This illustration is one of the most iconic images from Ireland’s Great Hunger, used in books, magazine articles, exhibitions and social media
This is not just a symbolic image of the hardship of the people of Ireland in the midst of starvation in the mid 1800’s – it is a pen & ink drawing of ‘real life’ Bridget O’Donnel and two of her children by (it is believed) James Mahony. Both their conversation and the drawing were published in the ‘London Illustrated News’ on 22nd December 1849.
“I lived,” she said, “on the lands of Gurranenatuoha. My husband held four acres and a half of land, and three acres of bog land; our yearly rent was £7 4s.; we were put out last November; he owed some rent.
We got thirty stone of oats from Mr. Marcus Keane, for seed. My husband gave some writing for it: he was paid for it. He paid ten shillings for reaping the corn. As soon as it was stacked, one ‘Blake’ on the farm, who was put to watch it, took it away to his own haggard and kept it there for a fortnight by Dan Sheedey’s orders. They then thrashed it in Frank Lellis’s barn.
I was at this time lying in fever. Dan Sheedey and five or six men came to tumble my house; they wanted me to give possession. I said that I would not; I had fever, and was within two months of my down-lying (confinement); they commenced knocking down the house, and had half of it knocked down when two neighbours, women, Nell Spellesley and Kate How, carried me out. I had the priest and doctor to attend me shortly after. Father Meehan anointed me.
I was carried into a cabin, and lay there for eight days, when I had the creature (the child) born dead. I lay for three weeks after that. The whole of my family got the fever, and one boy thirteen years old died with want and with hunger while we were lying sick. Dan Sheedey and Blake took the corn into Kilrush, and sold it. I don’t know what they got for it. I had not a bit for my children to eat when they took it from me.”
Bridget O’Donnel with her children – London Illustrated News
Children and Wagon – London Illustrated News
Searching for Potatoes – London Illustrated News
Abject Poverty and Wealth – London Illustrated News
At the time of the ‘interview’ (22nd December 1849) those still living of the evicted family lived under a dry arch of a bridge which nowadays carries the N67 across the Doonbeg river just before it enters the sea
The ‘little room’ is on the west end, facing the sea, so looking from the seaside / watchtower ruin, it’s on the right. There are 5 arches over the water, and the ‘room’ is between the west 5th & 6th (dry) arch. The family used a ladder to climb up & down direct from the road, to avoid trespassing on the land.
If you examine the map you will notice a nearby side road leading down to the sea from the N67 which is known as ‘O’Donnell Road’
Ironic Present Day Land Ownership
Over 400 acres of land in this immediate area is at present the 5 Star Trump International Golf Club Doonbeg owned by