THE END OF HIDDEN IRELAND by Robert James Scally


Rebellion, Famine, and Immigration
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 A good academic history of a small community in Ireland whose inhabitants died or migrated to the US during the famine of 1847- 48. Ballykilcline, a community of about 100 families, disappeared after the famine from the local estate surveys and ordnance maps; it survives in the records accumulated during an 11-year rent strike against the Crown, which the tenants lost in 1846, and in accounts of the 1847 murder of Denis Mahon, heir to the area's greatest estate. The murder in particular caused a sensation: Viewed by some as a rapacious landlord's deserved comeuppance, and by the forces of order as a sign of widespread conspiracy among the lower classes, it ``catalyzed feelings at all levels of local society.'' Using these events as a framework, Scally (History/New York Univ.) tries to give a sense of the lives, thoughts, and experiences of Ballykilcline's inhabitants--although he notes that records kept by those who collected rents or enforced the law do not give much insight into the minds of the people with whom they dealt. It was a terrible time: The potato crop, the staple food of the peasantry, rotted for the second successive year in 1847, and the new notion of assisted emigration began to seem an enlightened alternative to eviction. Emigrants walked to Dublin, passing along the way ``starving stragglers and wanderers, casual burials, and exposed corpses, all suffused with the smell of the decaying potato fields.'' The destitution of those arriving in Liverpool prior to the Atlantic voyage stunned Herman Melville, though he had seen poverty in New York City. Mortality on the voyage can't, says Scally, be compared to that on the slave ships, but one emigrant in five, by conservative estimate, died on board or in quarantine after landing. Well written and well researched, a distinct contribution to the subject, even if land and legal records do not do justice to the agony of the times.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-19-505582-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1994