An Gorta Mór : cuid a dó

Sídhe Gaoithe or The Fairy Blast, Daniel MacDonald (1821–53)
Le caoinchead Ollscoil Bhaile Átha Cliath, Roinn Béaloideas na hÉireann
Siúlann na taistealaithe seo i gcoinne gaotha láidre. Chreid go leor daoine gur chruthaigh na sióga an ghaoth chumhachtach agus iad ag dul ó áit go háit.

Famine had a decisive impact on Irish
society.
This collective struggle, resulting from a kind of adversity that nowadays we have difficulty to
fathom, still resonates today. Many books have been written in an effort to explain the primary
causes of the disaster: the origins of the late blight itself, the vulnerability of monoculture, the
landlord ownership system, etc. In her book Black Potatoes, The story of the Great Irish Famine,

author Susan Campbell Bartoletti relates how individuals came face to face with a
problem that in many instances it was utterly impossible to deal with. Their lives were on the
line as they were trying to cope with poverty and starvation. Decisions were made and lives
changed forever. The following (findings and quotes) is based on her work.

Go Ceanada… Vers le Canada…

C’est lors de la traversée vers le Canada que les passagers vécurent les pires conditions. La mortalité y était si élevée que les navires furent surnommés les “coffin ships”. Plusieurs passagers furent abandonnés par leur équipage. L’année 1847 fut particulièrement difficile : plus de 40 navires transportant environ 14 000 passagers attendaient en ligne sur le fleuve et une fois ces derniers débarqués, ils étaient livrés à eux-mêmes sur la plage déserte. En tout, ils furent environ 100 000 à s’installer au Canada.

Sochraid an tSráidbhaile or The Village Funeral, Daniel MacDonald
Teaghlach Éireannach le taobh uaighe le linn an Ghorta Mhóir.
Bhí an t-ealaíontóir seo ón 19ú haois ar cheann den bheagán péintéirí a tharraing aird ar an nGorta Mór.

Ag lorg míniú…Looking for an explanation

Farmers and labourers were trying to make sense of the disease that was destroying their harvest. In the absence of an immediate material explanation and based on their own beliefs, some people suspected a “divine intervention” as a plausible origin of the disaster. What was the moral reasoning behind that explanation? It appears to go as follows : all Nature is a gift from God the Almighty to ensure the survival of human beings and all other species.
However, it is a very special kind of gift and it comes with some rules and limitations. Previous
harvests produced large quantity of potatoes to the point that an important part was wasted.
Such a waste was seen as an infringement to the rule and therefore consequences had to ensue. The “punishment” took the form of the late blight, a devastating fungus reminding people of their wrongdoing.
Others put the blame on the fairies, especially the one known as the Fear Liath or Gray Man,
a “musty-smelling, fog-covered man” who was wandering in the area. Fairy tribes were
fighting to get the harvest and were looking for “black potatoes”… In the case of the fairies,

the moral rationale was quite different: they were the scourge of the country against which everyone must be protected; they will do harm for no apparent reason and it’s not related to any wrongdoing. They are “moody” and unpredictable, causing trouble from time to time, taking pleasure apparently in the misery of people. One can be protected by the means
of specific daily rituals but there will always be a “margin of uncertainty”. In a sense, they symbolize fate, the uncontrollable circumstances of life.
On the other hand, and on a more pragmatic approach, people pointed the finger at the obvious culprit: the landlord ownership system. Once the late blight had destroyed the harvest, the English landlords wanted to make sure that the farmers would pay their rent.
Therefore, they “confiscated the livestock and grain crops as payment”. That was a short-term
thinking, a “tipping point” that set the stage for a full-blown crisis for Irish families: it had major
long-term social and political consequences for Ireland.


Click on the image to enlarge.

An Ghaeilge…The Irish language

At the time of the Famine, it is estimated that two million people spoke the Irish language in the rural areas of Ireland. It was the language of everyday life, English being a second language predominately used with the landlords and government authorities. Language was related to social class and therefore was ingrained in national identity. With the establishment

of the National Schoolsystem in 1831, the Irish language was forbidden. After the end of Irish war of independence in 1921, Ireland became the independent Irish Free State. Over 100 years after the Irish language was forbidden, it became “the first official language” in 1937.

Carthanas le linn na n-amanna deacra seo : “Souperism”…Charity during these difficult times: “Souperism”.

Many soup kitchens were established during the famine. They were organized by different
charitable groups hoping to bring some relief to the victims. One of those groups were Protestants who “gave soup, money, and clothing only to Catholics who gave up their faith”.

Eventually, their members became known as “soupers” who practiced “souperism”. Their success was very limited among the Catholics.


Ag fágáil na hÉireann…Leaving Ireland

As mentioned in the previous article, it is estimated that two million individuals emigrated from Ireland during the Famine years : countless personal destinies where everyone was trying to escape death and misery. Most of them headed for the United States, many others to
Canada, but crossing the Atlantic Ocean on sailing ships in those years was a very perilous endeavour.

The condition on the ships was very precarious; passengers had to cope with diseases like typhus, dysentery, or lice infestation. Many died during the crossing and were buried at sea.

Cuimhnímis orthu uilig

The Great Famine was a defining moment in Irish history. These events seem long gone in the past but they can feel closer for the descendants of these immigrants. The suffering and experiences of the victims is hard to imagine today. It shows that nowadays, our high quality of life is a real blessing.

Ba nóiméad cinnte i stair na hÉireann an Gorta Mór. Is cosúil go raibh na himeachtaí seo i bhfad roimhe seo ach tá siad fós i láthair i gcuimhne shliocht na n-inimirceach seo. Tá sé deacair an fhulaingt a chuaigh tríd na daoine seo a shamhlú. Taispeánann sé seo gur fíor-bheannacht ár n-ardchaighdeán beatha inniu.

I gcaitheamh na mblianta, aghaidheanna Éireannacha

Click on the image to enlarge.

Réjean Tremblay

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