Opening Ireland before the Famine Disaster strikes Map – impact of the Famine Dealing with death Responses 1 – state aid or self-help? Responses 2 – evictions Responses 3 – emigration The Famine in fiction for children & young adults & in poetry

The Spectre

Illustrated verse by 'H.D.', London 1851 The fell Spectre advanc'd - who the horror shall tell Of his galloping stride, as he sounded the knell Of thousands on thousands who 'neath his eye fell.

Anonymous watercolour, c. 1850 National Library of Ireland

Starving Child

‘Famine Song’ Sinead O'Connor Universal Mother Various editions

For copyright reasons only short excerpts of this and other tracks can be played

OK, I want to talk about Ireland Specifically I want to talk about the 'famine' About the fact that there never really was one There was no 'famine' See Irish people were only ALLOWED to eat potatoes All of the other food Meat fish vegetables Were slipped out of the country under armed guard To England while the Irish people starved And then in the middle of all this They gave us money not to teach our children Irish And so we lost our history And this is what I think is still hurting me See we're like a child that's been battered Has to drive itself out of it's head because it's frightened Still feels all the painful feelings But they lose contact with the memory And this leads to massive self-destruction ALCOHOLISM DRUG ADDICTION All desperate attempts at running And in it's worst form Becomes actual killing And if there ever is gonna be healing There has to be remembering And then grieving So that there then can be forgiving There has to be knowledge and understanding And if there ever is gonna be healing There has to be remembering And then grieving So that there then can be forgiving There has to be knowledge and understanding An American army regulation Says you mustn't kill more than 10% of a nation 'Cos to do so causes permanent 'psychological damage' It's not permanent but they didn't know that Anyway during the supposed 'famine' We lost a lot more than 10% of a nation Through deaths on land or on ships of emigration But what finally broke us was not starvation BUT IT'S USE IN THE CONTROLLING OF OUR EDUCATION Schools go on about 'Black 47' On and on about 'The terrible 'famine'' But what they don't say is in truth There really never was one

Sinéad O’Connor
So let's take a look shall we The highest statistics of child abuse in the EEC And we say we're a Christian country But we've lost contact with our history See we used to worship God as a mother We're suffering from POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER Look at all our old men in the pubs Look at all our young people on drugs We used to worship God as a mother Now look at what we're doing to each other We've even made killers of ourselves The most child-like trusting people in the Universe And this is what's wrong with us Our history books THE PARENT FIGURES lied to us I see the Irish as a race like a child That got itself bashed in the face And if there ever is gonna be healing There has to be remembering And then grieving So that there then can be FORGIVING There has to be KNOWLEDGE and UNDERSTANDING

Ireland before the Famine

'Exuberance of ... folk tradition in music and dance'

This dance, ‘Out on the Ocean’, is a jig.* The first Irish jig to be written down was composed by a harper from Co. Sligo, Thomas Connellan, in the early eighteenth century.

* Music Session from Belfast Traditional Irish Music Chyme Music, Outlet Recording, Co Ltd, PTICD 1095

'Despite the grinding poverty endured by the poor, pre-Famine Ireland was renowned for the exuberance of its folk tradition in music and dance.'

Saturday Evening in Connemara

Francis Topham, c. 1845 Sheffield Art Museums

Snap Apple Night or All Hallows Eve in Ireland

Daniel Maclise, 1833, Private collection An influential artist, Maclise influenced many others in producing genre pictures showing the Irish peasantry in typical situations - by the cooking pot or the cross roads engaging in a rustic dance.

Festive Group Dancing to the Uilleann Pipes, Co. Waterford
Samuel Towgood Rocke, 1820s Ulster Folk & Transport Museum Can you spot the differences in the clothes the men are wearing?

Do you know what uilleann pipes are?
Find out on the next page

‘Riverdance’ (uilleann pipes) Innisfree Ceoil Celtic Airs Outlet Recording, Co Ltd, CHCD 2001

Uilleann (IH-lehn) pipes are Irish bagpipes. The bag is blown up by bellows held under the elbow. The Gaelic word for elbow is 'uille', so these pipes are called uilleann pipes. They were developed in Ireland in the eighteenth century. Uilleann pipers must sit down to play.

Nine musical instruments are important to Irish traditional music. They are small bagpipes called uilleann (IH-lehn) pipes a drum called a bodhran (BAW-rahn); the harp; the tin whistle; the accordion; the wooden flute; the guitar; and the piano.

A potato diet
Do you know how many potatoes an Irish family ate each day in the early 19th century?
See some contemporary evidence on the next page

Digging for potatoes

Storing potatoes in the loft

Upon an average, a man, his wife, and four children, will eat thirty-seven pounds of potatoes a day. The family live upon potatoes and buttermilk six days a week; the Sabbath is generally celebrated by bacon and greens... An Englishman, seeing a number of fine florid children in a cabin, said to the father: How do your countrymen manage to have so many fine children?’ It is the potato, sir,’ said he.
County Wicklow, 1806

Disaster strikes

‘The Famine Song’ (The Praties They Grow Small) The Alias Acoustic Band Irish Songs, Tunes, Poetry and Speech of Rebellion, Resistance & Reconciliation, Proper/Retro, R2CD 40-73

The potato crop in Ireland failed in three years out of four: 1845, 1846, 1848. The cause was the potato blight or Phytophthora infestans, a fungal disease. Some one million people died of starvation or disease. Another one million emigrated from Ireland.

As to the potatoes, they are gone, clean gone. If travelling in the dark, you would know when a potato field was near by the smell. The fields present one space of withered stalks. Mine which were safe a few days since are all going some gone - though I had none of the disease last year.
Co. Galway priest, summer 1846

Oh, the praties they grow small over here, over here Oh, the praties they grow small over here, over here Oh, the praties they grow small, and we dig them in the fall And we eat them, skin and all, over here, over here, over here. Oh Oh Oh Till we wish that we were geese, night and morn, night and morn we wish that we were geese, night and morn, night and morn we wish that we were geese, and could live our lives in peace the hour of our release, eating corn, eating corn, eating corn.

Chorus Come lay me down, and treat me decent Come lay me down, and fill my can Come lay me down love, and treat me decent For surely you're an honest man. As I walked out through Galway City As I walked out on a pleasant walk As we were walking, I could hear them talking Oh surely he's an honest man. The crops are dying, the children crying There is widespread hunger all over the land But when you return, will you treat me decent? For surely you're an honest man. When I return, I will treat you decent When I return, I will fill your can When I return, I will bury you decent For I know that you're an honest man.
The Famine Song (1897)

Oh, we're down into the dust, over here, over here Oh, we're down into the dust, over here, over here Oh, we're down into the dust, but the Lord in whom we trust Will repay us crumb for crust, over here, over here, over here. COME LAY ME DOWN

Before the famine 2 million acres were planted with potatoes. In 1847, the figure was only a quarter of a million acres.

Searching for food

This picture of a woman and her two children is one of the best known images of the Irish Famine. Have you seen it before?
Go to the next page to find out more

The picture tells a story from the famine. This woman is Bridget O’Donnell. Her husband had seven acres of land and the rent was £7.25 a year. The family was evicted when they could not pay and men came to knock down their home. Bridget was pregnant and had a fever. Her husband went off to find work. Neighbours took in Bridget and her children. The baby was born dead and then they all got fever. Her 13 year old son died of hunger while the rest were sick.

Before & after

Irish Peasant Girl

Watercolour by Frederick Goodall, 1845 British Museum, London

Orphan girl at Crossmolina, Co. Mayo
Anonymous drawing, c. 1850 National Library of Ireland

An eye-witness account
Having for many years been intimately connected with the western portion of the County of Cork and possessing some small property there, I thought it right personally to investigate the truth of several lamentable accounts which had reached me of the appalling state of misery to which that part of the country was reduced .... I shall state simply what I saw there .... on reaching the spot I was surprised to find the wretched hamlet apparently deserted. I entered some of the hovels to ascertain the cause, and the scenes which presented themselves were such as no tongue or pen can convey the slightest idea of. In the first, six famished and ghastly skeletons, to all appearances dead, were huddled in a corner on some filthy straw, their sole covering what seemed a ragged horsecloth .... I approached with horror, and found by a low moaning they were alive - they were in fever ... In a few minutes I was surrounded by at least two hundred such phantoms, such frightful spectres as no words can describe .... Their demoniac yells are still ringing in my ears and their horrible images are fixed upon my brain ....
This was written by Nicholas Cummins, a magistrate of Cork, to the Duke of Wellington. The letter was also published in The Times, 24 December 1846.

The impact of the famine

The most badly affected areas were in the west and south-west

Dealing with death
Why did Baby Bridget die?

So many people died during the Famine that burial rituals, such as keening and waking, so important to the Irish, had to be overlooked. Bodies were often taken away in carts to be buried, without coffins, in mass burial places.

Funeral at Skibbereen, Co. Cork
‘Death stripped to all dignity’

Illustrated Lond News, 30 January 1847

The Aran Fisherman’s Drowned Child

Frederick William Burton 1841 National Gallery of Ireland

Pre-Famine traditions & rituals on death

Reponses 1 State aid or self-help?

Two questions 1. What is John Bull giving the Irish family? 2. What does the cartoon tell you about English attitudes towards Irish people and the Famine?

Union is Strength John Bull: ‘Here are a few things to go on with, Brother, and I’ll soon put you in a way to earn your own living.’

This is a famous cartoon, published in 1846, in Punch, the satirical English magazine. It provides the magazine’s answer to Irish hunger and distress.
Go to next page to learn more about the attitude of Punch to the famine.

Punch & the Famine

The English satirical journal, Punch, consistently under-estimated the severity of the crisis in Ireland and depicted the famine as a moral issue. It blamed indolence of the Irish for the continuation of the famine and for ‘sponging’ on the British taxpayer. Hard work or industry (symbolised by a shovel) at home or emigration were Punch’s answers to poverty in Ireland. In the main, British press coverage of the Famine was coloured by anti-Irish prejudice and political and practical considerations. The general tenor was that the Irish were a backward race and lived on inferior food - the potato; they were ungrateful and disloyal; Ireland was a drain on British resources; and Britain was being flooded with Irish paupers. Punch, in particular, along with The Times ‘reinforced traditional animosities and alienated the sympathies of the British upper and middle classes’. In ‘Union is Strength’, 17 October 1846, John Bull (England) presents his Irish ‘brother’ not only with food but also with a spade to help him ‘to earn your own way of living’. Punch assumed that self-help was a priority and came to see Irish indolence for the continuing catastrophe.

Reponses 2 Eviction

‘Skibbereen’ The Alias Acoustic Band Irish Songs, Tunes, Poetry and Speech of Rebellion, Resistance & Reconciliation Proper/Retro, R2CD 40-73

Re-enacting the eviction 1. Working in groups. Look at the picture. You have to become the main people in the picture. Freeze frame. 2. Judging everyone's freeze-frame Give it a mark from 1 (not like the picture) - 5 (exactly like the picture). 3. Asking questions Make a list of the questions which you need in order to understand the importance of the of the scene in the picture.

‘The Ejectment’

Illustrated London News, xiii, 16 December 1848
See next page for a commentary on this scene

Ejectment of Irish Tenantry A grimly effective rendering of an eviction: the brutal bailiff, the pleading tenant, his weeping wife and children, the unfeeling onlookers and the stonyfaced soldiers standing by are all convincingly presented. Many of the starving found themselves not only without food, but also without habitation.

Illustrated London News, xiii, 16 December 1848

A second illustration shows the makeshift shelter along the ditch, into which the evicted tenant retreated. The stance of the major figure in the picture is one of utter despair. The apparent callousness of landlords stemmed from two major problems.

In the pre-Christmas edition of 1848, The Illustrated On the one hand they suffered a drastic reduction in their incomes as tenants defaulted on rent. London News published a scathing article condemning those Irish landlords who were using On the other hand they were faced with rising taxation. the current crisis to unpeople their property. The two illustrations accompanied the text. The first depicted an ejection scene, and is one of the most exquisite engravings of the entire Famine collection. Circumstances varied from district to district. Nevertheless, some landlords were particularly ruthless, justifying their action by the slogan 'evict . . . debtors or be dispossessed'.

Oh, Father, dear, I often hear you speak of Erin’s isle Her lofty scenes, her valleys green, her mountains rude and wild They say it is a lovely land, wherein a prince might dwell Oh why did you abandon it, the reason to me tell. My son, I loved my native land with energy and pride Till the blight came over all my crops, my sheep and cattle died My rent and taxes were so high, I could not them redeem That’s the cruel reason I left old Skibbereen. It’s well I do remember the year of ‘48 When I arose a Fenian to battle against our fate I was hunted through the mountains as a traitor to the Queen That’s another reason I left old Skibbereen. It’s well I do remember the cold November day When the landlord and the sheriff came to drive us all away They set our roof ablaze in fire with their damning yellow spleen That’s another reason why I left old Skibbereen.

Your mother, too, God rest her soul, fell on the snowy ground She fainted in her anguish, the desolation round She never rose but passed away from life to mortal dream She found a grave and place of rest in dear old Skibbereen. You were only two months old, and feeble was your frame I could not leave you with my friends, you bore your father’s name I wrapped you in my cótamór, at the dead of night unseen We heaved a sigh and bid goodbye to dear old Skibbereen. Oh father, dear, the day will come when on vengeance we will call When Irishmen both stout and stern will rally one and all I’ll be the man to lead the van, beneath the flag of green And loud and high we’ll raise the cry, ‘Revenge for Skibbereen'.
‘Skibbereen’ (later 19th century) Skibbereen was one of the areas worst affected by the famine – and one of the most publicised

The song 'Skibbereen' as evidence

What effect did the Famine have on Anglo-Irish relations?

Read the words of the song about the Famine, which was written some years after the event.

a. Identify the two characters in the song and say which verses belong to each. b. Describe the circumstances surrounding the father’s departure from Skibbereen (keywords: blight, rent, eviction and death). c. What emotions and feelings are aroused by the song? d. What effect, to judge from the song, did the Famine have on relations between Britain and Ireland? e. What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of using such songs as historical evidence? What do they tell us?

Eviction scenes In Irish art

Frederick Goodall, 1850 Leicester Museum & Art Gallery

An Irish Eviction

Erskine Nicol 1853 National Library of Ireland

The Eviction

Lady Butler 1890 University College, Dublin


This constitutes a new direction in Irish rural art. Portraying the aftereffects of the destruction of the peasant woman's cabin, the beauty of the landscape (the Wicklow hills) complements the plight of the inhabitants. 'She too is a victim of historic exploitation, with no rights over the land she inhabits.'

Reponses 3 Emigration in Irish art

The Fields of Athenry (1979 version) Patrick Sarsfield Celtic Supporters Club www.patricksarsfieldcsc.com

Erskine Nicol mid 19th century National Library of Ireland

Outward Bound

Théophile Hamel 1849 Montreal


Grosse Isle, the Quebec quarantine hospital, with only 150 beds, was not prepared for the hundreds of typhus victims from Ireland. In four days in May 1847 it had to deal with over 500 typhus sufferers. 5,300 died there that year. Another 15,000 died soon after landing in British North America.

Irish Emigrant Arriving in Liverpool
Erskine Nicol, 1871 National Galleries of Scotland

Migration was a disorienting experience. This picture conveys some of the dislocation. Once in Liverpool emigrants sought lodging and passages. Swindlers, 'runners' and 'mancatchers' preyed on them, often robbing them of baggage and carefully hoarded cash.

The Famine in Irish fiction & poetry

Under the Hawthorn Tree by Conlon-McKenna, Marita, O'Brien Press, 0-86278-2066 Under the Hawthorn Tree is the first of an award-winning trilogy,* a gripping story of love, loyalty and courage set in the time when Ireland was devastated by the Great Famine of the 1840s. Three children, Eily, Michael and Peggy, are left to fend for themselves. Starving and in danger of the dreaded workhouse, they escape in the hope of finding the great-aunts they have heard about in their mother's stories. With tremendous courage they set out on a journey that will test every reserve of strength, love and loyalty they possess. There are also a Channel 4 film of the book, available on video from 4 Learning, and a study guide (O'Brien Press, ISBN 0-86278-383-9) to both the book and the film. * The other books in the trilogy are The Wildflower Girl, set in America (0-86278283-X) and Fields of Home (0-86278-509-X), set in Ireland.

Famine by McKeown, Arthur, Poolbeg Press, 0-85371-505-0 Joe and his daughter Maggie lived on a farm in Co. Antrim, in the north-east of Ireland more than one-hundred-and-fifty years ago. In the summer Joe worked in his fields. In the winter he worked at his loom making linen. Maggie looked after some hens in the yard. One morning they went out to the field to check on the potato crop - the potatoes were rotten! All over the county starving families took to the roads. One day Jack was forced to sell the family cow and he and Maggie walked to Belfast, where they set sail for America on the sailing ship, Electra - their lives changed forever. The Long March by Fitzpatrick, Marie-Louise, Wolfhound Press, 0-86327-644-X In 1847 the Choctaw Indians raised 170 dollars for famine relief in Ireland. This superbly illustrated book tells the moving story of that tribe's own dispossession and enforced exile. Young Choona struggles to understand why his people would care about white men dying on the other side of the world. In doing so, he learns the history of the Choctaw's tragic Long March to freedom to new lands in the West, and appreciates the historical similarities between the two peoples, including great respect for the land, dispossession and potato eating.

Gill & Macmillan, 0-71713-150-5 A fictional diary told in the voice of twelve-year-old Mary O'Flynn, this is the story of the courage and determination with which one family survived the appalling ordeal of the Famine. It is illustrated by authentic photographs of landscapes, interiors and genuine period artefacts.

OUP, 0-71713-150-5 'Turned out of their home, their crops destroyed, too hungry to sleep, and cold to their very bones.' This is the story of Eamonn's struggle for survival. Can he keep himself and his family alive through the cold and the famine - through the coldest winter Ireland has ever known?

Pan, 0-33030-328-7
The hero, Dualta Duane, a young Galwayman, is forced to flee his home after tangling with the son of the local landlord. Journeying through the west and south-west of Ireland in his fight to survive as a second-class citizen in his own country, he comes across the constitutional nationalist Daniel O'Connell and Cuan McCarthy who advocated political violence. The novel reaches its climax at the height of the Famine.

III. Live skulls, blind-eyed, balanced on wild higgledy skeletons scoured the land in 'forty-five, wolfed the blighted root and died. The new potato, sound as stone, putrefied when it had lain three days in the long clay pit. Millions rotted along with it. Mouths tightened in, eyes died hard, faces chilled to a plucked bird. In a million wicker huts beaks of famine snipped at guts. A people hungering from birth, grubbing, like plants, in the bitch earth, were grafted with a great sorrow. Hope rotted like a marrow. Stinking potatoes fouled the land, pits turned pus into filthy mounds: and where potato diggers are you still smell the running sore.

From 'At a Potato Digging' Seamus Heaney

IV. Under a gay flotilla of gulls The rhythm deadens, the workers stop. Brown bread and tea in bright canfuls Are served for lunch. Dead-beat, they flop Down in the ditch and take their fill Thankfully breaking timeless fasts; Then, stretched on the faithless ground, spill Libations of cold tea, scatter crusts.