In 2015 plans by Irish scriptwriter Hugh Travers to develop a comedy series commissioned by Channel 4 about Ireland’s Famine drew the ire of public opinion which led to an online petition with almost 20,000 signatures expressing outrage at its apparent trivialisation.
Four years on another Irish comic, Kevin McAleer, has written a comedy on the Famine entitled Spud!, which is due to open in Belfast shortly. Regardless of one’s opinion on whether the Famine is an appropriate topic to satirise, and there are well reasoned opinions on all sides, I believe society continues to ignore the primary factor which caused such starvation, coffin ship emigration and tragic deaths on such a vast scale.
The English historian Robert Kee in his book The Green Flag, suggests that the Famine is “comparable in its force on popular national consciousness to that of the ‘final solution’ on the Jews”.
In April 1849 the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Clarendon wrote to UK prime minister Lord John Russell urging his government to propose additional relief measures adding, “I do not think there is another legislature in Europe that would disregard such suffering as now exists in Ireland, or coldly persist in a policy of extermination”.
Indeed, the leading political writer for The Nation at that time, the Young Irelander John Mitchel, writing on the refusal of the government to stop food exports during the Famine said “The Almighty, indeed, sent the blight but the English created the Famine.”
Not alone did those in power fail the starving but they adopted a laissez faire policy in regard to the export of food. In previous times of potato blight, particularly during the 1780’s, the government, in response to the needs of the people, closed the ports to keep Irish grown food in Ireland.
The potato crop failure in 1845 again brought calls to close the ports to food exports, but this demand was rejected because wealthy merchants successfully lobbied government to keep the ports open so as not to stifle enterprise. It is most unlikely that the devastating failure of the potato crop in 1845 was not beyond the power of government to effectively manage.
The relief efforts which were made were totally inadequate at a time when Ireland was an integral part of the wealthiest empire on the globe. Indeed, heavy laden ships freighted with food, which was sown and reaped by people too poor to purchase it themselves, left Irish ports daily.
It is patently probable that the British government of the day deliberately pursued an ethnicity-based policy aimed at destroying the indigenous Irish people by means of mass starvation, an act which amounted to a form of engineered genocide.
It was widely promulgated by Britain worldwide at the time that the Irish people were racially inferior to their colonial masters and therefore responsible for their own circumstances. Ireland’s avoidable holocaust was inflicted almost exclusively on the Catholic peasantry in what can only be described as an act of genocide driven by racism and justified by ideology and is not a suitable subject for satire.
This reader's opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on August 27, 2019.