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This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-52 Paperback – 1995
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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.
Top customer reviews
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. The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time, (and what makes a terrific companion piece and a much better read to TGC), The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People both by John Kelly are terrific examples of this.
In brief I learned a lot about why the famine happened and how it was dealt with but very little about the people it killed and displaced. I have been to Ireland twice, and I tell you they are still reeling from the horror of 1845-52, it haunts the place like a corpse. THAT is what needed to be conveyed in The Great Calamity to make it a truly successful book beyond a statistical resource compendium.
Far better to read "The Great Hunger" by Cecil Woodham-Smith, "The Unionjacking of Ireland" by Jack O'Brien, or the "Mass Graves of Ireland; 1845-1850" pamphlet now used as as history course material in Ireland and in colleges and universities across the U.S.