WE had hoped that famine and disease had done their worst in this hapless town– that death was satiated– that the plague-breath had swept over its population for the last time. We had hoped that in-pouring contributions from aroused national sympathy would have stayed the ravages of the destroyer– that food would have brought strength– strength, health– health, safety. But, alas! our hope was fallacious. The letter of our Special Reporter, which we this day publish, will say how fallacious. A few days since we received a note from our Reporter, stating that things were worse than ever; which assertion, we must confess, we received with some doubt; which doubt quickly fled on the perusal of the promised letter. If possible, that letter is more appalling in its details of hideous woe, and want, and death, than even the first letter, which we are happy to say found a place in the columns of almost every journal in the Empire, and was the principal means of arresting public attention, and exciting public sympathy.
To the letter of this day we call the serious consideration of the Press– of the Public; for, if active measures be not taken by the Government– who must be coerced to humanity by the indignant voice of the country– before April next ONE-THIRD OF THE POPULATION WILL BE SWEPT AWAY! This is not our prophecy– it is that of the harrassed, broken-hearted Priest– the Rev. Mr. FITZPATRICK– whose soul-harrowing duty it is to bend low over the dog-couch of rotten straw, and hear the last words of the famine-victim, whose breath is laden with pestilence, whose blood is corrupted in his languid veins. It is the solemn warning of the Minister of GOD, who, in one day, visits a whole plague-stricken village, in every house of which there is death.
In a short note which we received from Mr. FITZPATRICK, he says:– “The condition of the poor people is getting worse every day; disease is spreading fast; and a number of men, about 700, recommended by the Relief Committee, and approved of by the Inspector– MAJOR PARKER– cannot get employment on the public works. This great number of unemployed persons– heads of families– who could in some way support themselves by labour, if they got it, are thrown for their support on the charity of the benevolent, and add greatly to our difficulties here.”
How much of woe and horror is brought before the mind in that short, quiet passage! Seven hundred men depending for actual existence on the worn-out means and blunted sympathies of private benevolence– and these seven hundred but the representatives of so many families!
Though the hourly presence of death in every appalling shape has almost brutalised the sufferers– that is, extinguished every human sympathy, and loosened every tie of blood and friendship,– though the wife’s eye is stony, and her lips without a quiver, as she hears the death-rattle in the throat of her gasping husband,– though the father coldly sees the child stricken in its tender infancy, and its limbs rigid in its death-sleep,– though the survivor stares at the wreck heaped up around him with stolid insensibility, and bows not his head with grief– for hunger is as selfish as a wolf– still there is one anxiety strong even in the midst of desolation– to procure for the once-loved one a decent burial. But, so great is the mortality, and so exhausted are private resources, that a coffin– one coffin to one dead body– is a luxury!
And, in the Parish of Kilmoe, decency is ingenious in its devices– for in that parish a coffin with a false bottom is used; the body of the last deceased is carried to the Churchyard in the rude contrivance, and then dropped into the open grave– there to lie in the rags that covered it in life. Even this mockery is a consolation to the survivor. Good GOD! would not one imagine that we were quoting one of those grim passages to be met with in DE FOE’s History of the Plague?
A knock is heard at a hall-door! Who is it? is it some poor wretch seeking for a morsel of bread? Open it. What!– a starving mother thrusting her dead child before her, and begging– not for a morsel of bread, though she is gaunt and fleshless with famine, and her eye-balls roll fearfully– but for a coffin to hide that hideous spectacle from the sight of day! This is no fiction; it is appalling reality.
A whole village is but the theatre of famine, disease, and death. One, two, three, four victims in one hovel! Old women turned into maniacs by hunger, and, in their new-born ferocity, turning savagely on their own flesh and blood!
Mark that public road!– see, a few men feebly affecting labour– one wretch drops his weary head, with a convulsive shiver, on his hollow chest; he sinks lower, lower– the hammer drops from his hand– he falls prostrate on the unbroken pile of stones before him– Raise him, and bear him gently home!– his fate is certain– he is the victim of a new but terrible disease “the Road-sickness.”
How can the labourer work? He has a wife, perhaps an old father or bed-ridden mother, and three or four children in his cabin; he strains and toils for them– for the sickly wife, and the youngest darling, whose once round cheeks are now pale and shrivelled, resting on the mother’s fleshless breast; he thinks of them, and toils on– but every blow he gives is at his heart-strings– he is sounding his funeral knell– every effort of that starving man, who hides the hunger that is gnawing at his entrails, that he might spare a morsel for those he loves, is hurrying him to the coffinless grave and the shroud of rags. And this in a Christian country!– this under the proud banner of British sway!– this in a land united to England by a union, considered as sacred as a holy covenant, so much so that the thought of severing it is regarded as a profanation, a sacrilege!
Will no sound of woe penetrate the Cabinet, or reach the heart of the Minister! Is he determined to look on until Presentments are not for coffins– but churchyards? or until the Rev. Mr. FITZPATRICK’s calculation be realised– when one-third of the population shall be swept away?
We shall not pursue this revolting subject farther, but merely call attention to the reports from Skibbereen, the letter of our REPORTER, that of JEREMIAH O’CALLAGHAN, and the document signed by Messrs. M’CARTHY DOWNING and DANIEL WELPLEY, and the Rev. Mr. MOLONY.