An online petition aiming to officially rename the Irish “Great Famine” the “Great Hunger” has attracted over 6,600 signatures.
“When genocide became ‘famine’: Ireland, 1845 - 1850” seeks support for a campaign to permanently change the manner in which we speak of the hunger and poverty in Ireland in the 1840s that caused the death of one million and the immigration of another million.
In order to do this, the petitioners aim to persuade authors, editors and writers who wrote, write or will write about the period to forgo using the word “famine” and use “The Great Hunger” or the Irish-language version “An tOcras Mór” in its stead.
They also call on the Irish Government and its politicians to make the same change, asking anybody “who wants the truth about Ireland’s history to be faced and justly discussed” to join their campaign.
There has long been debate as to the term that should be used to describe this event in Irish history with some claiming that the version of events used by the education system and in media worldwide is not a truly accurate portrayal of what happened.
The pain and poverty suffered by the Irish people in this time is often blamed on their reliance on the potato crop that was ruined by blight throughout these years, leaving the Irish people hungry.
Others argue that the blight was not the cause of the lack of food experienced by the population at the time as plenty of other food types were being produced in the country - more than enough to feed the starving. They argue, however, that it was the choices made by the English government to export this food from Ireland instead of feeding the hungry that caused the disaster. On these terms, they feel that “genocide” is a more suitable way to describe the tragedy.
Started by the group “Irish Holocaust - Not Famine. The Push to educate in Facts,” the campaign believes: “History books, text books and websites around the world still repeat and give life to the idea that the ‘Great Famine’ of 1845 – 1850 was a severe and prolonged food shortage arising purely from the effects of potato blight. This grossly distorts the truth: ‘famine’ implies that the food shortages arose simply from natural causes.
“In fact, armed British troops seized Ireland’s agricultural produce and exported it to Britain – while the Irish people were dying from starvation. There was no food shortage to blame on potato blight; exports of all food products from Ireland increased during the worst years of the ‘Famine’. Ireland actually produced sufficient food to feed its population twice over. Also, British troops and government officials blocked many attempts at relief from entering Ireland.”
According to their campaign site, the group feel that an increasing number of people worldwide are becoming aware of the facts surrounding the Great Hunger and are calling for the truth to no longer be concealed, slamming those that use the historic event as a tourist attraction.
“Increasing numbers of people worldwide want what they feel is a deliberate attempt to inflict genocide on the people of Ireland discussed and exposed and if true described as a crime against the people,” they write.
“People are now learning the knowledge that was withheld from them at school and questioning why our education system treats the subject as something not to be spoken of.”
“Britain failed miserably and the question is, did they do it deliberately? The signatories of this petition seem to think so. They feel that sites using this tragedy in our country as a present day tourist attractions and persist in using the word famine are wrong and are misleading.”
Since the petition was started on January 7, 2014, it has been slowly gaining momentum with 6,634 signatures at time of writing from 4,063 different towns, villages and cities across the world.
The majority of signatories come from Ireland, England, the US, Canada, and Australia, the main ports of immigration for Irish people both now and back in Great Hunger times.
The largest number of signatures comes from Dublin where 398 people (6% of all participants) have signed, followed by Glasgow, Belfast, and London (all at 2.5%). The first US city comes in 9th place with 48 New Yorkers joining the campaign.
Many of those signing have also left their own ancestral stories or thoughts on the campaign site, expressing their support and their reason for signing.
“My mother-in-law told me of her great grandparents travels walking on foot from Monaghan to Belfast at the time of the genocide, coming across starving families laying by the lanes and roads murdered by the British government by their acts and laws of oppression,” said one.
“I signed this petition because I want the truth to be recognized; that the 'Great Hunger' was caused by greed, bigotry, and British Imperial Ideology!” wrote another.
Despite the growing support for the campaign, not everybody will agree with their aims. Earlier this month, a leading Irish academic, Liam Kennedy, and journalist Ruth Dudley Edward revealed that they did not believe the tragedy could be called a genocide.
“What caused the Famine was the potato blight, not the English government. Get over it,” Dudley Edwards wrote in the Sunday Independent.
“It was your social status, not your religion or ethnicity, that determined your fate in Ireland in the second half of the 1840s.”
“So here's the simple truth. The British government handled the catastrophe incompetently, and for doctrinaire but not ill-intentioned reasons changed policy to non-interference after two years, but there was no deliberate cruelty and no intention to kill anyone.
“In these days of sophisticated infrastructure and brilliant communications, western democracies still fail to save hungry or endangered people in many parts of the world, but that is not because we want them dead. It's because we are incapable of dealing with most catastrophes.”
Thank you all so much we have reached 6000 signatures in just over a year . This petition seeks your support for a...Posted by Irish Holocaust - Not Famine. The Push to educate in facts. on Déardaoin, 2 Aibreán 2015
If you wish to sign the petition or to find more information, you can visit http://www.petitions24.com/when_famine_became_genocide_ireland_1845_-_1850.
Do you believe we should only refer to the “Great Hunger” and will you be signing this petition? Let us know in the comments section.