Thursday, 8 September 2016

Doagh Famine Village

As you may know, we took the ferry over the Foyle Estuary in order to get to the Doagh Famine Village.  The Potato Famine, as it used to be known, was when the potato crop failed for a few years around the middle of the 19th century.  Blight was to to blame, which causes the spuds to rot in the ground and that is not a good thing when the main diet is potatoes.  What we now know is that during the famine years Ireland was exporting tons of food to England - the problem was not lack of food, but that the peasant Irish couldn't afford it.

But the DFV is more than just a few thatched cottages and talk of the famine.  In fact, there was relatively little talk of the famine, truth be told.  There was some talk of death:

I know, it's very dark.  Well it was very dark and yer man there standing by the coffin was telling us all about the local customs regarding death and wakes and stuff.  The norm in this part of Donegal is to wake the deceased for 3 days, during which time the coffin remains open and everyone sits around and drinks cup after cup of tea.  There may or may not be hard liquor.  "Death is a debt we owe to nature.  I must pay it and so must you" is what the sign on the wall says.
We learned about evictions, when families were ousted from their dwelling - mostly due to the law that meant landlords had to pay a tax for any tenants whose rent was less than £4 a year.  The landlords faced huge bills, so they simply demolished the houses on their land and thereby solved the problem. Well, it solved their problem. The landlord's agents would turn up and literally batter the house to bits, using the sort of portable ram depicted below.  The evicted families were forced to either live in the ruins of their cottage or find shelter wherever they could in the open - other tenants were warned against offering evicted families shelter, even for one night.

It was not a good time to be born into a peasant family in Ireland, that's for sure.

A re-enactment of an eviction - local police in attendance to deal with any resistance.

We also learned about the great migration of Northern Ireland folk to the US and Canada - something like 8 or 9 US Presidents have come from Presbyterian Ulster stock.  The Penal Laws had placed strict limits on what Catholics and Protestant Dissenters (mostly Presbyterians) were allowed to do and so many upped sticks and left the country.  A famous case is that of Rev James McGregor, who led his Presbyterian flock from nearby Aghadowey to New Hampshire in 1718 - in the end there were upwards of 1000 people on five ships bound for Boston.  Before he left, he delivered a sermon in Coleraine, stating he was leaving Ulster "to avoid oppression and cruel bondage, to shun persecution and designed ruin...and have an opportunity of worshiping God according to the dictates of conscience and rules of His Inspired Word".   Quite.  Once there, McGregor established the first Ulster Presbyterian settlement on the continent and the town of Nutfield, where he settled, was renamed Londonderry.

And wouldn't you know it, the first American potato was grown there - in 1719 apparently.  And the name of the neighbouring town?  Derry, of course - what else?

The youngsters having fun learning about the bad old days in Ireland, thanking their lucky stars they were born when they were - as indeed I was too.

As well as the history of the famine, evictions and what have you, Doagh Famine Village has a really eclectic collection of 'stuff' through the ages - a hoarder's dream, really.  They mustn't have thrown anything away for decades - old radios, cassette players, farm tools, tractors, advertising posters, household utensils,  - you name it, it's there.  An amazing place.

Can you feel the vibes?  The band struck up whenever someone entered the room - very unexpected it was, I can tell you.

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