The owner of a hostel or guest-house was known as a briugu in Old Irish. According to early Irish law, it was his duty to dispense unlimited, free hospitality to everyone who came to his house.
Travellers were entitled to food and lodging at such guest-houses, but a lord expected to be entertained by anyone who owed allegiance to him, even close to home, and kings could request sustenance for servants and followers as well as for themselves.
Failure to show appropriate generosity to his guests could result in someone being shamed and insulted. Early Irish tales often feature characters who complain comically about the hospitality they have received. One claims that she was given ‘blue-infected milk’ and four small bundles of burnt oats from a field where the sun did not shine!
The Great Famine lasted from around 1845 to 1849. It is thought that, by June 1847, there were around 1850 Famine Pots and Soup Kitchens in operation in Ireland and that over three million people depended on them for a daily meal.