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Topic: Placing the Great Famine in your family history

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I have just finished reading 'The graves are walking' by John Kelly, which is an amazingly detailed description of the the great famine of the 1840's; the massive death toll from starvation and disease and the equally massive immigration out of the country and the dislocation of community life in a few short years.

This has made me look again at my Irish ancestors and try and visualise how their lives were impacted by the Famine.

My Dublin born GG Grandfather had joined the British Army and served in what is now Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, being wounded in December 1843 and discharged from the Army with a pension in Chatham, Kent in December 1845. The commencement of the Famine is probably October 1845 when the potato crop due to be harvested was found to be infected with disease. How long he remained in England I haven't been able to find out, but by March 1854, he had married a widow in Buncrana, Donegal and their first son had been born there. Perhaps the small pension had been enough to keep him going during the worst of the famine? I know little about my GG Grandmother only that she was born in Donegal, daughter of a farmer and would have been about 21 at the start of the Famine, though given that she was a widow,I assume her first husband had died from starvation or disease. By 1855 he and the family are in Devon England (second son, my G Grandfather born there in July) waiting for a Convict ship where he, as a pensioner guard, would guard convicts being sent to Western Australia and where he would subsequently receive a land grant. In my genealogical research I haven't been able to identify any other family members.

My Limerick born GG Grandfather was 10 years old at the beginning of the Famine and managed to survive, enlisting in the British army in Limerick in 1853 as a 17 year old. He lasted a year and a half in the Army before being wounded in the Crimea War, pensioned off, returned to Limerick where he married and had two children (one my G Grandmother), before he too was off to Western Australia as a pensioner guard on a convict ship. Again I have little information on my GG Grandmother except she would have been around 20 at the commencement of the Famine.

In fleshing out the family story, there is so much unknown about how family members survived during this period of Irish history.

Ian Stone

24 December 2012 07:20
by Ian Stone