This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine, 1845-1852

Christine Kinealy, Author Roberts Rinehart Publishers $24.95 (472p) ISBN 978-1-57098-034-3
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. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/01/1995
Release date: 05/01/1995
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Paperback - 450 pages - 978-1-57098-140-1
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