Continuing the Famine theme of the previous post, I’ve been reading and studying a new book: “Teampall Bán: Aspects of the Famine in north Kerry,” by John D. Pierse. As regular readers of this blog know, this part of Ireland is where my maternal grandmother and grandfather emigrated from (1912 and 1913, respectively) and is of great interest to me.
“The graveyard which has come to symbolize the Famine for the north Kerry and Listowel areas is undoubtedly Teampall Bán, located on the outskirts of the town off the Ballybunion Road, just beyond the old Lartigue railway overbridge,” Pierse writes in his Preface.
Back, left and front, right, of the book.
The Kerryman reports:
Seven years in the making, “Aspects of the Famine” focuses on the Listowel Union area comprised of the baronies of Iraghticonnor and Clanmaurice – encompassing pretty much all of rural Kerry north of Tralee. John along with his son Maurice, historian Kay Moloney Caball (My Kerry Ancestors), researcher Martina Flynn and former Institute of Advanced Studies Professor Pádraig de Brún painstakingly analysed as many records as they could find pertaining to the Listowel Workhouse, where so many perished, Listowel Presentation Convent and much else.
The book is to have its formal launch on 22 January in Listowel and will benefit the local Tidy Towns organization. For book orders contact Mary Hanlon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve written several posts about Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. The museum has just acquired a new painting, “The Ragpickers,” by Henry Allan.
Niamh O’Sullivan, the museum’s consultant curator and Professor Emeritus of Visual Culture at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, writes in a museum newsletter:
Ragpicking was a common occupation in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. Ragpickers eked out a living by rummaging for scraps of cloth and paper and other discarded items to identify anything that could be recycled or sold (even dead cats and dogs could be skinned to make clothes). Ragpickers turned over what they salvaged to a master who would sell it, usually by weight; anything of value was to be returned to the owner or the authorities….Painters and writers of the Romantic period turned the ragpicker into a type of street philosopher who, living from day to day and unburdened by material things, understands human nature. Unobserved, he observes others.
Allan’s image dates to 1900. O’Sullivan suggests the scene “is consistent with the dunes of Ringsend, Dublin, seen from South Lotts,” which is on the south bank of the River Liffey at the eastern edge of the city, near the open sea. The name Ringsend is a corruption of the Irish “Rinn-abhann”, which means “the end point of the tide,” according to Wikipedia. The area went into decline about the time of Allan’s painting as shipping activity moved to other parts of Dublin and ports further south along the coast.
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.
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.