- Series: The Princeton Economic History of the Western World
- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press (October 15, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691070156
- ISBN-13: 978-0691070155
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Black '47 and Beyond: The Great Irish Famine in History, Economy, and Memory (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World)
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Winner of the 2000 James S. Donnelly Sr. Prize for Best Book on Irish History or Social Studies
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 1999
"One of the book's great strengths is the attempt to place the Irish experience in the contexts of famines in other parts of the world and to compare it to other historical famines, an approach that enriches Irish and general famine studies alike. . . . Black '47 and Beyond is a substantial and often pioneering contribution to the ever-burgeoning field of Irish Famine studies."--Times Literary Supplement
"One of the most challenging, original, and readable accounts of the subject to have appeared in the last decade. It contains a fund of ideas and information for both experts and those with only the most general knowledge of the famine. . . . Highly recommended."--Choice
"At a stroke, Cormac Ó Gráda's Black '47 and Beyond . . . Establishes itself as the definitive work on the famine. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a better study. . . . [It] is staggering in its thoroughness."--Kevin Driscoll, The Washington Times
"Rigor and meticulousness may be found in Black '47 and Beyond. Ó Gráda holds up to scrutiny each vexed aspect of the Famine and their previous interpretations. The book is both dense and revelatory. . . . The tragedy of the Irish Famine was ultimately the result of a population explosion, of economic backwardness aggravated by political repression, of ideological block-headedness and complacency. It changed Irish society, but its effects reached well beyond that, to Britain's colonies and to the United States."--Katherine A. Powers, The Boston Globe
"A most impressive, even brilliant, work."--Paul Bew, The Spectator
"Rigor and meticulousness may be found in Black '47 and Beyond. Ó Gráda . . . Holds up to scrutiny each vexed aspect of the Famine and their previous interpretations. The book is both dense and revelatory."--Katherine A. Powers, The Boston Sunday Globe
"Cormac Ó Gráda, Ireland's most distinguished, prolific and wide-ranging economic historian, offers us a choice selection of six chapters. . . . The great value of the book lies in pushing the boundary of Irish famine studies beyond their accustomed limits and by including suggestive comparative references to famines in other times and places. By concentrating on a few topics, Ó Gráda can share with the reader the wealth of his broad scholarship and technical mastery."--Barbara Solow, The Times Higher Education Supplement
From the Back Cover
"Ó Gráda has for a number of years been recognized as the leading economic historian of the Irish Famine. This book will immediately be seen as by far the best economic history ever published on the subject, and will remain for decades the best place to start if you want to read something about the Famine. It combines clear, sound economic reasoning with an interdisciplinary approach and an accessible writing style."--Timothy W. Guinnane, Yale University
"This book is a gem of comparative history on the subject of the Great Irish Famine. It displays a knowledge that is at once deep and broad. The author's comparison of Ireland to other societies is particularly apposite, revealing the fact that he is not just the leading economic historian of his own country but also an expert scholar of global history."--Joel Mokyr, Northwestern University
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Top Customer Reviews
Winner of the 2000 James S. Donnelly Sr. Prize for Best Book on Irish History or Social Studies
“It’s an ill wind that blows no good” is an old saying.
The Great Irish Famine of 1847 was the most lethal natural disaster to strike Europe in the nineteenth century. Over a million died, in an event that was a perfect storm of dependence upon one food source, greed, huge accumulation of debt amongst landowners, and official incompetence. At its most critical point in 1847, it lasted at least five years. Emigration to America peaked in 1851.
The famine encouraged (or forced) over one million Irish men, women and children to leave home, and move to England, Canada, the United States, and elsewhere. Many Irish came right here to Boston, and became strong participants in the growth of our country.
Cormac Ó Grada (b. 1945) is an Irish economist, a professor of economics at University College Dublin, and a prolific author of books and academic papers.
Ó Grada notes that in the 1840s people in high places in Dublin and London viewed the famine as nature’s response to Irish demographic irresponsibility. He quotes a contemporary writer who observed “Ireland died of political economy.”
Ó Grada has produced a masterful textbook on famine and the economics surrounding and contributing to it. He compares the Irish famine to later famines, particularly recent ones in Biafra, Somalia, Ethiopia and the Sahel.
This book is loaded with tables and graphs, showing variations in price of potatoes in various locations, acres planted in potatoes by county and year, variation in potato prices by county, changes in population by county, mortality by years during the famine, variation in deaths by county, deaths on ships bound for America, deaths by the various famine-related diseases (including dysentery, diarrhea, fever, dropsy), exports and imports of grain by years, pawnbroking during the famine, Dublin bank stock prices, and much more. Fortunately, there are good descriptions of conditions and events during the famine.
The author’s many tables of data tended to overwhelm this reader, because it becomes a worrisome plum pudding of possible contributing factors. One is inclined to think that he simply throws all this stuff up, leaving the reader to imagine what it was that caused this famine
Was this famine simply bad luck, or was it a result of greedy landlords, merchants and bankers, dismissive government bureaucrats, a Parliament and Queen who preferred to look the other way?
A big difference in modern African famines and Ireland’s 1847 famine is all those today are in backward countries with low levels of agricultural and industrial development. Ireland in 1847 was indeed quite backward, but it was only a few miles from the most progressive and prosperous economy in the world.
It is hard for us today to imagine what life must have been like for millions of poor rural Irish. They lived in huts with mud floors, without even a glass window. Children, farm animals, all together in one cold, smoky room. Children often went barefoot even in winter, and sickness dragged them down mercilessly. For food, it was often just the potatoes that they could dig up from the family plot, so that when Phytopthera infestans (potato blight) turned the potatoes into black mush, there was nowhere to turn.
Winter was cold and damp, and the rural poor, surrounded by weed-choked and untended land “and no preparation in the way of seed”, kept warm with a peat fire, tended to semi-hibernate. Ó Grada calls this situation what development economists call a low-level equilibrium or poverty trap: a labor force too short of capital to be productive at home and too poor to emigrate and be productive elsewhere.
As more and more people fell into the poverty trap, and had nothing to eat, government offered meager wages for public works projects. Tradespeople accustomed to working indoors had no trade, so they joined those on these work projects, working in miserable winter conditions. It was a recipe for sickness and trouble.
Prison was preferable. In Limerick in 1849 1200 cases appeared in court, and all pleaded guilty in hopes of being held in prison. Two defendants who were set free were recommitted the next day because they attempted to break into jail.
The confiscations 0f the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had left most Irish land in the hands of a small elite of English origin. In the mid-nineteenth century the elite still owned the bulk of the country’s fixed capital and was still very powerful politically. Ó Grada connects this to the famine in three ways: (1) Landlords generally did nothing to control population or subdivision on their lands; (2) On the eve of the famine a significant portion of the landlords were in serious financial trouble, so that they were incapable of making the repairs and improvements necessary for sustaining life; and (3) landlords generally did not live on the land, so the destitute were even more poorly served when famine struck.
The writings of Thomas Malthus come in for discussion here. Malthus taught that food increases arithmetically while population increases geometrically. In 1808 Malthus predicted that Ireland’s catholic masses, greatly dependent upon potatoes for food, might be headed for trouble. But Ó Grada writes that on the eve of the famine, the Irish birth rate was down, and Irish women were not marrying until their mid-twenties, and men three years older.
The ideas of Malthus are certainly worthy of our consideration, but perhaps this famine did not fit the Malthusian pattern.
Ó Grada includes a chapter called “Famine Memory” consisting of oral histories gathered nearly a century after the famine. This chapter contains much of the color you expect from any Irish tale. The cruel landlords during the famine –Lord Lansdowne of south Kerry, Wyndham Goold of Limerick, Lord George Quin of east Clare. The good ones---Cronin Coltsman of Knocknagree in northwest Cork, the Bournes of Rossport in northwest Mayo, the Fitzwilliams of south Wicklow, Charles Tottenham of Kiltyclogher…There are stories of carrying the dead and nearly-dead to the graveyard and just depositing them there. A tale about a man caught stealing turnips, and several tales about eating potatoes. There’s a tale from south Kerry of biscuits given out down from the Cumaraibh, and they fought bitterly over them, and they got a small can of soup once a week to go with the biscuits. And there are stories of saintly sacrifice and selflessness.
Summary: In the end the Irish Potato Famine was the result of a population that was backward and repressed, but because of cheap food (potatoes) that population grew to the point that when that food source failed, there was disaster. Because of irresponsible, greedy and incompetent landlords, a government bureaucracy that was thick-headed and dismissive, and neglect and disengagement all the way back to London and Queen Victoria. The event, however, changed Irish society, and created a whole population shift for the United States and Canada.
It was a hard time for Ireland, but brought a lot of fine Irishmen to America.
but dear god! an economic history of the potato famine was very difficult to get through.......