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Tragic Deaths from Starvation at Strabane during The Great Famine - Thomas Gilroy

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Tragic Deaths from Starvation at Strabane during The Great Famine - Thomas Gilroy
Thomas Gilroy

Transcribed, Compiled & Submitted by Len Swindley, Melbourne, Australia

The Londonderry Journal, December 11, 1847

A most melancholy case of the death of a father and son from starvation occurred in Strabane during last week. From the evidence adduced at the inquest held on the bodies on Saturday last, it appeared that a man named THOMAS GILROY, with his wife and six children from Manor Hamilton, County Leitrim, went to Scotland sometime in August last, with the hope of bettering their condition by procuring employment. They lived in Glasgow until about November, when the wife and three of the children were seized by fever, and removed to the infirmary. On her recovery, she learned that her husband and the three other children had also been attacked with the same fatal disease – that two of the children had died, and that the husband, though partially recovered and pronounced out of danger, was still very weak and unable to work.

In this helpless and enfeebled state, the Glasgow authorities provided a free ticket for their passage to Derry, as the nearest Irish port, and giving them two shillings and sixpence, the husband, wife and four children, were conveyed by the steamer to that city, where they arrived on Thursday, the 25th of November. On arriving in Derry, they applied at the workhouse for relief which they were told could not be granted without a line from a relieving officer, for whom they proceeded to make enquiry, but not being immediately successful, and being exhausted with cold and fatigue, they took a lodging and procured some food with the money which had been given them. They proceeded to Strabane on the following morning, hoping to get relief in the workhouse in that town, but being half starved and enfeebled from their relentless illness, they were merely able to crawl along, endeavouring to support nature on raw turnips and cabbages, which formed their sole food for the three or four days during which they were on the road.

They did not arrive at the Workhouse until Thursday evening, and applying at the gate, they were spoken to by a boy who told them, as at Derry, that they must get a line from a relieving officer before they could be admitted. They remained at the gate in a state of utter exhaustion and despair for a considerable time, still hoping that the workhouse functionaries would take pity on their wretched condition, and at length the porter made his appearance, and without deigning to speak to them, or to listen to their solicitations, beckoned them to leave the place! The husband then told the wife that he was unable to proceed, from weakness, she had better to go on to Strabane with the children, try and procure some place of shelter and if he got stronger he would follow them.

The wife complied, but failing in procuring either lodging or food, she returned and found that her husband had left the place. After a long search and many fruitless enquiries she found him at length in a cabin near Melmount on the Urney side of the river. Some warm milk was given to the husband by the people, but still they were refused lodgings. They at length obtained shelter in the house of a poor woman who was herself without fire, and having procured a coal or two from one of the neighbouring houses, and cooked their last grain of meal, they lay down on the damp wet floor of the fireless cabin. Before morning the man was dead, and one of the boys died on the same day. A verdict was returned in both cases, of “death from starvation”, and a strong feeling was expressed regarding the conduct of the porter of the Strabane workhouse. The remaining son died in the workhouse on Monday.

Owing to the disclosures at the inquest, and the remarks of the coroner’s jury, the case was investigated by the board of guardians of the Strabane union, at their meeting on Tuesday, when the case was fully stated by Mr Robert McCrea. The porter was severely censured for his inhumanity and neglect of duty, in not having personally attended to the application of the starving family, and not taking them to the relieving officer. The following resolutions were also adopted: “That the master shall, in future, exercise his own discretion in admitting casual paupers, not of the union, in cases of extreme distress.”

From the statement made by the foreman of the coroner’s jury, it is of the opinion of this board, however deeply they regret the neglect of the duty of the porter, whereby the application of the poor family for admission was not brought under consideration, that it is to be equally deplored that the Gilroy’s were sent from Glasgow in a state when they lives were endangered by travelling”.

On the suggestion of Mr. Robert McCrea, a subscription was got up for the poor woman who had shown humanity to the sufferers, by affording them shelter when it had been refused by all others, and who is herself in a state of extreme destitution. When no one could be found to touch the corpses, this poor woman washed them – Mr. McCrea put them in the coffin with his own hands, got them interred, and conducted the surviving portion of this bereaved family to the workhouse infirmary. Conduct such as this is deserving of the highest praise.

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