The little-known story of how Turkey was one of the only countries to come to the aid of Ireland during the Great Hunger is the focus of the movie “Famine.”

At a time when Ireland was enduring the terrible loss of a million dead and the mass exodus of a million more during the Great Hunger, the story goes that the Ottoman Sultan, Khaleefah Abdul-Majid I, declared his intention to send £10,000 to aid Ireland's farmers. However, Queen Victoria intervened and requested that the Sultan send only £1,000 because she had sent only £2,000 herself.

So the Sultan sent only the £1,000, but he also secretly sent five ships full of food. The English courts attempted to block the ships, but the food arrived in Drogheda harbor and was left there by Ottoman sailors. That £10,000 that the Sultan pledged to the Irish would be worth approximately £800,000 ($1.7m) today.

It's a wonderful story.

The movie, still in post-production, is built around this charitable act from a Muslim country to a Christian nation, separated by 4,000 miles. At the time the Ottoman Empire was experiencing enormous internal difficulty, but Sultan Khaleefah Abdul-Majid was determined to help the starving men and women of Ireland. A friendship between two different cultures was formed. In the movie, a Turkish sailor meets an Irish farm girl and she finds “herself torn by her emotions.”

“Famine” was written and directed by Omer Sarikaya, along with Tipperary-born screenwriter Norina Mackey.

Sarikaya fell in love with this story, which was mentioned by Joyce in "Ulysses," "Even the Grand Turk sent us his piastres. But the Sassenach tried to starve the nation at home while the land was full of crops that the British hyenas bought and sold in Rio de Janeiro."

Sarikaya spent two years researching the story and was determined to bring it to the big screen. It was a true passion project for Sarikaya, who also announced that most of the profits from the movie will be donated to UNICEF.

Irish American actor Dave Bresnahan also stars in the film. “We are thrilled to have a very skilled character actor Dave Bresnahan play the role of Frank, a Catholic priest. He will perform a very significant supporting role that opens the film and then will help bring the story to a conclusion.” Sarikaya said.

"His background as an Irish-American with relatives who currently live in Ireland brings added perspective to our international cast and crew.

There are presently an estimated 50 million Irish-Americans, many of whom come from families who came to America to escape the devastation of the famines in Ireland during the 1800s."

Speaking about taking on the role Bresnahan said, “Many people today, including Irish-Americans, are not fully aware of the devastating loss of life that took place because of the Famine in Ireland. I am deeply honored to be a part of this film project that will bring the reality of the Famine to the screen so that modern generations will know what their ancestors had to endure.”

Filming for “Famine” took place in Ireland, England, and in Turkey according to IMDb.

* Originally published in January 2015. Updated 2021.

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