Lest we forget


To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Irish Famine, Boston’s Irish community unveiled a memorial park on June 28,1998.  The park is in downtown Boston, along the city’s Freedom Trail. The text on the plaque reads: 

Lest we forget. The commemmoration of the Great Hunger allows people everywhere to reflect upon a terrible episode that forever changed Ireland. The conditions that produced the Irish famine – crop failure, absentee landlordism, colonialism and weak political leadership – still exist around the world today. Famines continue to decimate suffering populations. The lessons of the Irish famine need to be constantly learned and applied until history finally ceases to repeat itself.

9 thoughts on “Lest we forget”

  1. My Oirish grandad recommended extra scepticism about all accounts of Irish history, especially those from Irishmen. I’ve found it a good rule of thumb.

  2. The root cause (sorry, bad pun I know) was the insistence that Catholics should follow a different set of inheritance laws than Protestants. Land owned by Catholics should be divided equally amongst all offspring ( perhaps only male such). Protestants were allowed to maintain primogeniture. A deliberate attempt to break the power of Catholic landowners, and it worked, over the generations, but left the Catholic population attempting to raise families on half acre plots. Which is what led to the monoculture.

    Napoleonic Code inheritance laws have a similar intent.

  3. Very sceptical about that Tim. All the traditional Irish Catholics I know (my in-laws forinstance) follow conventional primogeniture – the first son gets the farm / pub / business.

    This bit of history has never been definitively settled to me. Its lost in the mist of emotional and subjective romancing of history.

  4. Similarly Tim, I’d like to see your evidence.

    Ulster Presbyterians suffered the effects of the Famine as well, in some cases showing population declines (by death and more likely by emigration) of a similar magnitude to those in Connacht and Munster.

    I think a more likely contribution to the famine were the prevailing “small government” policies of the Whig government.

    As Owen implies, the Irish Famine has many vital lessons to teach the world in 2005.

  5. dearime – is it because of, or despite, the Clearances? (That is a genuine question – my knowledge of the Scottish clearances is very limited.)

  6. I meant that if the tenants hadn’t been cleared, there was a great risk that they, or their descendants, would have been living by subsistence agriculture, at high density, in a potato monoculture when the blight came. Happily, the smaller population was comparatively easily supplied when the blight struck. (I guess that it must have helped that such a large proportion were accessible from the sea.) I read once that things were also pretty bad in parts of Belgium, but I know nothing else about that. As for Oireland, I don’t know whether the victims were mainly proprietors, as in Tim’s point, or tenants, in which case some different argument will have to be offered to prove that it was all the fault of the English/British. For, as Grandad said, nothing is ever the responsibility of the Irish in any way. Not even a little bit.

  7. These days Irish families are disrupted as the eldest boy takes all.  It is time to change the inheritance laws.

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