Prior to 1845 successive British governments grappled with the problems of governing Ireland. They launched no fewer than 114 commissions and 61 special committees that would conclude their work with prophecies of disaster; “Ireland was on the verge of starvation, three-quarters of her laborers unemployed, housing conditions appalling, and the standard of living unbelievably low.” Yet the solutions they proposed were as appalling as the conditions.
One might think that under these conditions efforts would be made to ensure the Irish had food to eat. But in fact efforts were made to ensure that they didn’t. The most dire year of the Great Hunger was 1847 which became known as Black ’47. In that year alone while 400,000 Irish men, women, and children died of starvation and related diseases almost 4,000 ships, under armed British guard, carried food to England from Ireland’s most famine-striken areas. The cargo included peas, beans, onions, rabbits, salmon, oysters, herring, lard, grain, and honey. As one historian wrote, “The problem in Ireland was not lack of food, which was plentiful, but the price of if, which was beyond the reach of the poor.”
In these dark times Ireland was changed forever. It was a harvest of subjugation and the devastating impact would be felt for generations. When Irish friend Conor joined us for a day this summer he reflected that his was the first generation that could really breathe since the famine.
It was during these dark times that aid for the Irish people would come from a most unlikely source.
Judith – email@example.com