“A danger of using the comedy format to tell the story of the Famine is that the characters can very easily become stage ‘Oirish,’ and that the real heartbreak of the Famine be absent or marginalized.
"Instead, disease, death, eviction and emigration will be viewed as funny, rather than tragic – and we might forget that they were preventable.
Where do comedic and artistic boundaries begin and end? I don’t know. But I have researched the topic of the Famine for over 30 years and I have failed to discover anything that is humorous about the slow and painful deaths of one million people, a disproportionate amount of whom were children under the age of nine.
Nor do the accounts written by the men and women who witnessed the suffering first-hand record anything other than abject horror at the scenes they were witnessing – in the words of 26-year-old Quaker, James Hack Tuke, who visited Mayo and Donegal in 1846 and again in 1847, the people were ‘living skeletons… scarcely able to crawl.’
"In the space of only six years, over one million people died in Ireland. Many were buried without coffins, in mass pauper graves; others were left where they dropped dead, for fear of contagion. Just as tragically, their names and deaths were not recorded, so they remain lost to us forever as individuals.
"We only know them as a cold statistic. In death, as in life, their lives did not matter to uncaring bureaucrats in Westminster and Whitehall. Comedy is no way to honor their memory.
The Irish Famine is too recent, too raw and too relevant, to be reduced to the medium of a comedy show. Bad history and bad comedy will combine and the outcome will be bad taste. Yes, it is shameless.”
Professor Christine Kinealy, whose most recent publication is Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland. The Kindness of Strangers (Bloomsbury, 2013), is a former Irish Post award-winner who was previously a senior lecturer in history at the University of Central Lancashire.
Born and raised in Liverpool, to parents from Mayo and Tipperary, Prof Kinealy earned her PhD from Dublin’s Trinity College.