During the years of the Great Famine, an agricultural society existed in Gort. It was somewhat short-lived, and although no records for the Society seem to survive, we have some detailed descriptions from newspaper reports of meetings of the Society. The first mention of Gort Union Agricultural Society was made in March 1845, while a month later the Society placed an advertisement for an ‘Agriculturalist’. The first Society exhibition occurred in late September 1845, followed by meetings and exhibitions in February, April and September 1846. This information does not correspond with the 1979 article regarding Gort Agricultural Society I located in the Connacht Tribune, so I have decided to publish this blog post as I believe it compliments my current extensive research on the Great Famine in South County Galway. No further reference in newspaper articles regarding the Society could be located, but it is worth noting that the Society remained listed in Thom’s Irish Almanac until 1850 in the section entitled ‘Local Farming societies in Connexion with the Central Society’. In 1846, C Christison was listed as the Secretary of the Gort Union Farming Society. By 1847, E.L. Hunt Esq was listed as the Secretary, a position he still occupied in 1848 1849 and 1850. It should also be noted that Lord Gort, an instrumental figure in the Society, served on the 1846-1847 General Committee for the Royal Agricultural Improvement Society of Ireland , and served on the Council for that Society in 1848. This Society is particularly interesting because the detailed speeches covered by the newspaper journalists give us extraordinary insight into the current thinking of the landed gentry in South Galway, including Lord Gort, Robert Gregory and Captain Francis Manly Shawe Taylor.
Although the scale of the population changes in and around the Great Famine are well known and have been written about extensively, the magnitude of this enormous demographic event are even more startling when brought to a local level. The Gort Poor Law Union suffered greatly during the Famine, and within the Poor Law Union, some parishes suffered greater than others. This blog post will deal specifically with Beagh Civil Parish, and the townlands within. The objective of this blog post is to give some idea of the distribution of population within Beagh. Beagh is unique in that two extremely detailed and interesting local histories of the parish have been written, but statistical analysis of the impact of the Famine in our parish escapes both of these books, something I hope to address here.
To write any blog post on the declining population of Beagh is a difficult task for two reasons in particular, and these two factors affect any hypothesis drawn from the figures discussed below.
Firstly, as noted in earlier blog posts, Beagh Civil parish is shared across two District Electoral Divisions (D.E.D.), namely that of Ardamullivan, and that of Beagh. A D.E.D. is a former name given to a low-level territorial division in Ireland, which, in 1994, were renamed as Electoral Divisions. Essentially, these administrative districts are used both for means of measuring the population in census records, and population votes during elections. The difficulty here is that some townlands not within Beagh civil parish (e.g. in Gort Civil Parish and Kilbeacanty Civil Parish) are included in these DEDs, and the public information on which this article is based does not allow a breakdown of the figures by townland - the DED is the smallest division you can analyze on the CSO (Central Statistics Office) website. As such, this should be remembered when reading this article, as both DEDs have been combined in order to evaluate population decline in the parish. It should also be remembered that the town of Gort borders the northern half of the parish, which no doubt has a big influence on the figures (particularly in more recent times as the town of Gort has expanded further South and encroaches Beagh).
The second difficulty in this blog post is the lack of accurate data detailing the devastating consequences of the Great Famine in the parish. The Roman Catholic church records begin too late (about 1855) to be of use when examining the Great Famine era in the parish, and civil registration in the country (for Roman Catholics at least) did not begin until 1864, almost 20 years after the Famine. We instead have to rely on statistics compiled from the 1841 and 1851 Census records (the original census records were pulped during a paper shortage in the UK during WWI), but this too has its limitations. With the Famine beginning about 1845, the population loss was undoubtedly higher than the official figures below reflect - we have no way of knowing what the actual population of the parish was when the Great Hunger hit the West coast.
My name is Eamon Healy and I work as a professional genealogist. I enjoy researching all things local history, and have a particular interest in Beagh, primarily because I can trace my family history to the parish back to the late 1780s. I hope to share my findings here in my blog posts