I recently received an email from a man whose family is part of the story of Life of the Workers. Without any prompting from me, he wrote: “The stories handed down to me about the Digbys agrees with your story, their Landlord/Tenant relationships were good ones, unlike most of the other ones. If it was otherwise I would say.”
The following story verifies this.
The local Relief Committee during the Famine, Roscommon
Whilst we hear many stories of the most terrible conditions of people during the Famine, there were those who worked together for the relief of poverty and need. One of these was the Rev. Mr Hawkes, vicar of Farraher, who was also a member of the Relief Committee and a relative of Catherine Digby nee Hawkes). The Committee was sent a letter in July 1846, complaining of the actions of Rev. Hawkes and organization of roadwork by a party of 92 men and women, 14 boys and ten carts, a number “twice as numerous as it ought to be”.
To this work force, Reverend Mr. Hawkes “directed the Overseer not to employ carts but to perform all this wheeling by means of barrows. Of these he had but a small supply…” As a result many of the number had no work to do, so were directed by a Mr. McDermott to sit on a fence and watch, and told that they would “still be paid as much as if they worked.” The letter ends calling for the removal of the Hawkes and McDermott from the relief committee.
In another incident, the Vicar of Kilgefin, Rev. William Beeche, secretary of the Committee, was informed that the Relief Commission would not grant aid unless subscriptions were first raised from local landowners. He wrote to say that George Digby of Drumdaff had undertaken “to provide for all his tenants without exception.” He himself had bought two milch cows to provide milk for the poor.
William Beeche wrote:
All this will take a great burden off the Relief Committee. I consider George Digby’s offer as an equivalent to a subscription of one hundred and fifty pounds. I have taken a copy of your letter and sent it to all absentee landlords. I hope your Excellency will consider I will be entitled to some relief and positively declare that many are half-starving.
Beeche was told that he had to submit a more considerable sum that the initial eighteen pounds he raised, for which he was matched with thirteen pounds. From then on Kilgiefin did not receive any more aid and six months later he wrote to The Society of Friends in Dublin that “the people are falling like leaves”.