The Great Irish potato famine began in 1845 and due to further potato blights and poor growing weather lasted until 1852. It had a catastrophic effect on the Irish population. Over 1 million people died and 1 million people were forced to emigrate to escape the Great Hunger. Kilmurry parish and its environs were no different to the rest of the country in this regard.
One of the symbols of the famine was the famine pot and the one in the picture is from the Soup House Cross in the Canovee side of Kilmurry parish. The soup houses came into being after the 1847 Soup Kitchen Act. This was in response to the ongoing food crisis in Ireland and a growing unease among the public in Britain at the situation. Although it has to be said this concern was not shared by all in the British Government.
These soup houses were set up by the relief committees, landlords and the Quakers, with 17,000 pints being handed out in West Cork on a daily basis in one month alone.
On January 13TH 1847 Sir Augustus Warren presided at a meeting to set up soup depots in the parish of Kilmurry. Death and disease was rising sharply. Soup kitchens were set up at the Soup House Cross, Knockavullig, Forrest, Ministers Cross, Aherla, Shandangan, Kilmurry and Curraclough. The soup houses were 40 feet long by 30 feet wide with a door at each end. The pot itself was in the centre and held 30 gallons of soup, there were 100 bowls with spoons provided. As soon as the soup was ready a bell rang and the people shuffled in one door ate their soup with one portion of bread and shuffled out the other door.
The following numbers give some idea of the scale of rations handed out in the parish of Kilmurry in 1847. These were on a daily basis ;Kilbonane 594, Moviddy now Crookstown 1,667, Canovee 640 and Kilmurry 2,645. These numbers add up to 5,546 rations being handed out in the parish alone.
Sir Augustus Warren in writing to the Famine relief Commission summed up the situation by writing the following “Miserable as it is if indeed it can be called relief will lead to widespread starvation and death will have full liberty to move among its victims.”
The famine ended in 1852 but the population had been decimated. Figures from two townlands which bordered the Soup House Cross bear this out. Coolnasoon had fallen from 47 people to 22 and Mahallagh had gone from 271 to 66. Another townland in Kilmurry, Inchirahilly had fallen from 216 to 11.