Fr. Patrick Hickey, a native of Skeaghanore, Ballydehob, and now CC in Timoleague, gave a talk titled ‘The Famine in West Cork’ to Skibbereen & District Historical Society on Thursday night, November 30, 2017, at the West Cork Hotel.
Fr. Hickey attracted one of the biggest crowds to the Society’s talks for quite a long time. His body of work on the Famine in West Cork, and particularly in the western part of the Skibbereen Union, is outstanding and his is the most authoritative voice on the history of the Great Irish Famine 1845-52 in West Cork.
Fr. Hickey’s book, Famine in West Cork: The Mizen Peninsula Land and People 1800-1852, published by Mercier Press in 2002, is a seminal work of outstanding scholarship. It will forever be used as the reference book on the Famine in these parts. Unfortunately, the book is out of print and it is very difficult now to get hold of a copy. Mercier Press might well consider re-issuing the book in paperback.
Fr. Hickey has also contributed to a number of other publications on the Famine. He wrote a chapter for the book Cork History & Society, published in 1993 and has an article, ‘The Famine in the Skibbereen Union (1845-51) in The Great Irish Famine which was published by Mercier Press in 1995, in conjunction with RTÉ as part of The Thomas Davis Lecture Series.
More Recently, Fr Hickey was a contributor to what is probably the most important publication ever on the Famine, Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, published by UCC in 2012. His article in the Atlas was titled ‘Mortality and emigration in six parishes in the Union of Skibbereen, West Cork, 1846-47’. His talk to the Historical Society was based, more or less, on this article.
Unfortunately, during the Famine no records were kept of those who were dying in such huge numbers. Marshall’s Return, a record of deaths in six parishes in the western part of the Skibbereen Union between September 1846 and September 1847, provides a unique exception to this. The six parishes were Kilmoe, Schull/Ballydehob, Kilcoe, Caheragh, Drimoleague and Drinagh.
J.J. Marshall was inspector for the Skibbereen Union, appointed by Charles Trevelyan. Marshall recorded the numbers of those who died in each of these six parishes, men, women and children, from September 1846 to September 1847, on a month to month basis. The causes of deaths were also included. Figures for emigrants and their destinations were also recorded. Marshall’s Return was published by Dr. Dan Donovan in the Dublin Medical Press. The Return records that out of a population of 43,266 in the Census of 1841, as many as 7,332, or 17 per cent of the population died in that 12 months.
Fr. Hickey delivered his talk in very precise and compelling language and held the interest of his audience throughout. A good question and answer session followed where Fr. Hickey answered quite a few queries about his research.