Acclaimed Irish historian Coogan (Ireland in the Twentieth Century, 2004, etc.) opens up the truth about the Irish potato famine, and it’s uglier than you thought.
The potato was not just the staple of the poor Irish diet; it was all they had. For seven years beginning in 1845, Phytophthora infestans wreaked havoc on the potato crop in Ireland. Prime Minister Robert Peel made some effort to assuage the problem, however misguided, allowing the purchase of Indian maize from America, which the Irish couldn’t properly grind and which made them sick. Coogan points out the many other problems to English aid—e.g., to obtain relief, you had to sign over your land, many soup kitchens would only give soup to those who converted to Protestantism, and no relief could be given outside the workhouse. Evictions, emigration and a policy of laissez faire were the British answers to the crisis. The author is hellbent on setting the record straight. He boldly condemns Irish historians, most educated by the English, who downplayed the horror and evaded the issue of British decision-makers’ responsibility. They completely ignored the hate creation of the English press and the landlords who despised the human misery along the roadsides and in the filthy workhouses. The admission by Prime Minister Tony Blair of the failure of the English government to support a country that was part of the richest and most powerful nation in the world has set a good beginning to get at the truth.
The Irish grew up with tales of the Great Hunger, but the full story is just now unfolding. This book is a great start.