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International Relief: Where the World Stepped In
When the rest of the world heard of the famine spreading into Ireland, they were outraged over the lack of interference from the British government. The largest amounts of relief came from Catholic parishes in the United States and in Britain. According to Christine Kinealy, Pope Pius IX also donated 1,000 Roman crowns (equal to about $28,000) and even issued “a papal encyclical to the International Catholic community, appealing for support” in March 1847 (“The Widow’s Mite”). Such an act spread across the Catholic community, and caused many congregations across the world to donate more money or supplies.
Another religious group that greatly contributed to famine relief was the Quakers Society of Friends. The Quaker Society of Friends were first main organizers of Irish famine relief, and their contribution helped many Irishmen in their attempt of survival. They gave $180 (around $200 currently) worth of corn meal to novelist Maria Edgeworth for distribution in her home county: County Longford, Ireland. They also set up “a three-boiler soup-making plan in Cork City, and made and distributed 2500 quarts of a nourishing mix, which included meat, vegetables and barley” (Keneally, Three Famines 234). The Quakers were famous for starting up these soup kitchens, and also spread this type of famine relief to County Limerick, where they donated eleven soup boilers and 560 tons of food (Goodbody 74). These Quaker-run soup kitchens were valuable to the Irish population because they provided healthier food and safer conditions than the public soup kitchens.
When the United States started contributing to Irish famine relief, the British feared that the US exports would increase the prices on American produce for them. Therefore, they started spreading rumors such as “What is death to Ireland has but augmented fortune to America” (Keneally, Three Famines, 243). Britain was attempting to insinuate that the United States were doing this for their own gain and worldwide praise. However, the Americans paid little attention to these statements. In 1847 “Congress voted on March 8th that the USS Jamestown in Boston and the USS Macedonian in New York be released from service” (Laxton 50). These two ships were thereafter loaded up with supplies, carried items such as “400 barrels of pork, 100 large casks of ham, 655 barrels and 4,688 bags of cornmeal, 1,496 bags of corn, 1,375 barrels of bread, 353 barrels of beans and 84 barrels of peas” (Laxton 51). The shipments of USS Jamestown and USS Macedonian were the largest shipments to Ireland during the famine. Since the Irish people were used to rather meager rations, this food was essential to their survival.
New York received the most emigration from Ireland, and also donated generously by giving $170,000 (around $3,780,000 currently) to different Irish aid projects (Shrout 543). These donations provided more supplies and money for Ireland. They wanted to help in any way that they could. Even children in an orphanage in New York raised $2 for the Irish, as well as convicts at Sing Sing in New York (“International Relief”). Everyone wanted to help the famine-stricken Irish. With many different parts of society donating, it is evident that the famine crisis enraged everyone. Residents of New Jersey understood that in some ways they benefited from the crisis in Europe, yet “felt a moral obligation to use part of this plenty to aid the starving” (Strum, “A Jersey Ship” 15). They were thereby able to put their selfish success aside to help people in need across the ocean.
Cities such as Boston “collected funds and foodstuffs and arranged for direct shipments across the Atlantic” (Gray, The Irish Famine, 55). These shipments were essential for the relief of the Irish famine. Chicago also contributed both with monetary value and shipments of resources and food. Philadelphia, on the other hand, sent numerous brigs and vessels with provisions and relief supplies to be distributed in Ireland, and Pennsylvania Governor Shunk appealed to the population and said that the Irish have fought “upon every battlefield of the first and second war of American independence” (Strum, “Pennsylvania” 287). The Irish had participated on a frequent basis in American wars and battles; therefore, a large part of the American population felt the need to repay them for their service.
Even though the cities and nations that donated were mostly recognized, there were also several individuals and royal heads that chose to donate from their own pockets, such as Arthur Guiness and the Tsar of Russia. Even though Queen Victoria was nicknamed the Famine Queen by some, she actually donated £2,000 (around $10,000 currently), thereby becoming the largest individual donation. On the other side of Europe, the Sultan of Turkey attempted to give £10,000 ($50,000 currently) to famine relief. However, he was advised against it since “it would offend royal protocol to send more money than the British Queen” (“International Relief”). Therefore, he sent £1,000 ($5,000 currently) instead and prevented a world scandal. In comparison to these generous royal heads, President James Polk donated $50 for the cause, and was eventually criticized for the smallness of the donation. News of the famine shocked everyone, though especially the Choctaw Nation of United States who on March 23rd 1847 gathered $170 in Oklahoma to give to a famine relief organization (Jestes 2014). Rumors flew around that their willingness to donate stemmed from the clear similarities between the Irish and the Choctaw. There might not be a way of truly knowing why any of these international groups or individuals donated. However, what is clear is that the severity of the famine shocked the world into action and made them attempt to rectify the damage done by the British government.
Goodbody, Rob. “Limerick Quakers and Famine Relief.” The Old Limerick Journal 32 (1996): 68-74. Web.
Gray, Peter. The Irish Famine. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc. Publishers, 1995. Print.
Jestes, Roberta. “Choctaw Nation in 1847 Provides Relief to Irish Famine Victims.” Native Heritage Project, Documenting the Ancestors, 2014. Web.
Keneally, Thomas. Three Famines: Starvation and Politics. New York: The Serpentine Publishing, 2011. Print.
Kinealy, Christine. “International Relief Efforts During the Famine.” Irish America, 2009. Web.
----------------------. “The Widow’s Mite: Private Relief During the Great Famine.” History Ireland 16.2. Web.
Laxton, Edward. The Famine Ships: The Irish Exodus to America. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1996. Print.
Shrout, Anelise H. “The Famine and New York City.” Atlas of the Great Irish Famine. Ed. John Crowley, William J. Smyth, and Mike Murphy. New York: New York University Press, 2012. Print.
Strum, Harvey. “A Jersey Ship for Ireland.” Ireland’s Great Hunger: Relief, Representation, and Remembrance, vol 2. Ed. David A. Valone. Lanham: University Press of America, 2010. Print.
-------------------. “Pennsylvania and Irish Famine Relief, 1846-1847.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 81.3 (2014): 277-299. Web.
Researcher/Writer: Ellen-Marie Pedersen
Technical Designers: Derek Rachel and Amanda Lundeen