Category Archives: Holocaust Not A Famine

ALBUM REVIEW: DECLAN O’ROURKE- ‘Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine’ (2017)

Declan O’Rourke delivers an amazing album of extraordinary true tales from the most tragic period in the history of Ireland. Fifteen years in the making he takes the best of traditional Irish music and the heart of modern song-writing for something truly special.

Sometime around 1570 Spanish soldiers returned from their ‘adventures’ in South America with a tuberous vegetable that at the time was only native to the Andes. It didn’t take long before the potato as it became known became very popular and was found to grow extremely well from one end of the continent to the other as well as having a beneficial effect on the diets of those, mainly poor, Europeans that ate them. The potato grew especially well in Ireland and was grown in every space imaginable. Irish farmers were with very few exceptions tenant farmers and had no rights on the land they farmed. They also grew an abundance of wheat, barley, oats and cattle but this was sold by the farmers to their absentee landlords living in England and placed on ships for export. The food that maintained the British Empire was all produced in Ireland.

The nutritional value of potatoes was high because the skins could be fed to pigs and chickens and if a farmer was lucky enough to have a cow, their diet, based on the potato was highly nutritious. However, potatoes have predators. One is a fungus, blight, which destroys the entire plant from the leaves to the tubers below. Sometime in the mid-1840s, one ship sailing from South America introduced potato fungal spores into Ireland. The result was catastrophic, with every farm infected with the blight by 1846. With the primary food source cut off, the Irish began starving while exports of Irish produce (the so-called ‘English beef’) continued, sometimes by armed guard to protect it from the starving and dying. The so-called ‘famine’ became known instead as Án Gorta Mór, Irish for ‘The Great Hunger’. The blight did not just affect Ireland and all over Europe the potato crops failed but those countries stopped exporting food so they could feed their own people. This did not happen in Ireland. It took months during 1846 for the news of the condition of the Irish to reach the United States. There money was collected and aid shipped to the Ireland. Many of these ships were stopped and prevented from finishing their journey with the aid often going to feed horses.

So it can be clear and without doubt that the famine was no famine at all. An island famous for farming could easily have fed itself but an attempt was made to wipe the Irish Catholic from existence. The authorities claim the population of Ireland at the time was 8 million in an attempt to lessen what was done. It is widely acknowledged as an underestimate with some scholars imagining it was more like 11 million meaning over 5 million people starved to death, cutting the population almost in half. With very few exceptions, the response of English society was one of denial. The government and capitalist class in England viewed it as a superb opportunity to cleanse Ireland of their poor, ignorant tenant farmers. Absentee landlords stepped forward with offers to pay passage to any starving Irish willing to emigrate. The conditions aboard the ships that carried them to the United States were horrendous and when they arrived, the exploitation continued as soon as these poor souls stepped off the ships and their oppression continued but the Irish survived and now almost 170 years from the peak of Án Gorta Mór the Irish community continues to prosper in the USA.

Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine is the new album from Irish singer-songwriter Declan O’Rourke and tells the story of the ‘famine’ in a

“an attempt to bring fresh air to an unhealed wound, and to remind the Irish people of what we have overcome through an examination of what has lurked just below the surface of collective memory for so long”.

It was as an immigrant himself in Melbourne that he first learnt to play the guitar after moving there at 10 years old when his family upped sticks from Dublin. Trips back and forth from home to ‘home’ continued well into his mid-20’s and finally having settled in Dublin he released his acclaimed debut album Since Kyabram in 2004 and followed up this success with Big Bad Beautiful World three years later. A stint with a major label followed and led to more critical and commercially successful releases which brings us pretty much up to date and an admission here that before this album I had only heard the name Declan O’Rourke so had no idea what to expect from this album except having an 2nd-generation Irishman’s interest in the subject matter.

The album was inspired by a night spent in a old Irish workhouse with his Dad. These were the places that the poor and starving turned to as a last resort but many found no help due to the sheer numbers of desperate and dying seeking help. Many died and many more were turned away. While making this album Declan found out that his Grandfather was born in a workhouse giving himself a very real link to the people that illustrate this album.

The album begins with ‘Clogman’s Glen’ and a mournful fiddle and as soon as Declan’s voice comes in it instantly shines through strong and proud. Reminiscent of Damien Dempsey in tone and Christy in manor it’s a beautiful and moving song that tells of a husband singing to his wife of the time before the famine when life had been good to them. Now all that they had known had changed and was gone forever. Ireland was a extremely religious nation at the time of the famine and could be seen as the major reason why Protestant Britain wanted to wipe the Catholic Irish off the face of Ireland. In ‘Along The Western Seaboard’ a priest laments that

“When we need to feed so many, and there’s not even for the few”

and curses the British for their cruelty at letting the people die. In this song Án Gorta Mór is explained. The Damo comparisons continue with the passion literally seeping from Declan’s voice. ‘Buried In The Deep’ is the horrific story of the coffin ships that left Ireland with the sick and diseased crowded onto them. Emaciated, filthy and near dead the mortality rate aboard reached 20%. Many ships were lost at sea, and deaths were so common that the dead were simply thrown overboard without so much as a word of prayer or comfort said over them. A beautiful song with Declan accompanied by harp and pipes on this stunning lament to those poor souls. Emotion spilling out it brought a flush to my cheeks as the realisation of what happened hits home.

‘Poor Boy’s Shoes’ is next and its upbeat start belies the sad origins of the song. Inspired by a line from John O’Connor’s book ‘The Workhouses Of Ireland’ it was the first song Declan wrote of this collection

“The man who carried his wife from the workhouse to their old home, mile after weary mile, and was discovered next morning dead, his wife’s feet held to his breast as if he was trying to warm them…”

as Declan says “I had stumbled into a chapter of history I knew almost nothing about. I wanted to be a witness, to share these stories the best way I knew how, through music”. An ending that will bring a tear to your eye as it did to mine. A punch to the gut as life is suddenly turned upside down for a very real family, The Buckley’s, and it beggars belief how any survived at all. He brings the story vividly and heart wrenching alive to us.

And there he tried to warm her cold feet through, And they found him there, in poor boy’s shoes”.

The bodhrán kicks off ‘Indian Meal’ and its driving rhythm tells of the removal of food while at the same time…

“There’s ships leaving’ full of pigs, heifer, and lambs
Some transportin’ convicts to Van Diemen’s Land
We’re hemorrhagin’ barrels of butter and grain
And all that comes back in, and all that remains is…
Indian Meal, Indian Meal, Indian Meal”

The government and forced labour schemes fed the poor, if they were lucky, a tasteless and un-nutritious porridge that did little benefit. The British Government found wanting and unable to hide the stench of the dead creeping across the Irish Sea responded with feeble ‘relief’ in an attempt to conceal their guilt. The stunning beauty of the harp helps ‘Mary Kate’ on its way and sorrowful the pain at having to leave your beloved ones behind and heart-breaking doesn’t even begin to measure its words. The true story of Irish girls ‘saved’ by being sent overseas. In the song Mary Kate is chosen to leave to Australia while her younger sister is to remain.

She tells her sister at the dock that she will she see her again knowing full well that to stay means death. The harp remains for ‘Laissez Faire’ which was the name given by the British to the system that believed that the free market will solve everything. That it is unethical to intervene in nature and that helping the poor only makes them lazy and dependent. An experiment that would lead to millions of deaths. The song makes mention of the help and aid given by the Quakers, among others, in America while at home and in Britain help was reluctant and miserly. Catholics were offered soup but only on condition that they renounced their Catholicism which led to the derogatory term ‘soup taker’ for any Irish Catholic who betrays their religion and country.

“Swap your Catholic halo for a Protestant hoop and give up your place in heaven for bowl of soup”

‘Rattle My Bones’ is a moment of lightheartedness among the tragedy as Declan starts off acapello before joined by accordion and soon has the ‘bones’ of a sea-shanty going. ‘The Villain Curry Shaw’ tells of a family leaving for Nova Scotia on board the Hannah setting sail from Newry on 29th April 1849. This true story tells of the ships sinking and the captain and two officers who left the sinking ship aboard the only lifeboat, leaving passengers and the rest of the crew to fend for themselves. 49 died and 130 were rescued from the freezing ice. His cowardice has gone into the history books and is now immortalised by Declan for all. The laments over for a moment ‘Johnny And The Lantern’ is for me the best song here capturing both the tragic times as well as the famous irrepressible Irish shining through. The Irish always fought the invasion of their country and again the upbeat and cheerful tune belies the subject but surely the demise of an absentee landlord is a time for celebration is it not. The landlords that sucked the land dry that farmers farmed were quick to evict when rent became hard to pay as Án Gorta Mór began to bite. Well fed on the back of their peasant farmers they were despised from one end of Ireland to the other.

‘Johnny And The Lantern’ tells of an anonymous Irish farmer shooting to death one such landlord, Manning, on the road in Delvin, Westmeath and, as is further illustrated on the cover of the album by the band dressed in ‘famine’ clothing, his body is cut to pieces.

‘And the last thing they buried, Were the hands that took the rent’.

On an album filled with melancholy and calamity your heartstrings are in constant danger as on ‘The Connaught Orphan’. Declan’s voice pulls the emotion from the tale of a young 6 year old boy who starving and all alone is provided with a new set of clothes by an American Quaker women. She wonders why the young lad is unhappy at his new outfit.

“I’ll surely die of hunger now
If they see me with your nice new clothes
They’ll think I’m telling lies, and that
I have a mammy feeds me so”

The awfulness of the situation is captured perfectly.

The inscription on the cross reads: Cailleadh Clann na nGaedheal ina míltibh ar an Oileán so ar dteicheadh dhóibh ó dlíghthibh na dtíoránach ngallda agus ó ghorta tréarach isna bliadhantaibh 1847-48. Beannacht dílis Dé orra. Bíodh an leacht so i gcomhartha garma agus onóra dhóibh ó Ghaedhealaibh Ameriocá. Go saoraigh Dia Éire – Children of the Gael died in their thousands on this island having fled from the laws of foreign tyrants and an artificial famine in the years 1847-48. God’s blessing on them. Let this monument be a token to their name and honour from the Gaels of America. God Save Ireland.

The story of those coffin ships is told in ‘The Great Saint Lawrence River’. Between 1845 and 1851 over 1,500,000 people left Ireland on diseased and vermin-infested ships rampant with disease.

“When I die they’ll put me over, We’re buried in the deep, Where hunger cannot find us”.

In the midst of Án Gorta Mór the U.S placed restrictions on the amount of Irish flooding into the country so unable to land the ships sailed on to Canada but the extra weeks meant many more perished. A 46-foot high Celtic cross stands at the highest point in the St. Lawrence River, thirty miles from Quebec. Grosse Île served as the quarantine station for immigrant ships and boar witness to the terrible devastation that brought Ireland’s destitute to the New World. It is estimated that between 12,000 and 15,000 are buried here. The largest mass grave of Án Gorta Mór victims outside of Ireland. The album ends with ‘Go Domhain i do Chuimhne’ a spoken word song.

Ach na dearmaid ar gcaithú, Cuimhnidh lámh ar an mead, A tháinigh muid tharais, Más féidir linn cuimhniú, is teacht ar an tuiscint, Más féidir linn tuiscint, maith (far an) croí.

(But don’t forget our sorrows, And all of our sadness, Reflect on all that we have overcome, If we can remember, we can try to understand, If we understand, we can learn to forgive).

Spoken first in the language of Ireland and then repeated in English it is a call to remember the tragedy of those times and of the loss that we suffer as a nation both collectively and personally. This winter marks the 170th anniversary of Án Gorta Mór reaching its peak. Events that haunt us yet. The island hasn’t recovered either with the population still far below what it was in the 1840’s. It saw the Irish scattered to the winds and their orphans are still with us today with over 80 million across the world claiming Irish heritage. It is a truly electrifying way to close this outstanding album.

Growing up in England we were never taught at school about Án Gorta Mór. Maybe they thought the reality of what happened and the obvious blame at whose door the dead should be laid to rest would be too much for us, instead we found out at home in hushed bedside stories and tales around fires. My own Great-Grandfather left Ireland and lost all four of his children and wife before returning to Ireland many, many years later to marry again and start a new family. Stories we all have if we look for them. This album covers Án Gorta Mór in a most sensitive and beautiful way. Never shying away from apportioning blame to the ‘richest nation on the earth’ and telling the story of real men, women and children. People from history who lived and died in those terrible times. During ‘Go Domhain i do Chuimhne’ Declan urges us to keep our heritage, traditions and language alive. The Irish people owe Declan a great service for what he has produced here and maybe its too much to ask for it to be put on the British school curriculum but it warrants it so. It’s an emotional ride alright with several songs the tears arriving. It has taken Declan 15 years to deliver Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine and on it he is ably assisted by a wealth of Irish musicians including John Sheahan on fiddle, Dermot Byrne on accordion, Gino Lupari on bodhran and Mike McGoldrick on pipes, whistle and flute and I can honestly say that in all my 47 years I have never heard anything that evokes Án Gorta Mór in such a moving and evocative way.

Buy Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine

SignedVinyl  SignedCD  Amazon

Contact Declan O’Rourke

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In writing this review I owe a huge debt to the following- my Grandfather, Michael Joesph Wilkinson. Missed every day. Dave McNally of Folk Radio UK here for his outstanding review here and Stair na hÉireann which provides invaluable help with articles on every aspect of Irish history here.

Further Recommended Reading:

Let Ireland Remember

Irish National Famine Memorial Day

but the most extensive resource on Facebook about this period is to be found at

Irish Holocaust –Not Famine: The Push To Educate In Fact’s

(Declan O’Rourke performs two tracks, ‘Indian Meal’ and ‘Poor Boy’s Shoes’ and talks about the album and his reasons for recording it)

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2017 LONDON MEMORIAL TO THE GREAT HUNGER

On Sunday 14th May 2017, it will be 170 years since the beginning of An Gorta Mor (The Great Hunger) in Ireland. This year there will be a memorial event outside TUC Congress House. This location has been chosen because the Parish of St. Giles was the first recorded ‘Little Ireland’ in London. Many Irish people who lived in this parish endured overcrowding, poverty and squalor and many died of typhus. For this reason, a number of us will be campaigning for a memorial statue to ‘An Gorta Mor’ in this part of London. Unlike Liverpool, no other such statue exists in the capital city. We like to seen the statue dedicated to all the Irish and other migrant workers who made Britain, the most industrialised nation in the world through their concentration of cheap labour!

LONDON REMEMBERS THE GREAT HUNGER

SUNDAY 14th MAY- 1pm SHARP

OUTSIDE TUC, CONGRESS HOUSE, GREAT RUSSELL STREET, LONDON WC1B 3LS

(nearest tube- Tottenham Court Road) 

The event will last for about 40 minutes. Invited speakers are as follows: Austin Harney will speak on the callous administration of Lord Trevelyan who was Head of the Treasury in 1847. This administration under its prime minister, Lord John Russell, denied the vital imports of grain supplies to Ireland, thus causing many Irish people to die of starvation. Niall Mulholland will speak on how An Gorta Mor devastated the people of the North of Ireland and Mick Gilgunn will speak on how the poverty stricken Irish immigrants in London built the British Trade Union movement and the prosperity of the capital of Britain since the days of An Gorta Mor! After the speakers, we will have a minute’s silence for all the Irish people who died and forced to flee from Ireland as a result of this “Great Hunger”.

THE GREAT FAMINE LIE

When I was a kid I grew up taught that the Irish famine was a natural catastrophe caused by crop failure. That I was taught this at a school in England where I’d guess well over 50 % of the children had Irish parents or Grandparents is quite simply wrong. The books I was given in History class of course didn’t tally with the accounts I was hearing at home and as has been the way with the Irish abroad it was that passed on history that won the day. While it is true that the main crop for the Irish and especially the working class Irish was the potatoes the truth as ever is far more startling.

Failure of the potato crop began in 1845 and this impacted on the Irish population as other crops had to be purchased at a very high price or forfeited to their landlords. Hence, the starvation took effect in 1846. During the following year, it was the beginning of more than a million deaths as Britain refused to supply grain to the starving Irish population. In addition, many workers on the roads contracted typhus and it led to the ‘Road Fever’, that spread as far as Belfast, killing many workers. It is estimated that of the British Empires 130 army regiments a staggering 67 were in Ireland during the time of The Great Hunger. Over 100,000 soldiers at any one time. Don’t be fooled into thinking that these soldiers were there on a charitable mission to help the poor beleagued Irish. they were there with only one purpose. Their job was to subdue any Irish resistance and to remove food by force. AT any one point forty shiploads of food, rising to double that some days, were removed from the island of Ireland at gunpoint. Ireland starved as its food was confiscated. The British police and soldiers seized tens of millions head of livestock, tens of millions of tons flour, grain and poultry and protected these shipments from the starving and dying Irish. All the while those in charge knew full well that these huge quantities were more than enough to feed those dying of starvation. When the quantity of exports leaving Ireland could no longer be concealed, George Bernard Shaw wrote in Man and Superman 1897:

“The Famine? No, the Starvation. When a country is full of food and exporting it, there can be no famine.”‘

In the best book ever written on the subject, The Great Hunger, British Historian Cecil-Woodham Smith exposed the removal of food to Britain and became a pariah in academia for the next 30 years. Historians and their books maintain the lie that only potato’s were cultivated and anyone bringing the genocide out in the open is smeared as a “republican sympathiser”.

While it is no surprise of an Irish politician it is still to her eternal shame that former Irish President Mary Robinson referred to the genocide as

“Ireland’s largest natural disaster”.

In 2005 while Prime Minister Tony Blair said,

“Britain stood by while the Irish starved to death”

but again did not acknowledge role of the British Army in forced food confiscations.

The official figures posit a two million drop from 1841-51 due to famine and emigration but it is believed the 1841 census wildly underestimated the real population of over Ireland meaning the figures for both the dead and emigration would be much much higher. The genocide was a deliberate attempt to exterminate the Irish people and their cultural and national identity. Queen Victoria’s economist, Nassau Senior, voiced his fear that existing policies

“will not kill more than one million Irish in 1848 and that will scarcely be enough to do much good”.

During the “famine” years, Irish foodstuff received high prices on the agricultural and commodity markets of the world. The British Empire covered half the globe; why else would it keep half its armies in Ireland at great expense? The Irish were an obstacle to Britain’s world power. They were Celtic, Catholic with their own rich culture and traditions, namely strong: National identity, Family, Culture and faith. The Irish have a strong Celtic consciousness giving the people the ability to think critically, morally and be self-sufficient. It’s in our DNA no one can ever extinguish it.

Further Recommended Reading:

Let Ireland Remember  Irish National Famine Memorial Day

but the most extensive resource on Facebook about this period is to be found at

Irish Holocaust –Not Famine: The Push To Educate In Facts

LONDON MEMORIAL TO THE GREAT IRISH ‘FAMINE’ OF 1845- 1852

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)

26/1/2009. 750 JOBS LOST AT FIRST ACTIVE. Pictured are The Famine statues with Ulster Bank headquarters in Dublin. Ulster Bank Group is to absorb the business of First Active, formerly the First National Building Society, with the loss of 750 jobs. In 2003 First Active was acquired by Ulster Bank Limited, part of The Royal Bank of Scotland Group. 550 jobs are to go at its operations in the Republic and a further 200 in Northern Ireland. Group Chief Executive said he is confident Ulster Bank can secure 750 redundancies on a voluntary basis. Picture James Horan/Photocall Ireland

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.

Famine1

The Bridge of Tears (Droichead na nDeor) in West Donegal. Family and friends of emigrants would accompany them as far as the bridge before saying goodbye, while the emigrants would continue on to Derry Port

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.”

Famine2

A plaque commemorating The Bridge of Tears, which reads “Fad leis seo a thagadh cairde agus lucht gaoil an té a bhí ag imeacht chun na coigrithe. B’anseo an scaradh. Seo Droichead na nDeor” (Family and friends of the person leaving for foreign lands would come this far. Here was the separation. This is the Bridge of Tears)

Further Recommended Reading:

Let Ireland Remember

Irish National Famine Memorial Day

but the most extensive resource on Facebook about this period is to be found at

Irish Holocaust –Not Famine: The Push To Educate In Facts

we have featured articles on Án Gorta Mór in previous years that you can read here: 2015  2014

  • 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.

HOLOCAUST NOT A FAMINE- MAY 10TH NATIONAL FAMINE MEMORIAL DAY

“For you stole Trevelyan’s corn
So your young might see the morn,
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay”

Today Sunday 10th May is National Famine Memorial Day. 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.

Holocaust Not A Famine

After only a mere 160 or so years on the Irish government finally commemorates that half of the country died of hunger or were forced to leave their homeland due to a deliberate policy of forced starvation.

They’ve decided to call this commemoration of the dead a ‘Famine’ memorial day. The commemoration is long overdue.
But it’s not a famine we should be commemorating. Because there was no famine. A famine is when there is not sufficient food to feed the population. What happened in Ireland in the 1840s was attempted genocide.

Let’s look at the evidence, and I don’t mean the mounds of dead, some containing the remains of over 10,000 people, that dot our landscape. Nor do I mean the ghost towns of the West of Ireland. I mean the documentary evidence of genocide.

What is a genocide? In common terms, it is the attempt to murder an entire race of people. But the United Nations has a legal definition. In fact, it has an entire convention on genocide. The relevant part is section 2, which defines acts of genocide.

As a single reading of 2c reveals, what happened in Ireland in the 1840s was a genocide. This has been confirmed by international legal expert F.A. Boyle, Professor of Law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who wrote:

“Clearly, during the years 1845 to 1850, the British government pursued a policy of mass starvation in Ireland with intent to destroy in substantial part the national, ethnic and racial group commonly known as the Irish People…. Therefore, during the years 1845 to 1850 the British government knowingly pursued a policy of mass starvation in Ireland that constituted acts of genocide against the Irish people within the meaning of Article II (c) of the 1948 [Hague] Genocide Convention”

But some people object to the suggestion that there was intent on the part of the British government of the time. They suggest that the famine was an act of God, of nature, a tragic accident caused by a fungus on a tuber which had nothing to do with any human action or intent. To demonstrate the intent of the British colonial administration of the time, it is important to look at their own stated documents on the matter.
Firstly, let’s consider what Robert Murray, writing in his 1847 book ‘Ireland, Its Present Condition and Future Prospects’ had to say about the alleged famine:

“The surplus population of Ireland have been trained precisely for those pursuits (unskilled labor or agricultural) which the unoccupied regions of North American require for their colonization. That surplus is an overwhelming incubus (demon) at home, whether to themselves or others.Remove them and you benefit them in a degree that cannot be estimated. Precisely as you do so, you raise the social condition of those who remain.”

In other words, a policy of clearing Ireland of its ‘surplus’ of people and driving many of them to America would be of benefit to the American economy and to the easier administration of Ireland by Britain! Bear in mind this was written at the height of the horror – Black 47. This isn’t some sort of ‘Modest Proposal’ type of joke. This is a genuine policy proposal.

But perhaps Murray did not represent mainstream British opinion? Let’s consider instead the London Times, which crowed:

“They are going. They are going with a vengeance. Soon a Celt will be as rare in Ireland as a Red Indian on the streets of Manhattan…Law has ridden through, it has been taught with bayonets, and interpreted with ruin. Townships levelled to the ground, straggling columns of exiles, workhouses multiplied, and still crowded, express the determination of the Legislature to rescue Ireland from its slovenly old barbarism, and to plant there the institutions of this more civilized land”

In other words, the newspaper of record in England records with glee the imminent demise of the Irish as a nation in the hope that its land can be cleared for plantation by Britons. But again, perhaps it is unfair to attribute these mainstream British opinions to the government itself? Let’s look at what they had to say.
On April 26th, 1849, one hundred years before the Genocide Convention was signed, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Earl of Clarendon, wrote to the then British Prime Minister, John Russell, expressing his feelings about the lack of aid from Parliament:

“I do not think there is another legislature in Europe that would disregard such suffering as now exists in the west of Ireland, or coldly persist in a policy of extermination.”

Bear in mind, this is the voice of Britain in Ireland speaking. And he is speaking of a policy of extermination of the Irish people. I call that genocide. But perhaps I’m wrong. So let’s look around for other views. According to holocaust historian and expert Richard L. Rubenstein in his book ‘Age of Triage: Fear and Hope in an Overcrowded World’:

“A government is as responsible for a genocidal policy when its officials accept mass death as a necessary cost of implementing their policies, as when they pursue genocide as an end in itself.”

Rubenstein is the man who invented the term ‘genocide’, so I think we can defer to his definition of the word. So it seems absolutely indisputable: under the terms of the UN convention on genocide, Britain was guilty of conducting genocide on the Irish people during the period variously and incorrectly referred to today as the great famine or An Gorta Mor.

Now, we are not interested in a Brit-bashing exercise. I can’t imagine that the British of today would in anyway feel guilty (and nor should they) for something committed by an ruling elite that ran both their country and ours a century and a half ago. Britain is historically responsible for a number of attempted genocides, at least one of which was committed on their own soil (the Highland clearances).
Indeed, the ‘Great Hunger’ was not the only attempt at genocide on the Irish people. Cromwell’s exploits two centuries earlier spring to mind. I can’t imagine that it would ruin relations with Britain or indeed the British people if we were simply to pay proper tribute to our own dead.

Holocaust Not A FamineIn fact, I think many British people might find it illuminating to know what really happened. Certainly, given how the ‘famine’ is taught in schools, I believe it would be illuminating for a lot of Irish people too. I accept the British apology for what Tony Blair’s word is worth. Which is little, in fairness, but I accept it anyway. But that’s not the point.
The point is that our own government fails to acknowledge that it was a holocaust, not a famine caused by a lack of available food. The Irish holocaust had little in common with famine or hunger. Should the focus of Jewish holocaust commemorations be on preventing gas poisoning?  What would any self-respecting Jewish person say if people expected them to euphemise away the horror their people suffered, or suggested that they get over it and grow up as a people? The Rwandans and Armenians would not accept anyone else trying to diminish the attempted genocides that happened to their peoples. So why do we accept it?
The commemoration has nothing to do with the British of today. It’s to do with our own acknowledgment of our own history in a accurate and correct way.
When we can do that, then we can really move on as a nation.

Holocaust Not A Famine

the National Famine Memorial Day badge as worn by Celtic last season on their shirts on Memorial Day on the day they beat Dundee United to win the Scottish Premiership title.

Further Recommended Reading:

Let Ireland Remember

Irish National Famine Memorial Day

but the most extensive resource on Facebook about this period is to be found at

Irish Holocaust –Not Famine: The Push To Educate In Facts

Holocaust Not A Famine

MAY 10TH NATIONAL FAMINE MEMORIAL DAY

Celtic FC

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.

http://www.timpatcoogan.com/books/famine_plot.htm

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

Further Reading:

Let Ireland Remember

Irish National Famine Memorial Day

but the most extensive resource on Facebook about this period is to be found at

Irish Holocaust –Not Famine: The Push To Educate In Facts

it really is an excellent site and i cannot recommend it enough and i would urge all of you there with haste.

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