We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
One of the books I am reading now: Leon Uris' Trinity (1976). It's a novelized visit to a sorrowful piece Irish history, and so well-done that it's difficult to imagine that Uris was not Irish.
That potato fungus, and its consequences, killed or drove away over 1 million Irish. The book puts you there. Mrs. BD is half-Irish, and tells me "Stop" when I read sections to her. Mostly the Catholic peasants had the worst time. They were sharecroppers, peasants. The Scots Presbyterians and the Brit Anglican overlords did somewhat better, at the expense of the sharecroppers. It is heartbreaking.
Lucky thousands made it to Canada and the US. Luckily for the US and Canada. The Brits were no heroes of the history, but they were stuck with the tragedy too. It was complicated, like all such things.
I read the book years ago when I was deployed on the USS America in the early 1980's. My mother sent it to me in a care package with books and goodies. There wasn't much else to do back then expect read, eat and sleep, 12 on 12 off. I was horrified at what I read given my Irish heritage. it's no wonder at the roots of the IRA.
Haven't read the book yet, but do love to visit Ireland when we can. This last trip, we returned two weeks ago, we heard several stories from the local Irish we spoke with about Catholics being forced to convert if they wanted to eat. Then they would laugh and later convert back to Catholic. With each trip we have learned more Irish history than we ever learned in high school or college. It is no wonder the confrontations happened and the animosity still continues today.
"This last trip, we returned two weeks ago, we heard several stories from the local Irish we spoke with about Catholics being forced to convert if they wanted to eat."
Souperism certainly did occur during the Famine, but it was by no means widespread. However, it has become yet one of those folk stories about the Famine that routinely get bandied about for sectarian purposes.
In fact, various Protestant denominations offered relief without regard to the religion of the recipient, most notably the Quakers, who are still regarded with considerable respect for their efforts by my family.
"Souperism certainly did occur during the Famine, but it was by no means widespread. However, it has become yet one more of those folk stories about the Famine that routinely get bandied about for sectarian purposes."
There is absolutely nothing to exonerate the British. They had abolished primogeniture generations before, implying landholdings were continuously subdivided into smaller units. This combined with Penal Laws which banned Catholic education and persecuted Catholics in every way possible to keep them destitute ensured the Famine was only a matter of time. The Irish were forced into dependence on the potato by the most vicious and persistent religious persecutors in history. This was Genocide.
Well, that is what the anti-British pro-Irish pundits will tell you. But did they tell you that England sent tons and tons of food to Ireland to help those suffering from famine? Did they tell you that the religious persecution was two sided and in fact the Catholics were much more aggressive in it?
To this day this subject is used by Irish/Catholics to continue this war against English/protestants. But there is no corresponding attack from the English/protestants. Why is that? Why is this entire war of words one sided and endless...
By far the best book on the Famine is The Great Hunger by Cecil Woodham-Smith (a female writer despite the name), which was first published in 1962. I highly recommend you give it a read.
It takes a hard look at the causes and effects of the Famine while neither pandering to Irish Nationalist mythology nor succumbing to the usual patronizing English stereotypes about the Irish.
The blight occurred at a time when the Penal Laws were already history - and Catholic Emancipation had largely been achieved by 1829 (irony of ironies: the depopulation of Ireland would benefit a rising Catholic middle class).
By the way, if you are going to make an analogy with African-Americans, then the Irish tenant farmers might be seen as the equivalent not of slaves, but rather post-Civil War black sharecroppers. And since we're making such analogies here, it might also be well to remember that African-Americans were still suffering under "Penal Laws" in your country as late as the 1960s.
The British government of the day can never be exculpated from failing to act resolutely to provide immediate relief. The potato blight was not limited to Ireland but struck a number of European countries too. But these countries took immediate action to secure relief. Indeed, when the British government did begin to order relief supplies (largely North American Indian meal) it often found such supplies already reserved and purchased by Prussia, the Low Countries and others.
The exodus of destitute Irish to America created a permanent - and eventually highly influential - Irish-American demographic seething with bitter enmity towards Great Britain and all things British.
That was one of the biggest legacies of the Famine.
This is indeed a sad story. I agree that it's a great thing that the Irish came to America. But there are couple of points which must be added. The first is the fact that England couldn't deal with its population growth; and neither could Ireland or Scotland. Kids were falling out of the windows. Nobody knew what to do with them all. England tried to solve this problem by sending the extra kids to Ireland. And Ireland tried to solve this problem by sending the extra kids to America. Overpopulation greatly exacerbated the potato famine.
The second point is that the Irish people were not as persecuted as most stories would indicate. The main problem was that they spoke a different language; and they lived a lifestyle that was not conducive to social or technological change. Britain demanded that they learn to speak English, adopt modern farming practices, and send the children to school. I'm not saying that England was "nice" about it, but I am saying that they were not motivated simply by greed, as many people would claim. There were, in fact, larger issues.
And you'll notice that even today, any discussion of overpopulation is strictly prohibited. Instead, they call it "Global Warming."