The Irish Memorial (in Philadelphia)

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.



One Response to “The Irish Memorial (in Philadelphia)”

  1. Ed Says:

    I certainly have no argument with the word “famine” in any context of human hunger, but I’m curious about the statement that most famines in human history are man made. I’m curious, not because I dispute it, in fact, it may well be true for all I know. But is there some historian that argues this case?

    As I understand it, the Irish Great Hunger was associated with a potato blight (generated by mono-culture cultivation), which was then greatly exacerbated by the English overlords, so it was a man-made famine.
    But I’m wondering about famines that were associated with invasions of locusts (in the US plains until 1915 or so) or famines associated with plagues that attacked farmers and city people, leading to death by disease and/or starvation. Were these events in the statistical minority, faminewise?

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