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Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

It is easier to mistreat others as long as we paint “them” as inferior, non-human. The British did just that with the Irish. Even their Punch cartoons dehumanized the Irish.

Bob Dylan excoriated William Zanzinger, the man who killed Hattie Carroll.

Declan O’Rourke does the same to Curry Shaw.

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

Coffin Ships

As the number of Irish fleeing their homeland by sea increased, the conditions on board ships worsened when unscrupulous ship owners realized a golden opportunity. The refugees  simply became ballast. Disease and death spread easily and even the long-hoped for arrival at an American port often meant weeks of quarantine.

In 1847 the US Congress passed the Passenger Act. The Act’s purported intent was to regulate the carriage of passengers in these vessels. In actuality, rather than abide by the new Act, unscrupulous shipping companies  simply changed their destination to Canada and continued using the same ill-equipped ships. The Irish could stay there (as many did) or find their way to the United States.

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

The Hannah

On April 5, 1849, under the command of Captain Curry Shaw, The Hannah set sail for Quebec. Its last cargo had been coal. This time the ship’s cargo was 176 passengers, the great majority of whom were from the Parish of Forkill, South Armagh.

While records are not completely available, there are numerous allegations that Shaw confined the passengers below deck for long periods, cut the rations of food and water and threw the three latrines overboard after a few days at sea.

William Graham, the ship’s English surgeon , witnessed Shaw “crawling into the bunks of unmarried women passengers,” raping them.

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

Cabot Strait

Declan O'Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

The Cabot Strait lies between New Newfoundland and Cape Breton and leads into the Gulf of St Lawrence and thence to the St Lawrence River. At 4 a.m. on April 29, 1849, in gale-force wind, the Hannah rammed a reef of ice in the Cabot Strait.

Shaw ordered the hatch covers nailed shut and despite the efforts of Dr Graham to stop them,  Shaw, the first and second mates and a few crewmen abandoned the sinking ship in the ship’s only lifeboat.

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

Some rescued

As the ship sank, the passengers, able to get out after a crewman opened the hatches, sought the “safety” of the ice floes. There they waited until 6:30 pm when Captain William Marshall of the ‘Nicaragua’ discovered the survivors on the ice. He and his crew were able to rescue of 129 passengers and nine seamen.

The people suffered so from hypothermia that most of them had to be lassoed by the Nicaragus’ crew and hauled aboard.  Marshall said ‘no pen can describe the pitiable situation and destitution of these passengers’.

He transferred some of the passengers to four other ships and arrived in Quebec fourteen days later; one day after Captain Shaw who had reported the total loss of all on board the ‘Hannah’.

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw


Captain Marshall received an inscribed silver goblet from the Irish in Quebec. Most of the surviving passengers continued to North Crosby, Westport, Ontario, which their descendants still call ‘little South Armagh’.

Surgeon Graham testified against Curry Shaw, Shaw received no punishment. Graham had broken his ankle jumping from the ship and trying to stop Shaw. Shaw had repulsed Graham’s attempt by hitting him with a cutlass.

Graham died from his various injuries and frostbite a month later.

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

Two passenger stories

John Murphy

John Murphy had put his 6-year-old twin boys, Owen and Felix, aboard an ice floe, thinking it safe. He swam off to rescue 3-year-old Rose. Murphy then turned to his boys as they drifted away. He lost them in the darkness, forever. He lost all of his teeth from frostbite.

Ann McGinn

Ann McGinn husband had emigrated in 1848. She traveled with their six children to join him in Ontario.

She arrived in Quebec alone.

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw

Lowest of the Low

O’Rourke sings:

You villain Curry Shaw!

Your name forever dwell

As captain of the cowards

On the lifeboat down to hell.

Hell hath no fury like a poet scorned.

Links to two articles about the event: The Star and the Ring of Gullian

Declan O’Rourke Villain Curry Shaw
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Declan O’Rourke Mary Kate

Declan O’Rourke Mary Kate

As much as we listeners might want to skirt the pain and however gently O’Rourke  presents “Mary Kate” to us, it is an arrow to the heart.

Harp dominates. Acoustic guitar accompanies. O’Rouke’s voice holds us by the hand, but be forewarned.

Declan O’Rourke Mary Kate


There is hope, but the unnamed sister is at a crossroads. Children should not have to make such decisions. Children should not have to be in a position to make such decisions. No sister, no orphaned sister, should have to leave behind her sister.

Declan O’Rourke Mary Kate

Henry Grey

With Britain’s deliberately inefficient policy to deal with the Great Famine’s starvation, the cold choice to deport the problem became a solution. Deport the young women from the horrors of the workhouse to Australia where Britain had already deported its felons.

Declan O'Rourke Mary Kate
by Unknown photographer,photograph,1860s

Henry Grey, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies came up with the idea that these young women could settle with these felons and make a good wife or a good servant (likely both).

Declan O’Rourke Mary Kate

Famine of hopelessness

Records hardly exist about these young women, but we know that the policy,  in reality, forced many of these women into prostitution or abusive relationships. Escaping one famine merely to endure another.  A famine of hopelessness in an unknown land as far from home as one could possibly be.

And whether any sister ever saw her sister Kate again or earned the money to send for his sister Kate is a story for which you can write that ending.

Declan O'Rourke Mary Kate

For these two sister, the story ended with…

And Too-ria my Mary Kate

Forever now seet Mary Kate

you won’t see Australia

And we won’t meet in this life again.

There are those today who are trying to memorialize these young women, trying to have history remember them. (Irish Times article)

Declan O’Rourke Mary Kate
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Declan O’Rourke Indian Meal

Declan O’Rourke Indian Meal

Declan O'Rourke Indian Meal

It is easy to think that during the Great Irish Famine–caused mainly by the potato blight–that there was no other food available to the starving.

That was not the case.

As noted in previous posts (A, B, C, & D), the British landlords of Ireland controlled most of the land and used the best pastures for raising animals which the owners exported to England and other places.

In other words, there was food, but British bias permitted an acceptance of what most today would label genocide.

There’s ships leavin’ full of pigs, heifers, and lambs

Some transportin’ convicts to Van Diemaen’s Land

We’re hemorrhagin’ barrels of butter and grain

And all that comes back in and all that remains is…

Indian meal, Indian meal, Indian meal.

(Van Diemen’s Land was the original name used for the island of Tasmania, now part of Australia.)


Declan O’Rourke Indian Meal

Indian Meal

Declan O'Rourke Indian Meal
Famine meal ticket

The fifth song of Declan O’Rourke’s Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine album is “Indian Meal.” Once again, the melody belies the message.

The seemingly happy-go-lucky step-dancing tune carries a bitter message: your potato is gone. Be satisfied with what you can find.

In the midst of the famine, the English changed leadership and charged Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan with famine relief.

Declan O'Rourke Indian Meal
Charles Edward Trevelyan

According to the History Place site, “ Trevelyan ordered the closing of the food depots in Ireland that had been selling…Indian corn. He also rejected another boatload of Indian corn already headed for Ireland. His reasoning, as he explained in a letter, was to prevent the Irish from becoming “habitually dependent” on the British government. His openly stated desire was to make “Irish property support Irish poverty.”

Declan O’Rourke Indian Meal

Penny a pound

Despite that laissez-faire policy, corn meal did become one of the things that the starving Irish did have access to.


For a penny a pound. Storehouses often stayed full of Indian meal because the starving who literally stood outside the storehouse,  had no money.

Declan O’Rourke Indian Meal

Bothar bui–Yellow Road

They’re pavin’ the streets of Americay

With gold at your feet for a dollar a day

While here on the works we make botharin bui

For the yella’ or barely a shillin’ a piece.

Road workers, in lieu of cash, accepted Indian meal as payment. Ironically, at the same time that myth described the streets of America as “paved with gold,” many roads of Ireland became known as “yellow roads” because workers survived–barely–on the yellow corn meal.

Some rural Irish roads today still contain the name Bothar bui.

For the majority of the Irish, daily life was often a torturous path to death by disease due to starvation.

Declan O’Rourke Indian Meal

Nicholas Cummins

Again from the History Place site: Nicholas Cummins, the magistrate of Cork, visited the hard-hit coastal district of Skibbereen. “I entered some of the hovels,” he wrote, “and the scenes which presented themselves were such as no tongue or pen can convey the slightest idea of. In the first, six famished and ghastly skeletons, to all appearances dead, were huddled in a corner on some filthy straw, their sole covering what seemed a ragged horsecloth, their wretched legs hanging about, naked above the knees. I approached with horror, and found by a low moaning they were alive — they were in fever, four children, a woman and what had once been a man. It is impossible to go through the detail. Suffice it to say, that in a few minutes I was surrounded by at least 200 such phantoms, such frightful spectres as no words can describe, [suffering] either from famine or from fever. Their demoniac yells are still ringing in my ears, and their horrible images are fixed upon my brain.”

Declan O’Rourke Indian Meal
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