The Benevolence of a Quaker:
James Hack Tuke and the West of Ireland’
When James Hack Tuke arrived in Ireland in 1846, aged 26 years, with his fellow Quakers, William E. Forster and his father, to provide relief during the Great Famine it marked the start of a close relationship with the West of Ireland which continued for the rest of the century. Tuke displayed both sympathy and empathy for the poor of Connacht and in his pamphlet, A Visit to Connacht in the Autumn of 1847 he condemned the relief operations of the government and the landlords which brought him into conflict with the leadership of the Society of Friends Central relief Committee. In February 1880 Tuke returned to Ireland during the ‘Forgotten Famine’ of 1879-81’ and touring Donegal and the West of Ireland during the Spring of 1880 was convinced that no improvement had taken place in the intervening period, and poverty and destitution would remain a permanent feature in their lives because of over population and the unviable nature of their holdings. In 1881 he advocated that families be assisted to North America and in 1882 the Tuke Fund was established which sent over 9,500 persons from Connemara and Mayo to Canada and the United States over the following three years, the fares being paid by the British government and the Tuke Committee. In this three year period 15% of the population of Connemara and 14% of Belmullet was assisted. Tuke saw emigration as only a part remedy of the West of Ireland and the economic development of the region also needed to be addressed. While the assisted emigration schemes came to abrupt end in 1884 because of opposition from the Catholic bishops, Parnell and the Irish Parliamentary Party and local shopkeepers Tuke continued to work to improve the position of the people of the west and was instrumental in the establishment of the Congested Districts Board in 1891. His involvement in Connacht was because of his philanthropy and sympathy with the poor, but yet he has been largely written out of history.
Dr Gerard Moran is co-ordinator History at the European School, Brussels and previously lectured in the Depts of History at NUI Galway and Maynooth University where he established and was Director of the MA in Irish History. Amongst his publications are Sending Out Ireland’s Poor: Assisted Emigration to North America in the Nineteenth Century and he has co-edited Galway: History and Society (1996) and Mayo: History and Society (2014).