I was prompted to write about the great potato famine in Ireland because on FaceBook it has been compared to today’s refugee crisis. While there might be some similarities they are few and far between. Firstly, the starving Irish families would never have refused Red Cross parcels much less any offer of food and aid. In the period 1845-1852 there was mass starvation, disease and immigration. In this period over one million Irish died and another one million immigrated to the North American continent. They sailed in vessels known as coffin ships and many died en-route many more died on the shores of the new world. The main cause of the famine was a potato blight which swept across Europe ravaging crops. It had the greatest impact in Ireland where disproportionately more that one third of the Irish population depended on the potato. The true facts, this was not a famine caused by drought or plant disease in the sense that all crops failed. The British Government saw it has an opportunity to reduce the Irish problem and under the administration of Sir Charles Trevelyan denied the hungry access to the other food crops such as corn. Many men and women were arrested for stealing corn or bread and later shipped to the prison colony of Australia. This was one of the most cruel moments in Ireland’s history and a blemish on the ruling British powers. The land owners and absentee landlords did nothing to help the desperate plight of the Irish families. They were turned out of there meager cottages because they could not pay the rent, they were left to starve and die. Historians see this as the tipping point in Ireland’s politics, the rallying point which would later become a cry for home rule a united Ireland and finally independence.
To suggest the famine is similar to the present refugee crisis is indeed quite a stretch in comparison. In the 1840’s 50’s there was no Outrage, no World condemnation, no offer of help. No one offered to take in Ireland’s needy, no refugee camps set up to accommodate and fed the women and children, no health care ,in fact no one noticed or cared about the Irish. That is hardly the case today as refugees flee from oppression and war. I rest my case!
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