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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 1°C

18th century coffin carrier used in workhouses during Irish famine on display

Some workhouses cut costs by using a coffin with a hinged door so they could lifted from the grave and reused.

A COFFIN CARRIER that was used in the Irish famine is on display at an exhibition in Dublin city centre this summer.

The 18th century coffin carrier played a vital role during the Irish Potato Famine – a time when starvation, workhouses or emigration were the only options for hundreds of thousands of Irish people.

Gerard McCarthy from West Cork has produced the exhibition, which is now in its second year but the coffin carrier is a new addition.

The body of a person who died in the workhouse was placed in a coffin and brought to their final resting place on the coffin carrier.

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However, McCarthy explained that some workhouses found a way to cut costs by using a coffin with a hinged door. The body would drop out and the coffin could then be lifted from the grave and used for the next victim.

McCarthy told that the coffin carrier in the exhibition is the only one he knows about. “I suppose people just never thought to keep them.”

The exhibition also tells stories of Irish people who fled the famine, including the story of Florence Burke who fled to New York from Cork in 1848 aged just 19.

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He later moved to Massachusetts where he got married and had a family while working as a tenant farmer. In 1864, he enlisted in the Union Army during the American Civil War as a ‘substitute’ for a wealthy man in exchange for a portion of farmland.

Six months later, aged 35, he died in a battle in Petersburg, Virginia.

Between 1845 and 1851, around 1.2 million people left Ireland and it continued at a high level after the famine with five million people emigrating by 1910.

The famine exhibition, which is on the top floor of St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, is open from now until 30 September.

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