In Philadelphia, downtown near Penn’s Landing, there is now “The Irish Memorial”, in memory of the Irish who arrived during the great famine of 1845 to 1850 (some say it lasted into 1852). The Irish phrase is An Gorta Mór, the Great Hunger. I don’t agree with those who say: don’t call it a famine, it was man-made. Yes, it was largely man-made — as most famines in human history are man-made. Food becomes scarce, prices rise, the poor starve — that is “famine”, as in the French “j’ai faim”, meaning “I am hungry”. What was unusual in Ireland was the very large percentage of the very poor, and the oppressive landlord system which made and kept them poor.
Recently I read Russell Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind”, which contains the following statement:
The ‘Hungry Forties’ were not in truth peculiarly hungry: the population was better fed than it had been in the ‘thirties, or the ‘twenties, and the ‘fifties were better fed still, as a general prosperity penetrated to the lower strata of society—at the same time staving off the agricultural depression which the Old Tories had been sure would follow on the heels of Corn Law repeal.
Was Russell Kirk perhaps a mite Anglocentric in his outlook?
Next post: a poem from those indeed hungry forties, which I translated from the Irish.