A good overview of The Great Hunger and the harsh conditions of 19th century Ireland in Current Archaeology magazine. The story focuses on mass graves at the Kilkenny Workhouse, which were excavated in 2006.
Despite the desperate circumstances driving the burials and the extreme poverty of those interred, the mass graves did not take the form of bodies merely dumped in pits. The importance of dignity in death was keenly felt in 19th century Ireland, with the traditional Irish wake forming an essential custom for rich and poor alike.
The story also offers a reminder of how desperate conditions were for Ireland’s poorest even before the potato blight. Writing in 1835, Frenchman Gustave de Beaumont observed:
I have seen the Indian in his forests, and the Negro in his chains, and thought, as I contemplated their pitiable condition, that I saw the very extreme of human wretchedness; but I did not then know the condition of unfortunate Ireland … In all countries, more or less, paupers may be discovered; but an entire nation of paupers is what was never seen until it was shown in Ireland.
The 2013 National Famine Commemoration is set for 12 May in Kilrush, County Clare.