Ireland was predominantly arable, with the main crops being potatoes and corn.
The corn was used to pay the rest and the potatoes became the stable diet of the
Irish people. When this crop failed in the 1840's disaster lurked. At this time
Ireland had one of the highest densities of population in Europe, well over
eight million people. The parish of Cappamore, according to the 1841 census had
3,753 people living in 606 houses, while in Doon the total population amounted
to 5,736 people in 842 houses.
In 1845 the potatoe blight, which had prevailed in Britain, reached Ireland. At first the situation did not seem very serious as a healthy crop of potatoes were harvested. However, shortly after being dug the potatoes began to blacken and rot. Panic seized the people as their only source of food was destroyed before their eyes. Starvation stared them in the face. They watched helplessly as armed guards escorted loads of corn from their villages for export. The full extent of the sufferings and deaths of the people will never be known, as little documentary evidence can be found to describe their plight. The parish of Doon suffered, it seems more than some of its neighbouring parishes. According to census the population of Doon decreased from 5,736 in 1841 to 3,743 in 1851. It is said that 300 people died in the parish in a period of six months and the number of houses decreased from 989 in 1847 to 375 in 1852.
It was common to see some peasant dead at the side of the road with green juice running down his jaw from the grass that he had been chewing. The "hungry-grass" is still said to grow on the sides of Slieve Felim, marking the spots where someone died of starvation during those dreadful years. Fever was also widespread and claimed many lives. Cholera, Typhus and Dysentry were feared by starving people. In Dromsally, Cappamore the "Cappamore Temporary Fever Hospital" was opened, taking in only patients suffering from fever. The misfortunes who contracted fever were shunned by all who feared picking up the dreaded disease from them.
Indian corn was brought in from America and distributed at cost price - it was given free of charge to those who could not pay for it. The people who for so long had depended on potatoes had no idea how to cook this corn. Recipes were distributed with the corn showing the people how to make an appetising meal. However, there just was not enough to go around. The Society of Friends or The Quakers, as they were better known, collected funds for the relief of the famine in Britain and America and set up soup kitchens throughout the country to which the hungry flocked. Some local landlords and Protestant rectors also set up soup kitchens, but only distributed the soup to those who renounced their Catholic religion in favour of protestantism. The Glebe House in Knocknacarraige was one of these soup kitchens. It is no wonder that many people changed their creed. A new protestant church was built in Doon to accommodate the growing numbers of its flock in this period. People who changed their religion were regarded in poor light by their Catholic neighbours who called them "cait breacs" or "cola breac" meaning speckled coats or turn coats. The slur is used to the present day, people being reminded that their ancestors "took the soup".
Relief Schemes were set up to which the people flocked in their thousands. These provided employment for the people in such tasks as repairing roads and building bridges. The labourers were paid a wage of ten pence per day. Some of the tasks undertaken by the Capparmorc Relief Committee included building a road from Pallasgreen to Dromclogher, a road from Mansells Cross to Kilduffahoo, repairing a bridge at Pallasbcg, finishing a road from Glosha to Portnard and repairing the bridge at Cappamore. It is also reputed that the road from Cappamore to Doon was built during this time.
Those who where too weak to work found refuge in the Work House. However, to qualify for to own less than a quarter acre of land - the infamous Quarter Acre Clause. The people had always dreaded the work houses, but now at least they were guaranteed eight ounces of bread daily and a roof over their heads. Many people gave up their land to qualify for entry.
For four years, this terrible famine stalked the country. At least one million people died, and another million fled the country, emigrating to America. Of these many died in the horrific conditions of the "coffin-ships". By 1849, the worst was over, the crop was free from blight, but the scars of the famine lasted for many years. At different times, during the the remainder of the century, there were smaller outbreaks of famine and the hardship and misery continued. However the famine years had highlighted the .injustices of the land system in Ireland and paved the way for land reforms in the latter years of the century.
THE VILLAGE OF DOON IN THE 19th CENTURY
The population of the village of Doon in 1831 was 178. These lived in approximately thirty houses. By 1841 the village contained 240 people and the number of housed had increased to forty three. Most of these houses were built of mud. There was seven licensed public houses and four petty groceries. It contained an Established Church (i.e. Church of England), built in 1799, where the present graveyard is today. It was built by the Board of First Fruits at a cost of £900. According to O'Donovan's survey 1860 it was "a small neatly built house, with a tower about thirty feet high; it is capable of containing 200 persons". The present protestant church was built in 1859 to accommodate the number of "cait breacs" in the area. The Roman Catholic Church was built in 1836 at a cost of £1,000 on a site donated by Lord Stanley of Cooga. There was also a Post Office. A Mr. Michael Ryan was postmaster in 1880. The "Postal Directory of Munster" also mentions a hotel, proprietor Patrick Hayes, a bakery, John Fancy, a draper, James O'Dwyer and a hardware merchant James O'Dwyer in 1880. Patrick Hayes is mentioned as a car owner, while John Fahey, C. Hayes, P. Hayes and Michael Ryan were vintners. The principal farmers in the parish were listed as Michael Connell, Castleguard, Morgan Crowe, Cooga Lower, Michael Kelly, Toomaline Lower, Patrick R. Kilbride, Toomaline Upper, William Madden, Gurtavalla South, Jeramiah Moloney, Foilacleara, Denis Ryan, Foilacleara, John Ryan, Cooga Upper, Patrick Ryan, Gurtavalla South, Maurice Tierney, Clonlusk and Mrs. White, Doon.