From Publishers Weekly
During 1995-1997, the Irish Times commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Irish potato famine by publishing a weekly column called "Famine Diary." In this chilling compilation, we learn that the potato blight traveled from the European continent, where responsible government action kept the death tolls in check. In the Netherlands and Belgium, for example, there were only 108,000 "excess" deaths out of a combined population of 7.3 million. In Ireland, depending on the source, one million to two million people died and another two million emigrated. For in Ireland, writes O Cathaoir, the British government was obsessed "with preventing a dependency mentality emerging" and, instead of relief, offered only "the constant injunction to self-help to the starving." By the autumn of 1845, we learn, "Potatoes are inedible in Wexford, while an 'intolerable stench' is encountered during digging in Mayo." As a toast is drunk to Queen Victoria, a priest declares: "we must depend upon ourselves alone?shin fane" and the slogan of a national movement is born. Evictions are referred to as "extermination[s]" and insurrections are mounted in Limerick to stem the eviction frenzy. O Cathaoir, a journalist at the Irish Times, reminds us of the good works of the Quakers, the dread of the "coffin" ships, scenes of ravenous dogs eating corpses and the "ghastly skeletons" of Black '47, the worst year of the famine. While reading this horrendous history, it is still possible to hear the Gaelic dirge of the poor through the centuries: Ta sinn ocrach?"we are hungry."
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
An unfocused, repetitive account of the horrific Irish Famine (184550) told through newspaper articles, letters, and official documents. In the worst peacetime tragedy of 19th-century Europe, Ireland lost three million people to death and exile. The Great Irish Famine was more than a natural disaster triggered by a blight on the potato cropit constitutes a shocking case study on the failure of British colonialism. The author exhaustively details the devastating impact of the Famine on the everyday lives of Irish families. It's a predictably woeful tale of evictions, hunger, the poorhouse, sickness, exile, and death. Ireland's newspapers, clergymen, and prominent citizens demanded drastic action . The British government, viewing Ireland as a colonial backwater, met the crisis with almost criminal neglect. Britain's official adherence to doctrines of laissez-faire economics worsened the Famine, as did laws preventing Ireland from importing lower-priced foreign grain. The infamous Charles Trevelyan, secretary of the British treasury, summed up Westminster's ``hands off'' attitude: ``It forms no part of the functions of government to provide supplies of food.'' British legislation designed to help the destitute actually encouraged landlords to evict their Irish tenants. The viceroy of Ireland, Lord Clarendon, viewed these evictions and the resulting flood of emigration as a healthy restructuring of the Irish economy: ``Priests and patriots howl over the Exodus,'' wrote Clarendon, ``but the departure of thousands of papist Celts must be a blessing.'' 'Cathaoir, an Irish Times journalist, bases the book on his popular series of weekly newspaper articles. While the diary entries work well individually, the book as a whole is disjointed, shapeless, and repetitive. What's lacking is a consistent narrative focus or larger historical analysis to connect the scores of diary entries into a structural whole. A flawed compilation of individual episodes lacking an authorial point of view or a cohesive narrative focus, it's bound to disappoint the general reader. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.