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An Gorta Mór

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: 1845 to 1850
Location: [unknown]
Surname/tag: Ireland
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In 1903 George Bernard Shaw wrote the play, Man and Superman:

VIOLET. The Famine?
MALONE [with smouldering passion] No, the starvation. When a country is full o 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.

Why was it called a famine when there was plenty of food grown and exported? Why was a charitable world discouraged from relieving the distress? Was it genocide or ethnic cleansing?

In August 1845, the Irish potato crop was attacked by a previously unknown fungus, Phytophthora infestans. 40% of the potato crop failed. Nobody died that year because British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, introduced public works, financial grants, relief depots and imported foods. In 1846, Peel repealed the Corn Laws, however he resigned in June that year because of lack of support by the Conservative Party. That year the potato blight appeared earlier and was far more destructive and 1,000,000 Irish peasants starved to death or died from related diseases.

In 1847 the harrowing poem The Famine Year by Jane Elgee later Lady Jane Wilde, at that time a member of Young Ireland, was published under the pen-name of Speranza in the Nation.

By 1848 over one million people were dependent on relief.

"Ireland’s Great Famine or The Great Hunger, as it is more commonly referred to today, ranks among the worst tragedies in the sweep of human history. Between 1845 and 1850, approximately 1.5 million Irish men, women and children died of starvation or related diseases.

By 1855, more than two million more fled Ireland to avoid a similar fate. This decimation of her population makes Ireland’s Great Hunger both the worst chapter in the country’s history, and arguably, the single worst catastrophe in 19th century Europe."

The Great Hunger, Quinnipiac University

"There existed - after 1847, at least - an absolute sufficiency of food that could have prevented mass starvation, if it had been properly distributed so as to reach the smallholders and labourers of the west and the south of Ireland."

In his book The Irish Crisis, published in 1848, Sir Charles Trevelyan, the British civil servant chiefly responsible for administering Irish relief policy throughout the famine years described the famine as 'a direct stroke of an all-wise and all-merciful Providence', one which laid bare 'the deep and inveterate root of social evil'. The famine, he declared, was 'the sharp but effectual remedy by which the cure is likely to be effected... God grant that the generation to which this great opportunity has been offered may rightly perform its part...'

"Educated Britons of this era saw serious defects in the Irish 'national character'-disorder or violence, filth, laziness, and worst of all, a lack of self-reliance. This amounted to a kind of racial or cultural stereotyping. The Irish had to be taught to stand on their own feet and to unlearn their dependence on government."

"The mass death of enormous multitudes of people stemmed partly from their perceived status as the cultural and social inferiors of those who governed them. This status, imposed by British rulers on their colonial subjects, made their plight seem much less urgent in Britain and caused it to be misperceived."

Related page: Space:Choctaw Ireland Famine Relief


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