Outside the walls of the workhouse
During the Great Famine, a soup kitchen was also opened in the town to cater for the poor. Operated by Lord Ranfurly, in January 1847 it was inundated with applicants. By spring, an estimated 350 families were attending the soup kitchen on a weekly basis. The obvious hunger which prevailed could be seen in the reports of the time:
‘We have been informed that a spirit has been already manifested in this neighbourhood…yesterday a large body of poor people threatened an attack on the mills of Mr Barcroft, near Dungannon. They also manifested a disposition not only to attack other mills in the neighbourhood, but to come into town and ransack the shops. The police have been called to interfere, and protect the property at risk.
The Sick and Indignant Room Keepers Society which had catered to the poor in years of previous distress, was reinstated and done much to relieve poverty in the locality.
In March 1847 the Dungannon relief committee wrote to the Relief Commissioners in Dublin Castle noting that ‘there is a rapidly increasing level of distress in the parish’ and called for help to alleviate it. The help might not always have been forthcoming and it is little wonder that so many people sought sanctuary within the walls of Dungannon workhouse. A later account recalled how during these times ‘famine victims were found dead in the gutters of Scotch Street, Dungannon’.
Almost 1,700 people were being fed through outdoor relief in Dungannon, consisting of 818 families when hunger peaked in April 1847.
Among those who laboured for the poor of Dungannon Poor Law Union during the Great Famine was Rev John Montague, Parish Priest of Dungannon who died in June 1848. His eulogy included the following tribute:
During the present distress his sympathies for the suffering poor cost him his sacrifices of more than one kind. Daily he spent hours in attendance at relief committees and in aiding to carry out the arrangements adopted for mitigating the privatizations of the distressed there were a few days that he would not add considerable sums to his former and for his means very large subscriptions to enable some wretched creatures to obtain a portion of the food distributed at soup kitchens around which were to be seen, frequent times, groups of persons visibly suffering from hunger but unable to find the might required by the committee to be paid for each ones to all be relieved. Such a spectacle was too affecting not to touch a hard like his so deeply alive to the nobler emotions of our nation.