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A Jig in the Poorhouse

Breandán Mac Suibhne

Arranmore lies five miles off the coast of west Donegal. Here, at ten o’clock on the morning of 24 September 1847, Hugh Gallagher came on Mary Gallagher stealing potatoes from a field belonging to him. Aided and assisted by his wife, Sarah, he cut one of her ears off with a reaping hook, and nearly the other 1

In The Drowned and the Saved (1986), Primo Levi recalled the “brusque revelation” on entering Auschwitz that “hope of solidarity from one’s companions in misfortune” was a grand delusion. The absence of that expected support “became manifest from the very first hours of imprisonment, often in the instant form of a concentric aggression on the part of those in whom one hoped to find future allies …”: ‘the first threats, the first insults, the first blows came not from the SS but from other prisoners, from “colleagues”, from those mysterious personages who nevertheless wore the same striped tunic that they, the new arrivals, had just put on.” The interior of the camp “could not be reduced to two blocs of victims and persecutors”, not only because prisoners took advantage of each other, but also because some, for a variety of reasons, collaborated and received rewards and privileges from their captors. For Levi, this is the “grey zone”, the space which separates victims and persecutors ‑ one populated by obscene and pathetic figures, where sometimes, but not always, judgment is impossible. And in considering that moral space, he states the obvious: the saved “may not necessarily be the best, those predestined to do good, the bearers of a message”, but “the selfish, the violent, the insensitive, the collaborators of the ‘grey zone’, the spies”.2

The grey zone of the Great Famine3 is the demimonde of soupers and grabbers, moneylenders and meal-mongers, and those among the poor who had a full pot when neighbours starved, and the poorhouse bully who took the biscuit from the weak. It is where one finds the mother who denied one child food and fed another, a boy who slit the throat of two youths for a bag of meal, and, indeed, rumoured and reported cases of cannibalism.4 And for the historian, with only the barest bones to pick over, it is the moral space inhabited by Mary Gallagher and her assailants, quite possibly related to her, who, for all that is known, may not have had enough potatoes to feed themselves. To make these observations is not to be oblivious to what Margaret Kelleher has called the danger of drawing any trite comparison between the Famine and the Holocaust, nor is it to commit to any classification of the earlier horror. Rather, it is to acknowledge some issues raised by the condition to which ragged humanity was, in places, reduced in Ireland in the late 1840s, and to bring into view situations in which moral judgment may not then have been impossible but can scarcely have been easy, and today seems utterly inappropriate. And yet the task remains for the historian to explain the reduction of humanity to that condition, and to assign responsibility for it.

An awareness of the grey zone saturates Hugh Dorian’s recollections of life and death in mid-nineteenth-century north Donegal.5 Born on a smallholding in 1834, Dorian entered his teens in the years of the Famine, when more than one in four people in his wider community would be lost.6 And in 1889-90, he wrote of what he had seen. It was four decades since the Famine, about the same span between the Holocaust and the writing of the Drowned and the Saved. Dorian’s memoir, if less calibrated and less consistent in judgment, and, in intellectual force and focus, less concentrated than Levi’s, is no less the reflective testimony of a survivor of a horrendous calamity. And like the camp survivor in his earlier If This is a Man (1947), the famine survivor turns to the most fundamental issues: “The questions naturally arise, What is man? And, What is life? What can be the cause of all this? Is it a punishment for our crimes? Or those of our forefathers, or is it to purify souls here by suffering to prepare them for a happy eternity hereafter?”7

Dorian was not uninterested in responsibility for that horror which he survived. Most of the time, he simply thought it obvious where it lay. If he stops short of indicting the British state with premeditated mass murder ‑ a charge made by some, but by no means all, nationalists and republicans ‑ he still locates the suffering of those years in a long history of colonial oppression, the violence of which was inscribed in a landscape made up of the “rich lands of the plantation” and the “mountain, the bog and the seashore” inhabited by the “Celt”. “The Donegal peasant has got all the historical learning he requires,” he writes; “he has his ancestors’ history open before him everyday he rises: it is exhibited in the large characters ‑ the ocean, the mountain, and his own state of poverty ‑ and if he reads anything he must read how it is that he is there and why.”8 Moreover, he does explicitly hold Britain to account for the calamity, identifying public work schemes as the point where the “government advisers dealt out the successful blow ‑ and it would appear premeditated ‑ the great blow for slowly taking away human life, getting rid of the population and nothing else, by forcing the hungry and the half-clad men to stand out in the cold and in the sleet and rain from morn till night for the paltry reward of nine pennies per day. Had the poor pitiful creatures got this allowance, small as it was, at their homes, it would have been relief, it would be charity, it would convey the impression that their benefactors meant to save life, but in the way thus given, on compulsory conditions, it meant next to slow murder.”9 [italics added]

Crucially, however, this nationalist analysis frames a more intimate history. At times, indeed, Dorian’s voice rings out of the grey zone: “Arising from death, emigration, and dispersion to all parts, the population soon dwindled away. And indeed I hope it will not be any way uncharitable to say [it, but] with the multitude also disappeared many turbulent and indifferent characters who were only a disgrace to the good, the honest and the well-doing, and if there was poverty, there was peace too.”10 These words are all the more unsettling as Dorian himself drank and brawled through his adult years, and on a night in late December 1899, his wife, Catherine, fell into the Foyle at Derry and drowned; she had just been released from a constabulary barracks on the Strand Road to get somebody to fetch their daughter, who had been arrested with her, for public drunkenness.11 And if an “uncharitable” attitude to the loss of some rougher members of his own community disturbs Dorian’s clear conviction that Britain was responsible ‑ in the long term and the short ‑ for the tragedy that befell Ireland, so too does a clutching at providential explanations of hunger and disease, death and migration:

Were we permitted to moralize we would say that the Almighty in His wise ways has brought about dispersions, emigrations and deaths as a punishment upon the people, as they were too numerous, too unruly, and in their ways of life … too rebellious; therefore, a Higher Power was needed to curb and to chastise them. Emigration thinned their ranks. Starvation reduced them to weakness, and deaths thinned and decimated their ranks worst of all, but it gave the remainder, though few, a chance of thinking for themselves.12

In Dorian’s telling, then, “the poor” may have been “treated and despised as if they were beings of quite a different creation”13, but they were not all the same, nor as deserving of that treatment. Some were good, honest and well-doing, and some turbulent and indifferent. Some had more food than others, some more leverage with shopkeepers or members of the relief committee, and some were less restrained by the values of their own people. Hence, some took soup, some used “influence” to get onto the public works, and, more commonly, some denied others the charity demanded by custom. Like Levi, Dorian makes much of the absence of solidarity among “companions in misfortune”. “Friendship was forgotten,” he writes, “men lived as if they dreaded each other, every one trying to do best for himself alone, and a man would rather deny the goods he possessed than make it known that he had such ...”14 And an old man with food sufficient for himself, but not to share with his grandchild, becomes himself a figure of pity.15

If there is sympathy for a man who could feed himself but not his family, there is none for those who sought to profit from their companions in misfortune. “The landlords are often accused, and justly so, for their oppression, cruelty and tyranny, but unfortunately a man’s very neighbour is very often just as pitiless a tyrant ...” It is the grabber who is Dorian’s great bête noire.16 The bailiffs, who enabled the grabbers, might have been “men chosen from the lowest scum of society, unscrupulous, unmerciful beings”, but, in Dorian’s mind, at least some of them ‑ eager for revenge, and imitative of the master, easily bought with food or drink ‑ can be understood, for their weaknesses are “human”:

Tis true most of the bum bailiffs were always of the lowest type of humanity, but a few were constrained to accept of this miserable occupation urged by the thought of the oppression or cruelty exercised towards themselves or relatives a short time before, so that there was therefore a grudge and no way to exercise it but by this stroke of getting under the protection of the landlord and having the power at their back; the farmer who thought so little of getting a cabin lowered, found to his grief, that though he had crushed, yet he did not kill the worm, and that the one he thought as little of was now in a position to persecute and torment him and ultimately turn him out. If former cruelty be any palliation for a spirit of revenge, it is to be feared that some kept it in view. Such is humankind and the time is yet to arrive when men will forget injury and for the same return good.17

But the grabbers themselves are consumed by inhuman greed. And in his repeated insistence on their extraordinary avarice –“The greedy man thinks deeply, his eyes see far” [a rendering of the Irish proverb Tchí saint i bhfad, Greed sees far.]18 ‑ he may hit on a rule of famine: in times of great dearth, it is the “greedy” among the poor ‑ the first to break customary obligations to share ‑ who may be most likely to prevail. Tellingly, in elaborating what happened in his own community, Dorian juxtaposes the rise of the grabbers ‑ among them “those who might be called the lower class” ‑ with the drifting downwards of “the ‘genteel folk’ … unwilling to make any narrow shift or to be seen connected with any mean action”19. And if here Dorian anticipates Levi’s apprehension that “the worst … the selfish, the violent, the insensitive, the collaborators …” sometimes predominate among the saved, then his own callous indifference to the disappearance of “turbulent and indifferent”’ neighbours may be taken as proof of it.

Hugh Dorian died in an overcrowded house on Nelson Street in Derry’s Bogside, and he has lain in an unmarked grave in Derry City Cemetery since 1914. The city of Derry will never raise a monument to him. And, indeed, what stone could speak of a man indifferent to the loss of “many” of his neighbours? But Dorian’s testimony is exceptional. Nobody from a lower tier of society put down on paper a more complete ground-level account of the horror that made modern Ireland. Still, the words of other Famine survivors did echo into the middle decades of the twentieth century. Most obviously, when people born within a few decades of the Famine were asked, by collectors of the Irish Folklore Commission, what they had heard from their parents of am an drochshaoil [the time of the bad life], they told stories of thievery and hoarding, land-grabbing, meal-mongering and money-lending. Sometimes, indeed, they put names to “obscene and pathetic figures” in their own communities ‑ people whose descendants were living beside them ‑ and time and again they picked over situations where, in the end, judgment is best suspended. Scenes at the Famine pot loomed large in seanchas [oral history]. For instance in Rann na Feirste, in west Donegal, Séamas Ó Dónaill, born about 1858, recalled hearing that when a pot or boiler for making broth was set up in the second year of the Famine, two local women charged with doling out the rations skimmed the thin gruel at top for the hungry and kept for themselves the thicker more nutritious gríodar at the bottom.

Is iomaí lá garbh a bhí ag an choire chéanna. Bhí na daoine chomh hocrach agus nár fhan truaighe nó grásta ar bith iontu. … There were many rough days at the same pot. The people were that hungry that they became devoid of pity and grace. A strong man would drive women, children and weak ones out of his road. They used to be tramping on top of each other, everybody trying to get to the pot.
A poor man came to the pot one day, and he stood apart from the crowd for a while. There were that many people gathered around it that a woman fainted. A way was cleared, and two men took her out from the pot, and threw on the ground behind the crowd. They then tried to get back to the pot, not caring if the woman died or not. There, they found the poor fellow standing at the pot where the woman had been. One of them grabbed him by the throat, and threw him on the back of his head on a pile of stones.
“It is little enough would make me take you in the pot’, he said to the poor man, “To think that you’d come to drink our broth, that is scarce enough ‑ too scarce ‑ for ourselves.”
The poor man got up, and he walked away without saying a single word.
There was a man called Eoghan Thuathail at the pot, and he had been watching all that happened, and it stung him to see the abuse given the poor man. He called him back, and he gave him half of his broth.20 [The translation is mine, and it does no justice to the emphasis on viciousness in the original.]

The grey zone of the Famine—and the poor-on-poor violence that is central to it ‑ features less prominently in general histories of those years than it does in seanchas. Such works were once rare. Indeed, from the publication of Cecil Woodham-Smith’s The Great Hunger in 1962 to the advent of the sesquicentenary of the crisis, in the mid-1990s, there were only two efforts at producing a general narrative ‑ a pamphlet by Mary E Daly, The Famine in Ireland (1986), generously described by Cormac Ó Gráda as “short on ‘emotive’ description”21, and Thomas Gallagher’s Paddy’s Lament: Ireland, 1846–47: Prelude to Hatred (1982), which might, in the same spirit, be described as not lacking in that department. One was self-consciously revisionist, and the other so enthusiastically nationalist that historians pushed it beyond the pale of serious discussion. The sesquicentenary prompted several authors to rise to the challenge of producing a general history, resulting in a clutch of useful books of disparate ambitions and approaches intended for discrete readerships. Among them are Peter Gray’s splendid The Irish Famine (1995), Christine Kinealy’s A Death-Dealing Famine (1997), which is more comprehensive than her earlier study of the poor law administration, and James S Donnelly Jr’s The Great Irish Potato Famine (2001) which, while comprising emended versions of previously published essays (the majority appearing as far back as 1989) coheres as a valuable survey based on deep original research. And to that list one might add Thomas Keneally’s The Great Shame (1998), which includes a significant section on the Famine, a subject to which he has recently returned, with his Three Famines: Starvation and Politics (2011), comparing Ireland’s mid-nineteenth-century experience with that of mid-twentieth-century Bengal and late twentieth-century Ethiopia.

Most of the sesquicentenary books ‑ and some ambitious local histories published around the same time ‑ proceed by surveying state, society and economy in the early nineteenth century, moving on to the impact of the blight, the various relief measures put in place by governmental and non-governmental agencies, and, finally, eviction, mortality and migration. It is a big story, cutting across several disciplines, and in the telling, while the poor are seen, it is the voices of politicians, pressmen and philanthropists, officials and landlords that are more generally heard. And that is unfortunate, for Ireland’s experience of colonial rule and cultural nationalism has, inter alia, bequeathed two very different archives to historians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which, in a global context, are virtually peerless. One is the mammoth social book-keeping archive compiled primarily in Dublin Castle, and the other, the aforementioned records of the Irish Folklore Commission, which as a collection of oral histories from an agrarian society is rivalled only by the Folklore Archive of Finland. Hence, we can squint through the window of the barracks, and peer through the turf smoke of the mud cabin. With those two key archives—and a range of other materials—historians of nineteenth-century Ireland have the potential to produce social and cultural history of an unusually high order, that might allow a tighter apprehension of the Famine, and its legacy.

Since the 1990s, the grey zone of the Famine has become clearer, and while obscene and pathetic figures are by no means absent from the contemporary written archive ‑witness the report of the mutilation of Mary Gallagher ‑ an increased awareness and understanding of it is due in no small part to Cathal Póirtéir’s two samplers of seanchasFamine Echoes (1995) and Glórtha ón Ghorta (1996) 22‑ and also to widening access to second- and third-level education in the last few decades of the twentieth century, which has made historians of some descendants of the rural poor. Historians have started to probe deeper into Famine-time souperism, a subject on which there was some earlier writing. A start too has been made on the history of forestalling, and, latterly, cannibalism has been surveyed. In these last two instances, as in so many others, the groundbreaking work is by Cormac Ó Gráda, and it bodes well to be long considered definitive. And yet the grabber ‑ the great villain of seanchas ‑ remains a figure without a history. Some general numbers have long been known ‑ for the decline in the smallest holdings, for example ‑ that give a sense of the vast acreage which changed hands. In his 41-year-old Ireland before the Famine (1972) ‑ still useful and still in print ‑ Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh observes that patches of one to five acres accounted for 44.9 per cent of all holdings in Ireland in 1841, but only 15.5 per cent in 1851. The figures, Ó Tuathaigh adds, “virtually speak for themselves”23. They do, and they raise questions: who got the land? do hard data support the widely received image of poor people overtaking better-off neighbours, and, if so, how could that have happened? to what extent was the grabber a construction of the mid-1850s, when the sudden recovery of land prices caused those who had divested themselves of land in the bad times to regret the transactions? were landlords and, indeed, the state, through the working of the poor law, complicit in the enlargement of some tenants’ holdings at the expense of others?

The elusive grabber notwithstanding, the experience of the poor is today much better understood than it was in the mid-1990s, and now perhaps, it can, in all its grey squalor, become more central to the story of the Famine. And yet the task for historians involves more than expanding the dramatis personae. In a luminous essay published in the mid-1990s, that still repays re-reading, Colm Tóibín took stock of the Famine material collected by the Irish Folklore Commission, just then being dusted down by Póirtéir, Ó Gráda, Patricia Lysaght, Niall Ó Ciosáin and a few others:

The folklore archive on the Famine can … be anything you want it to be; it can be studded with legends and tales; it can be full of information which should be treated as almost a primary source; it is a history of memory in Ireland after 1935; it should be consulted by all historians who write about the Famine; it should be consulted by literary critics.
It remains, however, an invaluable treasure trove. It is also full of tricks, as is evident in the following answer to question 2 about burial in the Famine by a resident of Boyle in Co Roscommon in 1945: “Some of them were wrapped in a sheet and buried. At times a large number of dead bodies were placed in a grave together. No one wished to go near the bodies lest they themselves should take the fever. In some of the districts which had escaped the ravages of the fever, coffins were seen floating through the air.”
… How can the first three sentences be taken as evidence about burial rites during the Famine, since the last cannot? Does the last sentence not fatally undermine the credibility of the first three? Yet the last helps us to understand how, when people talked about the Famine, superstition and Gothic fantasy were always close to hand. And the first three fit into other accounts. …24

Implicit here, it seems, is a novelist’s apprehension that familiar narrative forms should or must be strained if historians are ever to do justice to the Famine. Considering Woodham-Smith’s master survey, Tóibín remarks, “Nobody will be able to write like that again. Reading The Great Hunger is like reading Georgian poetry while knowing that a new, fractured, “modern” poetics is on the way.”25 To my mind, it is likely that there will long be a place for “modern” narratives ‑ particularly the simple introduction and the survey ‑ but as the realities and imaginings of the mid-nineteenth-century poor ‑ among them those obscene and pathetic figures in the grey zone ‑ become clearer, a more ambitious, more adventurous form of telling may be necessary if that time when coffins were seen floating in air is again to be the subject of a “great book”.

Four histories of the Famine have appeared in the last two years. With the exception of Ciarán Ó Murchadha, who has previously published a fine study of the Famine in west Clare, none of the authors has much “form” in the field, which piques interest. Enda Delaney has hitherto concentrated on the history of the Irish in twentieth century Britain, and John Kelly has written a well-received account of an earlier and greater European catastrophe, the Black Death. Finally, Tim Pat Coogan, long a significant figure in Irish journalism, is the author of influential books on De Valera, Collins, and the IRA, and another, On the Blanket (1980), an eleventh-hour appeal for a resolution of the crisis in Long Kesh and Armagh, that, tragically, was not influential enough.

Of the four, Coogan’s The Famine Plot has attracted most attention, and a good deal of it negative. “Forty Shades of Green”, one imagines, would be more to Coogan’s taste than Fifty Shades of Grey, and, no doubt, it is the green rather than the absence of any grey ‑ here in the sense of nuance ‑ that, in the first instance, likely energised at least one of his critics, the Queen’s contrarian Liam Kennedy. Coogan’s book is a restatement of one nationalist interpretation of the Famine; specifically, it argues that the Famine was a premeditated act of genocide by the British state. Again, genocide was never the nationalist interpretation, and it serves no honest purpose for Coogan’s critics to represent it as such. Still, even a touch of pale green ‑ a hint that Britain’s role in Ireland was anything but positive and progressive ‑ would be enough to awaken some revisionist foot soldiers, fighting in the historiographical jungle of the 1970s and 1980s, and Coogan here paints in such a vibrant John Mitchel green that he was sure to cause a rumble.

But it is nearly a quarter of a century since 1989, when Cormac Ó Gráda argued that “no academic historian takes seriously any more the claim of ‘genocide’”. 26Ciarán Ó Murchadha’s The Great Famine: Ireland’s Agony, 1845–52 ‑ warmly (and rightly) endorsed by Ó Gráda as “a work of great narrative and analytic power … accessible, courageous and ably written” ‑ concludes that the claim should be debated:

Whether or not British government behaviour during the Famine can be described as genocide is something that hangs largely on definitions. Since the mid-twentieth century, the term genocide has attached itself so completely to the holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis as to change and confine the meaning of the term; and if genocide is taken to signify the deliberate, systematic annihilation of an entire ethnic or religious group by mass murder, there is no nineteenth-century equivalent that applies anywhere. However, if it is defined as the deliberate, systematic use of an environmental catastrophe to destroy a people under the pretext of engineering social reform, then there is a case to be answered.

Ó Murchadha may here stop so short of claiming that the Famine was genocide that it may not really matter. And, it must be said too that his reflection on genocide ‑ and insular representation of the Famine as “a uniquely hideous humanitarian crime committed upon on a defenseless people” ‑ reads like an afterthought, popping up suddenly, and unexpectedly, in his conclusion. In other words, he does not explicitly build a case for genocide in the book. Furthermore, while declaring that this “charge” hangs on definitions, Ó Murchadha nowhere engages with the legal scholarship ‑ a surprise given that the faculty of the National University of Ireland, Galway, where he was awarded his PhD, boasts an international heavy hitter on the subject, William Schabas 27‑ and, in the penultimate paragraph, his garbled paraphrase of the UN Convention on Prevention of the Crime of Genocide (1948) and misquotation of John Mitchel’s well-known dictum – “… the Almighty, indeed, sent the blight, but the English created the Famine” (he replaces “created” with “sent”) ‑ incline one to think that this particular sting was a late and rushed addition to the tail-end of the book, a hasty conclusion to a tightly written and thoughtful work.28

But the more immediate issue is that “the G-word” ‑ US officials’ euphemism for a word they have been reluctant to utter lest it put a legal, moral and political obligation on them do something about that which it describes29 ‑ is now in play. There are now “academic historians”, such as Ó Murchadha, who are prepared to “take seriously” the idea that some policies imposed on Ireland in the late 1840s may have been genocidal. And there are historians who take an opposing view. Yet to the extent that there is a “debate”, it is an underwhelming one. First, while most contributors ‑ academic and popular, genocide-criers and genocide-deniers ‑ make some tokenistic reference to the UN Convention, not one of them has displayed anything but a layman’s apprehension of the law of genocide, a subject on which there is a vast legal scholarship and considerable debate, much of it centring on the precise use of terms. If ‑ and this is one hell of a big if ‑ what happened in Ireland in the 1840s is to be debated with reference to twentieth century law, then surely one should display some knowledge of the law and the legal scholarship and the issues in it? Listening to a radio show on the Famine in which Liam Kennedy plays Judy to Coogan’s Punch and argues with him about “intentionality” and “smoking guns” ‑ an encounter which Kennedy himself has chosen to transcribe and publish in the Dublin Review of Books ‑ ‑ one does not get the impression that either man knows very much about international law30. Conversely, and much more importantly, no historian has questioned the wisdom of judging past behaviour by subsequent law, or even warned of the dangers of what Carlo Ginzburg calls a “moralistic historiography based upon a judicial model”31. If only, indeed, that an Irish historian had long ago paraphrased Marc Bloch’s exasperated plea to historians of the French Revolution: “Robespierrists, anti-Robespierrists, just do us a favour: for Heaven’s sake, tell us who Robespierre was.”32 If only, that is, somebody had long ago said, “Genocide-criers, genocide-deniers, do us all a favour: just tell us what the Famine was like for the cottier and the labourer, the small farmer and the artisan.” Of course, any historian adopting such a position today ‑ asserting that History concerns understanding not judgment ‑ would likely be abused, by both sides, for draft-dodging, though “conshie” would be a more appropriate reproach. And, in truth, the distinction between judge and historian, as Ginzburg concedes, is not as clear as Bloch drew it. Graduate students in History used to ponder whether Bloch would have judged or tried to understand Hitler had the Gestapo not killed him in 1944. Today, many historians argue that Bloch’s insistence on refraining from moral judgment implies a detachment from evaluation that sits uncomfortably with his perfectly sensible insistence on the impossibility of objectivity33, “that noble dream”, in Peter Novick’s phrase34, which the critic Seamus Deane long ago exposed as the intellectual “never-never land” of Irish revisionism35.

But these issues have never entered discussions of whether particular policies pursued in Ireland in the late 1840s were or were not genocidal. In fact, the arguments are never even that subtle: it is “the Famine” that was or was not “an act of genocide”. In this shrill debate, one finds no reflection on the proper concerns of “the historian’s craft”, only handwringing ‑ often self-important handwringing ‑ on the public role of the historian36. Whatever of Yeats’s play sending out those men the English shot, one really doubts Mary Daly’s figures on food exports ever stopped anybody from involvement in republican paramilitarism in the 1980s; or to put it another way, one suspects that those who did become so involved had usually found reason enough in the lived conditions of their own day before dusting off John Mitchel. And to press the point a little further, whether or not the Famine gets called genocide will in no way add or detract from political arguments, in 2013, for or against the reunification of Ireland, which is doubtless what concerns Kennedy, the symptoms of whose acute chlorophobia ‑ an abnormal aversion to all things green ‑ have included promoting repartition.37 Bluntly, labelling some policies pursued by government in the late 1840s as “genocidal” ‑ even describing “the Famine” as an “act of genocide” ‑ is today a matter of no more political than it is legal weight.

Kennedy has staked out a most invidious position for himself in that radio debate which, again, he himself has chosen some months after the event to transcribe and publish. Faced with the contention that the Famine was genocide, he has responded that, no, it was not, pointing to the UN Convention on Prevention of the Crime of Genocide, which does not in fact require killing. Article 2.b, for instance, includes “causing serious bodily or mental harm” to members of a “national, ethnical, racial or religious group” within the definition of genocide, while Article 2.c brings in “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”. And now, having rejected the “charge” ‑ while giving all the appearance of a man wandering a very flat legal world ‑ what will Kennedy do if a serious legal scholar reads serious historical scholarship of the last twenty years ‑ say, the work of Kennedy’s colleague, Peter Gray ‑ and considers it against twentieth-century law and reaches a contrary conclusion? Will Kennedy suddenly wake from his “noble dream”, discover his inner Bloch and tell us History is about understanding not judging? Or will he simply get himself a law book, and argue with the lawyers?

In the mid-1990s, Peter Gray argued as follows:

The policy pursued from autumn 1847, against the opposition of Irish opinion and advice of expert administrators in Ireland, can only be condemned as adding profusely to the country’s misery. It is difficult to refute the indictment made by one humanitarian English observer in the later stages of the Famine, that “amidst an abundance of cheap food … very many have been done to death by pure tyranny’. The charge of culpable neglect of the consequences of policies leading to mass starvation is indisputable. That a conscious choice to pursue moral or economic objectives at the expense of human life was made by several ministers is also demonstrable.

But Gray continued that he could find no policy of “deliberate genocide”38. One wonders what a legal scholar would make of Gray’s reasoning, if, as Kennedy suggests, the issue of whether or not policies imposed on Ireland in the 1840s were genocidal is to be decided by reference to the UN Convention of 1948, and, it must be supposed, the lawyers called in. What lawyer can read Gray and not think of Schabas’s opening observation that “genocide was generally, although perhaps not exclusively, committed under the direction or, at the very least, with the benign complicity of the State where it took place” [italics added]39? Likewise, one wonders what a legal scholar – with, following Kennedy, the UN Convention of 1948 in hand – would make of the Gregory Clause that, from 1847, required the poor to give up their means of future subsistence – all but a quarter acre of any land they held – to receive immediate relief. Would a lawyer point to Article 2.c; again, “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”? Liam Kennedy is playing a game, which has little to do with History, and which clearly he cannot win. His chlorophobia has, yet again, got the better of him.

Historians have much to learn from legal scholars about how best to characterise policy decisions made by the British government in the 1840s, most especially on the law and concept of genocide and gradations of culpability, and, in those specific regards, a “tribunal” on the Famine and the issue of genocide in Fordham University Law School on April 20th-21st, 2013, that involves distinguished lawyers and judges, may prove an important intervention in our debates about what happened in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century. And it may be that future historians will see Ó Murchadha – and perhaps, indeed, Tim Pat Coogan – as having done us all a favour by pushing us further beyond the shadow of both nineteenth century nationalist polemic and the revisionist polemic of the 1970s and 1980s, that is, freeing us – after one last fraught discussion – to carefully use a word used by historians of horrendous events in other places, that is, to consider saying such things as “the Gregory Clause was genocidal” without saying “the Famine” – a complex event that is not even easy to periodise – was “an act of genocide”. For my own part, while I fully accept that historians not only explain but “judge”, I remain uncomfortable with the widening enthusiasm for black and white labels. And lost in this recurrent squabble about what label we put on “the Famine” is a point, well-expressed by the hard-living Hugh Dorian – firmly grasped by Enda Delaney, John Kelly and Ciarán Ó Murchadha, and before them by James S Donnelly Jr40 – that to the poor, government policies “meant next to slow murder” and that, to them, “getting rid of the population” did “appear premeditated” [italics added]. The poor did not need Mitchel to tell them that the state was responsible for the scale and form which their suffering took; they were capable of reaching that conclusion themselves, as were people in all other social classes. Certainly, it was evident to people in the town of Ballybofey, from where a letter signed “Starvation” (not likely to have been written by one of the poor), was carried by the Ballyshannon Herald on January 29th, 1847:


SIR – In Ballybofey, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, not a peck of meal could be procured for love or money. Merchants and huxters protested they had none. On this day (Thursday, the market day) there is plenty at 2s. 6d. per peck.
This, and other instances, show the absurdity, the inhumanity of Lord John Russell’s scheme of trusting to private speculation and individual enterprise to provide food for the starving multitude. What cares individual enterprise for famishing nations? The object of individual enterprise is to put money into individual pockets. Perish, if that object can be obtained, is the language of individual enterprise. If Government do not interfere speedily and effectually, by introducing food, independent of what private speculation will supply to the country, the populous districts depending on Ballybofey for the supply of food, and many other places likewise, will soon become Skibbereen.41

“Starvation”’s insistence that ultimate responsibility for feeding those who could not feed themselves lay with the central state was, at this juncture, fully consistent with the political line of the wee thunderer that was the Tory Herald. A single-sentence paragraph had appeared in the edition of January 8th: “The small farmers throughout Ireland will be almost entirely extinguished, as a distinct class, by the famine visitation which now ravages the land.” The following week, an editorial put it more starkly still: “The state of the peasantry and working classes is daily becoming more deplorable. We really believe that the majority of them throughout this county, and particularly in this neighbourhood, do not, on an average, get three meals in the week. Their appearance is frightful, and yet they are as peaceable and resigned as Job was. What will become of them is a problem! Unless parliament do something on an extensive scale immediately on its meeting, they will die in the fields like rotten sheep.”42 They were, it would announce at the end of the month, the “doomed population of the country”43; it could do nothing, it said in February, but urge the Government “to hasten their measures of relief, and, at whatever cost, to save the people from starvation, or this land will become one vast field of graves”.44

Later, in 1848, when land agents started pursuing tenants for arrears of rent, and agents of the state came looking for rates and cess, there was a surge in popular resistance in some places. And the sense that the state bore ultimate responsibility for the fate of the poor often informed that resistance, and so too did a sense that the state wanted rid of people. In May 1848 the constabulary confiscated several copies of a broadsheet ballad from a Fermanagh man who was singing and selling it around Ballyshannon. The man was brought before a magistrate, who sent the criminalised piece of paper up to Dublin Castle as evidence of “further opposition to the payment of poor rates”. Entitled A New Song, called, The Poor-House, the ballad deplored the management of the Enniskillen poorhouse, castigating named officials. More particularly, it represented the poor law as part of an effort at transforming the country – forcing people off the land, “getting rid” of them one way or another. And that the song, in calling for people to resist the law, alluded to an earlier period of “oppression”, it might be said to be informed by a view of Irish history, in which efforts at “getting rid” of people were not unknown: 45

Our homes are levelled through country and town,
There’s scarce a small cabin at all to be found;
’Tis all their whole password when going to their door,
We’re building a house for you to be sure.
We’ll shortly get rid of you by and by,
Like pigs we will gather you into one stye.
The walls we’ll build high without any mistake,
For fear over them you would chance to break. …

For there they’ll be masters of every degree,
From porters to gatesmen, as plain you may see,
Every man their own station will fill,
To subdue those poor creatures without their will. …

Now, to conclude and finish my song,
I hope those poorhouses will not reign long;
The cess is so weighty they’re going to rebel,
And banish them off to Connaught or H – ll.

To return to Coogan’s Famine Plot, if it is the flash of green that first drew the attention of some critics, it is the absence of any grey that gave them courage to fire. Notwithstanding its “green” conclusion, Ó Murchadha’s book – better researched and beautifully written – has not drawn much heat. He presents a more difficult target. By contrast, Coogan’s book is rushed, a headlong charge into the jungle. On top of many factual errors and inaccuracies, the former editor of the Irish Press will wince at “Fina Fail” and many other typographical mistakes. And some mistakes matter. Discussing the 1798 Rising in his preliminary history of the country, he quotes Joseph Holt as saying that he had witnessed the Ancient Britons “cutting the haunches and thighs off the women for wearing green stuff petticoats’ (italics added), while Ruán O’Donnell, a most meticulous historian, in his history of the Rising in Wicklow, gives it as “cutting the haunches and thighs of the young women”46. The women would have noticed the difference. Most importantly, haste is evident in the argument and its delivery, which has a stream-of-consciousness quality. As it stands, The Famine Plot is, to paraphrase James S Donnelly Jr, a reminder to Famine historians that they would do well to preserve the sense of moral outrage among Irish nationalists at what Britons were prepared to tolerate.47

Enda Delaney’s Curse of Reason, John Kelly’s The Graves are Walking, and Ciarán Ó Murchadha’s Ireland’s Agony have been eclipsed by an inferior book. Kelly’s book comes with glowing “advance praise” from Democratic Party luminaries Bill Clinton and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Clinton, a great policy wonk, grasps that “policy decisions made it worse”, and hails The Graves are Walking as “a cautionary tale for all who would risk calamity – human, economic, or ecological – in the name of scoring an ideological victory”. Likewise Kennedy Townsend, herself no mean political operator, sees the Famine as “a lesson for our times”, while being particularly appreciative of how Kelly “captures, in devastating detail, British leaders, who, imbued with religious fervor and ideological blinders, decided to teach the Irish good work habits, responsibility, and to rid them of their dependence on government”. Ó Murchadha’s dust-jacket, as mentioned, displays a warm and deserved encomium from the grandmaster of Great Famine Studies, Cormac Ó Gráda – a welcome nod of approval, no doubt, even if the humble economist lacks the glitter of a Kennedy or a Clinton. But it seems that Delaney – a friend of mine, and one with whom I am editing a collection of essays – has no acquaintances in high places, academic or political. His dust-jacket quotations are from three prominent actors in the tragedy – Charles Trevelyan, assistant secretary to the Treasury; John Mitchel, republican revolutionary; and John MacHale, the son of a publican who became, for “the poor and the powerless”, an immensely popular Catholic archbishop of Tuam. The quotation from the Treasury official betrays the very attitude to society against which Clinton warns contemporary policy-makers:

Although the process by which long established habits are changed, and society is reconstructed on a new basis, must necessarily be slow, there are not wanting signs that we are advancing by sure steps towards the desired end.

That from the republican describes the flesh and blood cost of such an attitude:

Sometimes, I could see, in front of the cottages, little children leaning against a fence when the sun shone out, for they could not stand, their limbs fleshless, their bodies half-naked, their faces bloated yet wrinkled, and of a pale, greenish hue – children who would never, it was too plain, grow up to be men and women. I saw Trevelyan’s claw in the vitals of those children: his red tape would draw them to death; in his Government laboratory he had prepared for them the typhus poison.

And, finally, that from the archbishop speaks to political epiphanies brought about by the sight of such things:

The evils, the unspeakable evils of the legislative Union are now placed beyond the reach of doubt or controversy. They are attested by the graves of the dead and the skeleton forms of the living, accusing monuments of that cruel policy which has systematically consigned the people of Ireland to a food as precarious as that of men in a savage state. It has forbidden them, in order to support alien luxury and monopoly, to taste of the abundant harvests and numerous flocks with which the land teems, the produce of their own peaceful and skilful industry.

All three books concern the same place and period as each other, but they tell different stories and they tell them in different ways. Ó Murchadha delivers a grand survey, displaying a breathtaking command of the sources and scholarship, most especially the expanding corpus of local studies. While telling a big story – and attempting to keep sight of local and regional variations – he manages to tell it differently. For instance, he sees two “failures” as central to the Famine: the failure of state relief and also a failure of private charity, hitherto often obscured by tales of donations by Choctaw Indians in Oklahoma and former slaves in the Caribbean, and, in particular, by accounts of the Trojan efforts of the Society of Friends. Admittedly, the onset of “famine fatigue” is well-known – and particularly its intensification in Britain when a few fellows shooting in a Tipperary cabbage patch established that “the Irish” deserved their fate – but Ó Murchadha makes the failure of private charity a bigger part of the story, and in the process – building upon earlier work by Kinealy48 – he brings it all back home, or rather he quietly brings it up to date, by foregrounding an organisation not often mentioned in Famine histories, which has never gone away, which has been unusually active in the last four years, and which is likely to be more active still in years to come – the Society of St Vincent de Paul:

As for the international relief campaign mounted by the Catholic Church, one of the most extensive of all, this came adrift when the papacy fell foul of the international revolutions of 1848, and was no longer in a position to maintain its international collections. Despite this, however, by 1850, the Catholic Church campaign was the only one still in being. By that time, the only major organization still actively organizing relief collections was the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, its personnel in many countries still channeling donations through individual “conferences” in Ireland towards the starving. Modest and indefatigable, St. Vincent de Paul workers laboured inconspicuously to the end of the Famine, and in its aftermath, avoiding any publicity or recognition more than was necessary for the solicitation of further donations.

Ó Murchadha and his publisher, Continuum, have done a magnificent job of Ireland’s Agony, which includes carefully selected and placed illustrations, notably some striking images from L’Illustration: Journal Universel of 1854, which are not familiar.

John Kelly’s The Graves are Walking is a history of the Great Famine vividly narrated by a master storyteller. Kelly is particularly accomplished at sketching short vignettes – he likes mentioning the weather, which Irish readers will appreciate – and he has a gift for a telling phrase: “The Irish language and Irish culture,” he writes, “went into exile in the cabins of the peasantry.” If he displays less command of the local studies than Ó Murchadha, he is no less familiar with the most recent additions to the core scholarship, he has a fine eye for detail, he knows what to quote and when to quote it, and he delivers an immensely readable account of 1845-48. One criticism implicit there is that, like British officials, he seems to wind the Famine up a little early, so that he can move the main action to New York, and there is little reflection on its impact on Irish society, culture, and politics. In other words, he does not give any real sense of how modern Ireland was spat out of horror and squalor, which Ó Murchadha does very well indeed, and might have done so at greater length. Still, the intended audience of The Graves are Walking is clearly in the United States, and, by any measure, it presents a history of the Famine built on a firm understanding of the key issues. Indeed, Kelly boxes more cleverly than Ó Murchadha on the G-word – although one would prefer that here, on its first mention, he used the full title of The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps), for the “perhaps” mattered to the man who wrote it:

In The Last Conquest of Ireland, John Mitchel, a founding father of modern Irish nationalism, depicted the British officials who presided over the famine as genocidal gargoyles. They were not. In the main, they were wakeful-minded, God-fearing, and – by their own lights – well-intentioned men, and that is what makes them so depressing. If the famine has any enduring lesson to teach, it is about the harm that even the best are capable of when they lose their way, and allow religion and political ideology to traduce reason and humanity.

That is ‘clever’: but then ‘I met Murder on the way/He had a mask like Castlereagh’. Ó Murchadha calls it as he sees it. There are some typographical errors – Peter Gray becomes Peter Grey and William Forster, an English Quaker, becomes William Foster in a second mention in a single paragraph – but such errors are few and far between and they can easily be corrected in any future edition, and one suspects that there will be many future editions. Likewise there are also minor mistakes that a home-grown Irish historian might not have made, and some phrases that, to an Irish reader, may seem odd. For instance, Mitchel was a son of the manse – his father was a Presbyterian minister – not a “son of the Ascendancy”; the sale of tenancies was commonly referred to as the “Ulster Custom” or “Tenant Right” (not “Ulster Right”, though that term was occasionally used), and that sort of thing. But these are pedantic quibbles. It is a fine book that does what Bill Clinton says it does – it provides a “cautionary tale” about leaders hidebound by ideology, that is, people like Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, and the Republican leadership in the US House of Representatives. And doubtless that is what, in a small part, it was intended to do.

Kelly’s The Graves are Walking will be often spotted on the New York subway and Philly EL, Chicago L and Boston T, while Ó Murchadha’s Ireland’s Agony will surely be no stranger to Feda O’Donnell’s coach, the Dublin-Belfast Enterprise and the London underground. Where, one wonders, will Delaney’s Curse of Reason be found? It is a very different book from the other two. It is not burdened with telling “the whole story” from beginning to end. Rather, it approaches the Famine through the lives and writings of four individuals – Trevelyan, Mitchel, MacHale and Elizabeth Smith, a landlord’s wife who kept diaries. It is an approach that risks confusing readers who just want to be told what it was like in a chronological “round unvarnish’d tale”. But Delaney carries it off. One wishes he had made a lower-class life, such as that of Hugh Dorian, more central to his narrative, or perhaps brought lower-class perspectives from the Irish Folklore Commission into the heart of the story. And Delaney, it must be said, does not strain traditional forms – nor blend genres – to the extent which, in my reading, Colm Tóibín seemed to be suggesting the sources and subject might demand – and, in my mind, future Famine historians who would survey the entire catastrophe should try to develop different ways of telling. Still, Delaney’s approach to the story is innovative, and by taking a road not previously travelled he does not condescend to the reader who already knows the basics. Where will Delaney’s book be found? In sitting rooms in Ireland, living rooms in Britain and family rooms in America, in the hands of those who appreciate first-rate history.

Delaney, Kelly and Ó Murchadha have all produced very impressive books. They will find their way onto college syllabi, and all three will reach wider readerships, for they are lucid, intelligent and moving, each one the work of an accomplished historian – although they are very different historians – and a credit to their publishers. But judging from the shelves of the diminishing number of bookshops in Ireland and the United States, the volume that will be most widely read is Coogan’s poorly-conceived and badly-executed Famine Plot. Unfortunately, it is neither the best of the recent books on the Famine, nor the best of Tim Pat Coogan. And yet reading Kennedy’s transcript of their radio debate it was hard not to remember a little boy, sitting with his daddy in 1974 to watch Muhammad Ali fighting the harder-hitting George Foreman – the “Rumble in the Jungle” to which an allusion was made earlier – he was appalled when the great hero lay back on the ropes, and then stunned when he exploded in the eighth round and put his man on the canvas. Coogan is no Ali, and there is no eighth round in his book, but in getting a prominent genocide denier to judge the Great Famine by the UN Convention, the writer and journalist – in the language of The Ring – has “roped” a formidable opponent, and exposed some of the weaknesses of late twentieth century revisionism.49

Cork University Press has not made it easy to open a review of the important publication that is the Atlas of the Great Irish Famine – edited by John Crowley, William J Smyth and Mike Murphy, with Charlie Roche – with the warm words which I would like to use. The Atlas lacks much of the basic scaffolding of a scholarly book. Infuriatingly, authors’ names are not attached to their essays in the table of contents, a list of place-names is passed off as an index, there is no bibliography, the endnotes of at least one essay are missing50, and, most annoyingly, there is no list of maps. There are also some conspicuous typographical errors: Charles E. Orser will recognize himself in the list of contributors, but he will be puzzled to see Charles E. Osner Jr. squatting on the title page of his essay; Christine Kinealy also encounters an intruder – somebody called Kenealy – on the title page of a co-authored piece; Patrick Nugent becomes the more familiar Pat for one of two contributions, and the ghost of Michael Davitt will be surprised to learn that he wrote The Fall from [sic] Feudalism 51. Indeed, there are even errors of geography: the town of Stranorlar is in the parish of Stranorlar not the parish of Convoy; and it is twelve (not three) miles from Letterkenny, which cannot have been a “border town” in the mid-nineteenth century, for there was then no border.

Such features give the impression that the Atlas is a book to be seen, not a book to be read, and that impression is most unfortunate for there is scholarship of a high order in it, and the book should be read. However, the Atlas is not simply a scholarly book. The editors present it as “an act of commemoration”. Commemoration can be good for authors, publishers and booksellers, and sometimes it brings up-to-date scholarship to a wider readership, as was the case with Cathal Póirtéir”s Great Irish Famine. But scholarly projects conceived with the express purpose of commemorating the long dead do not always impress. Most obviously, they risk what the critic David Lloyd, in a brilliant essay (2005) on the Famine, probing issues of mourning, commemoration, redress and justice, has termed the “issueless tribute of remembrance”52. Lloyd”s essay would have been a useful triangulation point for the geographers who mapped out this volume. And, indeed, historians would do well to read it before throwing around the G-word. But here, in the introduction to the Atlas, there is, in the end, only a mournful “sadness” and “regret” – sadness (not anger) about the failure to stop suffering, and regret (not indignation) at the inhumanity of the powerful – and then a desire to “transcend”, that is, an eagerness to “get over it”, oblivious, it seems, to Lloyd’s point that what the dead lost was “not merely life, but a specific and unreproducible orientation towards the future”, and that their loss is not ours to transcend, or to move on from.

Reading the published and unpublished materials on the Great Famine, the dominant feeling evoked is one of sadness – sadness for all that horror and all that suffering, and sadness about the failures at all levels to stop that suffering. We honour those who gave generously of themselves to alleviate that suffering and continue to regret the betrayals, failures and inhumanity of those in many positions of authority, especially those with the greatest power and responsibility to shape other people’s destinies. This Atlas is a study which more fully seeks to understand the Great Famine and its consequences. It is an act of commemoration of the known and the unknown dead of the Famine and of the millions who had to flee Ireland. In seeking to establish a greater understanding, this Atlas is an attempt to address the wounds and transcend this formative tragedy.53

I am not going to pick over those few sentences in what is a very substantial book; with hindsight, the editors might not write those sentences again. And yet a greater concern for commemoration than problem-oriented approaches to history has produced some weaknesses in the Atlas, and I do touch on them below.

First, some issues of organisation and emphasis. The volume is divided into nine sections, and neither the logic of the divisions nor the relationship between the sections’ titles and their contents is always clear. For instance, the first section – “Ireland before and after the Great Famine” – concerns only pre-Famine economy and demography, and on that alone it might have been longer. Again, despite the title, there is nothing in it about post-Famine Ireland. Then, the second section – “The Great Hunger” – opens with two strong essays (one by William J Smyth, one of the editors, and the other by David P Nally) on “the longue durée” and the “colonial dimensions” of the Famine, which would have been much more at home in the first section in that they largely concern the pre-Famine period; certainly, Smyth on the centuries down to the Famine is out of place. The other four major essays in this second section are on relief measures (three) and mortality (one). One of them – Kinealy on the operation of the poor law during the Famine – would have been better in the third section – “The Workhouse” – which might have pulled in some essays from the fourth section – “Population Decline and Social Transformations” – which includes some case studies, such as Gerard Mac Atasney’s piece on “Mohill Union Workhouse” (wrongly titled “Mohill workhouse Union” in the table of contents). That fourth section of the nine sections is the core of the book: in fact, it alone accounts for over 40 per cent of the body text in the volume, suggesting, to this reader, that a different approach to dividing up the material might have been appropriate. The other five sections are entitled “Witnessing the Famine”, “The Scattering”, “Legacy”, “Remembering the Famine”, and “Hunger and Famine Today”.

If the logic of these divisions and the relationship of sections’ titles to their contents are unclear, the rationale for the placement of maps and illustrations is also hard to discern. For instance, “Percentage Distribution of Evictions per County, 1846–52” and “Percentage Distribution of Evicted Families per County, 1849–52” pop up in an essay on general patterns of migration in “The Scattering”, not where one might expect them, in the second section – “The Great Hunger” – or the fourth – “Population Decline and Social Transformations” – where they might have been particularly appropriate in a chapter on “The Landed Classes during the Great Irish Famine”. In the absence of a list of maps, that both chapter and section titles proved no help in finding those maps of eviction made “using” the Atlas frustrating for this reader.54

I do not wish to devote too much attention to the emphasis within the Atlas, that is, I want to review the material presented, and to avoid suggesting a different book. But given the massive impact of the Famine on Irish literature (in English) and the increasingly sophisticated engagement by literary critics with the Famine, “Literature and the Famine” gets shockingly short shrift – seven out of 678 pages – in a single essay of that title by Chris Morash, unfairly tasked with a seven-page dash from William Carleton to Joseph O’Connor. Likewise, it is disappointing that the section on “Witnessing the Famine” – a subject to which critics have devoted much attention – comprises only the following: “The Great Famine in Gaelic Manuscripts”, “The Artist as Witness: James Mahony”; “Asenath Nicholson’s Irish Journeys”, “Thomas Carlyle and Famine Ireland” and “Le pays classique du faim: France and the Great Irish Famine”. The essay on manuscripts is a good, workmanlike piece (Neil Buttimer)55, that on Mahony (Julian Campbell) is solid but too short for any contributor to offer much of substance, and that on France (Grace Neville) unexpected, intelligent and insightful56. Those on what might be called “the writer as witness” – a phrase borrowed from a UCC historian with an awareness of the pitfalls of “acts of commemoration”57 – are a bit thin, and there is little or no engagement with other scholars’ writing on two much discussed figures (Nicholson and Carlyle). Here, I would have expected a more wide-ranging and substantial section, including inter alia a more general discussion of witnesses’ difficulties with representing what they saw and felt, and a much greater focus on the pressman58. A concise item by a pressman, Luke Dodd, on visual representations of famine victims that turns up later in the book is a small and welcome compensation, but the “Witnessing” section itself is weak.

Finally, the medium- to long-term impact of the crisis on demography and economy, society, popular culture and politics should have been a much greater concern. Not including emigration and memory, the medium- to long-term impact of the Great Famine is covered in two essays – one on land reform and one on language. That on language is a rushed piece by Máiréad Nic Craith entitled “Legacy and Loss: The Great Silence and its Aftermath”. It begins with this sentence: “The Famine is often euphemistically called ‘The Great Silence’, thereby reaffirming the common perception that the event was primarily responsible for the decline of Irish in Ireland.” The Great Silence (1965) is a book by Seán de Fréine which is a foundational text in Irish sociolinguistics. The “Great Silence” that concerned de Fréine was the absence of serious intellectual reflection in mid-twentieth-century Ireland on the consequences of language change. The “Great Silence” was not the Great Famine. That said, several scholars – not least, historians (and myself included) – have since applied the term to linguistic and cultural change in the post-Famine period. In other words, the cultural aftermath of the Famine has been “euphemistically called” the Great Silence. But the Famine has not – not ever, never mind euphemistically – been called the Great Silence. And from this misleading beginning, on a topic – the Famine’s impact on language and popular culture – which is of immense importance, and on which it is the only essay in the volume (not including pieces on memory, art and literature), Nic Craith proceeds to reflect on the “national psyche”. Categories like class and gender, age and occupation, religion and region can be forgotten; “nations” again have “pysches”. Between them, the three editors should have seen a problem in Nic Craith’s title and first sentence. They have done her no favour in publishing this rushed essay. She is a senior scholar, who has done better work in the past, and doubtless she will do better work in the future. And we all make mistakes, and no book is perfect. However, language and culture have been problems with Cork University Press’s series of atlases from its inception, and they remain very large problems. More importantly, leaving aside some pieces on migration and memory, art and literature, the reader is left with Willie Nolan’s useful essay on land reform as the Atlas’s only significant contribution to apprehending the medium- to long-term impact of what the editors term a “formative tragedy” on economy and demography (bar emigration), society, politics and popular culture (not including memory, art and literature). Hence, the substantial and valuable section on “Remembering the Famine” may appear to some scholars trained in the harder social sciences to float free from the “real world”. And, in truth, the Atlas does not touch on the type of issues that concerned AM Sullivan in his New Ireland (1877), and, certainly, the cultural developments he here describes were less consequences of some sort of communal “shock” than very real socio-economic changes:

When sauve qui peut has resounded throughout a country for three years of alarm and disaster, human nature becomes contracted in its sympathies, and “every one for himself” becomes a maxim of life and conduct long after. The open-handed, open-hearted ways of the rural population have been visibly affected by the “Forty-seven”. Their ancient sports and pastimes everywhere disappeared, and in many parts of Ireland have never returned. The outdoor games, the hurling-match, and the village dance are seen no more.
With the seriousness of character, which the famine-period has imprinted on the Irish people, some notable changes for the better must be recognized. Providence, forethought, economy are studied and valued as never before. There is more method, strictness and punctuality in business transactions. There is a graver sense of responsibility on all hands. For the first time, the future seems to be earnestly thought of, and its possible vicissitudes kept in view. More steadiness of purpose, more firmness and determination of character, mark the Irish peasantry of the new era. God has willed that in the midst of such awful sufferings some share of blessing should fall on the sorely-shattered nation.59

What of the contents themselves? The editors trace the genesis of the volume to an exhibition mounted in University College Cork in 1995 to mark the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the college, and to commemorate the Great Famine. And that may explain a certain mid-1990s feel to many of the contributions. For instance, this reader was struck that full seven contributors to his well-thumbed copy of Póirtéir’s 1995 Great Irish Famine – arguably the best, and certainly the most enduring collection of essays ever produced in RTÉ’s Thomas Davis Lectures series – pick over either the same or adjacent potato patches here, and not all of them turn up many more scidíní than they did for what is now a near twenty-year-old book. Another design feature is decidedly retro, namely, finishing a collection on the Great Famine with some reflections on “World Hunger”. This practice began, in 1995, with a piece by Ó Gráda in Póirtéir’s Great Irish Famine, and it was replicated in other volumes.60 Here, the Atlas ends with the four-essay section “Hunger and Famine Today”. The section opens with a “revised version” of Ó Gráda’s 1995 essay, which is followed by Colin Sage, Senior Lecturer in Geography at UCC, on global food security, food poverty, and food sovereignty; the aforementioned piece by Luke Dodd, Director of the Newsroom at The Guardian, and then Connell Foley, Director of Strategy, Advocacy and Learning at Concern Worldwide, on “Fighting World Hunger in the Twenty-first Century”. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with connecting the Famine to contemporary famines. The southern state’s aid policy is something of which its citizens can be proud, as is the work of Irish people in non-governmental relief and development organisations, and all four essays are strong pieces. But in the second decade of this century, some reflection on poverty in contemporary Ireland would be apposite. Perhaps, if the project’s conception, in 1995, was closer to its delivery, in 2012, food and fuel poverty, unemployment and unequal access to healthcare might have come to mind. But one doubts they would, for there was hardship in Ireland in the mid-1990s too – witness, indeed, poverty mapped in 2005, at the height of the boom, by Combat Poverty; – and the focus on poverty elsewhere and neglect of poverty at home sits most comfortably with the editors’ “monumentalizing” purpose, allowing the volume to close with a little bit of ethnic uplift. Contemporary poverty would be out of place in the implicit tale of progress. There are no hungry children here, the Atlas suggests. In this regard, the editors’ “act of commemoration” is, in David Lloyd’s phrase, an “issueless tribute”.

Among the many joys and strengths of the Atlas are the local studies of communities and workhouses, the best of which are well researched and argued, and richly suggestive. If one had to make some gentle criticisms, one would be that in the weaker pieces a single archive or source looms very large in the endnotes, while the better ones draw on a wide range of material (print and manuscript). Others would be that there was surprisingly little use made of Irish Folklore Commission material in essays on Irish-speaking areas (Clifden Union; the Dingle peninsula61; Donegal), nor much engagement with the wider scholarship on famine. Case studies that left an impression include Peter Connell on Meath (curiously not citing his own [2004] book), Mary Kelly on Roscommon, and Patrick J Duffy on Monaghan (with its poignant map highlighting houses in Billeady and Corlealacagh that had been deserted by 1911); indeed, taken as I was with the last piece, an argument could be made for also reproducing some of Brian MacDonald’s important work on the same county. And I like the work of Gerard Mac Atasney, and I like his style when, in a solitary endnote, he raises a scholarly eyebrow at what commemoration has demanded of him: “All quotations in this case-study are taken from Gerard Mac Atasney, The Dreadful Visitation: The Famine in Lurgan/Portadown (Belfast, 1997).”

Mac Atasney’s endnote points to a paradox. If the local studies are one of the joys of the volume, the purpose of some of them – their function in the book; the issues they are intended to illuminate – is not always clear. The editors’ attitude to local studies is cast in some relief by William J Smyth’s “Variations in Vulnerability”, which makes mention of a number of districts with “low valuation” (of land and buildings) per capita that experienced surprisingly “low population losses”, that is, “the northern parishes of Tullaghobegley, Raymunterdoney, Lettermacaward and Kilteevogue [all in Donegal] … [and] the very exceptional parishes of Kilbeagh, Kilmovee, Castlemore and Kilcolman in east Mayo as well as the parishes of the northern Iveragh Peninsula in Kerry, centred on Glenbehy …”. Not one of those anomalies is effectively explained in a local study – there is not a single local study devoted to any one of them – nor, in my view, is any one of them explained in Smyth’s otherwise valuable essays on provincial experiences. Explaining anomalies is not a concern of commemoration; it is central to history.

The section on the Irish abroad – the ill-titled “The Scattering” (migration had a logic; people were not scattered broadcast) – is replete with absorbing and informative essays. Carmen Tunney and Patrick Nugent have done themselves proud with a fine co-authored essay on Liverpool and the Famine, and another on the ship Fidelia, which brought to mind the dockers, donkey engineers and domestic servants who were my mother’s people in Seacombe. No less striking are the analysis of the remains of people buried in the Catholic cemetery of St Mary and St Michael, Lukin Street, London, in 1842–54, which Don Walker, Michael Henderson and Natasha Powers use to probe the health of Famine-time emigrants, and an essay by Jennifer Harrison on the Irish in New South Wales. But, in truth, all essays in this section – Thomas Keneally on Australia (with a great map of female orphan origins and destinations), Anelise H Shrout on New York, and Joe Lee on the Famine memorial in Battery Park, Mark McGowan on Canada, and John Reid on Glasgow Celtic – are strong, even when telling familiar stories “enough to make your heart grow sad”.

More generally, William J Smyth contributes a number of strong pieces, not least one on the Co Tipperary parish of Shanrahan, lit up by a great map of patterns of emigration, and a remarkable essay, “Born Astride of a Grave: The Geography of the Dead”, in which he tackles the formidable problem of estimating extra-institutional mortality rates at poor law union-level, and then mapping it for the entire country; it is a most impressive piece of work, and I expect to be returning to it soon. There are also fine essays by Cormac Ó Gráda on mortality and Kerby A Miller on Irish migration to north America in 1845–55, who, as usual, impress with the clarity of their writing as much as the depth of their research. (Miller also contributes a sophisticated and subtle analysis of Ulster’s religious demographics, co-authored with Brian Gurrin and Liam Kennedy.)

One puzzle remains, however: Why did the Crowley et al opt for parishes as a unit of analysis for population change? Surely, the district electoral division (DED) – a smaller unit than parishes, with, I am guessing, a lesser deviation from the mean for area and population – is more appropriate? The issue can be better understood by looking at the very large civic parishes in Mayo or Galway or Kerry in the map of “Population percentage change 1841 to 1851” on page 19 of the Atlas, and then generating maps at DED-level for one of those counties using the Online Historical Atlas Portal put together by Professor Stewart Fotheringham and his colleagues at the National Centre for Geo-computation at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth: To my mind, the Maynooth map-men got it right, and their Online Historical Atlas Portal is public money very well spent indeed; the Irish Research Council should be pleased with NUIM. So why did the Cork cartographers choose civic parishes? Again, I imagine, the answer lies in the inception of this project in the mid-1990s: digitising DEDs was a bigger challenge then than it is today. Is it important? Yes it is: if one wishes to fully apprehend and explain the anomalies identified by Smyth, getting below the level of the large civic parishes in the west is essential.

The issue of civic parishes and the function of local studies aside, one can find much for which to be thankful in the Atlas. The editors have worked hard on this project, there is rich scholarship in the Atlas – particularly on the course of the crisis – and it has won plaudits from people who know a lot more of famine and the Famine than I do, most obviously Joel Mokyr. The editors and contributors should be proud of it. But there are problems in it too, some of which – the absence of authors’ names in the table of contents, a list of maps and the like – can easily be rectified in any future edition. Unfortunately, the Atlas has been over-puffed. It has yet to receive the critical attention which a major book deserves, and now having been so over-puffed, any criticism will probably come as a shock, which is to be regretted. For my own part, I look forward to demographers and economists looking beyond the issues which have here concerned me and giving their assessment of William J Smyth’s substantial and scholarly engagement on one of the most challenging issues in the study of the Great Famine, that is, estimating local variations in extra-institutional mortality. It is, I think, a very significant contribution.

Felix Mendelssohn died in Berlin, on November 4th, 1847. In west Ulster, his death mattered to few other than a twenty-three-old customs man, working from a narrow little first floor room in Dillon’s Hotel, on the Diamond of Donegal Town. William Allingham, then building a reputation as a poet, noted the composer’s death in his diary on November 13th, as he worked on a poem, “The Ruined Chapel”; it would appear in the first number of Harper’s, the New York literary magazine, in 1850. Little over a fortnight later, on the last day of the month, Allingham visited a poorhouse. He did not name it in his diary, but it was either that of Donegal or Ballyshannon. Both were then filling with the ill and the abandoned, the landless and the luckless, for whom drudgery in infested, gender-segregated confinement was what Hugh Dorian called the “last game of all”. There, Allingham heard music very different from that of Mendelssohn:

November 30. Visit Poorhouse, Tom Read, crazy man with small sharp black eyes; sometimes keeps a piece of iron on his head to do his brain good; plays on a fiddle, the first and second strings only packthread, “Ain kind Dearie,” “Pandun [sic] O”Rafferty,” grunting and groaning all the while, and groaning fiercely when he struck a note out of tune. I promise him strings. “Does your Honour live far away?”62

The customs man did not record his reply, and, for all is known, Tom Read’s question may have been bitterly rhetorical. But the state did meticulously record what mattered to it. Read’s residence, gender and age, his religion, trade and medical condition, date of admission and departure, and whether he left dead or alive would all have been entered in the poorhouse register. Any misdemeanour committed during his stay would also have been noted. Unfortunately, the registers of both poorhouses for 1847 have been lost or destroyed, and with one of them those traces of that life.63 The surname – not a common one in south Donegal – suggests Read probably came from near Pettigo, in which case he would have been in the Donegal poorhouse; and, if he was from Pettigo, then it is probable that he was Protestant, for the Reads/Reids of Pettigo were then, it seems, a mix of Churchmen, Presbyterians and Methodists. But Read’s age and medical condition, when he arrived in the poorhouse and when and how he left it now lie beyond conjecture. Still, this much may be said for certain: in November 1847, when Read’s bow scraped packthread, both the Donegal and Ballyshannon poorhouses were nearly full, and some of their “inmates” were dying from fever; and whether Read himself perished or prevailed in the poorhouse – and whether or not the customs man ever came back with the strings – the futures which he and his “companions in misfortune” had once imagined for themselves were at that moment being denied them by a blight that had first come on the potatoes in 1845 and 1846 and by the response to that blight of the government of the United Kingdom.

Artists of all types – our present day equivalents of Allingham and Read, and also visual artists – should be as centrally involved as academics in the public marking of events, grand and grotesque, in Irish history. The best of them, as Joe Lee remarks in the Atlas, in a fine appreciation of Brian Tolle’s Irish Hunger Memorial in Battery Park, New York, “blend cumulative emotional and intellectual responses that move heart and mind”.64 Certainly, for Donegal people at home and in Glasgow and London, in Philadelphia and New York, and in Chicago and beyond, the fiddler Tommy Peoples’s The Quiet Glen/An Gleann Ciúin (1998) – a collection of old tunes and new, some like The Coffin Ships evoking Famine issues – has kept time from laying the ghosts of the 1840s in a way that only that historian with “the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past” can do.65 Peoples comes out of the same musical tradition as the man who played the jig Páidín Ó Raifeartaigh as the poorhouse filled around him. His art, then, is no issueless tribute. It keeps Mary Gallagher, and Hugh and Sarah Gallagher who took the reaping hook to her ears, safe from those who would lay them to rest, and move on.

The new books considered here are Tim Pat Coogan, The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy (Houndmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); Enda Delaney, The Curse of Reason: The Great Irish Famine (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 2012); John Kelly, The Graves are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People (London: Faber and Faber, 2012; New York: Henry Holt, 2012); Ciarán Ó Murchadha, The Great Famine: Ireland’s Agony (London and New York: Continuum, 2011); and John Crowley, William J Smyth and Mike Murphy, with Charlie Roche, eds., Atlas of the Great Irish Famine (Cork: Cork University Press, 2012; New York: New York University Press, 2012).

Breandán Mac Suibhne is a historian of society and culture in eighteenth and nineteenth century Ireland. His publications include John Gamble, Society and Manners in Early Nineteenth-Century Ireland (Dublin: Field Day, 2011) and (with David Dickson) Hugh Dorian, The Outer Edge of Ulster: A Memoir of Social Life in Nineteenth-Century Donegal (Dublin: Lilliput, 2000; South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001). He teaches at Centenary College, New Jersey.

Author’s footnotes

1.National Archives of Ireland, Outrage Papers, 1847 7/278 Glenties, 29 September 1847, Thomas E. Blake to Thomas N. Redington.

2. Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, translated from the Italian by Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Vintage, 1989 [1986]), 20, and 36–69 (‘The Gray Zone’), esp. 38.

3. Few works on the Great Famine draw on Levi’s writings, which Margaret Kelleher, The Feminization of Famine: Expressions of the Inexpressible (Cork: Cork University Press, 1997), 3, attributes to an awareness of the ‘dangers’ that ‘analogies between the Holocaust and the 1840s Irish famine … may become trite and simplistic and obscure the complexities of both catastrophes’. For some notable exceptions, see Kelleher’s own work, and Luke Gibbons, ‘Words upon the Windowpane: Image, Text, and Irish Culture’, in James Elkins, ed., Visual Cultures (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 43–56. Although he does not specifically refer to Levi, Joe Lee draws on what ‘we know from other horrible human experiences, not least the Holocaust’ in reflecting on the complexity of the Famine experience in a lively lecture, ‘Famine as History’, in Cormac Ó Gráda, ed., Famine 150: Commemorative Lecture Series (Dublin: Teagasc and UCD, 1997), 159–75, esp. 167–69, and 172. 

4. In documenting the wrenching difficulty of judging the starving, Dr. Daniel O’Donovan of Skibbereen, County Cork, made mention of a fourteen year-old cutting the throats of two youths for a small quantity of Indian meal, mothers snatching food from their own famished children, and sons and fathers fighting over potatoes. See Laurence M. Geary, ‘What People Died of During the Famine’, in Ó Gráda, ed., Famine 150, 95–112, 98. On cannibalism, see Cormac Ó Gráda, ‘Eating People is Wrong: Famine’s Darkest Secret?’ [available at: ; posted 31 January 2013].

5. Hugh Dorian, The Outer Edge of Ulster: A Memoir of Social Life in Nineteenth-Century Donegal, edited with an Introduction by Breandán Mac Suibhne and David Dickson (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2000; Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001). The US edition includes an additional short preface (ix–xii) primarily concerned with the Famine; otherwise, the pagination is the same. A passage (xi) of that preface is reworked in this review. In addition to the chapter, ‘The Years of the Famine’, in Dorian’s memoir, another entitled ‘The Landlord Extermination’ might be considered to concern the Famine, and mention is made of it elsewhere in the book. For some guide, see the entries for Famine in the Index, but, in truth, Dorian’s memoir needs to be read closely and carefully to pick up all his references to it.

6. Here, Dorian’s ‘wider community’ might be understood to be the electoral divisions of Fanad West and Fanad North; the 1851 census returned the population of those divisions to be, respectively, 79.3 per cent, and 72.3 per cent of what it has been in 1841, that is, five years before the population crested.

7. Outer Edge of Ulster, 256.

8. Outer Edge of Ulster, 130.

9. Outer Edge of Ulster, 216–17. Elsewhere (222), discussing the work demanded of the hungry by members of relief committees, Dorian remarks, ‘All this circuitous way of doing good was more like hard labour or convict punishment’.

10. Outer Edge of Ulster, 223.

11. Outer Edge of Ulster, 41–43.

12. Outer Edge of Ulster, 172–73.

13. Outer Edge of Ulster, 223.

14. Outer Edge of Ulster, 230.

15. Outer Edge of Ulster, 214–15.

16. Outer Edge of Ulster, 191–92; also see 228–29, 239–40 et seq.

17. Outer Edge of Ulster, 239.

18. Outer Edge of Ulster, 191 et seq.

19. Outer Edge of Ulster, 227–29.

20. Cathal Póirtéir, eag., Glórtha ón Ghorta: Béaloideas na Gaeilge agus an Gorta Mór (Baile Átha Cliath: Coiscéim, 1996), 69. Annoyingly, this valuable sampler of material does not give the dates at which the particular stories were recorded.

21.Cormac Ó Gráda, The Great Irish Famine (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1989), 77; elsewhere (41 n.) he is harsher, describing it as indicative of the ‘dispassionate sanitized approach to the Great Famine now dominant in Irish historical scholarship’. Colm Tóibín, ‘The Irish Famine’, in Colm Tóibín and Diarmaid Ferriter, The Irish Famine: A Documentary (London: Profile Books, 1999, 2001), 3–42, 10–12, offers a much longer and more damning assessment of the style and method of this ‘briskly written, useful book, long on detail and cautious examination’.

22. In addition to Póirtéir’s samplers, see Cormac Ó Gráda, An Drochshaol: Béaloideas agus Amhráin (Baile Átha Cliath: Coiscéim, 1994), esp. 17–19, 24–26; for an English version, see Black ’47 and Beyond: The Great Irish Famine in History, Economy and Memory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 194–225.

23. Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, Ireland before the Famine (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 2007 [1972]), 184.

24. Tóibín, ‘Irish Famine’, 22–24. Tóibín wrote prior to the publication of Angela Bourke’s landmark The Burning of Bridget Cleary: A True Story (New York: Penguin, 1999), one of the most innovative books in Irish social and cultural history, in which oral culture is central.

25. Tóibín, ‘Irish Famine’, 28–29.

26. Ó Gráda, Great Irish Famine, 11.

27. Among his various publications on the subject, see William Schabas, Genocide in International Law: The Crime of Crimes (Cambridge: University Press, 2000).

28. In fairness to Ó Murchadha, Mitchel’s dictum is often misquoted, with ‘created’ replaced by ‘made’ or ‘sent’.

29. The phrase recurs in Samantha Power’s Pulitzer-winning study of US foreign policy (not genocide), ‘A Problem from Hell’: America and the Age of Genocide (New York: Harper, 2003 [2007]).

30. On intent and the law of genocide, which greatly exercises Kennedy, see Schabas, Genocide in International Law, 213 et seq., esp. 222–26, on proof of intent.

31. Carlo Ginzburg, The Judge and the Historian: Marginal Notes on a Late-Twentieth-Century Miscarriage of Justice, translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar (London and New York: revised edn. Verso, 2002 [1991]), 15.

32. As quoted in Ginzburg, Judge and the Historian, 15.

33. On these and other issues, see Perry Anderson’s extended engagement with Ginzburg’s work in ‘The Force of the Anomaly’, London Review of Books, 24, 8 (26 April 2012), 3–13.

34. Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The ‘Objectivity Question’ and the American Historical Profession (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

35. Seamus Deane, ‘Wherever Green is Red’, in Máirín Ní Dhonnchadha and Theo Horgan, eds., Revising the Rising (Derry: Field Day, 1991), 91–105; it is reprinted in Ciarán Brady, Interpreting Irish History: The Debate on Historical Revisionism (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1994), 234–45.

36. Lee, ‘The Famine as History’, 166, refers to this handwringing. He argues that, from 1969, ‘scholars who feared that their research might provide ammunition for IRA interpretations of Irish history’ had ‘a tendency towards reducing the scale of the Famine as well as exonerating British policy makers from responsibility’. In his view, it was ‘natural, if unscholarly, that Irish historians should find it difficult to disengage from the contemporary implications of Famine interpretations.’

37. Liam Kennedy, Two Ulsters: A Case for Repartition (Belfast : Queen's University, 1986).

38. Peter Gray, ‘Ideology and the Famine’, in Póirtéir, Great Irish Famine, 86–103, 102–03. David P. Nally, Human Encumbrances: Political Violence and the Great Irish Famine (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011), 226, remarks of this passage: ‘This is one of the strongest denunciations of recent years: however, since Gray introduces the language of responsibility—‘culpable neglect’—but rejects the nationalist charge of genocide, we ought to ask in what sense he uses the term culpable.’

39. Schabas, Genocide in International Law, 1.

40. See, for instance, James S. Donnelly, Jr., ‘Mass Evictions and the Great Famine’, in Póirtéir, Great Irish Famine, 155–73, and ‘Constructing the Memory of the Irish Famine, 1850–1900’, Éire-Ireland, 31, 1–2 (1996), 26–61, both of which are reprinted in his Great Irish Potato Famine, 209–45.

41. Ballyshannon Herald, 29 January 1847.

42.Ballyshannon Herald, 8 January, 15 January 1847.

43. Ballyshannon Herald, 29 January 1847.

44.Ballyshannon Herald, 12 February 1847.

45. NAI, Outrage Papers 7/113 Donegal, 6 May 1848, Thomas E. Blake, RM to Redington

46. Ruán O’Donnell, The Rebellion in Wicklow, 1798 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1998), 144.

47. Donnelly, Great Irish Potato Famine, 245.

48. For instance, see Christine Kinealy, ‘Potatoes, Providence and Philanthropy: The Role of Private Philanthropy during the Irish Famine’, in Patrick O’Sullivan, ed., The Meaning of the Famine (London and New York: Leicester University Press, 1997), 140–71.

49. I may not be alone in this view. See, for instance, Mick Heaney’s review of another radio show featuring Coogan, Myles Dungan’s Blighted Nation, in Irish Times, 5 January 2013: ‘[While] his righteous, nationalist-flavoured rhetoric lacked subtlety, Coogan’s insistent focus on the suffering of the Famine’s victims struck a more sympathetic chord than the scrupulously even-handed approach of [Mary] Daly and [Peter] Gray, who afforded more balance to the ruling establishment than seemed necessary. Detachment may be vital for academic studies, but in the context of a popular history show, Coogan’s polemics resonated more.’

50. There are six endnote references in Matthew Stout’s ‘The Smith Estate of Baltyboys, County Wicklow’, in Crowley et al., Atlas, 354–57, but neither the title of the piece nor any notes appear on 691.

51. In this volume, as is common in others, the copy-editing of Irish-language text is poor, even in conspicuous places: an accent is missing from Piaras Mac Éinrí’s name on the title page of his essay, and Cathal Póirtéir loses one of his accents for his second piece (602, 609).

52. David Lloyd, Irish Times: Temporalities of Modernity (Dublin: Field Day, 2008), 39–72, 40. For the earlier version, see ‘The Indigent Sublime: Specters of Irish Hunger’, Representations, 92 (Fall 2005), 152–58.

53. Introduction, xvi. A version of the Introduction, credited to Mike Murphy, appeared in Irish Times, 24 August 2012.

54. Some maps appear more than once; for example, ‘Excess Death Rate (per 1,000 people)’, based on Mokyr’s data, can be found on pages 108, in an essay by Smyth, and 171, in an essay by Ó Gráda.

55. Also see Buttimer’s ‘Cloch sa Leacht: An Gorta Mór i Lámhscríbhinní Déanacha na Gaeilge’ [A Stone in the Monument: The Famine in Late Irish-language Manuscripts’], in Cathal Póirtéir, eag., Gnéithe den Ghorta (Baile Átha Cliath: Coiscéim, 1995), 84–106. Also available as ‘A Stone on the Cairn: The Great Famine in Later Gaelic Manuscripts’, in Chris Morash and Richard Hayes, eds., ‘Fearful Realities’: New Perspectives on the Famine (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1996), 93–109.

56. For a later and fuller discussion, see Grace Neville, ‘Remembering and Forgetting the Great Famine in France and Ireland’, New Hibernia Review, 16, 4 (2012), 80–94.

57. Tom Dunne, The Writer as Witness (Cork: Cork University Press, 1999). On commemoration, see his Rebellions: Memoir, Memory and 1798 (Dublin: Lilliput, 2004).

58. On the press and the Famine, see Neil Hogan, ‘The Famine Beat: American Newspaper Coverage of the Great Hunger’, in Arthur Gribben, ed., The Great Famine and the Irish Diaspora in America, with an Introduction by Ruth-Ann M. Harris (Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999), 155–79.

59. A. M. Sullivan, New Ireland: political Sketches and Personal Reminiscences of Thirty Years of Irish Public Life (Glasgow and London: Cameron and Ferguson, 1877), 68.

60. For post-Póirtéir volumes devoting the penultimate chapter to ‘global hunger’, see Ó Gráda, ed., Famine 150 and O’Sullivan, ed., Meaning of the Famine.

61. The essay on the Dingle peninsula includes no reference to IFC materials, nor does it mention Cathal Póirtéir’s survey of the Famine in the seanchas of that district. See his ‘An Práta i Seanchas faoin Drochshaol i dTimpeallacht Chorca Duibhne’, in Pádraig Ó Fiannachta, eag., An Práta (An Daingean: An Sagart, 1996), 27–41.

62. William Allingham, A Diary, edited by H. Allingham and D. Radford (London: Macmillan, 1907), 41.

63. All manuscripts records relating to the operation of the Donegal Union Workhouse were destroyed in a fire; the Minute Books of Ballyshannon Union survive for these years, but not the register. I am grateful to Niamh Brennan, Donegal County Archivist, for discussing these records with me; personal communication, 26 March 2013.

64. Joe Lee, ‘New York Famine Memorial’, in Crowley et al., Atlas, 547–49, 549. For another response to the same work, see Marion R. Casey, ‘The Irish Hunger Memorial’, Journal of American History, 98, 3 (2011), 779–82.

65. Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, edited by Hannah Arendt, and translated from the German by Harry Zohn (New York: Shocken, 2007 [1968]), 255.