Fin Dwyer, the historian behind the immensely popular Irish History Podcast, is raising funds for a new series that will focus exclusively on the Irish Famine and its legacy. As he writes, “history haunts the present casting a long shadow over life but there are few events like The Great Irish Famine of the 19th century.” Each week, he will take listeners back to 19th-century Ireland, from the years leading up to the Great Hunger to the miserable famine years to the impact both in Ireland and abroad, thanks to the massive waves of emigration the famine provoked.
He’ll also be dispelling a few myths about the Great Hunger. “The history of the Great Famine is often reduced to the failure of the potato crop, mass starvation, and mass emigration. However, this does not do justice to the story of our ancestors.” With the support of listeners, he wants to tell the stories of the famine ancestors, which he describes as “a far more complex and interesting history.”
“The Great Famine is without a doubt the most important event in modern Irish history,” Dwyer told IrishCentral. “Ireland was transformed by these events and our identity at home and around the world was forged by the experiences of the Great Famine. That said, while it's very important, the actual story of the Great Famine is not very well known. Most people are aware of mass starvation and emigration but far less understand how the events unfolded or why.”
He also pointed to the role of the Great Hunger in the formation of the Irish diaspora, which today totals approximately 70 million. “I think it is in many ways the foundation story of Irish communities across the globe. While there had been large-scale emigration before 1845, it was the Great Famine that proved decisive. Between 1846 and 1851 over one million people passed through the port of Liverpool alone (many continued on to the USA). This was a defining moment for Irish communities indeed by the 1860s one in four New Yorkers were Irish born. I don’t think it's possible to understand our identity without referencing the Great Famine.”
In the podcast, Dwyer will aim to answer the following questions:
- What actually happened and why were so many faced with starvation?
- What was day-to-day life like?
- How did the British authorities (who ruled Ireland) react?
- Why did landlords, with the power of life and death evict tens of thousands of starving families?
- How did those faced with starvation react?
- Who emigrated, how and to where?
If this sounds like something you’d like to listen to and learn from, you can donate to Dwyer’s fundraising efforts here.
If you’ve never listened to the Irish History Podcast, give it a go here.