Famine Diary

Brendan O' Cathaoir, Author, Brendan O. Cathaoir, Author Irish Academic Press $27.95 (216p) ISBN 978-0-7165-2655-1
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."" (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/30/1998
Release date: 12/01/1998
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