Posted by: irishhungercomm | May 8, 2012

Why call it a Famine?

Bill Fahey – Comment  to Irish Times

Why do scholars and others refer to the great starvation in Ireland, 1845-51, as a famine ? Famine means an absence of food causing starvation at a specific area. Food was being produced in Ireland and exported during all the years when people were dying of starvation and related diseases. The victims deserve to have an accurate description of this man made horrific event which caused their deaths and suffering.


Responses

  1. During 1845-48, one crop failed in Ireland and only one crop, the potato. The remaining crops and livestock were removed under armed guard for export out of the country. The armed soldiers who organized the removal did not die of starvation. Neither did the aristocracy who lived throughout Ireland. Yet one million plus Irish people starved to death in one of the most fertile countries of Europe. This is not about casting blame on the perpetrators. This is about the dignity of every man woman and child who died of hunger in Ireland or on the North Atlantic in coffin ships or in Canada in places like Grosse Ile Quebec, Kingston Ontario, Partridge Island etc.
    For too long, the word “famine” has been associated with 1845-48 in Ireland.
    It is time to choose an appropriate term for the event, not to belittle the perpetrators but to the raise the dignity to the highest level possible of those that perished.

  2. It has been ages since I have heard An Gorta Mor referred to as a famine, at least in literate circles. 1962 book by Woodham-Smith marked a turning
    towards the correct nomenclature

  3. Bill Fahey – Comment to Irish Times
    Why do scholars and others refer to the great starvation in Ireland, 1845-51, as a famine ? Famine means an absence of food causing starvation at a specific area. Food was being produced in Ireland and exported during all the years when people were dying of starvation and related diseases. The victims deserve to have an accurate description of this man made horrific event which caused their deaths and suffering.

    ————–
    Dear Bill,
    My father used to say, “we called it the Great Famine, but we all knew better.” For years up, people have referred to this period of time as the Great Famine, and in my mind at least, it refers the uniquely to the horrors suffered by our ancestors. The phrase does not refer to any other tragedy. It is a connotation, not a denotation. In one sense, it is a brand name.

    A few weeks back, a Jewish friend of mine came over to my house and was struck by the music I was playing. The song was Fields of Athenry. She did not know about the Great Famine, and was aghast at the extent of the horrors. I mention my father’s quote, and then played a ChristieMoore song, “On a Single Day”. The shocking realization that Ireland lost so many to starvation was followed by the shocking realization that so much of the horror and agony was caused by willful indifference. It took some time to process the two realizations.

    So many people are unaware of an Gorta Mor, and so many simply don’t want to think about it. I’d like to think that if time is better spent trying to make people aware of an Gorta Mor and than debating the proper terminology—when they ask the question of why did this happen, there is another opportunity to educate about the facts. And I’d like to think that making people aware of the Great Famine might make a more sensitive to the Gorta experienced by so many unfortunates today.

    We call it the Great Famine, but we know better.

  4. Ref: Food for thought.
    This is indeed a fertile site for much needed debate. Michael Portillo presented part of his programme, ‘Great Railway Journeys’ from Derry on 3.2.12. Viewers were presented with a version of An Gorta Mór which had not been properly researched to include the vast quantities of food transported to England under military supervision. Educating people about the facts of An Gorta Mór must include reference to British policy at the time which provides evidence that submissions in relation to An Gorta Mór were disregarded with disastrous consequences.

  5. Yes the word Famine is not correct ! The definition is lack of food. There was no lack of food ! There ws enough food in Ireland to feed about 4 1/2 times the population at the time and that meant there was enough food to feed over 30 MILLION PLUS. It was taken away and thus the tragic results for millions.

    • Good point, Dick. Since I am possibly the only one to distinguish between the label & the events, let me just say no one disagrees about the facts surrounding that horrific era of Irish history. No one. There are however, differences about how to proceed from here. Some believe that use of the word ‘famine’ mocks the suffering endured by our ancestors. Others believe that the phrase ‘Irish Famine’ now denotes a specific era and no one is ever confused by the events being referred to. This second group also believes it is MORE IMPORTANT to make people of Irish descent aware of the horrors, than it is to spending time, money and effort to re-name the period. As I have said previously, my dad [from Cork] used to say, ‘they called it the famine….but, we all knew better..’ Anyone becoming remotely familiar with this topic knows better.

  6. Yes, there was corn in the fields and fish in the sea but people starved.
    I understand that in Scotland, the crofters were also cleared off the land to make way for pastures. Was it around this time also?


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