Tomorrow Celtic Football Club take to the field against Dundee United and afterwards will collect the Premier League trophy with the National Famine Memorial Day logo on their shirts.
Without a doubt the ‘famine’ transformed Ireland changing the island forever. The impact on the people and the legacy of emigration, loss and decline of the Irish language are still with us today.
Famines are generally thought of as periods where there is not enough food. The result is starvation, economic breakdown and chaos, sometimes leading to total disintegration of the social fabric.
From 1845 through to 1852, Ireland, whose poor existed on a diet almost entirely based on the potato, experienced a potato crop failure that caused unbelievable hardship and wiped from the country over one million dead and over three million forced to flee for their lives. Many never even reached their destination before the effects of the ‘famine’ overtook them. The incredible fact is though that Ireland continued to produce plenty of food during this period. However, it was all exported. Exporting food was far more profitable for our colonial ‘masters’ than making it available to the starving and dying.
If we look into this topic just a little, you have to conclude that the suffering of our ancestors was caused by something far more horrible than crop failure. Indeed, the policy response to the crop failure was so horrific, that respected historian Tim Pat Coogan terms it ‘genocide’. An deliberate attempt was made to wipe the Irish Catholic off the island of Ireland.
So, why use the word ‘famine’? The reason is simple: The Irish government; academics and a host of other entities use that label, and as such, it refers to the horrors suffered by the Irish during the years 1844-1851. So, while famine is not correct, most know what the label refers to.
I think the greater problem we face is indifference of the Irish diaspora. There are seventy, perhaps eighty million people worldwide who trace their roots back to Ireland. The vast majority of these people have little knowledge of the horrors and ignore it. ‘Long ago and far away’. We want ALL of them to acknowledge the horrors of the 1840’s.
Pause for one minute on Commemoration Day, May 10, and spare a thought or a prayer for not just those poor souls lost at home but also those spread out across the globe.
Those that forget the past have no right to the future…
special thanks to Terrance Seán O’Dwyer for help with the article
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