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Rupert, Guinness and the Potato Famine

Sláinte!

Happy Saint Paddy’s Day!

In honor of this day, Rupert Murdoch is promoting Guinness in a reverse psychology PSA.  I had almost completely forgotten about stocking up today so, thanks, Rupert, for reminding me that Guinness is standing up for equality.

******************************************************************************

Timothy Egan, author of The Worst Hard Time, wrote an Op/Ed in the NYTimes this past weekend on Paul Ryan’s Irish Amnesia.  Egan says that Ryan has adopted the same attitudes towards the poor as the British politicians that let the Irish starve during the 1840’s.  It’s an attitude that a lot of older white conservative voters, who don’t have a clue about what it’s like to find a job these days, are thinking and saying about the less fortunate.  It’s an attitude of harshness, lacking in compassion and kindness.  It is absent of the values they once held dear.  It’s judgmental and narcissistic.  (more on that in another post)

But Egan is wrong when he says that Irish historian John Kelly was the first to pick up on the similarities between the Famine Years and The Great Recession.  I picked up on it back in 2010.  So, here’s my reprise of that post that I wrote back then when it dawned on me that America was getting ready to go full blight:

A bit of history: The Great Famine of Ireland

Posted on July 11, 2010 by riverdaughter | Edit
Bridget O’Donnel and her children

I can’t remember what free association web surfing lead me to the history of theIrish Potato Famine of 1845-1851.  Some have referred to it as genocide.  But it is a genocide of a peculiar sort, not necessarily motivated by racism.  Maybe the resentment of the English for the Irish had its roots in the era of Reformation when the Irish stayed with the Roman Catholic church.  Maybe it had something to do with Charles I using the Irish to quash his opponents during the English Civil War.  Maybe Oliver Cromwell’s brutal revenge on the Irish had something to do with the punitive laws that lead to widespread poverty in Ireland distinct from any other country in Europe.  Half of the country was dependent on a single crop, the potato, for sustenance, while the fruits of their labor in service to their absent landlords were shipped away to England.

When the potato blight struck, the effects were devastating and the news of the horror of the famine spread far and wide.  The Choctow native Americans contributed money for the starving in Ireland.  This was not the first failure of the potato crop.  In the late 1700′s, another failure threatened widespread starvation.  But during that crisis, the government ordered the ports closed so that crops and livestock raised in Ireland would be used to ameliorate the conditions of the starving.  No such measures were taken in the 1845 famine.  During the famine years, the Irish exported more food to England than it received.  The landlords’ agents used the famine and loss of rent revenue to throw the tenant farmers off their lands.  Their houses were torn down.  A new law was passed prohibiting a farmer in possession of more than a quarter acre of land from receiving food relief, to prevent him from getting lazy and too dependent on help.  To qualify for food, the farmer had to give up his land.  This further exacerbated the problem.  Farmers couldn’t plant crops without land and that land reverted back to the landlord to be used as pasture for more lucrative livestock.

The suffering from starvation and disease was severe but human kindness was in short supply.  The absent aristocracy, some of whom rarely set foot in Ireland, were spared the gaunt visages of peasants and their dying children making their way to the coasts to board coffin ships for America and Canada.  What counted was how much rent each peasant could bring.  When they couldn’t pay, they were better off dead.  John Mitchel, the blogger of this time wrote, “The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine.”


Lest we forget…

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