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This Great Calamity Paperback – May 2, 2006

3.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An estimated 500,000 to 1,500,000 died during the Irish famine; the peak year, 1847, is known as "Black '47." Some 1,500,000 emigrated, with 2,000,000 more leaving during the subsequent 20 years. The potato was considered "the lazy crop" because it grew everywhere. The locution perhaps reflected the British attitude that the potato was eaten by a lazy people, a people who, according to a British economist, "propagate their species like brutes" and were "too indolent to give their dead a 'decent Christian burial,'" (a criticism made during the famine as Ireland's streets became strewn with the dead). Relief was finally enacted when British Prime Minister Robert Peel secretly imported Indian corn and cornmeal from the U.S. (in violation of the Corn Laws); his gesture was referred to by the Irish as "Peel's brimstone." Other forms of relief were the workhouse, the Poor Laws and the Temporary Relief and Soup Kitchen Acts. There are many villains in this story, such as the absentee landlords and the coldhearted British bureaucrats. But there are also such heroes as Church of Ireland minister Richard Townsend, who publicized the misery; the local Quakers, who imported food; and even Queen Victoria, who donated a not insignificant amount of her own money to the famine relief. Kinealy, a fellow of the University of Liverpool, has written a comprehensive if dry study packed with statistics that will be of interest primarily to scholars. History Book Club alternate.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


The Irish Famine of 1845-52 was a decisive event in the history of the country, causing mass death and migration. This is the first title to focus on the Famine in over thirty years, using new sources to explore different aspects, such as the government's response to the disaster and community reactions to the problems. -- Midwest Book Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 504 pages
  • Publisher: Gill & MacMillan, Limited; 2nd Revised ed. edition (May 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0717140113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0717140114
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #656,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
As a student of Irish history, and a person of strong nationalist sentiment, I feel somewhat obliged to come to the defense of a valuable historical work that is being ruthlessly slandered. "This Great Calamity," while certainly not alone in the now-expanding field of research Irish Famine, accomplishes its objectives with clarity, scholarship, and an attention to often dismissed or unrecognized primary source material that is truly admirable. There is no history of Ireland, whether by accident or intent, that is not in some way political. This is a simple truth of the field. Within the nationalist sensibility, Chris Fogarty's attention to Britain's role in the mass starvation of the Irish people is to be admired. However, his ill-mannered, poorly-cited, and quite hysterical reviews of several of Christine Kinealy's fine works undermine the very thrust of modern nationalism. As any Irish man or woman might tell you, for too many years the Famine has barely been discussed in Ireland. The pain, the shame, and the widespread loss left a noticeable hole in the scholastic world that has, if only by the grace of Ireland's growing economic prominence and the endevours of historian's such as Kinealy, begun to close. To find the truth of these dark, sad years we must, as a culture that values its past, put aside certain issues and embrace any delving, no matter its angle, into the depths of this period. The historical community aside, Christine Kinealy's work more than earns its place in the library of any open-minded Irish enthusiast or activist.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
I came to Christine Kinealy's book with a need to understand the historical facts of the famine years. This work, clearly and without bias, sets out the events and provides considered commentary on the role and motivations of the principal participants be they individuals or goverment. I, unlike Chris Fogarty, have no crude or simplistic agenda.Born in Liverpool, of an Irish father and Liverpool/Irish mother who is descended entirely from survivers of the famine; my interest was to try to fill the shocking void this trauma left in my own city's folk memory as evidenced by the singular lack of stories in my family about those years.
I did not need another emotional polemic. I wanted, and found, an accurate well researched book.Presented with sensitivity, scrupulous attention to detail, and clearly informed by a determination to get to the historical bedrock ,it reveals this tragedy for what it was, and as for Kinealy being an apologist for the role of the British Establishment, read her concluding pragraph. She understands why the British government and its agents acted as they did but in measured tones damns their actions and exposes their self serving motives. After reading this book I understood better what had happened to the parents,wives, children and husbands of many of my forebearers who married in the late 1840's and 1850,s and registered their status as widow or widower. I also understood better why it happened and why Ireland must never again find herself in a position where the destiny of her people is beyond her sovereign control.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Well, I give this book four stars for its thoroughness. The figures tables and stats I am sure are beyond reproach - so as a text for anyone studying the famine I am sure it is an invaluable resource. (And let me tell you there are PAGES and PAGES and PAGES of these things - GAH!) The problem comes with any sense of the real emotional plight of the poor who lived/died in this calamity.

The only accounts of the peasant population are removed, often from visitors or relief organizations or the landholders and all in the stilted and sterile style of the early 19th century (in full disclosure I have a hard time with ANY author writing during this time period - something so unyieldingly stylized as to make it for me at least a tedious and toilsome read)
A sense of the horror that must have been present, for those people who just dropped and died in fields in lanes, in cottages, on roadsides, in doorways is mostly absent from TGC. The voice of the Irish potato-eater is pretty much lacking.

Now, obviously there would be no first hand accounts in a mostly illiterate society such as rural Ireland in the mid 1800s, but that is the task of the history writer is it not? To take all the facts and fashion for the reader some sense of the scale and death and horror that befell actual people from their point of view. There are many historical writers who are wildly successful in this, really giving a sense of the lives of the people they are portraying, and this without compromising the facts.
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