1800-1900, — May 25, 2010 9:17 — 0 Comments

Great Hunger: President McAleese

President Mary McAleese, recently of Rostrevor where her parents still reside, spoke in New York this week at a special commemoration of the survivors of the Great Hunger. 

‘I thank New York for remembering their pain, for respecting them so graciously and for insisting that we vindicate their lives and deaths by making this awful, avoidable suffering a thing of the past across the globe.’

Famine Soup Pot

Our own John Mitchel of that terrible time insisted that Britain, through its policies and lack of them to deal with the crisis, waged genocide against the Irish nation – and extreme as this may seem, it is one of the few theories to explain the decimation of the Irish poor of that awful decade and those to follow and there is much evidence to support Mitchel’s theory.


More than 90% of all Irish land had been seized by the Crown and distributed among colonists, ‘undertakers’ and former soldiers, and the Protestant Church. ‘Undertakers’ undertook to expel all Irish from their lands. Though Ireland was more populous then than ever before or since, more than 80% of its 8-10 million people subsisted on a diet of potatoes alone. They were especially vulnerable to any potato failure. When that crop failed for (practically) seven years in a row, millions perished or were driven into exile, a fate that persisted for the next century.


Though man had practised agriculture for ten thousand years, there were still diseases (‘murrain’ or blights) unknown then and indeed for decades to come and one such was Phytophythora Infestans that spread in the potato crop from America to Europe and thus to Ireland in the autumn of 1845. This unknown disease rapidly turned the potato stalk black and reduced the tubers in the soil to a stinking pulp. Only Mitchel’s words properly communicate the devastation wrought upon the Irish people. 


In mitigation it ought to be said that the British Prime Minister of the day, Sir Robert Peel took early remedial action – for which enlightened and charitable act he was promptly dumped and a harsher regime prevailed thereafter under Lord John Russell and his adviser Charles Treveylan. 


More of this later. Indeed this is one area of Irish history where much more research is required form historians.


…. more later …

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