FAMINE POT AND THE STIRABOUT ROAD,
near Lough Key, Boyle, Co Roscommon
This beautifully painted, planted and preserved famine pot was found near “the Stirabout Road”, which is near the northern shores of Lough Key, Co Roscommon. The pot is 68cm in height. Internal diameter is 72 cm at the top. Its external diameter is 85 cm. Each of the lips are 6.5cm.
This famine pot was lying at our family farmyard in my childhood, near Lough Key, Boyle, Co. Roscommon. It very likely that it was brought to our home by my father, when he bought our house and farm in the late 1940’s. He moved from the original family homestead only 1 mile away, and nearer to The Stirabout Road.
As many people know, stirabout is the colloquial name for porridge. The Stirabout road was built during the famine, specifically to give some work to the locals for which they would be paid in porridge or stir about. The Stirabout road was never tarred, has a poor and rough surface and links 2 other minor roads together in this very rural area of North Roscommon.
It is likely that our family famine pot came from The Stirabout road.
When I married and moved from my family homestead to my marital home, a mere mile away, I, like my father, brought the famine pot with me.
At my original family home, the famine pot was used for collecting rainwater from the cow-house overflow drainpipes. It was totally covered in rust. However, when I brought the pot to our home in the year 2000, I cleaned off the rust and painted it with metal paint. Our three children were small at that time (3, 4 and 6), so , for their benefit, I painted the pot radiant red and painted the lip a bright yellow. I planted a variety of shrubs and colourful flowers in it- including dahlias, montbretia, carnations, tulips and daffodils.
When it needed to be painted again some years later, I changed from the bright colours to classic black. I have maintained it with the black metal paint since then and continuously have it planted with interesting shrubs, bulbs and flowers.
It is likely that the famine pot was used for making the porridge and feeding the workers, in the area adjacent to the Stirabout road.
This Stirabout road connects 2 rural roads, one of which was used by O’Sullivan Beare in his retreat form Cork to the O’Rourkes of Manorhamilton.
The population in the area would have been quite small, and reduced further by the famine. It is likely that the people walked on paths and over stiles before this Stirabout road was made. While the Stirabout road was not essential, it is likely to have reduced the daily trips for many locals as they made various journeys from their homes.
Today, the road is used mainly by a few local farmers to drive their cattle or sheep from one field or bye-road to another. When our children were younger, they often rode their horses up and down this road. They found it an exciting road for trotting, with no traffic and it was sheltered and leaf-covered almost all year round. In particular, they really enjoyed the excitement of having to duck and dive under the branches of the trees as they sped along.
You may see the No Shooting sign in the attached picture and video. This area is used by members of the local shooting club and by local farmers. This rural area is host to a range of wildlife- including hares, foxes, badgers, deer and pheasants.
The Stirabout Road is mentioned in the fabulous book, Woodbrook, by David Thompson. In the book, the author describes a day during which he, David- a young tutor with the Kirkwood family, of Woodbrook House, Co Roscommon, and one of his pupils, Phoebe (with whom he later fill in love with), cycled down to the Stirabout Road.
I feel very lucky to own this famine pot, thispoignant piece of history. We are honoured to also own other 2 historical artefacts – a stone quern (formerly used for grinding wheat) and a Mass rock (used during Penal Times for saying Mass in secret hiding places outdoors when the British government had outlawed Mass and were executing priests.)
We treasure these historical artifacts.