“IRELAND remains a canvas on which many of the broad brush strokes of the modern world’s formation – imperialism, colonialism, nationalism, revolution, emigration, democratization, et al. – can be fruitfully studied and examined.” --Peter Quinn, novelist, essayist, and a chronicler of Irish-America.
“The Great Irish Hunger epoch changed the face and the heart of Ireland. The Famine--yielded like the ice of the Northern Seas; it ran like melted snows in the veins of Ireland for many years afterwards.” --Edith Somerville, Irish Memories (1917).
Prior to 1845, Ireland was called “the breadbasket of the United Kingdom”. It was a major exporter of food to Britain, including vast amounts of high quality grain products. Irish food fueled England’s industrial revolution.
“Ireland’s climate is salubrious, although humid with the healthy vapours of the Atlantic; its hills, (like its history,) are canopied, for the most part, with clouds; its sunshine is more rare, but for that very reason, if for no other, far more smiling and beautiful than ever beamed from Italian skies. Its mountains are numerous and lofty; its green valleys fertile as the plains of Egypt, enriched by the overflowings of the Nile. There is no country on the globe that yields a larger average of the substantial things which God has provided for the support and sustenance of human life….
And yet, there it is that man has found himself for generations in squalid misery, in tattered garment often as at present; haggard and emaciated with hunger; his social state a contrast and an eye-sore, in the midst of the beauty and riches of nature that smile upon him, as if in cruel mockery of his unfortunate and exceptional condition.” • --Bishop John Hughes, New York, (from Co Tyrone, Ireland) A Lecture on Antecedent Causes of Irish Famine - 1847
"IRELAND by a fatal destiny, has been thrown into the ocean near England, to which it seems linked by the same bonds that unite the slave to the master….The traveler meets no equality of conditions: only magnificent castles or miserable hovels; misery, naked and famishing shows itself everywhere …and the cause of it all? A cause primary, permanent, radical, which predominates over all others--a bad aristocracy.” --Gustave de Beaumont, colleague of Alexis de Tocqueville, in his book: IRELAND, after he had visited Ireland in mid-1830s. (Reprinted by Harvard Press 2006)
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote to his father from Irelandin 1835, ten years before the Famine began: • "You cannot imagine what a complexity of miseries five centuries of oppression, civil disorder, and religious hostility have piled on this poor people.... [The poverty is] such as I did not imagine existed in this world. It is a frightening thing, I assure you, to see a whole population reduced to fasting like Trappists, and not being sure of surviving to the next harvest, which is still not expected for another ten days.”
IT WAS SAID THAT THE…. • “Irish peasant can live... • if his crop does not fail; • and he can pay his rent, • and if his pig-- • fed like himself out of his garden--does not die.”
Why did Ireland's economy fail to flourish and develop on a par with the rest of Europe after 17th century—How did the Irish become so dependent on the potato?♦ English law replaces Irish law in 17th century♦ Brehon legal system collapsed: was based on honor and communitarian principles of justice, managed to survive for almost three millennia and to remain the law of the Irish until the Cromwellian onslaught of the 17th century. ♦ Property rights obliterated ♦ Property of the native Irish confiscated - ownership transferred to British settlers ♦ Penal laws in 1695 by British government (repealed 1820s just before Famine):Banned Catholics from: owning land - having a gun - being involved in politics - receiving education (except in the Protestant faith) - owning a horse over £5 value.Penal laws imposed an attempt to force Irish Catholics to convert to Protestantism; Effects not merely confined to religion, but had profound economic effects and on the agricultural economy—ownership and use of land.
Edmund Burke described Penal Laws (1792): “a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”
Dependency on Potatoes • Dependency of Irish people on a potato crop is primarily explained through the pre-famine land system and the result of colonization by the English. • The Irish people were British subjects at this time. (Act of Union 1800) The law doth punish man or woman That stole the goose from off the common; But lets the greater felon loose That stole the common from the goose. (anonymous: West Cork, 1800 A.D., making reference to Act of Union when British abolished Irish parliament) • By 1830s, 95 per cent of Irish land was owned by about 5,000 English landlords, having been confiscated by conquest, colonization and plantation policies of British monarchs and governments, especially since time of Elizabeth I, “Queen regnant of England & Ireland” (1538-1603). • Between one-half and two-thirds of Ireland's landowners were permanent absentees, who governed their Irish estates through agents and middlemen whose mandate was to extract the largest amount of profit from the land.
By the late 17th century, the potato had become widespread as a supplementary rather than a principal food, as the main diet still revolved around butter, milk, and grain products. • In the first two decades of the 18th century, however, the potato became a base food of the poor, especially in winter. The expansion of the economy between 1760 and 1815 saw the potato make inroads in the diet of the people and became a staple all the year round for farmers. • The large dependency on this single crop was one of the reasons why the emergence of Phytophthora infestans had such devastating effects in Ireland, and had far less effects in other European countries (which were also hit by the fungus).
These unequal conditions, coupled with the incompetence and greed of the landowners, could only lead to a catastrophe for Ireland when the potato blight struck in Ireland on 9 September 1845. • _____________________
An Irish poet in 1849 gives his version of what happened: • God sent a curse upon the land because her sons were slaves;The rich earth brought forth rottenness, and gardens became graves;The green crops withered in the field, all blackened by the curse,And wedding gay and dance gave way to coffin and to hearse.
Effect of Potato Blight • The effect of the crisis on IRELAND was incomparable for the devastation it wrought, causing 1 million dead and another million and a half plus refugees and spurring a century-long population decline. • Although blight ravaged potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s, the impact and human cost in Ireland – where one-third of the population was entirely dependent on the potato for food – was exacerbated by a host of political, social and economic factors which remain the subject of historical debate.
DEATHS during FAMINE (1845-1852) • Ireland – 1 million • Ireland: births fell by a third, resulting in about 0.5 million "lost lives". • Belgium - 40,000–50,000 • Prussia (Germany) - 42,000 • France - 10,000
Famine Diseases Starvation and dietary deficiency diseases, e.g. scurvy and pellagra, accounted for some famine deaths but the vast majority were caused by one or other of a host of contagious or communicable diseases that raged during these years: Typhus fever, relapsing fever, typhoid or enteric fever, dysentery, diarrhea, tuberculosis, smallpox, measles among children, and Asiatic cholera (which broke out in 1848.)
Charles Trevelyn, British relief administratorwrites about Irish Famine: • "The judgment of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated...The famine will produce permanent good out of transient evil.” [Malthusian providentialism] • “The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people."
Britain’s laissez-faire policy: • Dominant economic theory - mid-19th century: It is not government's job to provide aid for its citizens, or to interfere with free market of goods or trade. • Do nothing that might diminish the profits of the landholders and landlords in English society. • Leave capitalism alone. laissez-faire ="let them do as they will". • Some workhouses & soup kitchens provided, but discontinued. • “Let Irish property pay for Irish poverty.”
Malthusian providentialism “the conviction that the potato blight was a divinely ordained remedy for Irish overpopulation.”Trevelyan wrote that the famine was a "mechanism for reducing surplus population," a view influenced by the thought of Thomas Robert Malthus who wrote: “The great law of necessity which prevents population from increasing in any country beyond the food which it can either produce or acquire, is a law so open to our view...that we cannot for a moment doubt it.” (1798)Malthus proposed the gradual abolition of Poor Laws by gradually reducing the number of persons qualifying for relief. Relief in dire distress would come from private charity.♦Positive checks to over-population: hunger, disease and war;♦Preventive checks: abortion, birth control, prostitution, postponement of marriage and celibacy.
Charles Trevelyan’s PRAYER for the IRISH - 1847 Official view of British Government, in Edinburg Review & as a Pamphlet on THE IRISH CRISIS, published 1847,Trevelyan warned of need to eliminate “the canker of state dependency” manifest in the tendency of all Irish classes to “make a poor mouth”. Trevelyan concluded his report with this prayer: “God grant that the generation to which this great opportunity has been offered may rightly perform its part, and that we may not relax our efforts until IRELAND fully participates in the social health and physical prosperity of Great Britain, which will be the true consummation of their union!’”
EVICTIONS "Undoubtedly it was the landlord's right to do as he pleased.....the tenants must be taught by the strong arm of the law that they had no power to oppose or resist.....property would be valueless and capital would no longer be invested....if it were not acknowledged that it was the landlord's undoubted, indefeasible and most sacred right to deal with his property as he list".Lord Brougham, Free Market supporter, in the British House of Lords, March 1846. An eviction – loss of house and land resulted in emigration or death 4,000 families were evicted in 1846, 6,000 families were evicted in 1847,9,500 families were evicted in 1848,16,500 families were evicted in 1849,20,000 families were evicted in 1850 and13,000 families were evicted in 1851.
Abundance of food available in Ireland during the Famine years In the long and troubled history of England and Ireland no issue has provoked so much anger or so embittered relations between the two countries as the indisputable fact that huge quantities of food were exported from Ireland to England throughout the period when the people of Ireland were dying of starvation.
Irish exports to England in 1847“The British government decided to leave food import and distribution to free market forces and allowed vast amounts of foodstuffs to be exported from Ireland.” --Christine Kinealy, Famine Scholar Shipments to British Ports from Ireland 1847 (worst year of famine) • 4,000 ships carrying peas, beans, rabbits, salmon, honey, potatoes • 9,992 Irish cattle • 4,000 Irish horses and ponies • 1,000,000 gallons of butter • 1,700,000 gallons of grain-derived alcohol
Lady Jane Wilde, in poem: THE STRICKEN LAND - 1847 Weary man, what reap ye? -- "Golden corn for the stranger." What sow ye? -- "Human corpses that wait for the avenger." Fainting forms, hunger-stricken, what see ye in the offing? "Stately ships to bear our food away amid the stranger's scoffing." There’s a proud array of soldiers — what do they round your door? They guard our masters’ granaries from the thin hands of the poor. Pale mothers, wherefore weeping— would to God that we were dead; Our children swoon before us, and we cannot give them bread.
British RELIEFThe British government spent more money on the military and police to protect the Landowners than on relief to feed the starving Irish:₤ 10 million for military in Ireland₤ 4 million for constabulary police in Ireland—for Evictions₤14 million – Total for military/police £20,000,000compensation to West Indian slave-owners in 1830s.” (none to the freed slaves)--Peter Gray, Irish Famine (1995)£7,000,000for relief in Ireland between 1845 and 1850, "representing less than half of one percent of the British gross national product over five years, AND,₤9.5 millionfor food relief & other relief of Irish people.
Greatest Tragedy since the Black Death- 2 and ½ million people fled Ireland by 1855 - • “Part of the horror of the Famine is its atavistic nature—the mind-shattering fact that an event with all the premodern character of a medieval pestilence happened in Ireland [in 19th century] with frightening recentness. This deathly origin then shattered space as well as time, unmaking the nation and scattering Irish people and history across the globe.” --Terry Eagelton, literary scholar & critic. • “The Irish famine was the greatest single peace-time tragedy since the [fourteenth century] Black Death.” --Joe Lee, Irish historian.
The Scattering • 1.5 million emigrated during famine years 1845-1851. • 1 million died • Nearly 30% of Irish people vanished from the land. • By the end of 1854 nearly two million Irish people - a quarter of the population - had emigrated to the United States in ten years. • 1820 to 1920: 4,400,000+ people emigrated to USA. • Population: 8.5 million (1845) declined to 6.5 million (1857) • Today (2012) for all of Ireland: 6,399,152 • Ireland has never increased to its pre-famine population of 8.5 million.
Legacy & Loss after FAMINE GAELIC Language & Culture • Marriage rates slumped; birth rates declined • Colonization engendered sense of shame in traditional Gaelic culture & language • Gaelic Language declined • Death & Emigration-large proportion of Irish speakers • Effect of loss of his father’s Gaelic language after the famine: “He says they lost their language and now they’re all walking around like ghosts, following maps with invisible streets and invisible place names. He says the Irish are still in hiding in a foreign language.” (in The Sailor in the Wardrobe by Hugh Hamilton)
Legacy of Famine in MusicStory lives on in Song at Rugby “The sheer strength and resilience of Famine narratives are sometimes most evident in the unlikeliest of places. Any Irish sporting team playing in an international game (soccer, rugby, GAA) will be serenaded by supporters--homeland and diasporic-- singing Pete St John’s popular (1979) and enduring Fields of Athenry .”(Atlas of Great Famine, 2012) By a lonely prison wall I heard a young girl calling Michael, they have taken you away For you stole Trevelyan's corn So the young might see the morn. Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay…. CHORUS Low lie the Fields of Athenry Where once we watched the small free birds fly. Our love was on the wing we had dreams and songs to sing It's so lonely 'round the Fields of Athenry.
SKIBBEREEN - One of the most famous and widely sung Famine songs was written by poet Patrick Carpenter of Skibbereen, Co. Cork. (The Irish Singer's Own Book, Boston, 1880) http://www.youtube.com/v/GOX9BcUP2Rw&feature/youtu.be
QUESTION: “How could the greatest famine in l9th century Europe have persisted in the back yard of the wealthiest empire in the world?”—Simon Schama, New Yorker. August, 2002 1847: Daniel O’Connell, the great liberator and defender of Ireland, in his last speech in House of Commons, a few months before he died pleaded: “Ireland is in your hands, in your power; if you do not save her, she cannot save herself. I solemnly call on you to recollect that I predict, with the sincerest conviction, that one-fourth of our population will perish unless you come to her relief.” (He was precisely accurate in his predictions).1847: Prime Minister John Russell said the same year: “We have in the opinion of Great Britain done too much for Ireland and have lost elections for doing so.”(The worst was yet to come).1997: Prime Minister Tony Blair in his statement, 150 years later said: "The famine was a defining event in the history of Ireland and Britain. It has left deep scars. That one million people should have died in what was then part of the richest and most powerful nation in the world is something that still causes pain as we reflect on it today. Those who governed in London at the time failed their people“read by actor Gabriel Byrne in Cork at 1997 commemoration of the Famine 2012--2013: Discussion & scholarship continues today. New books & Museum.
Scholarship Today - 2012 • 2012Famine scholars today “give us a view of famine administration which is closer to Cecil Woodham Smith’s [best seller book, 1962]”(in Atlas of Great Irish Famine-March 2012). “No issue has provoked so much anger or so embittered relations between the two countries [England and Ireland] as the indisputable fact that huge quantities of food were exported from Ireland to England throughout the period when the people of Ireland were dying of starvation“, Cecil Woodham-Smithin The Great Hunger: Ireland: 1845-1849, best-seller book published 1962. • 2012”Despite the overwhelming evidence of prolonged distress caused by successive years of potato blight, the underlying philosophy of the relief efforts was that they should be kept to a minimalist level; in fact they actually decreased as the Famine progressed…“Disease and starvation existed side-by-side with a substantial and flourishing commercial sector.” --Christine Kinealy, a leading scholar on the Great Famine. Irish America Magazine (July, 2012). • 2002“Colonial Britain let millions of people die from starvation in India and Ireland to avoid paying for costly aid efforts.” --Simon Schama, British scholar, professor of art & history, Columbia University. • 1997"Clearly, during the years 1845 to 1850, the British government pursued a policy of mass starvation in Ireland with intent to destroy in substantial part the national, ethnical, and racial group known as the Irish People.” -- Francis Boyle, professor of international law at University of Illinois.
Scholars cont’d… • 1965“In the late 1840s, 'all Ireland was a Belsen’, ” a sweeping reference to the notorious German extermination camp. This Oxford scholar minced no words: 'The English governing class ran true to form. They had killed two million Irish people.' …And that the death toll was not higher 'was not for want of trying'. --A.J.P. Taylor, of Oxford University, distinguished historian of modern Germany; columnist in London Review of Books, in his review of The Great Hunger by Cecil-Woodham Smith in New Statesman. • 1965Taylor’s comment drew many responses: “Mr. F. H. Hinsley calls it a “gaffe” when A.J.P. Taylor says that in the Great Famine ‘all Ireland was a Belsen’. I was with a Quaker relief unit at Belsen, and I have read Miss Woodham-Smith’s book about the Irish famine.I see no “gaffe”. --J. M. Hinton, Fellow/ Tutor in philosophy, Worcester College, Oxford. Letter in New York Review of Books.
“It was a British Famine” - Sept.2012 • “It is incorrect to describe this event as the Irish Famine; it is more accurately the British famine, occurring within the United Kingdom. And if we adopted the term the British famine, it would encourage us to think harder about how surprising it was that famine should sweep so unhindered through the most powerful state on the planet. “ • Kevin Whelan, review of Atlas of Great Irish Famine, Sept. 2012
G.K. Chesterton on Irish Famine • The British Prime Minister positively spread the Famine, by making the half-starved populations of Ireland pay for the starved ones. The common verdict of a coroner’s jury upon some emaciated wretch was “Wilful murder by Lord John Russell”: and that verdict was not only the verdict of Irish public opinion, but is the verdict of history. -- Crimes of England- 1915.
“Tracing Tragedy in Ireland”, Travel Feature, New York Times by Christine Cozens, June 1, 1997 — a responseTo the Editor: A potato blight did not kill and banish millions of Irish in the 1800's, as Christine S. Cozzens reports in ''Tracing Tragedy in Ireland'' (June 1, 1997). Hardly a ''dietary staple,'' the potato was the only food English landlords permitted the Irish to eat. During the Hunger, Ireland was bountiful in grains and dairy, which the English continued to export for profit. However, Ms. Cozzens all but praises the English for their good works during the ensuing starvation: the pitiful sludge she calls broth and the building projects, which worked starving men until they dropped. I am horrified by the Anglicized version of Irish history.-NANCY STONE , Brooklyn Published: July 13, 1997 Reply by author>>
Ms Cozzens, the author, responds to letter regarding Tracing Tragedy in Ireland: “A travel article is necessarily tied to destinations and activities that a visitor can experience. My article focused on the famine's physical legacy and not on the very complicated historical and political ramifications, which continue to inspire heated political debate to the farthest reaches of the Irish diaspora. Ms. Stone might be interested to know that the print sources I consulted to provide some context for my observations represent the most recent Irish scholarship. (??-Bob) The picture of what occurred is still being filled in but is very much more nuanced than she implies.”--Published: July 13, 1997, New York Times
Andrew Greeley, sociologist writes about the IRISH Famine • No Western country offers better evidence than Ireland for the conclusion that all human hopes are futile, all human passions vanity and all human effort useless. • Nor does any country provide more fascinatingproof of the obdurate refusal of humankind to give up in the face of tragedy.
John Mitchel famously put it, that "The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine."-- 1861
George Bernard Shaw of Dublin wrote 50 years after the Potato Blight in Man and Superman: • VIOLET: The Famine? • MALONE: No, the starvation. When a country is full of food, and exporting it, there can be no famine. Me father was starved dead; and I was starved out to America in me mother’s arms. English rule drove me and mine out of Ireland.
Quinnipiac University, Hampden, Ct announced October 2012 the opening of Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum