Ireland 1845–52 | ‘Oakum’ picking in the Workhouses

A person was given a hunk of rope and told to ‘pick’ it. This meant ripping the rope apart, breaking it down from the cable to the rope, to yarn to thread, right down to the fibres of hemp. This required digging their nails into the rope fibres to pull them apart. Once the rope was broken down, they were given a new piece and the process was repeated. The picked oakum was collected and then sent to the docks or the harbour. Oakum was a crucial material in shipbuilding in the 18th and 19th centuries; the oakum was hammered into the seams between the planks on ship’s hulls to fill in the gaps. Taken from The Truth Behind The Irish Famine, 72 paintings, 472 eye witness quotes:

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