Updated on 2 February 2021
The Irish Famine Pot at the Irish Famine Museum remembers the time when Quakers came to the aid of Ireland.
The Potato Famine
In 1845, the potato famine was having a devastating effect on the country of Ireland. The starvation and disease that tore its way through the population as the crops failed became known as The Great Hunger.
At the time there were around 3,000 Quakers in Ireland. Many of them were merchants and businessman. They could not see what was happening to their fellow citizens go unanswered, so they appealed to the worldwide network of Friends for help.
Donations and funds came from Quakers across the globe. Friends began their relief efforts by sending clothes. However, as the scale of the hunger became apparent, a change in emphasis was required.
A year later, in 1846, the Quakers began addressing the food crisis. They manufactured, shipped and distributed 294 large cast iron pots that became known as Famine Pots. The pots mere made by the Darby family of Quakers, pioneers in the industrial revolution, at their iron foundry in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire.
Ships were hired to transport the Famine Pots as well as food, medicine and supplies. Upon arrival in Ireland the shipments made their way up and down the country. As part of their Equality testimony the Quakers helped whoever they could regardless of religion.
The Famine Pots were used to make soup out of ingredients such as oatmeal, vegetables, nettles and herbs. Local people would be organised together to help with the cooking and feeding. Thus the soup kitchen, that we know today, came into existence!
Sustainable Food Production
In the spring of 1847. the English Quaker William Bennett, arrived in Ireland to visit the famine’s worst-hit areas. On his arrival he offered local children some biscuits to eat with their seaweed on his arrival. In his words he witnessed “a deep-sunk poverty, disease and degradation”.
Realizing that a more long-term and sustainable method of food production was needed Bennett organised the purchase of 60 tonnes of seeds. This created 32,000 acres of farm crops and an estimated 150,000 people had food.
Alongside the food production, a number of Quaker loans and grants were given to provide industrial employment – ranging from small scale cottage industries to factory or mill-based enterprises. The aim was to kick-start the agricultural economy and create self sufficiency.
By 1849, the famine had subsided and the worst of the Great Hunger was over. Many groups and organisations had helped combat the disaster but the Quakers had led the way. The Irish Famine Pot at the Irish Famine Museum and has a plaque on the front – a line of which reads:
“The Society of Friends; they were our friends when friends were few and far between.”
Inscription on plaque
The Great Hunger is on Panel 50 (opens in a new tab) of the Quaker Tapestry.
Image from www.theirishpotatofamine.com