This year is an important one in the Decade of Centenaries in Ireland. The period 1921–1923 was a particularly complex one in our history and it is important that it would be remembered appropriately, proportionately, respectfully and with sensitivity.
The year 2022 is a significant one for commemorations for another reason. It is the 175th anniversary of 1847. Black ’47 was the worst year of the Great Irish Famine 1845–52. It was the year when Skibbereen made the headlines in newspapers all over the world. Reports of the appalling conditions from this area featured prominently in newspapers in Ireland, Britain, America and many other countries.
The Irish poet Eavan Boland, who died in April 2020, said: ‘The Famine was one of the twofold trials of the Irish people – once in the happening and once in the remembering’. Skibbereen Heritage Centre does very important work in commemorating the Famine and we’re sure it will have an extensive programme of events this year to mark the 175th anniversary of 1847.
One of those who featured in the literature of the Famine in Skibbereen in 1847 was Dr David Hadden, who was Physician to the Castletownshend Dispensary. Dr Hadden was one of a group of doctors, ministers, priests and others who wrote letters to various newspapers, and who helped to focus world attention on Skibbereen. One such letter was written by Dr Hadden on 20 January 1847 and appeared in the Cork Constitution on 23 January. It is published below.
Dr David Hadden was born on 30 June 1817 in Abbeyleix, the son of Reverend John Hadden, a Wesleyan minister. David Hadden came to live in Skibbereen in 1840, the same year he was admitted a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. He graduated in Medicine from the University of Glasgow in 1846. His first appointment was as Physician to the Dispensary in Castletownshend where he served the community with great energy and devotion during the Famine. Like many others who gave such unselfish devotion to the care of the afflicted, Dr Hadden became very ill himself at one time, but he recovered and resumed his duties. Dr Hadden was appointed Physician to the Drimoleague Dispensary in 1852 and he served there until his death on 17 February 1878.
Dr Hadden is buried in Abbeymahon Graveyard in Skibbereen. At the funereal, his coffin was borne through the streets of the town on the shoulders of coastguards and policemen. Incredibly, the cortege went via Bridge Street, around Ballyhilty and down North Street on the way to Abbeymahon. Dr Hadden was survived by his wife Ellen and six sons John, George, David, Robert, Samuel and Edward. John, David and Robert followed their father into the medical profession. Robert Hadden served as a doctor in Skibbereen for many years. Members of at least four generations of the Hadden family were to go on and give distinguished service to the medical profession in Ireland and abroad. Ellen Hadden died at the home of her son Robert, North Street, on 8 February 1898.
Dr Hadden is remembered in Skibbereen. In Abbeystrewry church there is a plaque and a memorial window dedicated to his memory. The memorial window, directly behind the altar was installed in 1887 and was made at the famous glass factory in Leith, Edinburgh. The triptych, which is of beautifully stained glass, is composed of three panels, each of which has been designed to be representative of some scriptural subject. In the central panel, the Good Samaritan is depicted doing a deed of Christianity. The right panel illustrates the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and the left side of the window forms a depiction of the raising of the widow’s son. The dedication at the bottom reads: ‘To the Glory of God – In Memory of David Hadden M.D. / Born June 30th 1817; Died February 17th 1878’.
There is a fine painting of Dr David Hadden in the Masonic Lodge in Skibbereen. The painting was unveiled at a ceremony in the Lodge in June 1878, at which George Robinson delivered an eloquent tribute to Dr Hadden.
George Robinson was related to the Carson family which resided in Coronea House for many years. He was a grandson of Rev William Robinson, who was rector of Abbeystrewry before there was a church on the present site in Bridge Street. The church was then on what locals will know as the Long Quay.
Cork Constitution, January 23, 1847
TO THE EDITOR OF THE CORK CONSTITUTION
Castletownshend Dispensary, January 20th, 1847
Sir – I feel that I should not have discharged my duty to the suffering creatures amongst whom I am labouring, did I not make some allusion through your columns to the misery which to so fearful an extent prevails in parts of the parish of Castlehaven, but as your kindness has already been too much trespassed on by tales of misery, I shall do so as briefly as possible.
Within the last ten days I have been called on to visit about 130 cases of fever, independent of numerous applications at the Dispensary from persons labouring under other diseases, consequent on insufficient and improper food.
In a group of houses in a remote part of the district I saw 30, and in an adjoining group of about 40 cases of fever, combined with, or perhaps I should rather say caused by, the most extreme destitution. In the majority of cases whole families are prostrated by it, and crowded together on the same handful of straw, in a corner of their miserable cabin, from which every vestige of furniture has disappeared, having been sold to procure food or used as firewood. I saw a family who had just recovered from fever exerting their feeble strength in breaking up for firing the dresser, which in better days had been the pride of the cottage.
I will mention a few cases from which a faint idea of the exciting state of things may be obtained. About a week since I saw a man named Collins with his four children on the same bed in which I had seen his wife dying a few days before. Their only nourishment was water, and their only attendant a child six years old. The poor fellow in the delirium of fever went out and was found at night wandering naked amongst the rocks, and half dead with cold. In the adjoining house a poor woman named Carty was breathing her last. A little further on a man asked me to look at his only remaining child, three others having died within the last few days; and another poor fellow asked some assistance to bury the second of his children which had died since the previous Sunday. A few days ago, a poor famine-stricken creature called on me to visit her two brothers and sisters who were ill, saying that her mother and eldest brother had died the week before. On paying a second visit in three days after, I found the poor creatures who had summoned me lying dead, and since that, two other brothers and a sister have died, making six adults who had been taken from one family, and I fear that by the time this reaches you the remaining one will be no more. I saw a poor fellow named Wholly in a cabin not five feet high; he said that one of his children had just been buried, and in less than a week he and his two other children were in their graves. A poor man named Crowley with his child lay unburied for five days in the midst of his family, (who were then and still are in fever) owing to the fear of contagion which exists to such a degree as to render it difficult to procure a person, even for payment, who would venture either to remove the dead or minister to the wants of the living.
I could give a lengthened catalogue of such cases, but will only say that I know South Reen and have been through almost every cabin in Skibbereen, in both of which places misery in the extreme exists, but I grieve to say that I could point out places in the parish of Castlehaven which would bear comparison with either.
Noble efforts have been made by the resident gentry here towards the alleviation of the distress, but anything which can be done by private benevolence must be but as a drop in the bucket. – I remain, Sir, your very obedient servant. DAVID HADDEN, M.D.