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Former soup kitchen to recall the Great Hunger

July 31st, 2018 1:03 PM

By Southern Star Team

The Old Steam Mill building in Skibbereen, on the banks of the Ilen river, which will host the famine exhibition.

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By Brian Moore

SKIBBEREEN’S former famine soup kitchen is once more a centre to remember all those who perished during the Great Hunger.

The Old Steam Mill, which is situated on the banks of the Ilen River, across from the West Cork Hotel, was purchased by Cork County Council as an exhibition space in recent years, and has the double distinction of being Ireland’s first steam-powered mill and the country’s first soup kitchen, set up to feed the starving and destitute victims of the famine.

The exhibition, which consists of detailed panels arranged along the starkly-exposed and weather-worn brickwork of the Steam Mill Building, tells the story and the sad history of the soup kitchen, while explaining in stark detail how the world learned of the hunger, death and destruction underway in
Ireland during the 1840s. The famine soup kitchen was opened in November 1846 by the ‘Skibbereen Committee of Gratuitous Relief’ and the food or soup recommended by the authorities at the time consisted of beef, water, pearl barley, onions, flour, salt and brown sugar.  

This meal was known as ‘Soyer Soup’ and would keep over 3.5m people across the country alive during the famine years. 

However, in Skibbereen, another recipe was devised when well-known doctor Daniel Donovan who declared this ‘soyer soup’ to be ‘actually injurious’.  

Fortunately, ‘soyer soup’ or not, and while no record of Dr Dan’s recipe remains, by the early months of 1847, less than six months from the day it opened, almost 9,000 people had been fed from the Steam Mill in Skibbereen.         

‘This is an extremely important building, not only to Skibbereen but to the country as well,’ Terri Kearney at the Skibbereen Heritage Centre told The Southern Star

Skibbereen was seen as the very nucleus of the famine, as many international journalists and commentators reported the many horrific scenes they witnessed in the town. 

These reports brought the plight of the Irish to people across the globe and generated the relief aid, which began to arrive soon after.    

The imposing four-storey building, a fitting location, will present The Great Famine Exhibition, which will be formally opened to the public this week and is to support the Coming Home art exhibition currently on display at the Uillin West Cork Arts Centre. 

It is hoped that the exhibition will run, in conjunction with the Coming Home exhibition, until Saturday October 13th.  For more information, see Skibbereen Heritage Centre’s Facebook page.  

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