Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Sad Death of Margaret Gallagher

Margaret Gallagher was unlucky. She was born during hard times which would seem like the "good old days" when the great Irish Famine struck in 1845. Still she was somehow able to survive the first few years after the potato blight struck.

Like many other Irish families, she had reached the end of her resources by the winter of 1850, having at some point become a widow. There was no help for her in Clones, County Monaghan, where she lived with four surviving children. Having no hope for survival if she stayed where she was, she, her, 3 sons and a daughter set out to walk to Belfast in search of work. They arrived cold and exhausted on a Monday to begin the search for work. Unfortunately, they could find none.

Margaret had to find some help for her children. So with great reluctance, she applied to the Belfast workhouse for shelter for her daughter and youngest son. They were refused help and directed to return to Clones where they could enter the workhouse where she belonged.

On Saturday, January 1850, they left Belfast more desperate than when they arrived. Still Margaret and her children had the strength to reach Lisburn by nightfall. They pawned the few extra clothes they had left, and received two small donations from begging. That gave them enough money to find shelter for the night and a bit of bread and coffee for breakfast.

The two oldest sons decided to leave Margaret there to hurry to Armagh for help. The remaining family members arrived in Moira by nightfall. They encountered a Clergyman's wife who gave them enough money for shelter, but they were unable to beg for something to eat.

Portadown was the next major town on their seemingly endless walk. There they met one of the sons who had gone on ahead. He had been given a shilling. They would have shelter from the cold and a bit of food for another day.

Margaret and her family had gotten a mile and a half outside Portadown, when she declared that she needed to stop for a rest. She sat beside the road for a short time, when the children noticed that she was becoming unusually pale. Her breathing slowed, became intermittent, and then stopped.

The children went for help, and the coronor, Mr. Atkinson was summoned. He pronounced Margaret dead. That evening, he held an inquest and pronounced that she had died from "destitution."

While Margaret had been scorned by government institutions, she had found some help from kindly strangers. Both actions were important elements of Irish history.

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