Wee Hannah Herrity was once a resident of the Dunfanaghy Workhouse. Though we are unsure of when she was born as she had no birth certificate, it is estimated that Hannah was born around 1830 as she claimed to have been 95 when she died in 1926.
Wee Hannah lived a life of great hardship, from the Famine, to the Workhouse, to surviving as a single, independent woman in rural Ireland by begging and peddling. Hannah’s story is one that we are fortunate to have, as in the 20th century her friend Charlotte Law wrote down Hannah’s life, word for word. Hannah was just a child when the Famine ravaged the country, and she recalls the way she and her community strived to survive during those dark years.
“The Famine was on, and the year before the broth was a-giving, the potatoes give out. There were only wee ones growing to every top an them melting in the ground. It’s like it wasn’t allowed for them to come, and they took the disease. There was none for seed and none for eating, and mark you there was hunger going. Well, do you see, there was no meal in Ireland, nor no flour coming out of America those times, nothing going with the poor only the praties (prátaí – Potatoes). Some would gather at the sea weed and boil and eat it but,, if they did and them wild, the skin would come out in sores on them, and they’d be the worse. When all was done they made the broth, an give it out every day over by the big well beyond the cross-roads (Falcarragh). Every family would get a ticket for the broth according to the number in their house. It kept them living and the whole time they were not getting much of it. Mostly my stepmother went for it; sometimes she’d send me. I was that far through wi’ the hunger I’d be staggering that way, holding down my head. Well I’d creep a bit, sit a bit, and have sore trouble t keep from eating all was in the can on the way home. Dear help us, it’s a miracle the way people got living at all. There was none had a meal in that place, only four houses with good farms to them that could grow the oats. My stepmother would not give me my share of the broth itself, and one day when the woman of the nearest farm seen the way I was staggering she called me over to her house. I can see it in my eyes yet, the sight of the barrels with big flag stones on the top of them as board as broad, an’ the barrels sitting there, the one after the other down along the kitchen wall.”
This extract is taken from “The Story of Wee Hannah” which is available in the Dunfanaghy Workhouse Craft Shop for €5. For more information, visit dunfanaghyworkhouse.com