Letter from PP to Prime Minister 1849


Killedan, Kiltimagh County Mayo, May 15, 1849.

My Lord - At a parochial meeting held here on yesterday for the purpose of bringing before parliament the extreme sufferings and distress of this parish above all others in the entire union, I was publicly called on to address your lordship,-

This, my lord, is, I trust, a sufficient reason for any liberties that I may be considered to take. Indeed it is with reluctance that I comply; particularly under the bad prospects that appear before me.

You, my lord, may be already well aware of the privations that we have undergone; perhaps, too, you are perfectly cognizant of the misery that oppresses us. Every death, every loss we sustain may be on record with you; but there is one matter that you have not learned as yet; one matter that you do not at least appear to believe - the total ruin of the country.

Wherever one travels here, something dismal is to be seen. The degrading brand of a heartless and cruel government is marked upon the people, and the woes and sorrows that are possible to befall both men and nations, all seem to accumulate around them. In one house is dysentery - in another- fever - here nakedness - there starvation - some living on nettles and watercresses - more on a trifling pittance of Indian meal, and unwholesome food, merely to uphold a sorrowful and lingering existence that must inevitably close, long indeed before the natural time.

Again, my lord, you may be aware that the condition of society is very much deteriorated and that one portion follows the other in a quick succession down to irreparable ruin; but you have no knowledge, I fear, no conception, of our real state. No matter what be a man's profession or his pursuit, whether his resources be large or modest, small or altogether exhausted, he is in a worse condition today than he could have foreseen on yesterday. His fears increase; his hopes are diminished; he has no person to place reliance on; his sorrows and his sufferings can obtain no sympathy; if poor, he must perish; if in better circumstances he may live a few years longer; if independent, he can only enjoy it for a short time, and then become a beggar.

This is partly the wretchedness to which we are reduced - our towns, our villages, in distemper, in disease; friends turn from friends either by death or emigration; some running to the poorhouse, some crying for relief, dead bodies without a covering, and thousands without shelter, all occasioned by cruel landlords and defective legislation.

My lord, I will here abstain from saying anything about the administration of the poor law, and its inadequacy to remedy the evil for which it was intended. You are already aware of its working and its defects. One advantage, however, might still be derived from it - namely, to extend relief to the destitute landholders, especially for the next three months.

In this neighbourhood, the most wretched portion of all Ireland, the poor people have made every effort to crop their land. By borrowing a shilling, by selling their effects, even by pledging their clothes - even still more humiliating - by begging, the greater portion of them have procured some tillage; but unfortunately the one-half possess not a single pound of food,- What is to become of them? If they go to the poorhouse the landlords are empowered to tumble their houses and seize their crops; both themselves and their descendants become for ever beggars, and will continue to entail additional misery, and wretchedness on those who may survive the dread calamity that now afflict us all.

In like manner, my lord, I'll forbear mentioning - indeed it would be revolting, the particular instances, the appalling scenes of misery and distress that occur daily at my very door, and throughout my parish. Every paper is filled with similar cases, every union in this country abounds with numberless examples of the sad an deplorable end to which man is often exposed, and misgovernment compels him.

Is it not of all other things the most afflicting, to see numbers of young people engaged in crime for the purpose of being imprisoned, and afterwards pray for transportation from the dock, lest the tender feelings of a judge, or humanity of a Jury, should tend to acquit them? Poor and abandoned wretches. They prefer a prison, a scorching and cruel exile, to their native homes, to their friends, and their companions. Yet what remedies are about to be taken to meet these and other evils under which we suffer? -emigration and rate in aid.

If you, my lord, considered the population too numerous, then, indeed, emigration would be a laudable measure; if you considered the country unwholesome or unfit for the habitation of your fellow man, then, too, emigration would be laudable; if, moreover, there existed no means in the power of the British parliament to change our present condition, then I would have recourse to emigration. But when the land is left wild and uncultivated, when the population is already too much thinned, when you have money to squander in foreign wars and to extend your territories, it is both silly and foolish to seek a remedy in emigration.

And here, my lord, I put a case. - Should you procure a tract of land in the wilds of America, long and broad as Ireland, without a house, without an inhabitant, would you not find money to employ millions to cultivate and improve it? You spare no exertions, no expenses, to emancipate the men who differ from you both in feeling and in colour; you make but a paltry effort, you give but a mere alms to save this country. You have means to support an army - you have means to meet every emergency that may arise except the all-important one, to save the lives of the people.

This manner of acting is quite at variance with a proper legislation. It could not under such a form obtain the sanction either of God or man; and if a legislation so defective, so abominable, existed in any other civilized country, you yourself, my lord, would be the first to protest against it.

My lord, can you be a party to the enormities of which I have now spoken? - Your fellow-man, blessed with an immortal soul, a mind to act, and will to choose, suffer in such a horrible manner, is so unjustly oppressed, in fact reduced to the level of a brute, and tormented to the extent, I would say of human endurance, this entirely under a constitution which you idly call his own.

Who amongst us, let me ask, believing in a future life, as I trust all of us do, could dare approach the tribunal of the Almighty with any degree of hope after he had imbrued his hands even reluctantly in the bond of millions of his creatures? Should he not, while time still remains, tremble before he take warning from the rigour and severity of human laws, from the unrelenting perseverance with which judges in every nation consider themselves bound to punish delinquents of all kinds; and whatever might otherwise be his virtues or his vices, should he not be prepared to repel at least the monstrous charge that he had outraged with wanton cruelty his own equal and the image of the Almighty?

I have the honour to remain, my lord, your lordship's most obedient, humble servant,