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A Letter from Ireland Tells of the Suffering Caused by the Potato Famine

This 1847 letter from Hannah Curtis to her brother John, who had emigrated from Queen's County, Ireland to Philadelphia some years earlier, gives a sense of the deprivation of those who remained behind during the time of the Irish potato famine. The letter details the suffering brought on by the famine and ensuing outbreaks of starvation and fever. She begs her brother to send money from America and chastises him for not doing so earlier. A year after this letter was written, Hannah and her husband William departed for the United States.

Mountmellick April 21st 1847 

My Dear Brother John 

I had heard a letter come on the morning of this day from John Cullen to his Mother and money in it for her…My uncle William Dunne write to me saying he had a letter from you I think the latter end of February saying you would let me have one from you in March I was every day expecting it but all in vain My uncle also told me you got a letter from me before you wrote to him I sent it in the latter end of November and from what I said in it I think you would have no right to forget me when it is in your power I related to you the state of the Country in that letter therefore I need not go over it any more only the distress that was amongst the people at that time was nothing to what it is at present the people are in a starving state the poor house is crowded with people and they are dying as fast as they can from 10 to 20 a day out of it there is come kind of a strange fever in it and it is the opinion of the Doctor it will spread over town and country when the weather grows warm no person can be sure of their lives one moment the times are so sudden you would scarcely see as many people with a funeral as would take it to the grave in fact I would not describe the aweful state of Ireland at present you all may think the people are not so bad on account of all the provision that is coming into it but only for it the country could be a great deal worse of but there is no trade of any kind doing nor no money in the country went is gone to America from every one that can go to America is going this year as there is no prospect of any think here but poverty and distress the Revd Father Healy is after getting I think above 50 letters and mony in them all they were sent to his care by people in America to their friends at home to take them out to them the post office here is ful of letters every day every one without mony dear John wither regard to the rates of provision they are as follows bacon is per pound butter 1-3s per pound beef 8 pens a pound mutton 4 pence a pound best flour 3s-8 @ oatmeal 3s-10 per stone I need not mention potatoes by any chance as we have none for now you see how hard it is to live here 

. . . my aunt Betty Carroll and family aunt Smith and aunt Hannah Humpres and all her family are gone only John that is in the army we are all gone to America they sailed for America the 19th of this month dear John as I was so sure of your letter when my uncle wrote to me as we thought we could go when my aunts were going we sold all our furniture in order to have in delay and what we got for them is not worth mentioning as everything is sold now for half nothing all I kept was the bed and bedclothes that we would want to take with us so now we have nothing but the bare wals of the house I thought nothing would make you all forget me and I the only person left alone and from the promises my father made one at the boat that you all would join and send for me in a short time you need not be saying you would do better at home as you may know what 

Home is I am sure as would do as well as others and if you would only lend us what you could with the help of God we would be able to pay you again perhaps 

Many time my father let money behind the back of a ditch to neighbours and got it again and I am sure he nor you could not turn it to better use than sending for me now it was my Aunt Arthurs sent Aunt Hannah and family every one is getting mony but me I am quite jealous and ashamed of you all you are as I think behaving so bad as I can say nothing else to you if yous attempt to forgot one on the present occasion mind I don’t [t]hink you will have me to trouble you long 

. . . don’t attempt to leave me here to fall a victim to the miseries that awaits the country I send my love with William to you all a thousand times also to my aunt Mrs Dillin and family aunt Margaret and family and I trust with the blessing of the Lord we will all meet and spend happy days together as for Williams trade it is very bad he is only 2 men working for him in stead of ten or twelve there is no clothes buying with any one I may say and the gentleman he works for does not think of clothes as there is so much poverty in their hearts there is not room in the church yards for to bury the dead as they are dying so fast the coffins I may say are on the surface of the earth and has no more room for them dear John John Londrean sends his love to you in thie letter I did not get them yet but when I am going myself I can bring to you in your next letter send me all particulars about the fashions and rates of the country as I never can bet a satisfactory letter I will be a good deal more impatient to get the answer of this than I ever was James Farrell the young man that worked for us went at Christmas we had a letter from him the 9th of this month he is in New York he said he was going to write to you I suppose you had a letter form him before this he told William he would do well by going he said a place in view that would answer him so now as I said before don’t forget me I have a great deal more news to send you if I had more room but I must leave it for some other time.

Source | Hannah Curtis, "Hannah Curtis to John Curtis, April 21, 1847," letter; from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Irish Immigration Primary Sources,
Creator | Hannah Curtis
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | Hannah Curtis, “A Letter from Ireland Tells of the Suffering Caused by the Potato Famine,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 1, 2023,

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