By Jim Gallagher
Memorial Mass for Victims of the Irish Hunger, 1845-1850
A Memorial Mass for the victims of the Irish Hunger of 1845-50 was held at Saint Joseph’s Church, New London Sunday, May 20 , at the 12:00 Noon Mass. This event was held in May in concert with similar activities across Ireland, North America, Europe and Australia to commemorate the victims of this catastrophe, most of whom died unidentified and buried ignominiously in mass graves. The Mass was immediately followed by lunch-early dinner and a short video presentation in the Church Hall. Admission to the dinner/presentation was $10 per person, $6 for children 12 years and younger. Net proceeds will be donated to local food pantries.
After dinner the video program, sponsored by New London County’s John P. Holland Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), was presented. The AOH is the oldest and largest Irish-Catholic fraternal organization in America. Father Mark O’Donnell, Pastor of St. Joseph’s Church, is the Chaplain of the local Division.
Approximately 3.5 million Irish are believed to have died or emigrated during the five year period of the potato blight from 1845 to 1850. To put this tragedy in perspective, that human loss is essentially equivalent to the eradication of almost the entire population of Connecticut in the short span of five years.
The causes of the devastating impact on the Irish peasant population can be traced largely to the dependence of the Irish peasants on a solely potato diet, and, by deliberate neglect by the British Government. The dehumanization of the Irish peasant by British colonialists can be traced back to, at least, the 17th Century Cromwellian purge and the later Penal Laws. The fungus that ruined the potato crop for 3 out of 4 years actually came from America by ship, infected much of western Europe, although only Ireland was severely impacted. Government neglect and mismanagement intensified the calamitous death of the Irish population and near-destruction of the Irish culture. This tragedy was summed up by Irish patriot John Mitchell when he said “God created the potato blight but Britain created the famine”. Historians refer to this “Hunger” tragedy as “the worst social disaster of 19th Century Europe”. Further, since food for export, in the form of livestock, grains, fruits and vegetables, was being grown in Ireland during this five year period, while the native Irish population starved, the term “Famine” is a gross misnomer.
Emigration was seen by the victims as the only escape from death. Yet, approximately 20% of the emigrants died at sea, in “coffin ships”, and in quarantine stations. This Irish exodus to the United States and Canada was the first large wave of European immigration in North America. It was also the first to include large numbers of young, single women travelling alone.
The massive wave of Irish Catholic emigrants to America during this period were greeted with the same bigotry that they experienced in Ireland. The major difference in America was that now there was opportunity, which was denied them in Ireland. It was after the Irish demonstrated their valor and patriotism in the U.S. Civil War that they began to be slowly assimilated into American society. This was the beginning of Irish America.
For information, contact: http://www.NewLondon-CT-AOH.org, or, write: AOH, P.O. Box 1463, New London, CT, 06320