Tuesday Trivia #14: The Quakers and The Great Irish Famine

I’ve mentioned before that The Society of Friends (also known as the Quakers) provided an immense help to the native Irish during the Great Potato Famine in the mid-19th century by running soup kitchens to feed the starving populace. However, once the British Government took over that job, the Quakers continued giving support to those affected most severely by the famine.

Irish Quakers convinced merchants in the coastal areas, which were less affected by the famine, to donate both food and money to the poor, and they distributed clothing and blankets that were donated by their English & American brethren. Thanks to the Friends’ persistent “women’s committees”, other clothing came directly from manufacturers. The Society also created jobs to produce clothing with fabrics donated by both Quakers and Irish immigrants in America.

The Society also established a system to aid Irish fishermen, many of whom had pawned their nets and other equipment for money to buy food; small individual loans to redeem their tackle were usually paid back by the Irish fishermen within a short time, the monies then becoming available to loan to other fishermen. And though it met with little long-term success, the Quakers also set up a program to create fisheries in the hardest-hit inland counties.

The Society of Friends established seed banks, where crop seeds other than potatoes could be distributed, as well as an agricultural facility to teach farmers about those “new” crops, with green vegetables and turnips high on the list. It encouraged the farmers to share both seeds and knowledge, comparable to the way Heifer International spreads its seeds of growth today.

In short, the 3,000-member roster of The Society of Friends in Ireland seemed to be more effective at fighting the famine than the entire British government. And for that, we offer our very humble thanks: Buíochas a ghabháil leat go mór!

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