Three years before, back in 1815 a volcano in modern Indonesia, Mount Tambora, erupted throwing plumes of ash and gas into the atmosphere which encircled the entire globe. The environmental impact of the eruption was so great that 1816 went down in history as the ‘Year of No Summer’. Back in Ireland crops failed and fever spread leaving death and destitution in its wake- with the poor crowding to the doors of the Poor House looking for assistance.
The lucky ones who could afford to emigrate left in droves from Belfast and Derry/ Londonderry ports, in ships that would carry them anywhere in the world. The impact of the crop failures of 1816 were compounded by poor harvests in 1817, which again lead to pressures on the Poor House and the Belfast Charitable Society.
The fever epidemic of 1817 continued unabated. In January 1818 the Poor House had defer the admission of children and many were sent directly to the ‘Fever Hospital’ in Fredrick Street. . Such was the pressure on Belfast, the Charitable Society set up a Convalescent House in the town specifically for their residents who had been in the Fever Hospital. The Poor House provided all general hospital care to the town in 1818, from broken limbs to joint problems. This was in order to free up space in the other hospitals so that they could exclusively treat fever victims. Many, however, did not survive and the Poor House faced another crisis of where to bury the poor as the Stranger’s Plot in Clifton Street Cemetery was becoming dangerously full. It was not for another two years in 1820 that the decision was finally taken to expand Clifton Street Cemetery.
August 1818 witness a relaxation of the strict confinement rules within the Poor House, however, the Belfast Charitable Society were forced to revisit closing the House to new admissions in consequence of a new outbreak of fever in the town. The only exception to those allowed to come and go from the Poor House were the School Master, Steward and Housekeeper who, even then, were requested not to do this often.