Posted by: irishhungercomm | May 4, 2013

Memorial Mass for Victims of the Irish Hunger, 1845-1850 – New London, Connecticut

Memorial Mass for Victims of the Irish Hunger, 1845-1850

The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) will sponsor a Memorial Mass for the victims of the Irish Hunger of 1845-50 at Saint Joseph’s Church, New London on Saturday, May 18 .  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 for the local John P. Holland Division.

This commemoration is being held in concert with similar activities to be held in May across Ireland, North America, Europe and Australia.  The commemoration will begin at the 5:00 PM Mass, and will be followed immediately after Mass by a presentation and then a dinner in the School Hall.  The featured speaker will be Dr. Grace Brady, Executive Director of the Irish Hunger Museum in Hamden, CT., who will give a power point presentation about the Museum, its history and artifacts.  The dinner that follows her presentation will be at $10 per adult and $5 for children 12 years and younger.  All proceeds will be donated to local food pantries.  Donations of non-perishable food items are also encouraged.

The program will commemorate the approximately 3.5 million Irish who 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. This tragedy was summed up by Irish patriot John Mitchell when he said “God created the potato blight but Britain created the famine”. The fungus that ruined the potato crop for 3 out of 4 years actually came from America by ship; it infected much of Western Europe, although only Ireland was severely devastated. largely because of its absolute dependence on the potato and by the adverse relief policies of the British Government

The 17th Century Cromwellian purges in Ireland and the later Penal Laws insured that the Irish peasant could own no land, paid exorbitant rents and subsisted exclusively on potatoes. The potato fungus that caused the blight ruined the potato crop. However, government neglect and mismanagement intensified the calamitous death of a large segment of the Irish population and near-destruction of the Irish culture. Historians refer to this “Hunger” tragedy as “the worst social disaster of 19th Century Europe”. Further, since food continued to be exported from Ireland during this five year period, in the form of livestock, grains, fruits and vegetables, the term “Famine” is a gross misnomer.

Emigration was seen by the victims as the only escape from death. Yet, approximately 20% of these 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 set the stage for what became Irish-America. The immigrants were greeted in America with the same bigotry that they had experienced in Ireland. Most took menial and dangerous jobs at very little pay. As a result, they resided in the poorest slums in U.S. east coast cities and in transient camps while working to build railroads and to work in mines. But in America 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 or dinner reservations, contact Jim Gallagher at 739-8216 or

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