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The Famine Plot: England's Role in Ireland's Greatest Tragedy Paperback – September 24, 2013
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“Many intriguing points [are] made in this book…Coogan's pages spark and sputter with a deep, lingering, well-cherished rage.” ―Peter Behrens, The Washington Post
“To many, Mr. Coogan… [is the] voice of modern Irish history… makes a compelling case for why we should revisit our current understanding of [the famine].” ―The Economist
“Coogan's insistent examining of the moral dimensions of that nation's policies, and how they fueled the horrors on the ground, represents his greatest contribution to the voluminous scholarship on the Irish famine, and is this book's greatest strength.” ―The Boston Globe
“In disturbingly graphic images and compelling language based on true stories from the Famine archives and peppered with his own perspective, Coogan captures the utter devastation wrought by Ireland's greatest ecological disaster which reduced the population by one fourth.” ―Irish Edition
“The best part is that it did such a good job at keeping me interested that I'm eager to read on and learn more.” ―Fingers and Prose
“Coogan makes no bones about accusing the government of the day of "a genocidal intent" ... His writing on Ireland's past is intelligent and accessible to a large readership.” ―BBC History Magazine
About the Author
Tim Pat Coogan is Ireland's best known historian and the author of numerous important works on Irish history, including Michael Collins and The IRA, published to wide acclaim. The former editor of The Irish Press, he lives in Dublin, Ireland.
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About three fourths of the way through his magnificently detailed account of what has been the not-so-private history of Irish oppression, author, Tim Pat Coogan puts his historical finger on what was at the heart of the Irish situation in the 1700s and 1800s. In this powerful though sometimes plodding account of what has been and in some way still is the miseries of the Irish people, Coogan forcefully leads the reader to see that while Wilberforce and his compatriots in England saw that the evil of enslavement of Africans rightfully had to end, most if not all in that country failed to see the contradiction of ending physical slavery while pushing on with what amounted to virtual genocide not far away.
Having grown up in the deep south, systemic racism never made sense to me. As an adult, my studies led me to examine my Scots-Irish heritage, and the prevailing attitude toward non-whites seemed even more mysterious. Though both sides of my family immigrated from Northern Ireland, first to North and South Carolina in the late 1700s, and from there to Alabama and Mississippi in the 1820s, I never heard terms like Black Irish, and it wasn't uncommon to hear disparaging stories about ignorant Irishmen in much the same vein as racist jokes about blacks from my peers. In Chapter 12, the author offers reasons for this contradictory relationship between Irish immigrants and freed slaves in America. As he points out, "The antagonisms and tensions encountered by the Irish triggered another unpleasant reality: anti-black feelings on the part of the Irish." They had long been on the bottom rung of the social and economic ladder and were glad to have someone else occupy that sorry place.
The Famine Plot is not easy reading. Here I read again of how a people were systematically enslaved, not by chains and whips, but by ignorance and starvation. Most who left Ireland in those two centuries were not forced in chains to board squalid ships bound for America, but were bound by the invisible chains of hopelessness. Use of the term "plot" may seem like something that was hidden behind a veil of conspiracy. However this was a plot carried out very much in view of the public. England systematically made it next to impossible for the Irish to live on their own land. Thus said John Mitchell, "God sent the blight but the English created the Famine".
Perhaps the strongest part of this work is where Coogan explains why the Irish people as a whole were silent about the national tragedy of the great famine in the mid 1800s. Pointing to survivors of the Holocaust, the author shows how many Irish immigrants came to America with a "guilty silence". Only over the last generation or so has the silence been lifted.
This is recorded history at its best. The citations are detailed and the writing crisp. Hats off to the author for a job well done.
By Bob Gelms
Tim Pat Coogan is one of Ireland’s greatest historians. His book, The Famine Plot: England's Role in Ireland's Greatest Tragedy, steps a long way toward healing the horrendous British Government attempt to deliberately kill as many Irish peasants as possible using a conjured-up potato famine as the cause of so many Irish deaths from starvation.
This book was very hard to read. It stirred up a myriad of emotions and memories of talks I had with my grandmother. I wanted to write about this book in context of my family’s connection to the Great Hunger. I didn’t think anyone would be interested, but my editor, Katrina Wilberding, said it would be OK because most people know I’m Irish, and, as everyone knows, I always do what Trina tells me to do.
The Irish potato crop did fail a number of times from 1845 to 1852. The hardest hit county in the country was County Mayo in the west of Ireland. Nearly 60% of Mayo’s population died of starvation and another 20% to 30% of the population left Mayo for other destinations in Ireland, America, Canada, and Australia. The remaining 10% survived a living hell on Earth.
Among the survivors were my great- and great-great-grandparents. My grandfather was born and raised near a Mayo town call Castlebar and my grandmother in the ancient village of Mayo Abby. They both heard stories of the Great Hunger from the people who lived through it. Nanny passed those stories on to me and they frightened me. As I grew older the fear mixed with anger and outrage .
When my Grandmother described her feelings for the British Government, she used very strong words. She didn’t say them in English, she said them in Irish. She thought I didn’t know what she said. My Grandfather and his buddies taught me those words. They were, let’s say, colorful.
Mr. Coogan writes about the one man in the British Government who, more than anybody, was responsible for the attempted genocide, Sir Charles Trevelyan. He was the Assistant Secretary to HM Treasury and was put in charge of administering relief to the Irish people. Here is an example of how Sir Charles thought about the Irish and how he intended to organized his job. He said, “The judgment of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated. The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the Irish people.”
Under Trevelyan, Irish peasants had to suffer the mortification of seeing British ships laden with food sailing from Irish ports during the Famine. There was plenty of food in Ireland. Trevelyan made sure it was all sent to England. He, in fact, sent back a whole cargo ship full of grain donated by the King of Turkey. There was no official explanation why that happened. Mr. Coogan reports that the Irish economy supplied British cities with 83% of their beef, 79% of their butter, and 86% of their pork. It’s not likely that the Irish peasants had enough money to afford this food at market prices but with assistance in fixing lower prices or with relief assistance from Trevelyan, that food could have saved an enormous number of lives.
Let’s say you were a tenant on a British estate in Ireland. As was exceedingly common, your family and extended family live in a one room house. Everybody works in the fields. Half of them die of starvation. You don’t have enough people working in the fields to make the rent. The British overlord evicts you and burns your house to the ground. Now you have no job, nowhere to live, no money, no food, and all of your meager possessions burned up. Mr. Coogan points out that this was dreadfully frequent and widespread.
There is one account of an enormous British estate, the owner of which decided he needed the land on which stood the tenant houses. He evicted 400 families, burned all the houses, turned the land into pasture for his booming cattle business - in the middle of a famine - and sent all the beef to London.
By setting up the system so that the Irish would either die by the hundred-fold or just leave the country, Trevelyan had his eye on the future. There was a hidden benefit. In the almost certain circumstance where the Irish would revolt, all the able-bodied men who would have joined the IRA were dead or emigrated…. all except my Grandfather.
The Famine Plot: England's Role in Ireland's Greatest Tragedy by Tim Pat Coogan is the horrifying untold story of the so-called Irish Potato Famine. It’s a very old story happing over and over again. It happened to Native Americans, it happened to Jews, and this time it happened to the Irish.
“Dia bean na Gaeilge” God bless the Irish.