WINTER 2014 / VOL. 14 ISSUE 1
Famine Pots

History of the Irish Famine Pot

By John Cassidy

Our aim is to highlight the vital role that the famine pots played during the Great Famine and to determine how many of the famine pots are still in existence.

The famine hardships of ’Black 47’ are well documented, when Ireland became a country of homeless starving paupers and the nobility in their concern promised to eat less. In Castlebar, people lay on the street with green froth from eating grass on their mouths. In Skibbereen, a widow caught stealing a few potatoes from a garden was fined one pound with the option of four weeks hard labor, although her defense was she was dying of hunger.

In January, 1847, the British government decided that due to the high costs involved [almost five million pounds in the autumn and winter of 1846/47] and the need for people to work the land, relief by employment was to be abandoned. In its place, the Soup Kitchen Act was introduced on Jan. 25,1847. Under the Act, soup kitchens were to be established in each of the electoral divisions. By 1847, there were 1,250 soup kitchens in operation and by June this had increased to 1,850.

By July of that year, over three million people were collecting daily rations of food; even though the people regarded queuing with containers to be degrading they swallowed their pride in order to fill their empty stomachs. The soup recipes were generally not balanced for minerals and vitamins and over time gave rise to scurvy and other diseases.

The famine pot [which contained the soup] ‘’sometimes referred as soup boilers or ‘workhouse pots,’ were manufactured in Coalbrooke in Severn Valley in England by the Quaker iron foundry run by the Darby family The pots were made of cast iron, 600 of them were supplied by the government, a further 295 were provided the Quakers, a number of them came from Turkey and the U.S.A.

The Society of Friends [the Quakers] will be remembered for their generosity during the famine of 1847. They hired ships to bring in much needed supplies of food and medicine. They landed a shipment of food at Donegal Quay from the Adele on April 8, 1847, which included 1,229 bags of meal, 102 barrels of flour, 48 barrels of beans, 659 bags of peas as a gift from the Irish famine relief committee in Philadelphia.

Two months earlier , they delivered to the quay 70 bags of rice and one cauldron. There were also gifts of flour sent from Turkey. The Choctaw Indians, themselves harried and nearly destitute, took up a collection that raised $175 in gold to help the starving Irish. Soup was made in the cauldrons or famine pots from whatever scraps the people could afford and even nettles and herbs were used as vegetables. This was a mix that would not normally be used but then these were not normal times

However, all too soon instructions were issued to close the soup kitchens. Fifty five of the 130 Unions [workhouse areas] were closed Aug. 15, 29 Unions closed on Sept. 12 and in 19 more Unions on Oct. 31 1847.

The Soup Kitchen Act was only a temporary measure, designed to sustain the Irish until the autumn harvest. But the harvest of 1847 was only a quarter of the normal size due to insufficient planting in the spring. The three million Irish people who relied on the soup for survival would now have to fend for themselves, with no food, no money, no employment and owing back rent and weakened by malnutrition and disease.

Irish Famine Pot Recipes:

Soyer’s Soup

This recipe was developed by Alex Soyer, a famous French chef of the reform club in London. Soyer claimed a meal of this soup once a day, together with a biscuit was sufficient to sustain the strength of a strong healthy man.

Qtr leg of beef.
2 gallons of water.
3 ounces of dripping.
2 onions and any other vegetable.
2 pounds of flour.
Half pound of pearl barley.
3 ounces of salt.
Half pound of brown sugar.

Mrs. Neal’s Soup, used in Co. Limerick.

190 quarts of water
30 lbs of beef.
8 lbs of barley.
8 lbs of steeped peas.
2 stone of turnips.
Portion of Leeks.
Any other vegetables.

Grattan’s Soup, used in Co. Laois.

1 ox head.
28 lbs of turnips.
3 lbs of onions.
7 lbs of carrots.
21 lbs of pea meal.
14 lbs of Indian meal.
30 gallons of water

Visit John Cassidy's web site at


© Irish American Post
1815 W. Brown Deer Road
Milwaukee, WI  53217
Phone: 414-540-6636

Return to front page