The Famine Years

Schools Folklore Collection

The Schools Folklore Collection 1937 - 1938 is a collection of material gathered in an eighteen month period during 1937 and 1938 by approximately 100,000 schoolchildren aged between eleven and fourteen. The aim was to seek out and record material dealing with a wide range of Irish folk tradition and embraced folk tales, legends, riddles, proverbs, songs, customs and beliefs as well as games, pastimes and descriptions of traditional work practices and crafts as well as many other topics.

The following is an excerpt from the collection which details an interview with Biddy Macken, a former servant of Maria Edgeworth, who describes life at the time of the famine in Ireland 1845-1847.

A typed version of the text  is provided for clarity.

The Famine in Edgeworthstown

As told by "Biddy" Macken, Pound St.  Edgeworthstown who died ten years ago at the age of 101 years. 1913. former servant to Maria Edgeworth.

I was a "made girl" the years of the "Black Praties" and I helping in the parlour of the big House - and glad I was to be there during those awful years.

There were far more people around then than now. More cows were kept and more of the land tilled than now. The first year was not too bad but less potatoes were sown the second on account of the scarcity of seed. The land was wet and the harvest came bad and at Christmas when farmers went to put "rushes" of the top of the pits they found the whole pit a rotten heap. At this time much wheat was grown but most of them sold it as the price was very good.

"I was often sitting under the tree at the "gate" (this tree stood where the present "Porter store" stands) when I have finished my work and I saw hundreds of poor starved people toddling feebly down the street and going "up" the Dublin road."

Maria Edgeworth the great writer was then old and feeble but her heart went out to the poor and afflicted in the locality - all of whom are tenants on the Edgeworth estate.

"Many a day" said Biddy "I went around with her from house to house in this town and far outside it carrying a big basket filled to the brim with food. No house was passed by Maria without calling. Not only food was given but turf and warm clothing purchased in the town. She was badly able to walk then and had a short "cruben" stick to help her along.

The "fever" was in a lot of houses but Maria did not mind. When she visited the poor she was always cheerful and had a way of "making them laugh" She was short of breath often when we were going up that hill (Pound St.) and often she had to sit down weary and tried in the "parlour" when she got home.

Many a time she remarked to me "It is great to be young Biddy"

I well remember one November evening to be called by Maria "to attend a wandering creature" that fell in a "weakness" in the "clover" (name of a local field). We (meaning Maria and herself) went to the beggar man - a long thin worn fellow. We got him "lodgings at the backs of the gardens - (this place is still shown) and I was sent to them "with things" from the "big House". He remained around for a few days and then went away and we heard no more of him"

Told to Richard Hyland NT in 1912 by Mrs Macken, Pound St., Edgeworthstown
Aged 100 years

Her daughter Mrs Devine is still alive and living in Edgeworthstown aged now 78 years.

Account of the famine

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