During the Great Hunger a group of 600 starving peasants set out for Doolough to find food. Most of them did not survive. RAY CLEERE tells the story behind the tragic events of 170 years ago
Doolough Pass is a spectacular setting near Doolough (which means ‘Black Lake’ in Irish) between Mweelrea Mountain and the Sheeffry Hills in County Mayo. There, two memorials mark the spot as a reminder of one of the blackest events in Irish history: the Doolough Tragedy which occurred 170 years ago on Friday night, March 30th, 1849, during the Great Famine.
One memorial is a plain stone cross engraved with the words: ‘Doolough Tragedy 1849’. The other bears the inscription: “To commemorate the hungry poor who walked here in 1849 and who walk the Third World today.”
People in Doolough recall that in 1849 people who lived in the town of Louisborough in South County Mayo at the time – around 600 in total which included women and children – were starving as a result of the Great Famine.
At the time it was rumoured that if they walked to Delphi Lodge where the landlord and the council guardians were, then they would be given food. Today, in 2019, 170 years later, it is a very beautiful walk by the shores of the Killary and Doolough lakes.
But it was bleak and freezing when those people set out on that terrible Friday night 170 years ago, March 30th, 1849, on their journey to meet their landlord. Wearing light bedtime clothing and with only blankets and shawls for protection in the atrocious weather conditions which prevailed at the time, those starving people were forced to walk more than 20 miles from Louisborough to Delphi Lodge to attend an inspection and get Famine Relief.
Many walked in their bare feet. When they eventually got to Delphi Lodge, they were told that the guardians could not be disturbed while they were having their lunch. When they eventually did see them, the people were sent away empty-handed and most of them died on the journey back.
Later, people found corpses – including those of women and children – by the side of the road between Delphi Lodge and Louisborough overlooking the shores of Doolough Lake, with grass in their mouths which they had been eating for want of food.
It was estimated that more than 400 people died at Doolough on what was for them an extremely fatiguing journey back through that terrible night and into the next day. Several people never reached their homes. Local folklore maintains that the number of people who died, given their state of debilitation and because of the ordeals they were forced to endure, was far higher than was ever known.