If We Knew Our History Series

The Real Irish American Story Not Taught in Schools March 13, 2018

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The Irish Famine, 1850 by George Frederic Watts. Source: Views of the Famine.

By Bill Bigelow

“Wear green on St. Patrick’s Day or get pinched.” That pretty much sums up the Irish-American “curriculum” that I learned when I was in school. Yes, I recall a nod to the so-called Potato Famine, but it was mentioned only in passing.

Sadly, today’s high school textbooks continue to largely ignore the famine, despite the fact that it was responsible for unimaginable suffering and the deaths of more than a million Irish peasants, and that it triggered the greatest wave of Irish immigration in U.S. history. Nor do textbooks make any attempt to help students link famines past and present.

Yet there is no shortage of material that can bring these dramatic events to life in the classroom. In my own high school social studies classes, I begin with Sinead O’Connor’s haunting rendition of “Skibbereen,” which includes the verse:

… Oh it’s well I do remember, that bleak

            December day,

The landlord and the sheriff came, to drive

            Us all away

They set my roof on fire, with their cursed

            English spleen

And that’s another reason why I left old



This textbook calls the famine a “horrible disaster,” as if it were a natural calamity like an earthquake.

By contrast, Holt McDougal’s U.S. history textbook The Americans, devotes a flat two sentences to “The Great Potato Famine.” Prentice Hall’s America: Pathways to the Present fails to offer a single quote from the time. The text calls the famine a “horrible disaster,” as if it were a natural calamity like an earthquake. And in an awful single paragraph, Houghton Mifflin’s The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People blames the “ravages of famine” simply on “a blight,” and the only contemporaneous quote comes, inappropriately, from a landlord, who describes the surviving tenants as “famished and ghastly skeletons.” Uniformly, social studies textbooks fail to allow the Irish to speak for themselves, to narrate their own horror.

These timid slivers of knowledge not only deprive students of rich lessons in Irish-American history, they exemplify much of what is wrong with today’s curricular reliance on corporate-produced textbooks.

To support the famine relief effort, British tax policy required landlords to pay the local taxes of their poorest tenant farmers, leading many landlords to forcibly evict struggling farmers and destroy their cottages in order to save money. From Hunger on Trial Teaching Activity.

First, does anyone really think that students will remember anything from the books’ dull and lifeless paragraphs? Today’s textbooks contain no stories of actual people. We meet no one, learn nothing of anyone’s life, encounter no injustice, no resistance. This is a curriculum bound for boredom. As someone who spent almost 30 years teaching high school social studies, I can testify that students will be unlikely to seek to learn more about events so emptied of drama, emotion, and humanity.

Nor do these texts raise any critical questions for students to consider. For example, it’s important for students to learn that the crop failure in Ireland affected only the potato — during the worst famine years, other food production was robust. Michael Pollan notes in The Botany of Desire, “Ireland’s was surely the biggest experiment in monoculture ever attempted and surely the most convincing proof of its folly.” But if only this one variety of potato, the Lumper, failed, and other crops thrived, why did people starve?

 Paddy's Lament, Ireland 1846-1847: Prelude to Hatred (Book) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's History

“Paddy’s Lament” recounts the famine and the Irish diaspora to America.

Thomas Gallagher points out in Paddy’s Lament, that during the first winter of famine, 1846-47, as perhaps 400,000 Irish peasants starved, landlords exported 17 million pounds sterling worth of grain, cattle, pigs, flour, eggs, and poultry — food that could have prevented those deaths. Throughout the famine, as Gallagher notes, there was an abundance of food produced in Ireland, yet the landlords exported it to markets abroad.

The school curriculum could and should ask students to reflect on the contradiction of starvation amidst plenty, on the ethics of food exports amidst famine. And it should ask why these patterns persist into our own time.

More than a century and a half after the “Great Famine,” we live with similar, perhaps even more glaring contradictions. Raj Patel opens his book, Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System: “Today, when we produce more food than ever before, more than one in ten people on Earth are hungry. The hunger of 800 million happens at the same time as another historical first: that they are outnumbered by the one billion people on this planet who are overweight.”

 Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System (Book) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's History

“Stuffed and Starved”: Raj Patel’s comprehensive investigation into the global food network is useful for students to reflect on patterns of poverty that persist today.

Patel’s book sets out to account for “the rot at the core of the modern food system.” This is a curricular journey that our students should also be on — reflecting on patterns of poverty, power, and inequality that stretch from 19th century Ireland to 21st century Africa, India, Appalachia, and Oakland; that explore what happens when food and land are regarded purely as commodities in a global system of profit.

But today’s corporate textbook-producers are no more interested in feeding student curiosity about this inequality than were British landlords interested in feeding Irish peasants. Take Pearson, the global publishing giant. At its website, the corporation announces (redundantly) that “we measure our progress against three key measures: earnings, cash and return on invested capital.” The Pearson empire had 2017 worldwide profits of $801 million. Multinationals like Pearson have no interest in promoting critical thinking about an economic system whose profit-first premises they embrace with gusto.

Hunger on Trial (Teaching Activity) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's HIstory

Hunger on Trial teaching activity available online.

As mentioned, there is no absence of teaching materials on the Irish famine that can touch head and heart. In a role play, “Hunger on Trial,” that I wrote and taught to my own students in Portland, Oregon — included at the Zinn Education Project website — students investigate who or what was responsible for the famine. The British landlords, who demanded rent from the starving poor and exported other food crops? The British government, which allowed these food exports and offered scant aid to Irish peasants? The Anglican Church, which failed to denounce selfish landlords or to act on behalf of the poor? The economic system, which sacrificed Irish peasants to the logic of colonialism and the capitalist market?

These are rich and troubling ethical questions. They are exactly the kind of issues that fire students to life and allow them to see that history is not simply a chronology of dead facts stretching through time.

So go ahead: Have a Guinness, wear a bit of green, and put on the Chieftains. But let’s honor the Irish with our curiosity. Let’s make sure that our schools show some respect, by studying the social forces that starved and uprooted over a million Irish — and that are starving and uprooting people today.

Bill Bigelow taught high school social studies in Portland, Ore. for almost 30 years. He is the curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools magazine and co-director of the online Zinn Education Project, www.zinnedproject.org. This project, inspired by the work of historian Howard Zinn, offers free materials to teach a fuller “people’s history” than is found in commercial textbooks. Bigelow is author or co-editor of numerous books, including A People’s History for the Classroom. and A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching About the Environmental Crisis.


if_we_knew_bannerThis article is part of the
Zinn Education Project’s
If We Knew Our History series.

© 2012 The Zinn Education Project. Updated in 2018.

Posted on: Huffington Post | Common Dreams | Alternet | American Prospect | Irish Central.

Republished in 2014 and 2015 on Common Dreams.


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There are 57 comments by other visitors:

  • Sounds good. Are text books really as bad as you say where you live? I look at my daughter’s history text books here in France and they are miles better than the ones I learned to hate history from.

    Response shared by John Mullen — March 17, 2013 @ 1:21 am

  • “No Child Left Behind” prevents teachers from being creative in the classroom. In so many districts in the U.S.A., a teacher’s job depends on test scores. Districts get government dollars based on test scores; teaching “to the test” is what teachers must do.

    Response shared by Linda — March 17, 2013 @ 9:37 am

  • This is a very just criticism of the “corporation produced textbook”. The good thing about Zinn and others like him was that he insisted on introducing alternative points of view on history, instead of accepting the usual myths.

    Response shared by Constance Pohl — March 17, 2013 @ 9:50 am

  • Another thing that should be addressed is the system that left the Irish peasants all as renters who had less control over what they grew and what was done with it than American sharecroppers. This seems to have been at the root of the problem. Individual landowners would have been at liberty to adjust their farming practices as needed.

    Response shared by Heather — March 17, 2013 @ 9:53 am

  • Great article,Bill. My boys are half Irish but likely have very little idea of their green history. Bet they drink green beer today, however.

    Response shared by Anonymous — March 17, 2013 @ 10:44 am

  • Sure, I’ll wear some green, but from now on, I will have a sobering reminder to tell others who ask about my green.

    Response shared by tyler — March 17, 2013 @ 11:15 am

  • I suspect that textbooks in the US are even worse today than when i was in public school during the sixties … because of the No Child Left Behind Act which encourages the so-called privitazation of education, and these skewed mega-corporation published textbooks glorifying American Empire Building … Fortunately, I grew up in college towns, and our best teachers did not teach from the text, whose whole slant extolled European Empire-Building of the Americas, and so I learned about original sources very early .

    Even so, family story has is that my Irish grandma’s people came to Boston during the 1st potato famine, and as my Dammie was secretive about her past … that is all I knew about my ancestors. Thank Goodness for Howard Zinn’s Peoples History, and the Zinn Education Project!

    Response shared by Katie Kent — March 17, 2013 @ 12:52 pm

  • Reparations by U.S to Native Americans, by Germany for Holocaust survivors, not even an apology from England.

    Response shared by Msully9999 — March 17, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

  • The title of the book was THE AMERICANS, right? How much of U.S. history do you find in an Irish history book?

    Response shared by Anonymous — March 17, 2013 @ 5:23 pm

  • Brilliant and well done article, sir. So glad to know that there are folk like yourself out there, asking the questions that need to be asked. I can only say thank you.
    Kelly Nolan

    Response shared by Kelly Nolan — March 18, 2013 @ 3:04 am

  • This is an amazing article. I do so much appreciate people discussing the Great Famine and its role in creating the Irish American experience. When I was younger, I knew about the potato famine, but I didn’t understand it. In fact, it seemed like an oxymoron. After all, how could one country grow just one crop? “I’ve seen pictures of Ireland. I know they had to have other things they could grow.” I remember thinking. If they were starving, why not eat one of those sheep in the picture? (I’m a vegetarian now, but I don’t think many people in those old pics were). It was one of those many moments in history class that just didn’t make sense, but I didn’t have time to think about as we quickly moved ahead. Did the Irish starve simply because the potato crop failed and they loved potatoes so much that they starved instead of eating something else? That was literally the only thing I could think of as a reason for the Potato Famine, at least from the information given to me at the time. Thanks to Bill Bigelow and the Zinn Education Forum for posting this fantastic article. I look forward to seeing more of these in the future!

    Response shared by Scott Satterwhite — March 18, 2013 @ 7:47 am

  • Thank you. My 16 year old son came home from AP Global History telling me (a descendent of famine Irish) that the reason the Irish starved was because they only planted potatoes. Blame the victim.

    I saw red- and realized that I was losing our personal family narrative to the bland AP curriculum. My parents and grandparents kept the stories alive and I have to work harder to do the same.

    Response shared by Oonagh — March 16, 2014 @ 10:24 am

  • As an Irish American, I am saddened but not surprised by people from other cultures who are unaware of the Famine, the Irish Diaspora, and the discrimination against the Irish up their arrival in America, even though it has much to do with the cultural identity that resulted in St Patrick’s Day celebrations. Knowing about this history has, I think made me more aware of discrimination and outrages against other cultures and nationalities. We spend a lot of time in schools on the wrongs that brought the various colonial groups to America. Maybe we should take a closer look at the forces that brought other groups here as well.

    Response shared by Meg Hammil — March 17, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

  • I taught a lesson about Irish Immigration with my 4th graders today (March 17). The historic fiction story introduced my class to the potato famine. They asked good questions. Hopefully, they’ll learn it more thoroughly later on through this lesson plan.

    Response shared by SKnutzen — March 17, 2014 @ 10:19 pm

  • This is an excellent article. In my college-level survey, I use a textbook called Who Built America? which was produced by the American Social History Project. That book does a much better job with the famine and its political context than most college textbooks. It contains both images and primary documents that allow students to connect with the experience of famine and migration on a deeper level.

    Response shared by Paul Teed — March 18, 2014 @ 11:38 am

  • I thought that monoculture of potatoes was the root cause of the Famine – http://www.pbs.org/thebotanyofdesire/potato-control.php

    Response shared by Eliot W. Collins — March 18, 2014 @ 2:48 pm

  • In my 10-day tour of Ireland last summer, I visited the famine sculpture in Dublin, saw the “penny walls” in the rural areas, and heard accounts of the laws of the Catholic Church and of Irish government which strengthened the inequities between the landowners and the peasants. Small wonder that in the “Dust Bowl” days if the 1930s the U.S. treated its poor in much the same way.

    Response shared by Anonymous — March 15, 2015 @ 3:46 pm

  • Why do so few historians have such a difficulty saying the truth–that the “Great Famine” was actually a “Great Genocide”–engineered by the English with the SPECIFIC intent of killing off as many Irish as they could without using overt military force?

    Why do so many people have such a difficulty grasping that the British ruling class has a centuries-long history of Genocidal Tendencies, and that they do it so frequently, and with such efficiency that it often appears they actually ENJOY doing it?

    Let us not forget where the British Royal Family REALLY comes from–they are descendents of Transylvania’s Vlad the Impaler.

    Do the math people…

    Response shared by Anonymous — March 15, 2015 @ 4:00 pm

  • I will apologise to the Irish for their appalling treatment by the British, Irish. But what can I do about it but bear eternal guilt? I was not born then, I hate the way
    they were treated but I am English so will be evil for eternity no matter how many friends from around the world I have. God bless you all and thank you for the article.

    Response shared by Angie — March 15, 2015 @ 4:52 pm

  • I grrew up in the 60s and 70s and we were taught the real Irish history in our Chicago schools. Maybe Mayor Daley had something to do with it.

    Response shared by dacody — March 15, 2015 @ 8:19 pm

  • Now, I have no confirmation on what I will add. What I will share came about much like the education of Irish Catholics during the time of the famine, a “Hedgerow Education”. A Hedgerow Education was one where the Irish Catholics where educated along a hedgerow out of site of landowner’s, as the Catholics were denied a proper education in a classroom. I was speaking with a successful businessman by the name of Tully from Southampton, NY. We were in Riverhead NY and I from Orient, NY. Both our families came to Long Island NY from Ireland in times past. Long Island NY is NY States top economic producer of produce and seafood, we spoke of the Famine by chance and what he relayed to me was startling. The potato blight came about because the seed potato used in Ireland was a cheaper Long Island seed potato instead of the more expensive and viable Maine seed potato. What was more troubling was what he said next, the merchants and landowner’s knew what the results could be and that switching back to the Maine seed potato would have ended the famine with in a harvests time. Is this not genocide by another means?

    Response shared by Cyril K Lukeman, Jr., — March 15, 2015 @ 10:37 pm

  • This early experiment by the British in market capitalism proved to be a tragic disaster, and proved that government intervention into so-called free markets is sometimes a life-or-death matter. That lesson is still true today.

    Response shared by Tom Keefe — March 16, 2015 @ 4:40 am

  • St. Patrick, got kidnapped by the Isrialites and they threw him on their ship then, he abandoned their ship and came to America, and that’s why its St. Patrick’s day.

    Response shared by cassie — March 16, 2015 @ 11:00 am

  • There is STILL no mention of the tens of Thouandsof Irish People who were SOLD as Slaves @Slave Markets BEFORE African Slaves arrived. They were LATer Mixed with the New African slaves to produce Lighter Skinned House Slaves and for Brothels !!

    A GREAT DISSERVICE is being done to Our History. THE FAMINE QUEEN (Victoria) should be held to Account for the HORROR she caused in Ireland

    Response shared by Mary Jackson — March 16, 2015 @ 1:11 pm

  • Twas more than an experiment by the British in market capitalism. One very important reason the Irish starved during and before the “Potato Famine” years—they would not denounce their Catholic faith to England’s wishes.

    Response shared by Mary Weeldreyer — March 16, 2015 @ 1:12 pm

  • Thank you for this insightful, clear, logical, yet somehow poetic article. I am in full agreement with you, and lament the lack of vital textbooks which will help open the minds and spirits of our students. I am going to look into the work you and others are doing. My roots are Scottish, but I have several Irish friends, and my heart is very close to this issue. I am a writer and have always harbored a desire to write strong, accurate, meaningful texts. Is there any progress being made in this direction?

    Response shared by Susan McCloud — March 16, 2015 @ 2:01 pm

  • I am sick of people bashing US History textbooks. The textbooks are designed to accommodate the “average” reading level and that is it. If you’re soley using the US History textbook as your whole curriculum, then yes there is a flaw with how you’re teaching your students. It is designed to be supplemented for you to engage your students and develop their critical thinking skills.

    Response shared by jakawa715 — March 16, 2015 @ 3:58 pm

  • unfortunately most of the text books in the states stem from the texas school-book “regulators”..who today are removing referances to T. Jefferson…an putting moses as a “founding father” of the u.s. Seems as if corp America is on purpose trying to dumb down our education and not teach logical thinking, as that would pose a threat to their agenda of higher profits by way of uneducated “slave” labor…we need teachers with the intestinal fortitude to TEACH and not to try to teach to the test

    Response shared by sharyn wisdom — March 16, 2015 @ 6:54 pm

  • I am appalled at the state of our History textbooks. Probably my textbooks as a child in the 60’s were filled with horrendous untruths, but they were engaging. I took mine home and read them for pleasure! One was about children crossing the United States, and sharing what they saw in each state they passed through. The text books available to me as a teacher now are verbose, busy, too much print and too many side bars and not enough story telling. The craft of teaching and the craft of story telling in concert with people who are knowledgeable is the hope for history.
    And, as long as I’m on my soap box, yes there is brain synaptic value in memorizing facts at a certain point in human development. Sadly, I missed my window of opportunity.

    Response shared by Anonymous — March 16, 2015 @ 8:06 pm

  • This is truly a great read, with much to ponder. Thanks for the enlightenment.

    Response shared by Jan Humes Robinson — March 17, 2015 @ 12:22 am

  • Good article. How many people realize that the famine was truly a potato famine?
    Potatoes are a near perfect food, scoring 90-100% of all essential nutrients and building blocks. What makes them closer to 90% is a low complete protein count.
    The famine occurred, not only due to societal inequalities (pre Irish land reform movement), but for two other reasons. Irish peasants were literally surviving entire generations on just potatoes, practically nothing else at all- definitely few if any animal proteins, potatoes were the aristocracy’s answer to the masses.
    Secondly, the Irish had planted only a single cultivar of the crop ( aka monoculture like big agribusiness today, but without all this fun chemicals known as pesticides). When the potato blight hit, three years of crops were ruined and millions starved to death.
    Ergo: it’s no misnomer being called the potato famine.
    Of other note on potatoes, in gearing for our future agricultural challenges that are arriving soon, scientists are creating hybrids of what is called the potato-beans. Using DNA (notice evil GMC aka Monsanto) rather by examining DNA strands they are cross breeding these native varietals for size, productivity and drought resistance (deeper roots means more water availability. It takes several years to achieve this even knowing which varietals to cross bread from there DNA research. Luther Burbank took much longer creating the Idaho russet in the same manner, though no DNA to help.
    Potato beans are essentially the perfect food, with much higher %’s of complete proteins than other potatoes. These crops may one day save another society from the horrific destruction of mass crop failure.
    The Irish potato famine is a tragic story; please let’s not forget hike truly poor they were, what their diets consisted of, or why so many perished.
    Divine mother willing we can help save people’s future with this knowledge and our scientists works.

    Response shared by Gary M. Robins — March 17, 2015 @ 3:04 am

  • Anonymous….the title may be The Americans, but why the Irish people can to American is important. How much about the U.S. is included in Irish textbooks is irrelevant. Those who immigrated from Ireland, Germany, Poland, Mexico, Japan, China, Africa, or anywhere on the globe have important stories to tell about their reasons for leaving their homelands. What others say or don’t say about us is less important than what we say and teach about ourselves.

    Response shared by Deanne — March 17, 2015 @ 11:15 am

  • Literature will sometimes provide access to history that textbooks fail to provide, due to our ability to relate to the figures in the narrative. One book that deals with the Irish potato famine is Castle Richmond, by English novelist Anthony Trollope. The famine is not the center of the novel — instead it is concerned, like many English novels, with a marriage-and-property plot. But the famine is definitely there, infecting the lives of all the people, and there is an unforgettable scene where the protagonist (a young Englishman) takes shelter from the driving rain in a poor Irish family’s cottage. While he is there, the young wife, who has a baby, dies of hunger. The nightmarish scene of a horrified (but apparently helpless) Englishman confronted with the absolute horror of the famine’s results brings the history into view and challenges the reader to consider what it means to be a “passive” observer of crime.

    Response shared by Linda Haverty Rugg — March 17, 2015 @ 12:27 pm

  • Happy St Patrick’s Day
    Let us not ever allow the likes again.
    And aren’t we glad they came to America!
    An early Happy Fourth of July to all

    Response shared by Ann — March 17, 2015 @ 12:46 pm

  • In the book Galway Bay, author Mary Pat Kelly describes the Great Starvation. The heroine of the story, Kelly’s great great grandmother Honora Kelly, told her grandchild about the English and the Great Starvation by saying: “We wouldn’t die and that annoyed them.” It’s a great book of historical fiction. I’m proud to say that Mary Pat Kelly is my cousin and Honora Kelly is my great great grandmother. This article is very good.

    Response shared by Happy St. Patrick's Day — March 17, 2015 @ 1:51 pm

  • And yet we Irish are still here. We survive and, we multiply. The Brits will never conquer us utterly.

    Response shared by Kevin — March 17, 2015 @ 9:06 pm

  • The British and Anglo-Irish were using Ireland as a huge agricultural investment. They were delighted to load my ancestors onto “coffin ships” so that they could appropriate their land as property on which to grow crops and raise animals for export. The peasants were entitled to reap only the potato, and when the blight destroyed crop after crop, the Irish were out of luck. And the English withheld relief so as not to make the poor dependent on government. “Ireland in the famine looked like one big Auschwitz.” I pray that’s an exaggeration…

    Response shared by Descendent from "Donegal Hill" — March 18, 2015 @ 12:59 am

  • From an alumni course I took from a distinguished University of Washington professor from England, Dr. Giovanni Costigan (deceased), in 1980 called “The Conflict in Northern Ireland, during the time of “The Troubles,” the root of the Potato Famine goes back to Queen Elizabeth I. To punish the Irish for their Catholicism, she took away their best farmlands. She “imported” Scottish farmers to take over the good lands. The Irish were pushed to the rocky soil, which was unsuited to most crops. What would grow in that rocky soil was potatoes. So, they produced potatoes. We know now about what happens when we continue to grow the same crop in the same soil without letting fields go fallow or by rotating crops. The crop has no defenses against various blights.Thus, the potato being grown genetically had no defense against the root blight. The potato had provided adequate nourishment, as noted by a couple of others above, and the Irish had not had to depend on getting food from the English-Scottish farmers. Before Elizabeth’s displacement of the Irish from the majority of their farm land, they had supported themselves with a variety of crops. The root of “The Troubles” of the 1970s and the early 1980s goes back to that displacement. The conflicts were based on economics, with unemployment at 25%, if I recall correctly. The two groups were pitted against each other for modern economic survival; the media continued to stress religion, but they should have looked at economic history. In that class, we had a very long supplementary reading list that supported what I have just written. Because the Russet /Idaho potato mentioned above on referencing the potato research of Luther Burbank (who was a neighbor of my great grandparents in California and with whom he exchanged farming “tips”), Washington State University is involved in continuous research to develop a continuing string of new hybrid potatoes that will withstand the evolving new blights that attack the potato. It is too bad the Irish did not have those scientists. I taught high school and community college Spanish, French, English, and world history for 38 years. I agree that a very poor job of teaching history is a plague. I did not enjoy my history courses, including at university because they were taught without the human element. I did not enjoy it until I started reading biographies. That human element is what I made sure to include in what I taught. Thank you to those working on the Zinn project.

    Response shared by Anonymous — March 18, 2015 @ 1:09 am

  • Never too old to learn. As a Social Studies for many years that supplemented the text. I am so excited about this article.

    Response shared by Pear; — March 18, 2015 @ 11:58 am

  • There’s not yet a national standardized test for Social Studies, so districts have a lot of room to do what they like. Hopefully this will remain the case.

    Response shared by Jillian — March 18, 2015 @ 12:06 pm

  • One of the main reasons why I have been a vegan for 25 urs and a vegetarian for another 10 is so that there’s enough food for others. Live simply so others may simply live. Amidst dwindling resources (water, energy, land), this holds truer today than ever before. Rather than fatten animals, we should feed people.

    Response shared by Kevin — March 19, 2015 @ 6:14 pm

  • Will you stop using the word “FAMINE” there was no famine . why set up there articles then use the word famine throughout the article ..
    This petition seeks your support for a campaign to:
    * Persuade relevant authors, editors and website content providers to stop using the word ‘Famine’ for what took place in Ireland between 1845 and 1850, and start using terms such as, “The Great Hunger” or “An Gorta Mór”.
    * To call on the Government of Ireland and its Ministers, and members of all political parties to correctly call it Án Ócras Mór, Án Gorta Mór, or The Great Hunger.
    It should be signed by anyone, of any religious, political or intellectual background, who wants the truth about Ireland’s history to be faced and justly discussed, not evaded or concealed.
    In proud and loving memory of the Men, Women and Children of Ireland who suffered and died in the Great Hunger.

    This petition has been launched by a Facebook group, Irish Holocaust – Not Famine. The Push to educate in Facts.
    Along side our website : http://www.irishgenocide.webs.com
    Our aims are dedicated to correcting and spreading the truth about what should rightfully be called not the ‘Great Famine’ but the Great Hunger (An Gorta Mór).
    A letter supported by the response to this petition will go to authors and editors of books on the ‘Famine’, and of works on Irish history which refer to the ‘Famine’. (This will include content providers of appropriate websites.) The letter will also go to Irish Government Ministers and Politicians of all hues.
    Why? To ask them to consider recent and ongoing research showing that the Great Hunger was the direct consequence of deliberate, intentional genocidal acts against the Irish people; and after they have done this, to acknowledge the overwhelming weight of the evidence that is being uncovered.
    Authors, editors etc could then make their acknowledgment clear to all by (e.g.) using the term ‘Great Hunger’ instead of or alongside terms such as ‘famine’, or by saying in the preface to a new edition of their work that, in the light of recent research, they feel the exclusive use of the word ‘famine’ to be misleading and distorting.
    Government Ministers and politicians could then speak out, with courage, about what took place between 1840 and 1845, and no longer dodge the issue in deference to the sensitivities of, “Other Governments”.

    Response shared by swifty — March 21, 2015 @ 4:15 am

  • The Great Hunger, by Cecil Woodham Smith.

    Response shared by Adele Paul — August 21, 2015 @ 12:42 pm

  • Great article and comments. Stand behind most of the comments. All 4 of my grandparents were from Ireland and their parents were probably involved in the famine (great hunger) in some form or another. The readings I have been exposed to lately support the fact that more education flor all would be important in understanding the famine, the number of deaths in Ireland and WHY and the number immigrants to the U.S. These immigrants along with immigrants from other countries are what these United States are built upon. These years in Ireland would be a study in itself.

    Response shared by Mary Duffy — February 24, 2016 @ 10:06 pm

  • Fabulous articles, Sharon ! Thanks for sharing !

    Response shared by Paula Rioseco — March 17, 2016 @ 12:54 am

  • Oliver Cromwell slaughtered thousands of Iberian Celts that he likened to “monkeys”. Also, thousands were shipped to Australia as political dissidents. Then the idea of selling Irish into slavery for profit became the way to deplete the Native population. In 1612 the first Irish slaves were sent to the Amazon. The Royal African Company of the British Crown transported over 10 Million Africans to American slave auctions, but nearly a million Irish were also sold into slavery. American slave owners began breeding Irish woman with African males to make extra money by selling the offspring. Finally, in 1839 England passed laws against slavery. But, the remaining Irish in Ireland had been ordered to move to County Clare’s rocky poor soil, so English lords & military officers could be granted the better lands. Much like American Indians forced to Reservations on worthless land so white settlers could start farms on the better soil. I don’t think 1 Million Irish died in the Starvation Holocaust, there weren’t even 600,000 by those years.

    Response shared by Amigo Kandu — March 17, 2016 @ 2:32 am

  • Thank you for this information and materials.

    Here is what I wrote to the faculty at all four of the colleges in our community college district here in California:

    Dear colleagues,

    No one likes to have their culture reduced to stereotypes and cartoon characters with funny accents.

    No one likes to have their history ignored, whitewashed, minimized, or untold, especially in textbooks.

    Those of us descended from Irish immigrants are no different. The manufactured famine and genocide of the mid-1800’s claimed hundreds of thousands of Irish lives through starvation and murder and created a diaspora of a million or more. Countless farms, towns, and villages were burned and destroyed. And yet in textbooks, this time in history is often reduced to a brief mention of “the Irish potato blight”.

    In fact, this deliberate attempt to destroy a culture and a country bears important similarities to famines, genocides, and patterns of immigration and displacement throughout history up to the present day.

    The link below gives a brief overview of the deficits of what students are taught about these events and has links to materials you can use in your classroom.

    From the article:
    “So go ahead: Have a Guinness, wear a bit of green, and put on the Chieftains. But let’s honor the Irish with our curiosity. Let’s make sure that our schools show some respect, by studying the social forces that starved and uprooted over a million Irish—and that are starving and uprooting people today.”


    Additional knowledge is easy to find with a basic online search.

    Thank you for honoring and remembering the lives of the Irish.

    —Lorna Joy Shashinda

    Proud Descendant of Christopher and Mary, Emma and William, Helen and Arthur, and Robert and Pauline

    Lorna Joy Shashinda
    ESL Instructor
    College of Alameda

    Response shared by Lorna Joy Shashinda — March 17, 2016 @ 11:38 am

  • I totally agree with you, and I use Patel’s book in my college Biology classes…

    Response shared by Fay Hansen — March 17, 2016 @ 9:43 pm

  • The argument is that even though a pathogen caused the disease that impacted the potato crop (helped along by monoculture, etc), the structure of the society (landlord/tenant system, export of other crops, and so on) is what caused the deaths of so many.

    Response shared by VAK — March 17, 2016 @ 11:26 pm

  • The sad part is the tourist guide in Ireland perpetuates the story of famine and people put on a good ship to go to Amerca and a good life. So I get that the proper and true history is not being taught in Irish schools either. Nothing about the alternate history,sending of food overseas or hoe the good lands were taken from the Irish and they were left with rocky land where only potatoes could be grown and since there was no rotation of crops and when the potato blight wiped out the crop in 1845 a lot of people suffered .

    Response shared by Jaya — March 18, 2016 @ 1:36 am

  • More of “the evil English starved the Irish” nonsense. The large majority of the landlords during the famine/hunger/crop-failure (delete as per prejudice) were Irish. It just plays to the usual racist interpretation of history favoured by American Irish historians (c.f. the actual Irish ones who tend to be more measured) to label everyone in the establishment English.

    It was a consequence of the conversion of farming from a feudal system to a capitalist one, and English peasant farmers suffered from the Enclosures, just as the Scottish ones did from the Clearances (essentially the same thing, just a different name). It might have been a class war, it certainly was not some intentional racial genocide – most English of the time were struggling to make it in factories having been kicked of their traditional lands even more than their Irish or Scottish compatriots. Most of the those English also had no vote and no more part in decisions made than Irish peasants – and a lot less say than the Irish landowners who were the ones lobbying against public relief.

    In much the same way, the sea of green on Patrick’s day in the US will be noticeable by excluding the protestant Irish who were ethnically cleansed by new Republic in the mid 20th Century and also went in droves to the US. Again it does not play to the myth of evil English and noble Irish.

    Response shared by Honest John Lilburne — March 18, 2016 @ 6:55 am

  • Being 1/2 Irish myself, I grew up with the great hunger stories from my grandparents and great grandparents on my fathers side.

    What many Irish here and over there fail to hear are the stories of slavery and poor treatment here in the US and Canada. My family members were dumped from a ship at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and had to take a small boat up towards Ottawa and Hull, only to arrive in November with absolutely nothing. My relatives flipped the boat over on the banks of the river and lived under a row boat for an entire Canadian winter!

    Though Queen Victoria had provided land grant farms in Canada to the Catholic Irish, to get rid of them no doubt, it was still extremely difficult. The land was untamed, the growing season short, and they started with less than nothing. Some areas were so remote they didnt have electricity until the 1970’s. While visiting the homestead years ago, poking through some cemeteries with my father, I realized that approximately one of every two children died before they were even 10 years of age. Just imagine having a child a year and losing every other one to disease. Some families wouldn’t name a child until the age of two due to fear of death!

    What they don’t teach in school is that slave owners in the south had a vested interest in their slaves (as wrong as it may sound, think about it). The people who hired the Irish in the mines, to cut in railroads, and do manual labor had no vested interest in the worker. If an employee was maimed or killed they were taken home and left to die or buried under the rails, as recently discovered outside of Philadelphia. There were always ten more waiting in line, eager to earn a small wage.

    We need to continue the stories of our ancestors the way our forefathers did. Take the time to write them down for your children. Don’t let our fast paced, electronic world leave you with the feeling that you don’t have time, or that it’s not important. It is: we need to learn from the truth, and we can’t let history repeat itself!

    Response shared by Jeff O — March 18, 2016 @ 7:40 am

  • You are now learning about history so we can educate our children and ourselves not to repeat it.

    Response shared by Christina — March 18, 2016 @ 2:07 pm

  • Uniformly, social studies textbooks fail to allow the Irish to speak for themselves, to narrate their own horror.”

    The problem now too, in almost all major “news” sources in the US. The voices conspicuously absent, are those of the subjects of the stories.

    Response shared by mikeinportc — March 19, 2016 @ 12:40 am

  • Thanks for your article, Mr. Bigelow. I happened to be in Dublin in May and June, 2006, and near the end of May I noticed a small article in the “Irish Times” that a commemoration ceremony was to be held that day for those who died in the Great Famine. But it simply amounted to a five-minute presentation next to some statues in front of a government building, and the article recommended that at noon everyone observe one minute of silence. I was staying at a hotel and no one mentioned anything about it, nor did they observe the silence. This shocked me, that the government and citizens were so careless about a monumental and tragic event in their history.

    Then, on June 16th, the day that James Joyce’s world-acclaimed novel “Ulysses” takes place entirely within Dublin and is called Bloomsday in honor of the main character, Leopold Bloom, there was only a two-hour reading at a small library, no fanfare or visiting places described in the book.. In America, by contrast, New York has held 20-hour readings from well-known Irish and other actors, and I myself produced a 4-hour dramatization of selections from the novel complete with costumes, props and music in Los Angeles in 1996.

    2006 was the tail end of the Celtic Tiger economic boom which inflated property values in particular, and making money was on a lot of minds. I wondered what had happened to the Irish soul, that they were so dismissive of key events and achievements in their history.

    Response shared by Tom Ryan — March 19, 2016 @ 4:34 am

  • It is not only in your country that we have a problem what is taught our children from a historic point – we have it in South Africa as well. 1st one section of the country’s history is totally ignored, then we have a democratic change for which we are very thankful as we did not have to go into a bloody war for it, then in the new SA the other side’s history is also now being ignored. From this I can only surmise a tit-for-tat attitude. We need to be able after all this time to show history from all sides and viewpoints and those who love history should be able to ask the difficult and sometimes uncomfortable questions. they should be allowed to think and decide for themselves not to repeat history as so much of the negative of history is still perpetuated today, even if we want to deny it in the comfort of our modern enlightened times. we are not really from my point of view, much different or removed from people 500 years ago when you look at what we are still doing today.

    Response shared by Elsje Wagener — March 21, 2016 @ 1:24 am

  • I have been aware of these facts for some time. But given that I am now seventy I have only been able to share them with a few. Thanks for all you do to help young people discover the truth about the world and especially the casserole that is America. May we seek to humble ourselves instead of buy into corporate greed.

    Response shared by Dianne Delaney — March 29, 2016 @ 12:44 pm

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