Wherein therefore lay the Montaighs’ strength? The following excerpts and quotations are applicable and will help to build up a composite picture of the area’s ability to soften the rigorous effects of the famine. From O’Mellan’s Narrative concerning events after the battle of Benburb, June 5th 1646. “Sir Felim O’Neill’s boats were then brought to Trowagh Bay, (The Bay Shore of Derrytagh North and Derrytrasna) a fort was raised there and soldiers stationed in it, with some fishermen who caught plenty of fish.”
In ‘The Fermanagh Story’ by Father Peadar Livingstone one reads, “According to tradition the blight did not affect potatoes gram on fresh cut bogs Bog potatoes were not popular before the Famine but people had no choice now Many people lived on fish during the crisis. One family lived on a single pike for four days. I n desperation, people cut the eyes out of seed potatoes, planted the eye and ate the remainder of the potato.”
Conversation with Miss Hannah Russell whose parents were born in the 1860’s and whose grandmother recounted many stories of the Famine “During the Famine time and for some time afterwards in order to have a supply of flesh meat, from four to seven farmers would co-operate and would kill a calf or young bull each week, the meat being divided equally among the families concerned.”
The following document was addressed and dated:
“Lord Lurgan’s Office 2.11.1846.
To the Tenantry of the Brownlow Estates.
I am directed by Lord Lurgan to express to you, that he is not unmindful of the responsibility which, at all times, but at present under the peculiar proprietor and that he feels anxious to alleviate, as far as possible, the evils which the failures of the potato crop are likely to occasion.
Having given the subject serious consideration his Lordship is of opinion that it is incumbent on him to take such measures, as will provide employment for his tenants and through them for those resident on the estate who are dependant on daily labour for their support in the execution of works of present and permanent utility. Thorough drainage appears best calculated for this purpose as not only a high reproductive work but one which may be immediately commenced and by which the smallest farmer can employ himself and his family during the winter months.
The great obstacle of thorough drainage is want of capital which Lord Lurgan now proposes to remove by the advance of the necessary funds for the purpose, free of interest and to be repaid in twenty annual installments, being at the rate of one shilling in the pound per annum, and his Lordship will also, at his own expense, scour and deepen the existing water-courses, so as to provide for the drainage of the lands.
When you consider the above proposal is in fact a free grant of half the cost of thorough drainage and of the expense of improving the main water courses, I hope that such of you as are impressed with the importance of improving your farms and of co-operating for the mitigation of the pressure by the employment of the labouring class, will avail yourselves of his Lordship’s liberal offer, made as it is at no small personal sacrifice and I have to request that you will without delay, inform me of the extent of drainage which you are willing to undertake this season.
Your sincere friend,
Agent and Receiver.”
Lord Lurgan was himself a victim of the cholera fever and died within six months of making the above offer to his tenants.
The above quotations suggest that fish, a limited supply of potatoes and plenty of turf were available to the poor, and that the better-off farmers had a supply of fresh meat. Certainly there is a strong fishing tradition in the Montiaghs. Derrytagh North with a small Lough Neagh shoreline had nineteen fishing boats in the early 1900’s. Eels, pollan and to a lesser extent trout were and still are available.
All Montiagh townlands had large tracts of bog land where an unlimited supply of fuel was available fairly cheaply if not free. The freshly cut bogs which according to tradition grew blight resistant potatoes, abounded in the Montiaghs.
Furthermore, many residents cultivated a patch of sandy peaty soil, black in colour, which grew potatoes and vegetables of the best quality. This was referred to in Montiaghisms by Lutton as “the beatal.” Some families in the Montiaghs without a proper garden still cultivate a beating (pronounced BAITING) which is well under a quarter acre in area, contains
rich black soil often in an area of substandard land and produces good quality vegetables and early potatoes, the latter often ready before the second week of July.
The attitude of the Landlord was also significant in that he set up a drainage relief scheme in November 1846 to alleviate the plight of an area where good drainage mattered and which had both short and long-term good effects on the Montiagh community.