The Irish Great Hunger Soup Kitchen Recipes

“Soup is no working food for people accustomed to 14 lb. of potatoes daily.” Mr. Dobree, Sligo, 1847

The Irish Great Hunger Soup Kitchen Recipes

“Soup is no working food for people accustomed to 14 lb. of potatoes daily.” Mr. Dobree, Sligo, 1847

A chara,

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter. As promised to many, here is the Great Hunger soup recipes and a sad family famine story called the Leitrim twins based in Leitrim. I must be careful about using the “G” word here due to the T&C’s of the newsletter platform I am using. I have only returned from a few days away in Sligo and Leitrim and this story was very much on my mind. In 1841, the population of Leitrim was 155,000. Today it is 32,000, due to famine and continued emigration.

A few days ago I was sharing a story about “the old days” with my daughters, aged 9 and 7. The don’t believe that their great grandfather who I just visited had to eat blackbird when he was their age because he was hungry and they don’t believe me about the Great Hunger in Ireland. They jokingly called my crazy and paranoid. What resonated with me most about this, was that I thought the same thing about my grandparents stories when I was their age. It was simply so different from the world I grew up in. Yet Ireland in 1846 right before the famine and Ireland today has shocking similarities. The juxtaposition of historical home economics and future trends have both always interested me. Today I work in Information Security/Cybersecurity and International Payments. This industry is increasingly moving into AI at lightning speed. Keeping one eye on the past, and one eye on the future is more important now than ever as we are catapulted into a modern world that we can hardly envision. Because of this, some of my newsletters will be sponsored by forward moving industries, such as this weeks partner. Also, because of this, I am launching a second newsletter next week, called “The Irish Famine Letters”. These are a series of letters from the month before the beginning of the famine to the end, detailing how it all unfolded, including political and newspaper reports, coffin ship reports and those left behind. If you have unanswered questions about this period in history, you need both a broad and in depth view. This private newsletter will offer both. Look out for upcoming announcements on this.

In today’s newsletter there is…

  • The Great Hunger Soup Kitchen Recipe 1, Dublin, April 1847

  • The Great Hunger Soup Kitchen Recipe 2, Laois, Jan 1847

  • The Great Hunger Soup Kitchen Recipe 3, Limerick, Jan 1847

  • The Leitrim Twins Story, with context.

  • Bishop O’Higgin’s Letter to the Irish College in Rome, May 1847

“Soup is no working food for people accustomed to 14 lb. of potatoes daily.” Mr. Dobree, Sligo, 1847

Well-made soup distributed with bread or a meal-cake kept hundreds of people alive and was given by private families of moderate means and in soup kitchens which began to be set up throughout the country. In all cases, demand completely outstretched supply. In Dublin for example, 5000 rations at most were expected, however 8,750 men, women and children were fed daily. Below are three recipes, including context, which is helpful, but hard to swallow.

The Great Hunger Soup Kitchen Recipe 1, Dublin, April 1847

The famous French chef, Alexis Soyer of the Reform Club was already distributing recipes to the poor in London prior to the Great Hunger in Ireland and believed the following recipe, served once a day with a biscuit to be, “very good and nourishing”, and was tasted by “numerous noblemen, members of Parliament and several ladies” who agreed with him. However, it was met with numerous medical officers as “preposterous”, the Medico body at the time writing to the Press that it was “utterly deficient in the due supply of those material from which the human frame can elaborate bones, tendon, blood, muscle, nervous substance etc.”

  • ¼ lb. of leg of beef

  •  2 oz. dripping

  •  2 onions and other vegetables

  •  ½ lb. of flour

  •  ½ lb. pearl barley

  • 3 oz. of salt

  • ½ oz. brown sugar

  •  2 gallons of water

Cut up the meat and vegetables and fry in dripping. Add flour and water. To this, add salt, sugar and bring to the boil. Simmer and add the pearl barley. Save the meat bones for stock. Cost: Under 1s 4d. a quart.

The Great Hunger Soup Kitchen Recipe 2, Laois, Jan 1847

James Grattan Estate, Vicarstown, Co. Laois made 120 quarts of this soup recipe in his soup kitchen. The local principle is quoted to have said this soup was a “vile compound” and that after one trial the people refused to take it, declaring that it gave them “bowel complaints”. Cost: Under 1d. a quart.

  • 1 oxhead, without the tongue

  •  28 lb. of turnips

  • 3.5 lb. of onions

  • 7 lb. of carrots

  • 21 lb. pea-meal

  • 14 lb. Indian corn-meal

  • Water (quantity unknown)

For this recipe the meat and juices from the oxhead would have flavoured the soup but not added sufficient meat. Corn-meal was shipped in during the Great Hunger as a means to reduce inflation after the potato crop failed and provide the poor with an alternative economical ingredient to make bread. By February, food had already risen so high in price that officer reports described scenes of women and children returning home crying with grief at the meager food they could buy with both their husband and father’s wages.

The Great Hunger Soup Kitchen Recipe 3, Limerick, Jan 1847

Mrs. Neale, the wife of Sir Richard Bourke’s bailiff, Castleconnel, Co. Limerick also made an equally frugal soup recipe. Cost: Under 1d. a quart.

  • 30 lb. beef

  • 8 lb. barley

  • 8 lb. steeped peas

  • 2 stone of turnips

  • 5d. of “leeks and other vegetables”

  • 190 quarts of water

Barley has been used in soups in Ireland for centuries but is used here to make the soup more filling. The beef in this case was most likely roasted and the juices used for stock. The vegetables chopped and fried off to which the stock, shredded meat, barley and peas is added. At under 1d a quart, most likely made to stretch to feed so many, was utterly insufficient. The officers, wrote Trevelyan, could, “bear anything but the ceaseless misery of the children”.

The Leitrim Twins Story

The below family famine story was kindly donated to me by Catherine Evans in November 2023 at Diarmaid’s Round Tower, Castledermot, Co. Kildare. Catherine kindly allowed me to share this story here after I got talking to her in the graveyard as you do, while waiting to pick up the Hynes children from art class. I recorded this on my phone for us, so these are her own exact words.

“Well I have family buried up in this very tiny Leitrim graveyard, up in the Glen of Imaal. It’s a tiny graveyard and it would have been my grandmother who told me that during the famine, in her mother’s side of the family, there were twins born during the famine and one died almost immediately. And they took the little twin to this graveyard, Leitrim graveyard, and when they got back to the house the other little twin had died as well. So they had to open the grave again. It always sticks in my mind how sad that was. Desperately sad”.

This story has been passed down through Catherine’s maternal family, generation after generation for 176 years. I couldn’t help but notice that she said, “I have family buried”, and not “I have relations buried”. Even though she now lives in County Wicklow with no known ties to Leitrim, this story will be passed on within her family along with the clear family value of compassion for many, many years to come.

Bishop O’Higgin’s Letter to the Irish College in Rome, May 1847

To frame the destitution of County Leitrim at that time, we can look to Bishop O’Higgin’s letter as he writes asking for help to Rector Paul Cullen at the Irish College in Rome on the 19th of May 1847.

“Never was any part of the globe visited with so prostrating destitution. It would sicken your heart to see those of our people who, up to this, have escaped death. Persons of twenty years of age appear to be bending under old age, and, in many instances, are become shameless and idiotic from want of every kind. This Diocese is composed of portions of seven counties: Longford, Leitrim, Roscommon, Sligo, King's County, Cavan, and County Meath. We thus, of necessity, participate most deeply in all the wretchedness of the country. All our proprietors, with scarcely any exception, are absentees; and our condition is truly forlorn. We have in this Diocese five poor houses, and the average deaths in the week are beyond 100 persons in each. In some instances, particularly in Leitrim, whole families are discovered to be dead in their cabins, by the stench that proceeds from their putrid bodies! The dead are frequently buried in bogs, cabbage plots, and even in the houses where they die! Fever, dysentery, and starvation are everywhere. God alone can see the end”.

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The Old Irish Recipes Project is a project to collect and record all old Irish recipes in Ireland. The historical recipes and remedies provided herein are for informational purposes only. While they may offer insights into traditional practices, it is important to note that they have not been tested for efficacy or safety in modern contexts. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional or physician before attempting any old remedies, particularly if you have underlying health conditions or concerns.


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Slán go fóill,

Róisín Hynes

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