Irish History

JLD3IzneSxabrGLhnJmHpg_thumb_b31c   Irish History – Col. Bob Bateman

“THE GREAT HUNGER” (“An Gorta Mor”)

(WAS IT GENOCIDE?)

“THE ISSUE OF FOOD EXPORTS DURING “THE GREAT HUNGER” HAS FUELED AN ON-GOING DEBATE IN THE HISTORIOGRAPHY OF THE CRISIS. THE TRADITIONAL POPULAR VIEW HAS CONSIDERED THE EXPORT OF FOOD TO BE A MAJOR CONTRIBUTORY FACTOR TO EXCESS MORTALITY, SYMBOLISING A TRIUMPH OF DOCTRINE OVER HUMANITARIAN CONSIDERATIONS. THE OPPOSING INTERPRETATION (BY REVISIONIST HISTORIANS) HAS ARGUED THAT EVEN IF ALL THE FOOD HAD BEEN KEPT IN IRELAND, IT WAS NOT SUFFICIENT TO COMPENSATE FOR THE SHORTFALL RESULTING FROM THE BLIGHT.

IN HIS BOOK THE GREAT IRISH FAMINE, ECONOMIST, HISTORIAN AND PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF ECONOMICS AT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE DUBLIN, CORMAC O’GRADA, RECORDS THAT MORE THAN 26 MILLION BUSHELS OF GRAIN WERE EXPORTED FROM IRELAND TO ENGLAND IN 1845, A “FAMINE YEAR.”

EVEN GREATER EXPORTS ARE DOCUMENTED IN THE SPRING 1997 ISSUE OF HISTORY OF IRELAND BY CHRISTINE KINEALY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF LIVERPOOL. HER RESEARCH SHOWS THAT IN 1847 (“BLACK 47”) NEARLY 4,000 VESSELS CARRYING FOOD LEFT IRELAND FOR THE MAJOR PORTS OF BRITAIN, THAT IS, BRISTOL, GLASGOW, LIVERPOOL AND LONDON. OVER HALF OF THESE SHIPS WENT TO LIVERPOOL, THE MAIN PORT FOR BOTH EMIGRATION AND CARGO. FOOD WAS ALSO EXPORTED TO SMALLER PORTS SUCH AS PRESTON AND RUNCORN. ALL THIS WHILE 400,000 IRISH MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN DIED OF STARVATION OR FAMINE RELATED DISEASES IN THE WINTER OF 1846-47.

PORTS SITUATED IN SOME OF THE MOST FAMINE-STRIKEN PARTS OF IRELAND WERE SENDING CARGOES OF FOODSTUFFS TO ENGLAND: BALLINA, BALLYSHANNON, BANTRY, DINGLE, KILLALA, KILRUSH, LIMERISK, SLIGO, TRALEE AND WESTPORT. IN THE FIRST NINE MONTHS OF 1847 FOR EXAMPLE, SEVENTY-FIVE SHIPS SAILED FROM TRALEE TO LIVERPOOL, MOST OF WHICH WERE -CARRYING GRAIN. IN THE SAME PERIOD, SIX VESSELS SAILED FROM KILRUSH IN COUNTY CLARE (WHICH SUFFERED ACUTELY DURING THE FAMINE) TO GLASGOW CARRYING A TOTAL OF 6,624 BARRELS OF OATS. IN 1845 AND 1846 THERE WERE CALLS FROM THE CORPORATIONS OF BELFAST, CORK, DERRY, DUBLIN AND LIMERICK FOR THE PORTS TO BE CLOSED IN AN EFFORT TO KEEP FOOD IN THE COUNTRY. BUT TO NO AFFECT.

SHIPPING RECORDS INDICATE THAT 9,992 IRISH COWS WERE EXPORTED TO ENGLAND DURING 1847, A 33 PERCENT INCREASE FROM THE PREVIOUS YEAR. IN THE FIRST NINE MONTHS OF 1847 3,435 POULTRY WERE EXPORTED TO LIVERPOOL AND 2,375 TO BRISTOL. ALCOHOL WAS ALSO A MAJOR ITEM OF EXPORT. MOSTLY IN THE FORM OF ALE, STOUT, PORTER, AND WHISKEY. THESE PRODUCTS WERE DERIVED FROM GRAIN (BARLEY AND MALT) AND THUS REPRESENTED A DISGUISED EXPORT OF GRAIN. FOR EXAMPLE, ALSO IN THE FIRST NINE MONTHS OF 1847, 874,170 GALLONS OF PORTER WERE EXPORTED FROM IRELAND TO LIVERPOOL. DURING THE SAME PERIOD, 278,658 GALLONS OF GUINNES WERE EXPORTED TO BRISTOL WHILE 183,392 GALLONS OF WHISKEY ARRIVED IN LIVERPOOL. IN TOTAL, Dr. KINEALY’S RESEARCH SHOWS THAT 1,336,220 GALLONS OF GRAIN-DERIVED ALCOHOL WERE EXPORTED DURING THIS PERIOD.

IRISH FOOD EXPORTS, HOWEVER, WENT MUCH FURTHER AFIELD THAN ENGLAND OR EVEN EUROPE. IN THE SUMMER OF 1847, A NEW YORK NEWSPAPER NOTED THAT IMPORTS OF GRAIN FROM IRELAND WERE EVEN LARGER THAN USUAL.

AT THE SAME TIME, MORE THAN 4,000 HORSES AND PONIES WERE EXPORTED, IN FACT, THE EXPORT OF ALL LIVESTOCK FROM IRELAND TO ENGLAND INCREASED DURING THE FAMINE EXCEPT FOR PIGS. HOWEVER, THE EXPORT OF HAM AND BACON DID INCREASE. OTHER EXPORTS FROM IRELAND DURING THE “FAMINE” INCLUDED PEAS, BEANS, ONIONS, RABBITS, SALMON, OYSTERS, HERRING, LARD, HONEY, ANIMAL SKINS, RAGS, SHOES, SOAP, GLUE, SEED AND EVEN POTATOES. THIS VAST EXPORT TRADE SUGGESTS THE DIVERSITY OF THE IRISH ECONOMY DURING THOSE YEARS AND HOW DISEASE AND STARVATION EXISTED SIDE-BY-SIDE WITH A SUBSTANTIAL COMMERCIAL SECTOR. IN TOTAL OVER THREE MILLION LIVE ANIMALS WERE EXPORTED BETWEEN 1846 AND 1850, MORE THAN THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO EMIGRATED DURING THE FAMINE YEARS.

POLITICAL ECONOMISTS OF THE PERIOD STRESSED THE NEED TO GET RID OF IRELAND’S “SURPLUS” POPULATION IN ORDER TO GENERATE ECONOMIC GROWTH THUS FEW LANDLORDS HAD QUALMS ABOUT PURGING THEIR ESTATES OF PROFITLESS PEASANTS. WHETHER PROTESTANT OR CATHOLIC, IRISH OR ANGLO-IRISH, THE LANDED ELITE APPLIED COLD LOGIC TO THE PAUPER VICTIMS OF FAMINE AND DESEASE. THE ENGLISH GOVERNING CLASS LOOKED ASKANCE AT HANDOUTS TO THE STARVING HORDES IN IRELAND, WHOM THEY CONSIDERED BOTH LAZY AND IMPROVIDENT. “DOCTRINES OF INACTION” …”DOCTRINE OF LAISSEZ-FAIRE”…”DEVINE JUDGEMENT-AN ACT OF PROVIDENCE”-“PROVIDENTIALISM”…”MORALISM”

ANGLO-SAXONISTS WERE FOND OF DENEGRATING THE IRISH PEASANT – KNOWN FAR AND WIDE AS “PADDY” – WHO STRUCK THEM  AS EPITOMIZING THE VICES AND WEAKNESSES ABSENT FROM FULLY CIVILIZED ENGLISHMEN. EVEN BEFORE CHARLES DARWIN’S “ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES (1859) SOME ENGLISH ETHNOLOGISTS AND ANTHROPOLOGISTS DETECTED A PHYSICAL RESEMBLANCE BETWEEN “PADDY” AND THE GREAT APES RECENTLY DISCOVERED IN CENTRAL AFRICA. THE SCOTTISH ESSAYIST AND HISTORIAN, THOMAS CARLYLE, ACCUSED THE IRISH PEASANTRY WITH THEIR “WILD MILESIAN FEATURES” OF HAVING SUNK FROM DECENT MANHOOD TO SQUALID APEHOOD.”

THE GERMAN BORN ARTIST THOMAS NAST DELIGHTED AMERICAN NATIVISTS (THE “KNOW NOTHINGS”) A GENERATION LATER WITH HIS SAVAGELY SATIRICAL IMAGES IN HARPERS WEEKLY OF IRISH CATHOLIC IMMIGRANTS INVADING THE SHORES OF AMERICA AND THREATENING THE PROTESTANT AND YANKEE ESTABLISHMENT.

DURING THE 1830’S A FEW HARDCORE ENGLISH EVANGELICALS BECAME MISSIONARIES IN WESTERN MUNSTER AND CONNAGHT HOPING TO CONVERT THE PEASANTRY TO THE ONE AND ONLY “TRUE FAITH.” THOSE ZEALOTS FORMED THE VANGUARD OF THE “PROVIDENTIAL” SCHOOL IN ENGLAND THAT EXPLAINED THE FAMINE AS AN ACT OF GOD DESIGNED TO TEST THE FAITH OF THE IRISH PEOPLE. CHARLES TREVELYAN (THE FIELDS OF ATHENRY ) THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY AND CHIEF ARCHITECT OF FAMINE POLICY DECLARED: “GOD AND NATURE HAVE IMPOSED A CHECK ON THE TOO RAPID CONSUMPTION OF AN INSUFFICIENT SUPPLY” OF THE STAPLE CROP REQUIRED TO FEED WHAT HE AND OTHER POLICY MAKERS CALLED IRELAND’S “SURPLUS POPULATION.” BECAUSE THE FAMINE AROSE OUT OF “GOD’S PROVIDENCE” IT SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO RUN ITS COURSE. A LEADING POLITICAL ECONOMIST, NASSAU SENIOR, LAMENTED THAT THE DECLINE IN IRELAND’S “SURPLUS POPULATION” WOULD NOT BE ENOUGH TO REGENERATE THE ECONOMY.

HISTORIANS CONTINUE TO DEBATE THE CAUSES OF FAMINE EMIGRATION. ACCORDING TO THE SO-CALLED REVISIONIST OR ANGLO-CENTRIC SCHOOL, MOST OF THOSE WHO ABANDONED THEIR SMALL HOLDINGS DID SO OF THEIR OWN VOLITION, WITH OR WITHOUT ASSISTANCE. IN FACT, MANY EMIGRANTS QUIT THEIR HOMESTEADS BECAUSE THEY KNEW THAT BY REMAINING THEY WOULD STARVE TO DEATH OR DIE OF FEVER. AS THE IRISH LORD LIEUTENANT PUT IT, “PRIESTS AND PATRIOTS HOWL OVER THE EXODUS BUT THE DEPARTURE OF THOUSANDS OF PAPIST CELTS MUST BE A BLESSING TO THE COUNTRY THEY QUIT.”

ONE CAN ONLY IMAGINE THE HEARTBREAK OF THE VICTIMS OF EVICTION AS THEY STOOD OUTSIDE IN THE COLD AND RAIN WATCHING THE BAILIFFS PULL DOWN THE ROOF-BEAM OR SET FIRE TO THE THATCH AND LEFT TO DIE OF STARVATION OR DISEASE. ESTIMATES OF THE NUMBERS EVICTED BETWEEN 1849 AND 1854 RANGE FROM HALF A MILLION TO OVER 700,000. THE SCALE OF THESE EVICTIONS EARNED THOSE RESPONSIBLE THE EPITHET OF “EXTERMINATORS.” THE DEPOPULATION OF TOWNLANDS NORTH, WEST, AND SOUTH OF THE RIVER SHANNON LEFT BEHIND ENTIRELY DESERTED VILLAGES THAT SERVED AS SOMBER REMINDERS OF WHAT THE AGRAIAN LEADER, AND FOUNDER OF THE LAND LEAGUE, MICHAEL DAVITT CALLED A “HOLOCAUST OF HUMANITY.”

AS THE YOUNG IRELAND LEADER, JOHN MITCHELL WAS TO SAY “GOD SENT THE POTATO BLIGHT BUT THE ENGLISH CREATED THE FAMINE.” MITCHELL ALONG WITH WILLIAM SMITH O’BRIEN, THOMAS FRANCIS MEAGHER, JAMES STEPHENS, JOHN O’MAHONEY, MICHAEL DOHENY, RICHARD O’GORMAN AND TERRANCE BELLEW MACMANUS WOULD BECOME THE MILITANT LEADERS OF THE YOUNG IRELANDER REBELLION OF 1848 WHICH WOULD ALSO BE CALLED THE FAMINE RISING. THE RISING TOOK PLACE ON JULY 29 1848 IN THE VILLAGE OF BALLINGARRY, SOUTH TIPPERARY. THE BATTLE LASTED A MERE FEW HOURS WITH THE REBELS FLEEING AFTER A LARGE DETATCHMENT OF POLICE REINFORCEMENTS ARRIVED. A NUMBER OF THE LEADERS WERE ARRESTED AND TRANSPORTED TO VAN DAMONS LAND WHILE A FEW OTHERS ESCAPED TO FRANCE. TEN YEARS LATER (1858) A NUMBER OF THE REBELLION LEADERS WOULD GO ON TO BECOME THE FOUNDERS AND LEADERSHIP OF THE IRISH REPUBLICAN BROTHERHOOD AND THE FENIAN MOVEMENT WHICH WOULD LEAD TO THE FENIAN RISING OF 1867 AND ULTIMATELY TO THE EASTER RISING IN 1916.

IN LEGAL TERMS “GENOCIDE” IS SAID TO HAVE OCCURRED WITH THE “DELIBERATE KILLING OF A LARGE GROUP OF PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY THOSE OF A PARTICULAR ETHNIC OR NATIONAL, RACIAL, OR RELIGIOUS GROUP IN WHOLE OR IN PART.”

 

 TIM PAT COOGAN MAKES THE CASE IN HIS BOOK ‘THE FAMINE PLOT: ENGLAND’S ROLE IN IRELAND’S GREATEST TRAGEDY’ THAT THE IRISH FAMINE WAS A DELIBERATE ACT OF GENOCIDE.  “BY 1851, COOGAN WRITES, “THE POPULATION OF THE COUNTRY (HAD) BEEN REDUCED BY DEATH AND EMIGRATION FROM 8,175,000 TO 6,552,000” THE COUNTRY WAS CHANGED. THE CHANGES WERE DEEP AND SUSTAINED, AND ARE FELT TO THIS DAY. IRELAND’S POPULATION IS SMALLER NOW THAN IT WAS IN 1845.

RICHARD L. RUBENSTEIN, IN HIS BOOK, “THE AGE OF TRIAGE: FEAR AND HOPE IN AN OVERCROWDED WORLD” SAYS “A GOVERNMENT IS AS RESPONSIBLE FOR A GENOCIDAL POLICY WHEN ITS OFFICIALS ACCEPT MASS DEATH AS THE  NECESSARY COST OF IMPLEMENTING THEIR POLICIES AS WHEN THEY PURSUE GENOCIDE AS AN END IN ITSELF.”

WHAT DISTURBS ME GREATLY IS WHEN I THINK OF THE THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS; HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS UPON HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS; TO MORE THAN ONE MILLION LIVES (MEN, WOMEN, CHILDREN, ELDERLY AND INFANTS) THAT WERE KNOWINGLY, WANTINGLY, CALLOUSLY, CRUELY, WRONGLY AND INHUMANLY EXTERMINATED BY ENGLAND’S CALCULATED POLITICAL POLICIES AND HUMAN INDIFFERENCE.

FOR A MOMENT LET’S PAUSE AND REFLECT UPON THE GENERATIONS UPON GENERATIONS OF IRISH FAMILIES THAT DO NOT NOW EXIST BECAUSE OF “GENTLEMAN’S GENOCIDE.”

MAY GOD HOLD THEM ALL IN THE PALM OF HIS HANDS FOR EVER.

GOD BLESS YOU

GOD BLESS AMERICA

GOD SAVE IRELAD!

BOB BATEMAN

A.O.H. PAST NATIONAL HISTORIAN

 PAST HISTORIAN DIV 8 A.O.H. LAWRENCE, MA.

HISTORIAN DIV 18 A.O.H., PEEKSKILL, N.Y. 

SOURCE INFORMATION/MATERIAL USED

  • History Ireland: Spring Issue 1997: FOOD EXPORTS FROM IRELAND 1846-47
  • New Hibernia Review: Spring Issue 2001: MICHAEL DAVITT: ACTIVIST HISTORIAN
  • The Economist: Ontario Canada December 12, 2012: The Irish Famine…Opening Old Wounds
  • Wikipedia: Corn Laws
  • Notice To Quit: The Great Irish Famine Evictions: L. Perry Curtis, Jr.
  • The Wasington Post: September 27, 1997: THE IRISH FAMINE: COMPLICITY IN MURDER
  • Richard L. Rubenstein: “THE AGE OF TRIAGE: FEAR AND HOPE IN AN OVERCROWDED WORLD”
  • Tim P Coogan: “THE FAMINE PLOT: ENGLAND”S ROLE IN IRELAND’S GREATEST TRAGEDY”
  • John Kelly: “THE GREAT FAMINE AND THE SAGA OF THE IRISH PEOPLE”

 

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