Famine still pains the Irish

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Famine still pains the Irish - Famine still pains the Irish 150 years later,...
Famine still pains the Irish 150 years later, role of British debated By Ray Moseley Tribune Staff Writer - STROKESTOWN. Ireland A Catholic priest, writing in 1846, described the beginning of the horror "I beheld with sorrow one wide waste of putrefying vegetation. X"The wretched people were seated on the fences of their decaying gardens, wringing their hands and bewailing bitterly the destruction that has left them oodless." Then it got worse. A later writer told of "men and women and children dying by the roadside, their mouths green from the nettles and grass they had eaten in their overpowering hunger, of others dropping dead after partaking of a meal of porridge which proved too much for stomachs long without food; of women carrying their dead husbands on their backs to the graveyards." An English visitor in 1847 wrote: "Dogs feed on the half-buried dead, and rats are commonly known to tear people to pieces, who, though still alive, are too weak to cry out" Other witnesses documented cases of frantic people eating diseased livestock and chickens, and even human flesh. The Great Famine, an event that has helped to shape Irish history, began 150 years ago this summer. The potato, which had been introduced into Ireland in the late 16th Century and had become the staple food of most of the population, had been struck by phyto-phtoria irtfestans, a fungus disease. Within months, the stench of black, decaying, mushy tubers rose from fields across the land. Within a year, people were dying in great numbers. Some simply walled themselves into their cottages and waited for the end. Many, weakened by hunger, succumbed to dysentery, typhus and cholera. Others crowded aboard ships, seeking salvation Illustration from "The Great Irish Famine" by Stephen J. Campbell An engraving pictures the despair of an Irish farmer during the great Potato Famine, which began in 1845. Ireland lost more than 2 million people, half to emigration, half to starvation and disease. abroad, and some made it; others died in the stinking holds of the "coffin ships." In 1847 alone, 230,000 Irish left for North America and Australia. Forty thousand of them died at sea or in Canadian quarantine stations. Ireland, a country of 8.2 million, lost more than 2 million of its people between 1845 and 1851 half of them to starvation and disease, half to emigration. More than any other European country, Ireland has been affected by emigration, which began before the Famine and continued long afterward. Today the population of the entire island, including British-ruled Northern Ireland, is about 5 million, while 70 million people of Irish descent live abroad mostly in the U.S., Canada, Britain and Australia. Was the Famine a tragedy so great in scale that the ability of government to alleviate it was overwhelmed? Or did the British, then ruling Ireland, deliberately starve the Irish? The question has been a matter of periodic debate in Ireland since at least the 1880s, and a spate of anniversary books about the Famine has rekindled the dispute. It comes at a sensitive moment in Irish history, when peace efforts are under way in Northern Ireland, and for that reason many are disturbed by the reawakening of Anglophobia. Mary O'Rourke, deputy leader of the Fianna Fail political party, said in Parliament that the anni versary could become a pretext for Britain-bashing, "which must be avoided at this sensitive time." Christine Kinealy, a historian of the Famine, said one historian tried to talk her out of writing about it, arguing that she would "give ideological bullets to the IRA Irish Republican Army." The Irish government has postponed its 150th commemoration until 1997 on the grounds that it was not until 1847 that people began dying and emigrating in huge numbers. But many believe the government was guided above all by considerations about the peace process. Terry Eagleton, a Marxist philosopher, has written: "The Irish cannot forget their history be-See Ireland, Page 16

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  1. Chicago Tribune,
  2. 30 Jul 1995, Sun,
  3. Main Edition,
  4. Page 13

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