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Pioneering Families of Australia

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The Donegal Victims

(Taken from the Belfast Banner [Australia] 1858

The Clergymen of the district have published the following appeal:-

Countrymen and Fellow-Christians

In the wilds of Donegal, down in the bogs and glens of Gweedore and Cloughaneely, thousands upon thousands of human beings, made after the likeness of God, are perishing, or next to perishing, amidst squalidness and in misery, for want of food and clothing, far away from human aid and pity. On behalf of these famishing victims of oppression and persecution, we venture to appeal to your kind sympathies and religious feelings, and hope that for the sake of Him who bore our infirmities, you will share with us their distress by lending some substantial assistance to enable us to relieve their wretchedness, and rescue them from death and starvation.

The ground of this Appeal is simple, and may be thus simple told;-

The districts of Gweedore and Cloughaneely are the bleakest and most mountainous in Donegal and Ireland. The entire surface is broken up by huge, abrupt, and irregular hills of granite, covered with a texture of stunted heath, while the space between is but a shaking and spongy marsh. The inhabitants of these wilds are all Celts, who cultivate arable patches of land along the shore or "claddagh", on which their wretched cabins are built, and subsist principally by rearing stock and grazing sheep on the steep sides of their mountains, and in their hollow glens. The increase of their flocks they sold to meet the landlords rent, and the other exigencies of life, while of the wool of their sheep they manufactured frieze and tanny as clothing for the male and female members of their families, respectively.

Last year brought a sad change on these warm hearted peasants. All the Landlords of these districts save one, simultaneously deprived them of their mountains, giving them to Scotch and English graziers for sheep walks, and at the same time, doubled, trebled, and in many instances quadrupled, the rents on the miserable patches left them. These mountains, so unjustly pressed from the unfortunate natives, were occupied by sheep. But, sadder still, the strange sheep imported to these mountains throve not. Last winter was very prejudicial to sheep, particularly under Scotch treatment- the Donegal mountains proved treacherous and heir tracts devious to strangers. The sheep recently placed in this strange pasturage were prone, from natural instinct, to wander, and the Scotch shepherds were supinely negligent in the duties of their calling. The natural consequence was that large numbers of the sheep strayed-large numbers of them were lost in bog-holes- and large numbers perished through the inclemency of the winter and want of proper care.

In order to recompense those losses of the graziers, an enormous and unjust Grand jury warrant was obtained against these innocent Celts. And in order, morever, to carry out this iniquitous enactment, and the more effectually to secure the adverse and unjust possession of these mountains, an extra force of constabulary was, at the instance of these landlords, ordered to those districts, for whose support a most ruinous tax has been imposed on the wretched inhabitants.

In short, by these and similarly unjust and arbitrary proceedings the sum of about three thousand pounds has been levied on the poorest and most miserable district on God's earth.

Already the law officials, backed by three hundred constabulary, have, at the bayonet's point, collected the last farthing of this enormously disproportioned levy. The poor, shivering and famishing peasants, under the terror of armed force, wielded by officials without feeling or humanity, were obliged to sell their little scanty bins of potatoes and small stacks of rye and corn to meet this merciless demand.

It is almost incredible the means these poor creatures resorted to, in order to make up the necessary sum. Many went thirty miles to beg or borrow the money from their friends, many sold their kitchen furniture and utensils and even mothers were known to have sold their cradles.

It was truly a sight to make angels weep, to see the poor, helpless fathers, amidst the tears and wailings of their more helpless wives and hungry children, parting with the stone of their pototoes and other necessaries of life to pay this iniquitous tax.

The stalwart and robust peasants could do nothing but weep, the womanly hearts of mothers were wrung with agony, and the ragged children-poor innocent things-bewailed, in loud cries and convulsive sobs, their forlorn lot.

And we, who witnessed these scenes of woe, are not ashamed to confess that we too shed tears-unavailing tears-of pity and sympathy for them. But there was no remedy, like Harrod's savage massacre of the Innocents, the warrant was unfeelingly executed.

They are now, at all events, inconsequence of such treatment, perishing of hunger and nakedness in their damp and comfortless cabins. But we will venture into a little detail:

There are at this moment 800 families subsisting on seaweed, crabs, cockles, or any other edible matter they can pick up along the seashore, or scrape off the rocks. There are about 600 adults of both sexes who through sheer poverty, are now going barefooted, amidst the inclemency of the season, on this bleak northern coast. There about 700 families that have neither bed nor bedclothes, but are forced to lie on the cold damp earth in the rags worn by them during the day. There are 800 families without a second bed fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, being huddled together as best they can.

Thousands of the male population have only one cotton shirt, and wear none while its being washed, whilst thousands have not even one.T he females are still in a worse condition.

There are about 400 families in which there may be half a dozen full grown females, who have only one dress amongst them, in which they can appear in public; mothers and daughters alternately using this common wardrop when they go out of doors.

There are about 600 families who have neither cow, sheep nor goat, and who, from the beginning of the year to its close, hardly ever know the taste of milk or butter.

There are thousands of youths, of both sexes, verging on the age of puberty, who are so partially and scantily clothed, that modest forbids one to look at them-they are only objects for the eye of charity.

We will not, although we could, go further into these particulars; but on behalf of those and these, and all, appeal for funds, to enable us to assist them in their respective wants. And we appeal in the name of him, who said "Deal thy bred to the hungry" and "Cloth the naked" "Give drink to the thirsty" "Sell what thou posses and give alms to the poor".