Mudcat Café message #780374 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #2053   Message #780374
Posted By: Teribus
10-Sep-02 - 09:25 AM
Thread Name: Origins: Fields of Athenry
Subject: RE: Fields of Athenry
Pleasant enough song but wildly inaccurate in historical terms, if you read Woodham-Smiths book referred to in a post above.

Some examples to back up that statement:

No recorded instances of famine relief storehouses ever having been broken into. Plenty of demonstrations, but no break-ins, no thefts. Woodham-Smith investigated the option of hungry Irish commiting crime to escape the country by transportation - the only instances she could come up with were all in the north around Belfast and all were for common or garden burglary.

Convict transports to Australia left mainly from ports on the south coast of England - the ones that sailed from Ireland sailed from only two ports, Cork and Dublin. Popular myth has depicted these these as hell voyages - in fact loss of life averaged was very low as after the initial convoys captains were paid on the number delivered alive so they had a vested interest in their "cargoes".

There is also some belief that the famine was masterminded by the British Government to deal with the "Irish Problem". This ignores the fact that having first arrived in England the spores that carried the blight then swept throughout mainland Britain and Europe.

Some of the comments above seem to give the impression that the famine in Ireland was the only thing that the Government of the day had to deal with - it wasn't (one small example: in the same period in the north-east of England, round the Newcastle area in the same period over 500,000 people died as a direct result of crop failures and disease - put in context that amounts to half the recorded death toll for the whole of Ireland).

Aid for famine relief came from basically three sources:

The British Government - approx 9 million pounds.

The British Society of Friends (Quakers) - 2.5 million pounds

America (greatest contributers being among the Indian nations) - 1.5 million pounds

Very few American ships transported the emigrants (Passage was charged and passengers had to have goods or money to the value of 10 - they also had to be in good health). Charitable Aid shipped to Ireland from America on American vessels was charged at normal cargo rates, similar aid shipped on British vessels was transported free of charge.

Entry point for the bulk of Irish fleeing the famine was down the St. Lawrence - their main point of entry into the United States was Chicago, the emigrants crossing the Great Lakes. "City of Chicago" is a much better song and definitiely more accurate regarding this episode in history.

As to manufactured indifference those of you who can remember it - think back to the famine in Ethiopia and the Sudan - even with the entire world aware, with means of distribution at their disposal (ships, aircraft, helicopters, trucks) still thousands died each day. In the Ireland of the mid 1800's the only means of delivery was by sailing vessel and horse drawn wagons. Apply that to the west coast of Ireland where there were few ports, scant wharehousing and poor roads. To transport one wagon of relief supplies requires five wagons of forage for the draught horses - Not easy.

History viewed with present day values and taking individual incidents in isolatation is about the worst way of arriving at any conclusion you can get. Take whatever incident view that in the context of it's time, look at the big picture, then view that incident as seen from all sides - you then stand a better chance at arriving at the when's, the why's and the how's.