The Famine and After

The famine of 1847, the most catastrophic event of the century had its affect on the parish of Ballinasloe, but not nearly so much as in the surrounding areas. In 1841 there were over ten thousand people in the parish, half of whom lived in the town. By 1861 the population was reduced to 7205 of whom only 3296 were in the rural area. Three hundred and two families disappeared from the countryside in those twenty years, but while the population of the town fell from 5080 to 3909 the number of houses there increased by thirty two. The flight from the land and the clearances in the nearby estates, especially in that of Alan Pollock, who dispossessed a thousand families contributed to this slight increase, but the birth-rate had reached a low figure during the famine and immediately after and it never recovered fully.

The minutes of the Union Workhouse in Ballinasloe reveal more clearly than any other source the appalling havoc wrought by the famine. It was built to accommodate 400 people but for instance on the 30th June 1849 there were 4098 inmates there and forty one had died during the previous week. In addition 4686 people had received relief in their homes. On the 14th of July following it housed 4075 of whom forty five died and 4820 had been relieved in their homes. By the following October the numbers had dropped to 1821 with few deaths, but the census returns for 1851 show that there were then 2487 inmates in the institution.

The town itself, if affected by the famine, recovered quickly. Its industries were intact. The local landowners remained solvent. There were contracts for supplying the institutions. The Ballinasloe fair, the largest single source of revenue to the town continued, if somewhat diminished in size.

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