There’s a lot of attention being focused on the centennial anniversaries of Ireland’s revolutionary period, 1912 to 1923, which continues to reverberate through the island’s politics, economy and society.
But the death and misery of the period did not subside after the civil war ended in May 1923. A new report by online historian Fin Dwyer at irishhistorypodcasts.ie details the “forgotten famine” of 1924-1925. He writes:
The harvest in 1923 and, in particular, 1924 was nothing short of disastrous. The weather, while not particularly cold, was unusually wet. Crop yields collapsed. The potato – still the main food source for many rural poor – rotted in the fields. Fodder was impossible to find and animal stocks died in large numbers from hunger related diseases. To compound this crisis, it was not possible to dry out turf – the main fuel source for the rural poor. ….
Even though the government voted through £500,000 in aid, the crisis continued to deepen and by early January 1925, the worst predictions began to materialise in the west. … President W.T. Cosgrave described the situation of distress as “considerably greater than normal, but comparison with 1847 is, I am glad to say not justified. There is no question of famine in that sense.” Using the worst famine in modern European history as a bench mark nevertheless illustrated the depth of crisis.
But Dwyer goes on to detail how the governing Cumann na nGaedheal party engaged in a “callous and dangerous denial and cover up” as news of the starvation, especially in the West of Ireland, began to attract international attention. He writes:
Concerned with the interests of large farmers and their emerging new state, this fear of international rebuke touched a nerve with Irish politicians. After only three years of Independent rule, they were nothing short of hypersensitive about the country’s international image. When faced with a choice of downplaying the starvation or risking their international reputation, the choice was simple for the politicians of Cumann na nGaedhael.
Great piece by Dwyer. Give it a read.