Monday March 17, 2014

The Great Hunger, Part 2 - Ireland


Approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland during the great potato famine of the 1840's.

Hunger and starvation are more often the result of human action rather than nature's caprice. And who lives and who dies is determined by a brutal calculus of power. Philip Coulter visits Ukraine and Ireland to tell the story of two "famines" that continue to shape these nations today. Part 1 examines the Holodomor or "hunger extermination" that occurred in Ukraine in the 1930's. Part 2, about the great famine in Ireland.

Listen to The Great Hunger, Part 1 about the Holodomor or "hunger extermination" that occurred in Ukraine in the 1930's

We are used to seeing the face of famine: the emaciated bodies, the dry earth, the helpless children, the despairing adults. Natural famine is a universal horror, the ultimate breakdown of a society - the inability to feed itself, because of the vagaries of nature. But there's another kind of famine - the deliberate mass starvation of a people. Are they different, or really just the same thing? And what happens after the great hunger is over? The bodies are buried, a people try to pick up the pieces and move on, rebuild from the bodies still living, rebuild a society.

In the mid-19th century, Ireland was a colony of Britain. Most farmers were tenants of great British landlords, growing grain for the rent, and potatoes to live on. In 1845, the potato crop failed. It failed again the next year, and again the following year.  With no way to pay the rent,  thousands of families were forced out of their homes to live and starve on the roads. By the time it was all over, a million had died, another million had left Ireland forever.  The potato famine resulted in a cascade of death, and also a cascade of bad decision-making, self-serving opportunism, and moral sanctimony. The results are still with us today.

This episode first aired in 2009. 

Participants in the program:

John Waters, Ivor Browne, Cormac Ó Gráda, Peter Gray, Mary Daly, Michael Comer, and Joe McGowan.

Reading List:

The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People by John Kelly,  published by Henry Holt.

Atlas of the Great Irish Famine. Ed. J. Crowley, W.J. Smith, M. Murphy, published by Cork University Press.

The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849 by Cecil Woodham-Smith, published by Penguin Books.

The Famine Plot: England's Role in Ireland's Greatest Tragedy by Tim Pat Coogan, published by Macmillan.