On the 30th March 1849, during the time of The Great Hunger in Ireland, a crowd of approx 600 men, women and children had gathered in the small town of Louisburgh, in South County Mayo. They were to gather here for inspection by Colonel Hogrove and Captain Primrose, to see if they still qualified for the Outdoor Relief payments, of which, only people with less than an quarter of an acre of land could apply.
But instead of going to Louisburgh, where the crowd had gathered, Colonel Hogrove and Captain Primrose went to Delphi Lodge, 12 miles south of the town, and had left word that the people must gather there the next morning in order to receive their payments. Not only were the crowd desperate and starving, but the weather was absolutely dreadful, consisting of heavy rain, gale force winds and sleet. Many of the people had already used up whatever energy they had walking to Louisburgh and then to be told they had to walk another 12 miles, in that weather, before the next morning, was absolutely devastating. Many of them were skeleton like, starved, and wearing nothing but rags.
The next morning, those who survived the journey, arrived at Delphi Lodge. If the previous 24 hours wasn’t bad enough, on arrival at the lodge they were told that they must wait outside until the inspectors had finished eating their lunch! It is said that a few of the people had died outside the lodge while waiting on the inspectors.
A few hours later the inspectors came out and turned the people away. They gave no explanation, and more importantly no food, and showed zero sympathy to the decaying state of their fellow humans standing in front of them.
On the hailstone, wind battered, freezing cold return trip it is said that 400 of the people lost their lives in the valley. Many fell from the cliffs, drowned, died of exhaustion, or died of starvation. Some of the corpses were even found with grass in their mouth, in what would have been a last attempt to get some nourishment.
The authorities quickly buried the fallen in shallow graves where they lay. No markers, no crosses, no coffins, no prayer, nothing.
A Celtic (pronounced Kel-Tic) cross, pictured below, was erected in their memory, at the spot were many of the people had died. On one side of the cross, reads the words:
“How can men feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow human beings”
I shot this photo on Tuesday 14th January 2014. I had only recently stumbled across the story and felt really touched by it, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I told myself that I had to take a photo of this valley, I had to have this photo in my portfolio. On a trip to Co Sligo, we made the journey down into Co Mayo to find this valley. On our journey there the weather was terrible, heavy rain and strong winds. It had been really windy right up until we reached the top of the valley, and although it was still raining the valley became really calm, really quiet and very eerie. The valley was under a blanket of mist, which at the start really disappointed me from a photography point of view, because the beautiful mountainous backdrop had completely disappeared due to the mist. Then it dawned on me that the mist would make a really eerie Black and White image, and would add to the feeling I get when I re-read the story countless times.
So this is my photo, my tribute, to the fallen people of Doolough. RIP.
A year after this photo was taken my wife and I took part in the annual ‘Famine Walk’ which is a walk dedicated to those poor souls. The walk takes the exact route that those families walked back in 1849. The weather during the walk was nothing short of horrendous and it really hit home just what they had to go through. I found the walk very tough, yet I was well fed and well clothed, what must it have been like back in 1849 I cannot even begin to understand.