The Great Famine

The Great Famine: 1845-1850


Famine Memorial Dublin

An Gorta Mor, which loosely translated into English from the Irish Gaelic means The Great Famine, but literally translated means The Great Hunger. This epic tragedy was arguably the single most seminal event in Irish modern history. The picture on the left shows the famine memorial in Dublin, the picture was from Wikipedia and was taken by Alan Mc. An Gorta Mor was a catastrophic time that became a watershed in the then already troubled story of the Island of Ireland. The causes, blame and responsibilities for this period have been contradicted back and forth mainly, but not exclusively between England and Ireland, by commentators throughout history but its effects are very much a matter of irrefutable fact.

From 1800 to 1845 the population of Ireland grew from five million to eight million. Between 1845 and 1850, when the British Empire was at its zenith and when the United Kingdom was the richest country in the world, when Ireland was as much a part of this union as Northumberland and Norfolk, at least one million Irishmen, women and children died of starvation and its related illnesses. As well as this another one million were forced to emigrate their homeland and flee to England, America or Australia permanently to avoid suffering the same fate. During this time the British government continuously exported grain from Ireland to Britain fearing that a cessation of this would ‘upset’ the market.

Skibbereen_by_James_Mahony,_1847This period in Ireland was also a time of mass eviction as absentee landlords cleared tenants from small plots in an attempt to reduce their own debts. Much of the management of this was left to ‘Middlemen,’ many of these Middlemen were Irish themselves. The more unscrupulous amongst these Middleman saw the severe conditions as an opportunity to exploit the Irish Peasant.

By 1850 with the Famine seemingly over, the surviving Irish people tried to rebuild their ravaged country whilst many others looked on from afar. Wherever they were, many Irish Peasants harboured a burning hatred towards  the English establishment and for those who had represented it in general, and in particular towards The Middlemen. Such a person is Finbarr Joseph Breathnach and such a Middleman is Paidraig de Hay. These two men are the central characters in, and the reason for the story of  A Man of Insignificance.

Copyright © 2015 K. C. Dowling

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