Q & A: Ireland’s Great Famine… Recommended Reading

Skibbereen 1847 by Cork artist James Mahony (1810–1879), commissioned by Illustrated London News – via Wikipedia

Do you have any recommendations for a good book on the potato famine?

— Dana S via Twitter

Ireland suffered more than one famine in its history, but the years between 1845 and 1852 mark the era many call the Irish Potato Famine. A million died and another million emigrated… quite a grim time in Irish history. Yet, it is also the period in which many of the Irish diaspora recognize as their family’s direct ties to Ireland… making the period an important part of their personal history.

For book suggestions, I asked our readers to peek into their personal libraries and give a shout out to the books they’d recommend in both fiction and non-fiction…

And if you need a break from the page, Cindy Thomson reminds us that the Rosie O’Donnell episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” had a very moving segment on the Famine.

Feel free to add your recommendations in the comments section below.

Visit Amazon.com’s Section on Books About the Potato Famine >>

Author: Corey

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  1. Famine by Liam O’Flaherty

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  2. there are a number of recordings that have to do with emigration songs, some of them touching on the famine. one album that comes to mind is Thousands Are Sailing, a various artists compilation.
    as for individual songs, the Fields of Athenry, which maybe isn’t thought of as a famine song so much these days, but it is one, and The Praties They Grown Small are two often sung still today.

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  3. The Famine was not just about the Coffin ships, in the days when the ships were going out empty to return with timber from the “New world” the starving population of rural Ireland were being forced to the gates of the Workhouse. Of those gaining access over half failed to live through their first night.

    The Workhouse Project in Portumna have just opened the doors to their work in progress Museum and at €5 entrance this is worth the time if you are in the East Galway area. For those who cannot visit there is a CD available. This might read like an advertisement, it is not just a note to make people aware of a resource not to be found in the guide books.


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    • Thanks for the tips. A stop in Portumna offers some interesting history and can be easily added to an itinerary to Clare, Galway, and of course a scenic drive around Lough Derg.

      Appreciate that you pointed us to these stories.

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      • If I remember from other sources the Rosie O’Donnell program featured footage from inside the Birr Workhouse 25miles away, built at the same time to the same design. The Birr Workhouse remains closed.

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  4. Famine Echoes by Cathal Poirteir. The Folklore Commission conducted interviews with thousands of elderly people around Ireland in the 1940’s. They told the stories they remembered from ancestors who had survived the Famine. This book is a wonderful compilation of these recollections. The selections are arranged in sections that follow the timeline of events during the Famine. This book tells the story in the words of survivors and their descendents and provides a vital link to historical folklore. I really appreciated this book, and the authenticity of the many voices retelling difficult tales of loss and grief.

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  5. I read the Great Famine several years ago after finding it on my father-in-law’s shelf and it was hard to put down. Riveting.

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  6. It is more appropriately called “An Gorta Mor”, Irish for “The Great Hunger”. Enough food to feed Ireland’s population four times over was exported from Ireland to Great Britain, wheat, oats, pigs, cows, cheese, etc., all left Ireland’s ports while those that relied on the potato, of necessity, starved. It is hard not to think that the British government conspired with the landowners to clear the land of the troublesome Irish once and for all. Through death and emigration, the period halved Ireland’s population. It is still not back to pre-“Famine” levels. “Paddy’s Lament” by Thomas Gallagher is a great read. Cecil’s Smith seminal work “The Great Hunger” is outstanding, but over 500 pages.

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  7. Ireland has experienced several famines, one particularly harsh famine was in the 1720’s. Read about it in the historical novel Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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  8. I’d say the best general history of the Famine period is James S. Donnelly’s The Great Irish Potato Famine (2001). Although a scholarly work, it is very readable. As for Famine fiction, Eugene McCabe’s Tales from the Poorhouse (1999) should not be missed by anyone with an interest in the subject — literary fiction, highly recommended. Another very good novel is Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea (2002).

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