I took a course at an American university called "Genocides and Crimes Against Humanity."  We discussed many world events and sometimes struggled with how to place them into these categories.  The accepted definitions and the collective memories of the different cultures involved were sometimes at odds.

fam·ine   noun \ˈfa-mən\ :  extreme and protracted shortage of food, resulting in widespread hunger and a substantial increase in the death rate

geno·cide  noun \ˈje-nə-ˌsīd\  :  the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group

Which word best describes the events that occurred in Ireland from 1845 to 1852?  Which word encapsulates the cause behind the one million bodies, and the one million emigrants that would forever change this land and it's people?  Are the words mutually exclusive, or should we use both to label this tragedy?  Perhaps you think a different term is the best description. 

This question has been debated before, and will be debated again, but it is a valuable one.  Maybe you've never had a chance to engage in it directly.  Please share your knowledge, opinions, and questions here.

Tags: An Gorta Mor, Famine, The Great Hunger

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I resent people making a comedy based on "The Great Famine" as the producers choose to define An Gorta Mor. A famine is more of a natural disaster, while An Gorta Mor was indeed a natural disaster made much worse by actions by agents of the crown and British Government. There was plenty of food in Ireland, it was carried off by boatload after boatload, at bayonet point, despite the starving condition of the peasantry. At the highest levels of government, the stated attitude was, they should be allowed to starve and suffer the diseases attendant to starvation and privation. The officials made conditions for entrance into the workhouses as difficult and as stringent as possible and there were a great many reports of entire families allowed to starve to death at the gates of the workhouse because they were denied entrance.

I have had people say to me that the British provided soup kitchens, yes some but with the condition that they denounce their catholic faith. England was the only country to call it a famine, the potato blight was all over Europe but only in Ireland did anybody starve to death because of it. Ireland has the richest land in all the world and is capable of supporting far more than 8 million people even in the 1840's, of course it was planned annihilation of the Irish population who's land they had stolen.

This is indeed a written fact : the poor people were driven from their homes by landlords agents when their potato crop failed and their rents were increased in every house that had a Window. There were bodies in hedges and ditches of men women and children, while food was being exported by the Crown. Why oh why make a comedy about this genocide.

The so called Potato Famine was caused by the failure of the potato crop, the sole food crop available to the Irish people (ironically the fungus originated in the Americas). The Great Hunger An Gorta Mor, was the greatest loss of life in Europe between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the start of World War 1.

But, during this period, more than enough grain crops, sheep and cattle were exported to Britain under the protection of the crown forces, More than enough to feed the Irish people. In the period leading up to the 150th anniversary of An Gorta Mor some historians in Dublin and London referred to this tradgedy as a shared experience. If so, England shared all of the food and Ireland all of the tradgey.

We know which landlords drove their tenants out of their homes and when.  But others tried to help, and individual landlords have the capacity to commit murder, not genocide. 

We know exactly when the British government stopped trying to help, who made the decision, and why.  But what if I were to say that any help the British government might have attempted in the late 1840s would have been basically futile in the face of the overwhelming size of the Great Hunger?  Sure they should have tried, they should have done something, but what if I were to say that whatever they might have attempted was already too late?  That almost the same number would have died anyway?  And if almost the same number would have died anyway, how can what happened be called the crime of genocide instead of bad luck, simply the wrong crop, or an Act of God?

Am I nuts?  Maybe, but maybe not.  What if I were to say instead that it was a genocide, a carefully planned and executed genocide, but a genocide that wasn't conceived by the British government of the 1840s?  Instead, what if I were to tell you that it was planned 300 years before? 

To decide for yourself, see http://irishtribes.com/articles/2011-12-an-gorta-mor-genocide-on-a-...

Jerry, the Penal Laws, IMO, were designed to have two possible outcomes. The first possibility was to destroy the Catholic Church in Ireland, because they believed that if they weaned the Irish over to the Church of Ireland they would become less "Irish" and more "British." There would be little difference then between the Scots and English planted in Ireland and the native Irish population if the religious difference was removed. Religion was the marker that identified the divide. Remove that and you probably have a homogenous, passive Irish population in a few generations. And there is an example of that happening once already, when the Norman English, with no religious difference between them and the native population, became "more Irish than the Irish" over the course of several generations. The British were hoping to make the native population at least "as British as the British." The Penal Laws would force any families who refused to give Catholicism further and further into poverty, which they expected would likely force most to convert. They underestimated the Irish population's loyalty to their religion, however. Some did convert, but the vast majority refused, in spite of the fact that, as British judge John Bowles once said, "The law does not suppose any such person to exist as an Irish Roman Catholic, nor could such a person draw breath without the Crown's permission."

Of course, the Penal Laws also had the 2nd possible outcome for the Irish Catholic population if they refused to convert, and that's the seed of famine and possible genocide that you are talking about. Refuse and they will push you further and further toward abject poverty and what can only lead to disaster. Owning less and less land, having to depend on fewer and fewer natural resources to survive, it's only a matter of time before illness and starvation would begin to either drive millions of Irish Catholic off the island or kill them.

As a 68 year old veteran, with a BA in history who has read and researched thousands of articles, hundreds of books, found plenty of facts supporting British atrocities committed against the people of Ireland. Never doubted the famine was an attempt at genocide, christ who were even aided by the catholic church! Who took in children temporally from the poor until they got work, then lying to their parents, telling them their children had died. When in fact they had sent them to be adopted here, telling the adopted parents the real parents had died. All this going on while tons of food stuff grown in Ireland was sent to English market. The British empire was trying to erase the Irish culture from the history books, obviously. The first people demonized by the press people were the "Micks" with cartoons depicting them with tails, way before the African americans wee treated the same. The genocide murdered and exiled millions, and like the work of others calling themselves empire eventually were destroyed. There are still some who believe the potato rot itself was even engineered to speed up the mass destruction of the population. Any other interpretation but deliberate genocide would be propaganda for the Brits. The good news, the Irish got to fire on them in the colonial conflicts here, and continue to exposed thire crimes in history! Any mocking of such things as a crime against mankind should be treated for what it is, the orchestrated act of a cruel, stupid beast. Maybe we should feel pity, disgust, or being sickened for a twisted animal, and the theirs the descendants of the Irish around world, whose nature seems to have forgiven the empire, say that makes the Irish look the more civilized!  

I agree with Joseph Harty who has studied the facts of the genocide and backs up his facts with the history of the entire squalid story. Trevelyan was a sadist in the employ of the British government with responsibility for management of the budget vis a vis the "Ireland question" and it was found in Trevelyan's writings that the Irish would "work themselves out of the famine conditions or starve, which was all they deserved anyway because they had brought the famine on themselves because of their slovenly way of living." However, records from the time indicate the same disease that struck the Irish potato crop was present on the continent during the same years Ireland was afflicted by it. The British were profiteering from the crops stolen from Ireland and sold on the world markets. British shipping, in particular.

In my book [That's Just How It Was- video below 

Youtube: http://youtu.be/oT0oOa0jx28 ]

Research for my Book , That's Just How it Was - includes this excerpt ''claimed by Francis A. Boyle , Law Professor of the University of illinois at Urbana- Champaign ,'"Trevelyan and the British  Government pursued a race and ethic -based policy aimed at destroying the  group commonly known as the Irish people - and that the policy of mass starvation amounted 'to genocide as per the Hague convention of 1948'- approximately 100 years after the famine 

- research that I done to give credence to the stories that I had heard as child from my grandmother -  includes an excerpt from - That's Just How It Was - 'Dennis Clark, a Irish American historian,claimed that the famine or the Great Hunger of [1884-1852  depending on which historical papers one reads] - was a culmination of of generations of neglect ;misrule and repression . Not least, that it was of epic proportions of English Colonial cruelty and inadequacy , for the landless cabin dwellers it meant emigration or extinction. Extension- meant starvation on a massive scale; while corn was being exported from Ireland . 

How can this be called a famine when the island of Ireland was full of food.???? 

These are just tow excerpts from the book which  belies any other notion of a tragedy - it was genocide.............. 



Well lets look at some quotes from British Politicians and Media  of the time and let their words speak to their motives

  • The Famine "will not kill more than one million people, and that would scarcely be enough to do any good." William Nassau Senior, Chief Government Economic Advisor
  • "‘They are going (the Irish)! Thanks to a bountiful Providence (in bringing the Famine), the Irishman on the banks of the Shannon will soon be as rare a sight as the Red Indian on the banks of the Hudson’."  the London Times
  • "Famine and emigration have accomplished a task beyond the reach of legislation or government; " Prime Minster Russell

If the Great Hunger were to occur today, it would be called Ethnic Cleansing

The famine was primarily a natural disaster exacerbated by political & administrative incompetence. Granted Trevalyan was a bigot, but his opinions were not shared by all in the British governments of the time. If you want a real example of a famine used as genocide, read about the Ukrainian Holodomor of 1932-33. People tend to forget there were two British governments during the famine period - Conservative Robert Peel's successful repeal of the Corn laws to allow importation of relief supplies ultimately split the Conservative party and cost him his political career. His Whig successor John Russell was anxious to avoid further  political splits and basically outsourced famine relief to the churches. If you want more insight into the political thinking of the Whig party in the 1840s, it matches very closely with the present day tea-party wing of the Republican party - no government interference in free trade, no government welfare without forced labor, welfare should be the responsibility of churches, not the government; and so on.  Also don't forget the Catholic Church used the famine to their benefit  to manipulate the peasants - Most of the Catholic churches in Ireland today date from the 1850s-1860s and were built on a sense of fear that if people didn't pray more (and contribute financially to the building programs), God would send another famine.

Hello Tom 

 Granted there were different Political Parties  in Government  throughout this terrible period in this era; however, the history books are full of quotes from that era ,written in Trevelyan own hand writing and signed off by one of his minions ; listed above and in my Book 'That's Just How It Was'. 

The fact that you you not believe there was a Famine  or 'Great Hunger' in this era - is akin to saying that the Holocaust did not happen either !

Granted too that the the Catholic Church preyed on peoples emotions; and their teachings in that era was a sop to their emotions ; does not explain all the deaths / emigration / starvation / the coffin ships. The Catholic Church did not cause the Famine .- greedy Landlords;Trevelyan and  his cohorts who made the Policies and laws that allowed the people to starve to death while ships full of food left Ireland's shore for other Countries, caused the Famine 

Ireland was full of food in this era ; it was however transported to other countries ; Peel did indeed repeal the the Corn Laws ; allowing importation  of relief supplies into Ireland. Wow ; Relief ships with food! on it for the starving Irish people !! 

However the fact remains that there should not have been any need for Relief supply's; as once again I will say it; Ireland was full of food and it was being transported to other countries. 

Richard Devereux ; the owner of the largest Shipping Fleet in Ireland was the first philanthropist to bring the first cargo of Indian corn to Wexford and went to bring many, many more shiploads of Indian corn to Ireland's shores.

Another point you make about the Catholic Churches in Ireland - this is due to the fact that Catholicism was prohibited  under British Rule and was only reignited when Daniel O' Cornell and his ilk fought long and hard for all religions to be allowed the freedom to practice their Faith, 



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