Famine Fundraising Around the Globe

matt's pics 708It can be argued that the Famine was the first natural disaster (albeit one capitalized upon by London) to spur international fundraising.  A few examples:

Irish in NYC (where they were a quarter of the population) sent home approximately $900,000 in 1847 alone and probably a bit less the year before.  This amount represents private monies between families and is not part of the U.S. relief contributions which totaled in the millions.

Irish serving in the British army as well as ex-pats and natives of Calcutta, India, sent £14,000.

Abraham Lincoln (then a Congressman) donated $10.

The members of New York City’s Shearith Israel synagogue sent $1,000.

The Choctaw Indians of Oklahoma raised $170.

The city of Hackensack, New Jersey, gave 4 boxes of clothing.

The prisons of New York’s Sing Sing prison sent relief money.

Jewish banker Lionel de Rothschild began fundraising in 1847, receiving donations from  Venezuela, Australia, South Africa, Mexico, Russia and Italy. 15,000 people contributed £400,000.

Contributions came from Turkey, Mexico, Barbados, Bombay and Australia.

Irish American dock workers waived their salaries to load ships bound for Ireland.

American railroads waived fees for relief supplies.

Under pressure from English Quakers, the British Government agreed to cover freight costs of shipments from the U.S.

Queen Victoria gave relief money and wrote fundraising letters, but seems to have done nothing behind the scenes to affect a change in British policy.  Her Famine visit to Ireland (as detailed in another post) was a financial drain on Ireland’s limited resources.

The Irish Catholic Church used its international network to raise huge sums.  Donations flowed in from North America, South America, South Africa, New South Wales, France, Italy and Austria.

The Quakers kept copious notes of monies raised and dispersed.  It is very emotional indeed to read the lists of U.S., Canadian and British cities that contributed food and clothing.   Of course, Boston & New York are in the forefront, but here are a few others: Darien, Savannah, Portland (Maine), New Orleans, Louisville, Georgetown, Rochester, Madison, Utica, Charleston, Cincinnati, Richmond, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Grosse Isle, Canada, and the Death of Ellen Keane

Father Bernard McGauran immigrated to Canada in the 1830s.  In 1847, he led over forty priests who (along with Anglicans) saw to the sick and dying of Grosse Isle.  At least four priests died (a small percentage probably because they had built up an immunity to typhus working among the poor).  Boarding waiting vessels and seeing to the ill on land, priests might give Last Rites to 50 dying a day.  Like so many, Father McGauran contracted typhus.  Fortunately, he survived. Three orders of nuns also administered to the sick; it is unclear how many of them died.

Four-year-old Ellen Keane of Ireland was the first to die at Grosse Isle, Canada, on May 15th, 1847.   In the weeks to follow, the names of the dead would not be recorded and 6 men would be employed full-time to dig graves.

Grosse Isle was a quarantine station and the port of entry to Quebec.  It lies in the St. Lawrence River and has NO fresh water source.  Astonishingly, it had room for only 150 PATIENTS and boasted a small medical staff.  (As the island became overrun with the ill and dying, Canada released prisoners from the local hospital to help; unfortunately, they stole from and abused the patients.)  In the summer of 1847, Grosse Isle was tasked with handling ALL immigrants bound for Quebec.  Within two weeks of little Ellen’s death, there was a line of 40 ships stretching up river – the queue was well over a mile long.  The hospital could not absorb the sick who were stuffed into sheds, left on the beach or kept in fetid quarters on grossly overcrowded ships.  Bodies of the dead were removed from ships’ holds with fish hooks and eyewitnesses told of horrific scenes of inhumanity.

It isn’t known how many died on Grosse Isle that summer from starvation, dehydration and disease.  Bodies were piled in mass graves ‘like cord wood’.  Officially, the number is put at about 7,000 but anyone perusing the Canadian Government websites and reading the sanitized version of events there and in ‘official’ records will discount this number.  Scholars put the death toll at more than twice that number.

Among the four doctors who died of typhus was a 60 year-old emigrant named John Benson.  He had been evicted from his Irish home and upon landing at Grosse Isle volunteered to help.  He died within the week.

How did this happen?  The influx of 100,000 Irish to Canada in 1847 could have been no surprise to those in Montreal (then Canada’s capital) or London.  Ships sailing from Liverpool took up to two months to reach Canada and the inspecting officers knowingly allowed the sick to sail.  Canada was a Crown colony after all, and offloading sick there was akin to the transportation of criminals to Australia.  Passage to Canada was significantly cheaper than to the U.S. because Canadian law allowed the overcrowding of immigrants and did not require that a doctor be on board.  This is why mortality rates on Canada-bound vessels could be anywhere from 20 – 50%.

That Montreal and London (i) knew 100,000 Irish would be emigrating; (ii) did not ensure passenger safety; and, (iii) weren’t prepared to deal with the consequences is well documented.  Like the Germans a century later, British bureaucrats were meticulous record keepers.

One could argue that the Grosse Isle disaster resulted from incompetence, tangled bureaucracies or the like, but I won’t.  Emigration in sub-human conditions, many times forced by landlords like Dennis Mahon whose execution is detailed in another post, is a form of mass murder.  It is as simple as that.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Haunting Monument

Dublin 3This Famine Memorial of life-size bronze sculptures can be found on the quayside by the Dublin Custom House.  The figures are depicted in this setting as they would have appeared walking toward a ship such as the Perseverance which left here on St. Patrick’s Day bound for New York.  That ship’s 74 year-old captain, William Scott, is noteworthy for bringing ALL crew and passengers safely to America.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Joseph Bewley: A Friend to those in want

bewleys  The Grafton Street Bewley’s – Dublin

Quaker Joseph Bewley was an Irish tea and coffee merchant – yes, the same Bewley family that established those wonderful cafes in Ireland and broke the monopoly of the East India Company by importing tea directly from China to Ireland.  In 1846, Joseph Bewley helped establish the Friends’ Relief Committee that set up soup kitchens to provide direct, no-strings relief in an organized manner during the Famine.  This was done without British (government) help, being funded privately from a variety of sources.  Joseph Bewley didn’t just talk about aid or raise money, he put his beliefs into practice.  As a result, he was one of 15 Quakers (out of a population of 3,000 in Ireland) who died in the Famine as a direct result of his work with those in need.  As explained elsewhere on this blog, the Quakers were noteworthy during the Famine for doing so much given their small numbers and for doing it without an agenda (religious or political).  Help was given to those in need – food in the beginning and then seeds/training later on in the hope that alternative crops to potatoes could be established.*

So, when you next stop by Bewley’s (or Java City in the U.S.) remember Joseph Bewley – a man celebrated for his humility and self-sacrifice who paid the ultimate price for his beliefs.

* I take great exception to writers like Tim Pat Coogan who characterized the Quakers’ work as “disinterested efforts”.  Of course, he wrote that in a British, Catholic periodical.  Still, regardless of such revisionist historians, the facts are otherwise and will – forever – speak for themselves.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Souperism and the Politics of Aid

 Dugort Strand, County Mayo, Ireland

When Quakers opened soup kitchens to feed Famine victims, they faced a number of obstacles – logistics, financing and a London government philosophically opposed to providing outright aid.  But the most heart-breaking challenge they faced was from the starving themselves, for Irish Catholics were suspicious of well-meaning Protestants.  And for good cause.

Souperism – the giving of food by well-heeled Protestants to poor Catholics provided the latter abandoned their faith or at least pretended to – had a long history in Ireland.  Although the VAST majority of Famine-era Protestant clergy abhorred and excoriated this practice, a vocal minority did embrace it.  One infamous example is that of Reverend Edward Nangle, a Protestant evangelist who viewed the Famine as G-d’s judgment upon the Catholics whom he saw as guilty of idolatry given their belief in transubstantiation (bread and wine becoming the Eucharist).  From his base in Dugort, Achill Island (County Mayo) Nangle did all he could to exploit the tragedy and further his own agenda, sending forth his minions to condemn and convert Famine victims.  Although his name lives in infamy, the damage done by Nangle was long ago eclipsed by the good affected by Quakers and Church of Ireland clergy who worked side by side with their Catholic counterparts to defeat the scourge of hunger.

Offering aid with strings attached, whether the proselytism advances a religion (as during the Irish Famine) or a political system (as today when the needy of ‘good’ countries who embrace democracy are rewarded while others are not) is nothing new.  But it bears remembering that missionary zeal in any form is an affront to decency for self-interest, however enlightened it may appear to be, has no place in the politics of aid.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue

A character in a forthcoming novel is forcibly laicized – defrocked for those of us not brought up in R.C. Faith.  There are a few ways this can be done; for my purposes, I chose for him to be expelled from the priesthood for an act of conscience – or lack of discipline, depending on your perspective.

Priests can be laicized for sinning against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue (“Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery”).  The implied prohibition in the language ic clear:  priests may not have sex with married women.  But the Church (read St. Augustine and St. Ambrose) also holds that there’s an implied duty of modesty and purity in the Sixth Commandment: thus, priests are not only prohibited from being impure, they’re enjoined to be pure.

As interesting as all of these legal backflips are – and to me and many lawyers they actually are – they weren’t where I wanted my character to find conflict.  Too easy that.  No, I wanted him to reside in the grey area of Canon Law created by Pope Benedict’s January 2009 decision to delegate to the Congregation for the Clergy the authority to laicize priests WITHOUT judicial trial (although such ecclesiastical due process is observed even with suspected child abusers brought before the CDF – the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the body charged with their oversight).  The Pope included three categories of priests in this 2009 “executive order”:  those living with women, those who’ve abandoned their ministries for more than 5 years; and, those guilty of grave sins against the Sixth Commandment.   The last bit is what interested me.

Given Pope John Paul II’s February, 2003 modification of the Code of Canon Law 1388,  § 1, in which he extends the Code’s language to include indirect violation of the sacramental seal as a sin against the Sixth Commandment, I don’t see why the scenario that plays out in the novel couldn’t take place.   And the fact that Pope John Paul made this change moto proprio means that it reflects his personal feelings,  was not legitimized by the Papal Seal and did not result from consultation with the cardinals.  Thus, the change creates a sort of grey legal area – just the kind of place writers, and lawyers, like to explore.

Although priests dismissed from the priesthood pursuant to Pope Benedict’s 2009 order  are entitled to an ‘investigation’ by their supervising bishop, they have no right to a judicial trial as such.  Do they get access to a Canon lawyer; how much opportunity do they have to defend themselves?  Good questions all.

A penultimate note:  as the Chicago Archdiocese can attest to, laicizing priests who no longer perform (either up to expectation or without scandal)  saves the Church lots of money in health benefits, room and board (although said priests do retain their pensions).  A final note:  regarding the Church’s  non-compete requirements, laicized priests are prohibited from ever teaching theology – even in a secular educational setting.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

An Exchange of Vows: Monogamy for Celibacy

In a forthcoming novel of mine, a defrocked priest struggles with his growing feelings for the protagonist, arguing that even if the Church has released him from his vow of celibacy, he is not prepared to renounce it.  Refreshing stuff in an age when vows and promises are taken less and less seriously.  How is the issue resolved?  Suffice it to say that an older priest/advisor plants a seed when he suggests that the vow of monogamy as it culminates in the sacrament of marriage may allow one to serve God in this world as effectively as upholding priestly vows.

Some background on the celibacy obligation/vow.  Eastern rite Catholic priests can marry and even Roman Catholic priests who are converts from Protestantism (Episcopal for instance) can be married.  This has been the rule since the 1930’s.  The prohibition against married men becoming priests is more a rule than dogma, which means it can change.  Why then doesn’t the Vatican consider allowing priests to marry?  Wouldn’t doing so aid in recruitment and help parishioners identify with their clergy more readily?  One would think so, but then I’m an outsider – not a Catholic.

One other aspect of Catholicism that I examine in the novel, via the priest’s perspective, is what I’ll call the loss of mystery.  Vatican II and similar measures might not have gone far enough to emancipate priests, but it might have gone too far in demystifying Catholic rites by watering down the Mass.  Is what’s needed a return to tradition – not as interpreted by the present Pope, but as celebrated by Catholics for centuries?  Should Mass be in Latin and the Host handled only by priests.  The Mass is, after all, a ritual.  There are rules.  In the Eucharist rite (Holy Communion for Roman Catholics) something ‘magical’ happens:  the wafer and wine are transformed (transubstantiated) into the body and blood of Christ.  Only a consecrated priest can affect this change.  By taking the Host into their own bodies, Catholics become part of the rite but only after consenting.  How does this happen?  Not only by physically being present at the Mass but by acknowledging the transubstantiation.  When offering the Host, the priest says ‘The body and blood of Christ’ and the receiver must say ‘Amen’ before accepting it – by this means he consents and agrees to the Divine mystery.

A casual survey of modern Western society may lead one to conclude that there is no place for a return to orthodox Catholic practice, but I would disagree.  If one views the secular fascination with magic and the Other World as simply another means of reaching out to the Divine, then mankind is as receptive to the unseen as ever.  Perhaps more so, for Westerners feel more comfortable than ever speaking of spiritualism (albeit one devoid of religion).  Why, then, doesn’t the Vatican step into the breach with a God-centered view of Nature and what might appear to be magic?  That is the true mystery.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment