PADDY'S LAMENT: Ireland 1846-1847: Prelude to Hatred by Thomas Gallagher

PADDY'S LAMENT: Ireland 1846-1847: Prelude to Hatred

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An overdone, sensationalist account of the onset of the Famine and conditions aboard emigrant ships bound for America. ""1 would speak for the victim, comment on his behalf, and describe the suffering he endured,"" says Gallagher, who speaks for the victim chiefly by excoriating the British government and press for indifference to the Irish peasants' plight--well-justified criticism, but a very dead horse to beat. Description of suffering, on the other hand, is Gallagher's long suit, though too often rendered in melodramatic prose. (E.g.: ""The men, pale and gaunt, their eyes wild and hollow, and their gait feeble, tottered about as though barely able to support the threadbare garments hanging from their bodies . . . an English beggar would not have lifted off the ground the clothes these people were wearing. . . ."") When he manages to avoid bathos, Gallagher has a sharp eye for the small details of Irish life during the Famine: sheep-stealing; bleeding of cattle; Famine diseases (scurvy, dropsy, typhus, dysentery); soup-kitchens with worthless soup; unproductive public works projects; re-usable trapdoor coffins; and the ""American"" or ""live"" wake, for a relative preparing to emigrate. For countless Irish, emigration (""assisted"" by a landlord, or self paid) was the last and only chance. Gallagher's composite picture of the emigrants' life on a typical British ship is vivid and ghastly: if, for example, you want to know exactly what happens when 400 people (many with dysentery) have access to only two water closets for a nine-week voyage, you will find out here. Unfortunately, he attempts to humanize the narrative by following the progression of several fictional emigrants (Big Gil--strapping but kind; young lovers Micky and Dolores--""the voyage was only beginning, as was their serendipitous relationship""), which leads only to fatuous, invented ""conversations."" There's a kernel of good social history here, but buried far down in chaff.

Pub Date: May 27th, 1982
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich