, just how bad off were the Gorttoose tenants?' (the tenants had been forcibly evicted from their holdings in 1847 by their landlord Major Denis Mahon). During these excavations, particular attention would be paid to compiling 'a catalog of the peasants' material culture - the hearths, pottery, and other artifacts they used in their daily lives' in what the excavator considers to be the 'first-ever excavation of an Irish peasant community'.[83]

In 1989, Cormac Ó Gráda had, from a historian's perspective, emphasised 'the lack of Irish research on the Famine' - particularly 'the paucity of regional studies'.[84] Perhaps, with the recent advent of historical studies on the subject in Ireland, archaeological research will be able to add new dimensions to various aspects of our knowledge of the Famine. Museums, such as the Strokestown Famine Museum in County Roscommon, which currently suffer from 'the relative dearth of illustrative material left by the social catastrophe' of the famine,[85] could become important repositories of artefacts recovered from archaeological excavations. With another four years or so of commemorations to go, there should be ample opportunity for archaeology to contribute to the growing body of Famine studies.

1 Cormac Ó Gráda (1995) 'The Great Famine and today's famines', in Cathal Póirtéir (ed.) The Great Irish Famine (Cork & Dublin: Radio Telefís Éireann/Mercier Press), pp. 248-58 (p. 249).

2 Joel Mokyr (1985) Why Ireland starved: a quantitative and analytical history of the Irish economy, 1800-1850 (second edition; London: George Allen and Unwin), p. 264; Patrick Hickey (1993) 'Famine, mortality and emigration: a profile of six parishes in the Poor Law Union of Skibbereen, 1846-7' in Patrick O'Flanagan and Cornelius G. Buttimer (eds) Cork history and society: interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish county (Dublin: Geography Publications), pp. 873-918; Thomas Gregory Fewer (1995) 'Famine mortality in south Kilkenny: a parochial microcosm', in Old Kilkenny Review47, pp 44-57 (p. 46).

3 Jonathan Bardon (1992) A history of Ulster (Belfast: The Blackstaff Press), p. 290.

4 See Ruth Richardson (1988) Death, dissection and the destitute (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul).

5 William Fraher (1995) 'The Dungarvan disturbances of 1846 and sequels', in Des Cowman and Donald Brady (eds) The Famine in Waterford 1845-1850: Teacht na bprátaí dubha (Dublin: Geography Publications in association with Waterford County Council), pp. 137-52 (p. 150).

6 Rita Byrne (1995) 'The workhouse in Waterford city, 1847-49', in Cowman and Brady, The Famine in Waterford, pp. 119-36 (p. 123).

7 Michael O'Dwyer (1995) 'The Famine in Kilkenny as reported in the Kilkenny Journal newspaper September 1845-March 1848', in Old Kilkenny Review47, pp. 114-26 (p. 123).

8 Hickey, 'Famine, mortality and emigration', p. 888.

9 Anna Kinsella (1995) County Wexford in the famine years 1845-1849 (Enniscorthy: Duffry Press), p. 55.

10 Cecil Woodham-Smith (1962) The Great Hunger (London: Hamish Hamilton), p. 182.

11 Brian Hodkinson (1991) 'Stradbally North', in Isabel Bennett (ed.) Excavations 1990: summary accounts of archaeological excavations in Ireland (Bray: Wordwell), p. 44.

12 Anon. (1996) 'Derry coffins may date from sea disaster', in The Irish Times, 20 April 1996, p. 5, col. 7.

13 James Donnelly (1975) The land and the people of nineteenth century Cork: the rural economy and the land question (London and New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul), p. 86; Fraher, 'The Dungarvan disturbances', p. 146.

14 Donnelly, Land and people, p. 86; Woodham-Smith, The great hunger, pp. 182-3. In the ongoing famine and civil war in Sudan, hyaena populations are rumoured to have increased as a result of 'the abundance of human corpses' (Laura Spinney [1996] 'Caught in the crossfire', in New Scientist149[2015], 3 February, p. 52).

15 Paul Barber (1988) Vampires, burial and death: folklore and reality (New Haven and London: Yale University Press), pp. 125-6.

16 Fraher, 'Dungarvan disturbances', p. 147; Helen Litton (1995) The Irish famine: an illustrated history (Dublin: Wolfhound Press), p. 35.

17 However, Professor J. J. Lee, in his Ireland 1912-1985: politics and society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 313), regards the legislation abolishing the Poor Law in the Free State as 'a cosmetic device'. Meanwhile, the Poor Law continued in Northern Ireland into the 1930s and 1940s -- see F. S. L. Lyons (1973) Ireland since the Famine (second edition, London: Fontana Paperbacks), pp. 713 and 743; and R. F. Foster (1988) Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (London: Allen Lane), p. 556. The workhouse mentioned earlier in Derry did not officially close till 1984 ('Derry coffins may date from sea disaster', op. cit.).

18 Christine Kinealy (1992) 'The workhouse system in County Waterford, 1838-1923', in William Nolan, Thomas P. Power and Des Cowman (eds) Waterford: history and society. Interdisciplinary essays on the history of an Irish county (Dublin: Geography Publications), pp. 579-96 (pp. 580-1). Cf. Tom Nolan (1995) 'The Lismore Poor Law Union and the famine', in Cowman and Brady, The Famine in Waterford, pp. 101-18.

19 Hickey, 'Famine, mortality and emigration', pp. 893, 911.

20 Kinealy, 'Workhouse system in County Waterford', p. 585.

21 Kinealy, 'Workhouse system in County Waterford', p. 580.

22 Kinealy, 'Workhouse system in County Waterford', p. 582.

23 Bardon, A history of Ulster, p. 292; Nolan, 'Lismore Poor Law Union', p. 105; Byrne, 'The workhouse in Waterford', p. 119; and Fraher, 'Dungarvan disturbances', p. 149.

24 Kinsella, County Wexford in the famine years, p. 34.

25 Christine Kinealy, 'The role of the Poor Law during the famine', in Póirtéir (ed.) The Great Irish Famine, pp. 104-22 (p. 112); Donnelly, Land and people, p. 94.

26 Nolan, 'Lismore Poor Law Union', pp. 105, 109; Fraher, 'Dungarvan disturbances', p. 146; Byrne, 'The workhouse in Waterford', pp. 120-1; and Donnelly, Land and people, p. 94.

27 Kinsella, County Wexford in the famine years, p. 66.

28 Byrne, 'The workhouse in Waterford', p. 121.

29 Des Cowman (1992) 'Trade and society in Waterford City 1800-1840' in Power and Cowman (eds) Waterford: history and society, pp. 427-58 (p. 433).

30 Nolan, 'Lismore Poor Law Union', p. 104, 109.

31 Bardon, A history of Ulster, p. 287.

32 Bardon, A history of Ulster, p. 294; Woodham-Smith, The great hunger, pp. 199-200; Donnelly, Land and people, p. 95; Nolan, 'Lismore Poor Law Union', p. 104; Byrne, 'The workhouse in Waterford', p. 120.

33 However, the continuing long-term use of these latrines throughout the latter half of the nineteenth and first quarter of the twentieth centuries may have necessitated periodic emptyings of their contents. This was found to have been the case with an early nineteenth century earth closet excavated at an archaeological site in downtown Montréal, Canada, from which glass phials used mainly for prescription medicines were recovered (see Pauline Desjardins & Geneviève Duguay, Pointe-à-Callière: From Ville-Marie to Montreal [Sillery: Les éditions du Septentrion with Le Vieux-Port de Montréal], pp. 71, 79). A number of privy pits dating from 1895-1930 were similarly found to have been cleared of latrine deposits in archaeological excavations of certain properties on the edge of the Chinatown district of Phoenix, Arizona (see Paul G. Chace [1994] 'Overseas Chinese Research Group', in The Society for Historical Archaeology Newsletter27[3], pp. 14-16 [p. 15]).

34 Byrne, 'The workhouse in Waterford', p. 130.

35 E. Margaret Crawford (1995) 'Food and famine', in Póirtéir (ed.), The Great Irish Famine, pp. 60-73 (pp. 69-71).

36 Woodham-Smith, The great hunger, pp. 312-13; Donnelly, Land and people, p. 96.

37 Nolan, Lismore Poor Law Union', pp. 106-7.

38 Crawford, 'Food and famine', p. 70.

39 Nolan, 'Lismore Poor Law Union', p. 117; Byrne, 'The workhouse in Waterford', p. 125.

40 Donnelly, Land and people, p. 96.

41 Bardon, A history of Ulster, p. 289.

42 Donnelly, Land and people, p. 96; Kinsella, County Wexford in the famine years, p. 72.

43 Donnelly, Land and people, p. 95.

44 Nolan, 'The Lismore Poor Law Union', p. 109. An application was also made to the parish priest of Lismore, County Waterford, for the use of his barn as a temporary fever hospital in March 1847.

45 Byrne, 'The workhouse in Waterford', p. 121-2.

46 Byrne, 'The workhouse in Waterford', p. 121, 123.

47 Fraher, 'The Dungarvan disturbances', p. 148.

48 Bardon, A history of Ulster, p. 296.

49 Hickey, 'Famine, mortality and emigration', p. 887.

50 Woodham-Smith, The great hunger, pp. 201-2.

51 Bardon, A history of Ulster, p. 285.

52 Crawford, 'Food and famine', p. 68.

53 Donnelly, Land and people, p. 92-3.

54 Joan Johnson (1995) 'The Quaker relief effort in Waterford', in Cowman and Brady, The Famine in Waterford, pp. 215-38 (pp. 220, 232). The surviving example is illustrated on p. 220. The Quakers also gave grants to help individuals run their own soup kitchens.

55 Bardon, A history of Ulster, pp. 286, 293.

56 Cormac Ó Gráda (1989) The Great Irish Famine (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan), pp. 44-5; Mary E. Daly (1986) The famine in Ireland (Dublin: Dublin Historical Association), p. 74-82; Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh (1972) Ireland before the Famine 1798-1848 (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan), pp. 209-14.

57 Bardon, A history of Ulster, p. 284.

58 Dermot Power (1995) 'Public works in Waterford 1846-47', in Decies51, pp. 57-64 (p. 63).

59 Hickey, 'Famine, mortality and emigration', p. 888.

60 Kinsella, County Wexford in the famine years, p. 22.

61 Kinsella, County Wexford in the famine years, p. 62.

62 Fraher, 'Dungarvan disturbances', pp. 137, 151n.

63 Daly, The famine in Ireland, p. 77; Eugene Broderick (1995) 'The famine in Waterford as reported in the local newspapers', in Cowman and Brady, The Famine in Waterford, pp. 153-213 (p. 173); Donnelly, Land and people, p. 123.

64 Daly, The famine in Ireland, p. 77; Ó Tuathaigh, Ireland before the Famine, p. 214; Kinsella, County Wexford in the famine years, p. 44.

65 Donnelly, Land and people, p. 109.

66 Thomas Gregory Fewer (1995) 'Poverty and patronage: responses to the famine on the Duke of Devonshire's Lismore estate', in Cowman and Brady, The Famine in Waterford, pp. 69-99 (pp. 83-5).

67 Kinsella, County Wexford in the famine years, p. 44.

68 Johnson, 'Quaker relief effort in Waterford', pp. 228-9.

69 Kinsella, County Wexford in the famine years, p. 26.

70 Donnelly, Land and people, p. 109.

71 Donnelly, Land and people, p. 109; cf. Fewer, 'Poverty and patronage', pp. 72-6.

72 Bardon, A history of Ulster, p. 286.

73 Kinealy, 'The role of the Poor Law', pp. 108, 116.

74 James S. Donnelly, Jr (1989) 'Landlords and tenants', in W. E. Vaughan (ed.) A New History of Ireland. V: Ireland under the Union, 1801-70 (Oxford), pp. 332-49 (pp. 338-40).

75 Kevin Whelan (1995) 'Pre- and post-famine landscape change', in Póirtéir, The Great Irish Famine, pp. 19-33 (p. 28); Broderick, 'The famine in Waterford', p. 185.

76 Timothy P. O'Neill (1974) 'Clare and Irish poverty, 1815-1851', in Studia Hibernica14, pp. 7-27 (p. 24).

77 Margaret Gowan (1988) Three Irish Gas pipelines: new archaeological evidence in Munster (Dublin: Wordwell Ltd - Academic Publications), pp. 146-7. It is stated that a number of botháin survived in County Limerick into the 1930s and 1940s.

78 Barry O'Reilly (1991) 'The vernacular architecture of north Co. Dublin', in Archaeology Ireland5(2), pp. 24-6.

79 Johnson, 'Quaker relief effort in Waterford', p. 219.

80 Woodham-Smith, The great hunger, p. 311.

81 'Survey of "The deserted village", Slievemore (Toir), Achill Island, County Mayo', in Isabel Bennett (ed.) Excavations 1992: summary accounts of archaeological excavations in Ireland (Bray: Wordwell), p. 63; Charles E. Orser, Jr (1994) 'Europe', in The Society for Historical Archaeology Newsletter27(3), p. 33; and Charles E. Orser, Jr (1996) 'Can there be an archaeology of the Great Famine?', in Chris Morash and Richard Hayes, eds, 'Fearful realities': new perspectives on the Famine (Blackrock, Co. Dublin, & Portland, Oregon: Irish Academic Press), pp. 77-89 (pp. 86-8).

82 Theresa McDonald (1990) 'Achill Island', in Archaeology Ireland4(3), pp. 7-9 (p. 9). A map of Achill sites in this article shows the locations of a number of abandoned villages on the island.

83 Charles Orser (1996) 'Ireland before the Famine', at [N.B. This URL is no longer accessible].

84 Ó Gráda, The Great Irish Famine, p. 59.

85 Peter Gray (1994) 'Strokestown Famine Museum', in History Ireland2(2), pp. 5-6.

Editor's Notes
For anyone interested, I’ve posted the editorial (New Settlers on the Electronic Frontier: the experience of the IJAI) from IJAI 1 on

The image of the skeleton in its coffin is from the Moore Group's excavation of the Manorhamilton Workhouse, Co. Leitrim, and is used under a creative commons licence.

The second illustration, of the woman and child in the fields, is one of the ubiquitous images associated with the Great Famine, derived from the Illustrated London News. Interestingly, a Google image search for the string 'Irish Potato Famine' still returns many of this type of image.

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