On Sunday 22nd May there will be a memorial event in London to the Irish Famine which many refer to as a genocide! It will take place outside the main entrance of Congress House in Great Russell Street. Speakers invited will be on behalf of the Parvees (Irish Travellers) who owe their roots to this atrocity as many were evicted from their homes in Ireland and the London 1916 Easter Rising Centenary Committee since the Famine fuelled nationalism in Ireland which led to the Rising in 1916, itself. This event is to remember the many Irish people who died in An Gorta Mor and the many who fled to London. It will be over 170 years since An Gorta Mor began to inflict many deaths in Ireland and we have chosen this spot as it is part of the Parish of St. Giles known as ‘Little Ireland’ throughout the 19th century. This area was home to many Irish migrant labourers who lived in overcrowded levels of poverty and squalor. During these times huge numbers of Irish people died due to lack of nutrition and sanitation! The London Memorial to the Irish Famine is hosted by the South East Regional TUC Race Relations Committee who document the history of migrant workers to Britain. Irish workers were instrumental in building the trade union movement and through their mass concentration of cheap labour, their production made Britain the most industrialised nation in the world! It is important that we remember all these Irish people in London as well as the millions who died in Ireland and abroad as well as those forced to leave to survive. May they rest in peace!
LONDON MEMORIAL TO THE IRISH ‘FAMINE’ 2016
SUNDAY 22nd MAY- 12 NOON
CONGRESS HOUSE, GREAT RUSSELL STREET, LONDON WC1B 3LS
(nearest tube- Tottenham Court Road)
The potato is a tuberous vegetable that is native to the Andes of South America. Following the Spanish exploration and exploitation of the South American Indians, the potato was introduced to Europe where it had a profound effect on the diets of Europeans from Ireland well into Russia. It grew well all over Western Europe and Eurasia. A population explosion followed and continued well into the 19th century. The potato grew prolifically in Ireland and was a product grown on every Irish farm. With few exceptions, however, the Irish farmers were tenant farmers and had no rights on the land they farmed. If they grew wheat, barley oats, or raised cattle on their land, that produce was taken by the absentee landlords, most of whom lived in England and placed on English ships for export. The British Empire was maintained by so-called English beef, English wheat and barley, and English pork, all of which was produced in Ireland.
Conventional wisdom has it that the Irish were too stupid to grow anything but the potato, and were barred from planting anything else. Their nutritional status was high because potato skins could be fed to hogs, one or two of which could be kept by a household, as well as chickens. If a farmer was fortunate enough to have a milk cow, their diet, based on the potato was highly nutritious. However, potatoes have predators. One of them is a fungus, the potato blight, which will destroy the entire potato plant from above ground leaves to tubers below the ground. At some point in the mid-1840s, one ship sailing from South America introduced potato fungal spores into Ireland. The result was absolutely catastrophic, with every Irish farm infected with the blight by 1846. With their primary food source cut off, the Irish began starving by the millions. Exports of Irish produce (‘English beef’) continued unabated throughout the (‘so-called famine’) Án Gorta Mór. All over Ireland, the odours of dead potatoes and starving, dead people permeated the countryside.
The potato blight did not just affect Ireland, but extended its reach all across Europe. Potato crops failed in France, Germany, Poland, and Russia but those countries stopped exporting food so they could feed their own people. No such thing happened in Ireland. It took months during 1846 for the news of the terrible condition of the Irish people to reach the United States and other countries. In the states, the Quakers and wealthy Jews from New York collected money and shipped vast numbers of food to the starving Irish. The ships were stopped when they entered Irish ports and were required to be offloaded into English ships, which ended up distributing the food to horses owned by the British Army.
English authorities claim the population of Ireland was 8 million at the time of Án Gorta Mór. A number of Irish writers have claimed that the population of Ireland was 11 million. If that was the case, over 5 million people in Ireland starved to death, cutting their population almost in half. Regardless of what figures you use, the 1846–1847 census ranks as one of the greatest hunger crisis in human history. Nothing today even compares to it.
With few exceptions, the response of English society was one of denial and ridicule. Most people in England viewed it as a superb opportunity to cleanse Ireland of their poor, ignorant tenant farmers. Absentee landlords stepped forward with offer to pay passage to any starving Irish who were willing to emigrate. The ordeal aboard the ships that carried them to the United States were horrendous. The passengers were emaciated, filthy, near death and lice-ridden. Many ships were lost at sea, and the mortality rate aboard the ships reached 20% of all Irish emigrants. Deaths were so common on board that the dead were thrown overboard without so much as a word of prayer or comfort said over them.
When they arrived the exploitation continued as soon as these poor souls stepped off the ships and the misery of those Irish continued many years after they had left Ireland. Eventually the Irish would go on to dominate politics in the United States while here they became the backbone of the growing trade union movement. If you are unable to join us on the 22nd May then we ask you to pause for one minute and spare a thought or a prayer for not just those poor souls lost at home but also those that famine spread out across the globe.
for an excellent resource on the history of Ireland we recommend you go to the absolutely fantastic web site of Stair na hÉireann (here) a labour of love of Ireland, sharing the history, traditions, folklore, mythology and photography.
“In order to forgive history’s sins, we must first know what they are.”
Further Recommended Reading:
but the most extensive resource on Facebook about this period is to be found at
- another interesting event is on the following week on Sunday 29th May with a Historical 1916 Walk in north London so exercise your mind, body and spirit whilst learning about Irish History and Culture.
Join members of the London 1916 Centenary Committee on a guided walk through the streets of Islington, North London. The walk highlights places of interest where links are made to cultural, social and political involvement. These include the German Gym, Clerkenwell Prison, Suffragette links and IRB places of interest. The walk ends at Pentonville prison where Roger Casement was executed. The walk is approximately two hours long. Meet outside the German Gym at Kings Cross at 2pm sharp. The German Gymnasium is located directly opposite the domestic entrance to St Pancras International Station. Event page here.