New Famine books, and agrarian violence in Kerry

The Washington Post reviews two recent books about the Great Famine (an Gorta Mor): “The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy,” by Tim Pat Coogan; and “The Graves are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People,” by John Kelly.

Kelly and Coogan have both written polemics against the British government of the day and its inadequate response to Ireland’s nightmare. They sustain their arguments with sound materials. Kelly, an American, is cool and prosecutorial in tone. He has the facts, ma’am, and his book is an accessible, engrossing history of horror. Coogan, the Irish author of controversial popular biographies of Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera, as well as a history of the Irish Republican Army, is fiercer and angrier. He sounds like the witness who saw the crime.

Like the 1916 Rising and War of Independence/Civil War years of 1919-1923, the 1845-52 Famine is one of the most explored periods of Irish history. It remains a topic of vigorous sociopolitical debate and compelling human interest due to new historical approaches and new research details.

For myself, I’ve just cracked open “Land, Popular Politics and Agrarian Violence in Ireland: The Case of County Kerry, 1872-86,” by Donnacha Sean Lucey. The book explores the post-Famine, Land War (Cogadh na Talún) period leading up to the Home Rule effort of the late 19th century.

My great, great grandfather and great grandfather worked the same 5-acre farm plot in Lahardane townland in North Kerry from at least 1864. The next in line, my grandfather, emigrated in 1913, leaving the property to a younger brother. It remains in the family today.