An Gorta Mór

The land of song was no longer tuneful; or, if a human sound met the traveler’s ear, it was only that of a feeble and despairing wail for the dead.[1]

The Great Hunger

Cecil Woodham-Smith, in her 1962 masterpiece, An Gorta Mór or The Great Hunger, Ireland 1845-1848, sets the stage as well as anyone for the great tragedy that befell Ireland in the mid-1840s: “The potato of the mid-nineteenth century, not yet even partially immunized against disease by scientific breeding, was singularly liable to failure.”[2]  The Census of Ireland Commissioners of 1851 reported twenty-four known failures of the potato crop, including 1845.  Indeed, the crop had failed completely in 1839, failed in many districts in 1841 and “the early crop was widely lost” in 1844.  So inured were observers to repeated crop failures that, when reports first surfaced in August 1845 of yet another potential crop failure, they “caused no particular alarm.”[3]

In hindsight, they should have.  Ireland was the poorest country in Europe, and it depended almost completely on the potato to sustain its agricultural laborers and cottier class.[4]  At a time when the wharfs at Galway groaned with “pallets of butter, oats, eggs and sides of beef and ham” ready for loading onto merchant ships bound for England and farm machinery so recently landed from the very same ships and bound for the farms from whence that produce had come, it was a distinct treat for the Irish peasant to have more than potatoes and a little milk as his main meal of the day.[5]  Yet as long as the potato crop remained good, such a diet, although bland, apparently was well-liked, highly nutritious and incredibly efficient to produce.[6]

Reports had surfaced in 1844 of a new type of blight affecting the potato crop in America.[7]  In August 1845, there were reports of the same blight on the Isle of Wight, and within a week thereafter, reports of the blight began rolling in from Belgium and all around England.  It was now merely a matter of time before it spread to Ireland.  And spread it did, although the crop failure was sporadic in 1845.[8]  Nonetheless, when blighted potatoes were dug from the ground, they were often little better than stinking masses of corruption.[9]

The British government’s reaction was wholly inadequate, by all accounts, borne in part of the government’s “habitual policy” of discounting Irish views, if only because the Irish as a class of people were “lazy” and “inferior,” and thus to be disregarded.[10]  Indeed, there were suggestions by some early on in the crisis that looming threats of starvation could be ameliorated, if not entirely avoided, by sensible “self-help” remedies such as using the unspoiled portions of the potatoes.  Unsurprisingly, such suggestions proved impossible to implement.[11]

There were, however, calls on the British Cabinet to prohibit the export of foodstuffs from Ireland and make the distillation of grain spirits illegal so as to make additional foodstuffs available as the potato crop failed.  But as the British Prime Minister, Robert Peel (who “cordially detested Irish life, and who was in turn less than cordially detested by most Irishmen”) wrote, there was no “confidence in the efficacy of these measures.”  Peel instead suggested that Britain’s so-called “Corn Laws,” which protected British homegrown grain, should be lifted to allow the importation of foodstuffs into Ireland.  But reform of the Corn Laws was, to use a phrase from a later era, the “third rail” of British politics.[12]

Peel nonetheless pressed forward and by May 1846 had succeeded in repealing the Corn Laws, but only at the cost of his premiership.[13]  By then Ireland was starving.  As an emergency stopgap in the fall of 1845, Peel—to his credit and at considerable personal political risk, as he had not sought prior cabinet approval—had authorized £100,000 for the purchase of “Indian maize” corn and the establishment of a Relief Commission for Ireland.[14]  But it was far too little to make a difference.  Worse, the British government made no further purchases of “Indian maize,” even though by mid-1846, it was the only readily available food in many parts of Ireland, supplies were about to be exhausted and it was becoming apparent to all that the magnitude of the unfolding disaster was far worse than anyone could have predicted in the fall of 1845.[15]

When Peel’s government fell in May 1846 as a result of the Corn Laws repeal, he was replaced by the thoroughly laissez-faire Lord John Russell.  By all accounts, the new Prime Minister appreciated the depths of the crisis.  But his newly-formed government—hide-bound by ideological adherence to the principles of laissez-faire—privatized relief efforts wherever possible in order to minimize the impact on the British fisc and the English taxpayer.  The deleterious effect on Ireland of such privatizing and the failure of the Russell government to obtain any further emergency food stocks was “impossible to exaggerate.”[16]  There were to be no more purchases of maize corn, and although bans on export of foodstuffs from Ireland were bruited once more, they were once again rejected out of hand.  As Charles Edward Trevelyan (“by far the ablest man concerned with Irish relief”) retorted in response to such proposals, “perfect Free Trade is the right course.”[17]  Not a surprising viewpoint from a man who maintained that the potato blight and the resulting starvation were “the judgment of God on an indolent and unself-reliant people and as God had sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated.”[18]

And so the misery became so much, much worse.  Typhus (known as “famine fever”) and bacillary dysentery (the third greatest killer during the Great Hunger, after typhus and starvation itself) struck in the autumn of 1846 and then struck again, harder, the next spring.  Cholera visited Ireland in 1849, during the summer and fall of which starvation was as bad as at any time since the blight had struck.[19]  The effects on Ireland and her people of these succeeding calamities cannot be overstated.  By late 1846, in Skibbereen, in the west of County Cork, for example, the destitution was complete.[20]  The bodies of many of those who starved to death lay where they fell until they were eaten by dogs and rats.[21]  Thousands more were buried unceremoniously in mass graves.

No one knows how many died during the Great Hunger, perhaps between a million to 1.5 million or more.[22]  Most died from disease, mainly famine fever, the bloody flux (bacillary dysentery) or “famine dropsy,” a non-contagious effect of starvation known as hunger edema, perhaps as much as 90% of the total.[23]

Evictions and Clearances

Clearances and evictions did not start with the Great Hunger.  They had been ongoing for twenty years or more, as Ireland’s population exploded and landholdings grew ever smaller.  The phenomenon of mass clearances stemmed from the complex nature of landholding in Ireland and the steady evolution of Irish agriculture from small holding farming to ranch farming of sheep and cattle (which required vast quantities of cleared lands) during the early nineteenth century, a process that accelerated greatly during the Great Hunger.[24]

At the very apex of Irish rural society were approximately 50 great proprietors, each with 2,000 or more acres of land.  They and virtually all of the other 10,000 or so landowners in Ireland were descended from seventeenth century Protestant beneficiaries of large-scale confiscation of land from their historic Catholic owners.[25]  The wealthier of them tended to be absentees, living in England on the profits from their holdings, a phenomenon that accelerated greatly as a result of the Acts of Union in 1800.[26]  Such absenteeism helped give rise to the phenomenon of middlemen, and later land agents, who often formed the backbone of local government.[27]  By contrast, many smaller landowners often operated “close to bankruptcy” and most were, at the very least, heavily indebted and without sufficient liquidity to modernize.[28]

The first couple of Famine Years did not see any appreciable increase in the rate of clearances and evictions.  But the pace picked up considerably in 1847, when the Irish Poor Law Extension Act enacted by the Russell government shifted the cost of famine relief directly onto property-owners in a measure known as the £4 rating clause.[29] The British government was no longer interested in bearing any portion of the burden of feeding Ireland’s starving poor, and wished to shift it to the landowning Protestant Ascendancy, whom the government blamed for Ireland’s poverty-stricken misery.  The £4 rating clause and the so-called Gregory clause, which stated that no one with landholdings (whether by rental or otherwise) of more than ¼ acre would be eligible for public assistance, whether in a workhouse or otherwise.  To become eligible for assistance, a tenant has to surrender his holding to his landlord.  The effect was immediate and profound, and “‘Gregoryism’ became a byword for the worst mistakes” of the Famine-era evictions and clearances.[30]

The nature of evictions and clearances varied radically.  Often, a tenant would be unable to pay the rent (or he would somehow have otherwise displeased his landlord), and he would be summarily turfed out into the ditch along with his family and his hovel torn down before his eyes.[31]  Even more notorious were the Clearances, which were, simply put, mass evictions of dozens and sometimes hundreds of tenants and their families at a time.  The Earl of Lucan for example was, as Donnelly put it, “perhaps the greatest depopulator in all of Mayo,” clearing about 2,000 people and destroying 300 houses in Ballinrobe parish between 1846 and 1849.  Virtually all of the land was enclosed and converted to pasture.[32]

The more fortunate of the evicted received pittances (anywhere from less than £1 to perhaps as much as £5 per head as inducement to leave.[33]  Others received nothing, often being violently dragged from their homes to seek shelter in the ditches of nearby fields.[34]  Major Denis Mahon in the late spring of 1847 offered his tenants passage to Canada in exchange for leaving their land.  About 810 tenants accepted, and Major Mahon chartered two vessels at the “extravagant amount” of £14,000 to transport them.[35]  As Woodham-Smith describes it:

The legend in the west of Ireland is that … when one of [the coffin ships] foundered, and all aboard were lost, Major Mahon was shot by the lover of a girl who had been drowned.  In fact, the ship did not founder, although she was forced to put back to port in distress; both ships eventually reached Quebec, but in a very bad state.[36]

In actual fact, the 810 who voluntarily left were but a minority of the cleared, who numbered another 3,006, “including 84 widows.”  Mahon was denounced as being “worse than Cromwell,” and was shot to death by two men returning from a meeting at which he had argued with a priest who had denounced him from the pulpit the previous Sunday.  When the news of Mahon’s murder spread, “the exultation of the country people … was general and undisguised,” and bonfires were seen that night on hilltops for miles around.[37]

In all, it is likely that more than half a million or more were evicted or cleared from the land during the Famine Years.[38]  Many died, and the rest emigrated, whether to England or to North America.


As with evictions and clearances, the Great Hunger did not cause mass emigration to England, Canada, the United States and Australia.  It merely accelerated it.  Perhaps 250,000 Irish emigrated in the 18th century.  Another million emigrated between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the beginning of the Great Hunger in 1845.[39]  Perhaps 1.8 million emigrated to North America during the next decade, most of them between 1846 and 1851.[40]  Pre-Famine, most Irish emigrants went to England, often to Liverpool and other rapidly developing industrial cities in the Midlands.[41]  London’s Irish communities also exploded in size.[42]  But a trade depression in England in the 1840s directed emigration to North America in increasing numbers.[43]  More emigrated to Canada than to the United States because passage was cheaper, although many who landed at Gross Isle, the quarantine facilities set up by British authorities on an island in the St. Lawrence River, near Quebec, later went south to the United States.[44]  In June 1847, it was reported that 40 ships, loaded with 14,000 emigrants, were waiting to disembark at Gross Isle.[45]  Most Irish emigrants to the United States during those years landed in New York, although Baltimore, Philadelphia and New Orleans were also well-established ports of debarkation.[46]

The Coffin Ships

Conditions crossing the Atlantic, known as the “Western Ocean,” ranged from the mainly horrific to the singularly almost sublime.  Conditions seem to have been far worse on ships bound for Canada than they were on those bound for the United States.  Ships on the New York route tended to be newer and better regulated.  As to Canada, Laxton estimates that, of about 100,000 who took passage there in 1847, “year of the coffin ship,” 30,000 were struck down with typhus,  5,000 died at sea and another 15,000 died after arriving in Canada.[47]  On the other hand, the Jeanie Johnston made sixteen voyages to North America during the famine years, carrying about 2,500 passengers.  Not one of them died, which was widely attributed to her humane captain, James Attridge, who never overloaded his ship and always carried a proper doctor, not merely a ship’s cook with the nickname, “Doc.”[48]  Voyages typically lasted 50 days or more, although one of the Black Ball Line’s Western Ocean packets was known to have made the voyage east to Liverpool in 15 days, 18 hours.[49]

Was the Great Hunger “Genocide” or a “Holocaust”?

Genocide, which means “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group,” was introduced in 1944 to attempt to deal with the horrors of the deliberate Nazi attempt to exterminate European Jewry.[50]  The concept of “genocide” in this sense was thus unknown in the mid-nineteenth century.  But the idea of the British government’s actions amounting to “holocaust,” a much older term (meaning “a thorough destruction involving extensive loss of life especially through fire”) was a theme developed by such Irish patriots as Michael Davitt who, forty years later, actually used the word “holocaust.” [51]  “Young Irelanders” such as John Mitchel, in his Jail Journal, or, Five Years in British Prisons, expressed similar sentiments, if in somewhat different words, as early as the 1850s.[52]

More recently, beginning in the 1960s and continuing until at least the sesquicentennial of an Gorta Mór in 1996, terms such as “genocide” and “holocaust” have been used to describe the potato blight, the resulting starvation and epidemics and the British government’s wholly inadequate response.[53]  Such terms were in response to a well-documented trend earlier in the 20th century of influential “revisionist” interpretations that dominated Irish historiography, which “tended to minimize the role of the British government.”[54]  James Donnelly, I think, says it as well as anyone:

[T]hat while genocide was not in fact committed, what happened during and as a result of the clearances had the look of genocide to a great many Irish contemporaries.[55]

That said, many Irish have long preferred to use the term “An Gorta Mór,” or “The Great Hunger” instead of “The Great Famine,” “The Potato Famine” or other such similar terms.[56]  The reason why was quite simple, as Irish cottiers and agricultural laborers and other poor died, first of starvation and then of the epidemics that inevitably followed, Ireland continued to export vast quantities of foodstuffs to England and elsewhere, landowners ruthlessly cleared their land of unwanted tenants and the British government abrogated its responsibilities.[57]  What label to put to such a gross, and in some cases deliberate, dereliction of humanitarian duty, I will let others decide.

A Note About General Gogan’s Recollections

The General’s memoir attributes to Con Donoho a conversation about An Gorta Mór that occurred in July or August of 1845.  The earliest news of the potato blight in Ireland did not reach Halifax, Canada, until October 1, 1845, and did not reach New York until a few days later—and even then the news was seen as “unusually uninteresting.”[58]  The General also referred to “coffin ships” in a conversation with Black Muireann in August 1845.  Again, it is unlikely that term was widely used in this context until late 1846 or 1847, when the truly ghastly stories became more widely known.[59]


Ciarán Ó Murchadha’s 2011 work, The Great Famine, Ireland’s Agony 1845-1852 gives as nice an overview of the major secondary sources as any I have found, noting The Great Famine: Studies in Irish History as being a seminal mid-20th century work.  My personal favorite is Cecil Woodham-Smith’s The Great Hunger, published in 1962, notwithstanding the scholarly criticism of the time condemning it to be “the product of an amateur historian.”[60]  Other useful sources include the difficult-to-find Joel Mokyr’s Why Ireland Starved (1983), James Donnelly’s The Great Potato Famine (2001), Christine Kinealy’s A Death-Dealing Famine (1997) and The Great Famine and the Irish Diaspora in America (1999), edited by Arthur Gribben.

Invaluable sources more focused on the emigrant and the voyage across the Western Ocean include Kerby Miller’s Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America, Edward Laxton’s The Famine Ships and David Hollett’s Passage to the New World, Packet Ships and Irish Famine Emigrants 1845-1851.  Basil Lubbock’s Western Ocean Packets was a prime source for stories about packet ships, the hard captains and their bully mates who drove them and the packet rats who manned them.

[1]       (Petrie 2005) at 32, writing about the “awful unwonted silence” in the Irish countryside in the aftermath of an Gorta Mór.

[2]       (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 38; (Donnelly, The Great Irish Potato Famine 2001) at 44

[3]       (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 38; see also (Harris 1999) at 3.

[4]       (Kinealy, The Death-Dealing Famine 1997) at 48-50; (Ó Murchadha 2011) at 6; (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 39-40.

The cottiers (numbering perhaps 300,000 households) were “in effect bound labourers, who cultivated tiny holdings whose average size was about five acres, and who lived in formal landlord-tenant relationship with those from whom they rented their land.”  (Ó Murchadha 2011) at 5.  “Agricultural labourers comprised perhaps 600,000 households, and they had no tenure rights at all to their minute plots (often an acre or less) and spent most of their time as wage labourers.”  Id.

Ó Murchadha notes that visitors to pre-Famine Ireland were often surprised at the “rude good health” of the Irish poor, and compared them favorably to the “pallid, listless appearance of the rural and urban proletariat of their own countries.”  (Ó Murchadha 2011) at 7

Indeed, so useful was the potato as a foodstuff for the agricultural laboring class that, as Woodham-Smith observed:

But for the intervention of the blight, it is almost certain that the English labourer, however unwillingly, would have been driven to greater and greater dependence on the potato, and in due course suffered the insecurity a potato diet brings.

(Woodham-Smith 1991) at 39.  Woodham-Smith further estimated that to substitute grain for potatoes in the Irish diet would have required increasing the acreage devoted to sustaining the Irish by four to six-fold.   (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 35.

[5]       (Donnelly, The Great Irish Potato Famine 2001) at 1 (discussing diet); (Clarkson & Crawford 2001) at 69-70

(Fogarty 1995) (paraphrasing a letter to the editor of the New York Times referring to removal of foodstuffs from Galway in 1845, during the first year of the famine).

[6]       (O’Murchada 2011) at 7(regarding relative nutritional superiority of Irish potato-based diet as compared to other 19th century diets).

As to how the near-complete reliance of the Irish rural poor on the potato came about, see  (Kinealy, The Death-Dealing Famine 1997) at 48-51.

[7]       The particular fungus responsible for the blight that caused the Great Hunger was Phyltophthora infestans, and before 1845 was unknown in Europe.  (Harris 1999) at 2.

[8]       (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 40 (describing the checkerboard nature of the 1845 crop failure, “black and white next door.  Hence the contradictory reports”).

[9]       (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 44.

[10]     (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 40 (British government’s “habitual policy”); (Kinealy, This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine, 1845-52 2006).  For an interesting analysis of the complicated topic of English views of the Irish before, during and after the Great Hunger, see, e.g., Edward Lengel’s The Irish Through British eyes : Perceptions of Ireland in the Famine Era.  (Lengel 2002) at x (“English opinion on Ireland was ‘highly volatile rather than stable’”).

[11]     (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 47 (the unspoiled portions of the potatoes apparently turned instantly to corruption the minute they were handled).

[12]     An oft-used expression in recent American politics.  Former President Bush was quoted as saying in 2007, “Social security — they used to call it the third rail of American politics … because when you talked about it, you got singed, at the minimum.”  William Safire, Third Rail, New York Times Magazine, February 18, 2007, available at (last accessed on February 20, 2013).

[13]     (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 86-88.

[14]     (Harris 1999) at 3; (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 54__.  The Irish had hitherto been wholly unfamiliar with Indian maize corn, which compared to the potato was difficult to prepare as an edible foodstuff, as “Peel’s brimstone.”  (Kinealy, The Great Irish Famine—A Dangerous Memory? 1999) at 64.

[15]     (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 86.

[16]     (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 54 (regarding the effects of laissez-faire attitudes in the British government).  For a more thorough discussion of the particulars, see  (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 172-73 (regarding the Russell government’s relief provisions); (Lengel 2002) at __ (regarding opposition within the Cabinet to new relief efforts); (Kinealy, The Death-Dealing Famine 1997) at 69-70; (Donnelly, The Great Irish Potato Famine 2001) at _164_.

[17]     (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 58 (“ablest man”) & 123 (“perfect Free Trade”).

More’s the pity that Russell’s Whig government, blinded by what we would call today “market-driven economics,” did not buy more American Indian maize corn (or other substitute foodstuffs) in the summer of 1846 and beyond as a continuing emergency measure, instead of essentially privatizing poor relief for the remainder of the Famine Years at a time when private charitable donations essentially dried up (particularly in 1848 and thereafter).  (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 54 (British establishment views on market-driven economics as the salvation of every problem); (Kinealy, The Death-Dealing Famine 1997) (Kinealy, This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine, 1845-52 2006) at 67-71 and 89 (lack of further aid by Russell’s Whig government greatly exacerbated suffering).

[18]     (Kinealy, The Death-Dealing Famine 1997) at 5.

[19]     (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 188-205 (effects of starvation, typhus and other diseases) & 377 (1849 starvation); (Ó Murchadha 2011) at 91 (Cholera, which thankfully was relatively short-lived in 1849; it struck harder in the 1850’s.).

[20]     (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 163.

[21]     (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 182-83.

[22]     Estimates of the death toll and the number of emigrants during the 1845-51 period vary wildly.

[23]     (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 192 (bloody flux), 193-94 (hunger edema) & 204 (proportion of deaths from disease).  Others have put the ratio of death from disease as compared to starvation much lower. See, e.g., (Clarkson and Crawford 2001) at 161 (Table 7.3 showing modern estimates of deaths by various causes).

Dropsy was a vitamin B and protein deficiency that caused fever, gross swelling in the victim’s joints and edema, all of which made the slightest movement “excruciatingly painful.”  Other diseases that struck included scurvy as the potato was abandoned as a major source of nutrition, smallpox and a “virulent strain of xerophthalmia,” which merely blinded its starvation-weakened victims instead of outright killing them, also made a presence.   (Ó Murchadha 2011) at 90-91

[24]     (D. S. Jones 1999) at 85.

[25]     (Ó Murchadha 2011) at 10.

[26]     (Montgomery 1887) at 103.

[27]     Ó Murchadha notes that “middlemen are notoriously difficult to distinguish as a class.”  (Ó Murchadha 2011) at 10.

[28]     (Ó Murchadha 2011) at 10.

[29]     (Donnelly, Mass Eviction and the Great Famine 1997)  at 158.  In other words, landlords were responsible for paying all the poor rates of holdings valued at £4 or less—which in County Mayo comprised perhaps 75% of all holdings.  Id.  Of course, this included virtually every small holding, and as Cork landowner Sir Denham Jephson-Norreys recalled in 1866, “‘almost forced the landlords to get rid of their poorer tenantry; in order that they should not have to pay for these small holdings, they destroyed cottages in every direction’.”  Id. (internal citation omitted).

[30]     (Donnelly, Mass Eviction and the Great Famine 1997)  at 159-60.

[31]     As Ó Murchadha observed, “pre-Famine evictions took place for a variety of reasons, ranging from defaulting on rent to a cold managerial calculation and, not infrequently,” a landlord exercising his whim.  (Ó Murchadha 2011) at 113.

[32]     (Donnelly, Mass Eviction and the Great Famine 1997) at 159.

[33]     (Donnelly, Mass Eviction and the Great Famine 1997) at 157.

[34]     (Ó Murchadha 2011) at 115.  In one case, Mrs. Marcella Gerrard had her clearance carried out (it wouldn’t have done for a proper lady to have done it herself) with such brutality that being vindictively evicted “gave rise to the expression, ‘to gerradise’.”  Id.

[35]     Laxton reports that the rent arrearages (three years’ worth) owed to Mahon were £13,000.  (Laxton 1996) at 70.  I wonder whether Woodham-Smith conflated the cost of leasing the ships (which seems high) with the rent arrearages.

[36]     (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 324-25.

[37]     (Woodham-Smith 1991) at 325; see also (Laxton 1996) at 69-76.

[38]     (Donnelly, Mass Eviction and the Great Famine 1997) at 155-56 (500,000); (Ó Murchadha 2011) at 117 (500-600,00 during the 1846-54 period.  The numbers evicted or cleared from the land are not reliable, particularly for the earlier years.  (Donnelly, Mass Eviction and the Great Famine 1997) at 155.

[39]     (Keheller 2003) at 186.

[40]     (Keheller 2003) at 186 (1.8 million); at 186 (bulk of emigration during 1846-51 period).

[41]     (Kinealy, The Death-Dealing Famine 1997) at 147.

[42]     For example, of 280,000 who arrived in Liverpool in 1846, not more than 123,000 embarked to North America, and during the course of the Great Hunger, approximately one million Irish refugees flocked to Liverpool.  (Laxton 1996) at 233 (total of 1 million); (A. C. Radford 1976) at 156.  For a good overview of the importance of Irish emigration to England during the 19th century to labor force expansion and economic growth, The Irish in Britain, 1815-1939, by Roger Swift and Sheridan Gilley is a good beginning resource, as is  (among a number of other books).

The extent of Irish emigration to London may be seen in the rugby football club, the London Irish, which is today a highly successful rugby team in the Heineken premiership.  It was originally founded in the late nineteenth century to offer a rugby venue to the young Irishmen of London just as the London Welsh and London Scottish did for other internal emigrant groups.  (London Irish 2013) at http:// (lasted accessed on February 22, 2013) (“So it was in 1898 that a group of Irishmen came together to form their own club, the London Irish Rugby Football Club. The founding fathers were an exceptional group of powerful personalities embracing politicians, lawyers and businessmen united by a sense of Irishness and passion for rugby”).

[43]     (Kinealy, The Death-Dealing Famine 1997) at 147.

[44]     (Laxton 1996) at 2.

[45]     (Fleming 2009) at 109.

[46]     (Fleming 2009) at 109.

[47]     (Laxton 1996) at 38.

[48]     (Fleming 2009) at 108; (Laxton 1996) at 153-54.

[49]     (Lubbock 1926) at 5.  Voyages were much quicker eastbound, because of the prevailing winds.  Lubbock stated that Black Ball Line ships of the era, which were among the fastest and most luxurious, averaged 23 days eastbound and 40 days westbound.  Id.

[50]     (Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary 2009) at (last accessed February 21, 2013).

[51]     Michael Davitt, born at the height of the Great Hunger, founder of the Irish Land League and said to have inspired Mahatma Gandhi, wrote:

O]ver 2,000,000 people … have disappeared from Ireland, most of them starved to death and buried like dogs during the famine of 1847-48.  And all this human misery, this herding in houses, this holocaust of human beings, this diminution of population, this 1,500,000 Irish people doomed to live at the present hour in these homes of misery, poverty, squalor, and cold—because England resolves it shall be so in the interest of 10,000 or 15,000 Irish landlords.

(Davitt and Cashman 1882) at 204

[52]     Mitchel wrote:

Under all this the heart and soul of Ireland of intellect and manliness was left in Ireland beat and burned for and England was skilfully laying her plans for the final conquest her enemy …

Little did the Commissioners hope then that in four years British policy with the famine to aid would succeed In killing fully two millions and forcing nearly another million to flee the country.

(Mitchel 1854) at 17-18.

[53]     The charge as expressed by Francis Boyle:

Clearly, during the years 1845 to 1850, the British government pursued a policy of mass starvation in Ireland with intent to destroy in substantial part the national, ethnic and racial group commonly known as the Irish People…Therefore, during the years 1845 to 1850 the British government knowingly pursued a policy of mass starvation in Ireland that constituted acts of genocide against the Irish people within the meaning of Article II (c) of the 1948 [Hague] Genocide Convention.

As quoted by Jack O’Keefe, in the afterword of his recent novel, Famine Ghost: Genocide of the Irish.  (Keefe 2011) at 200.

[54]     (Donnelly, Mass Eviction and the Great Famine 1997) at 173; see also (Kinealy, The Death-Dealing Famine 1997) at 2.

[55]     (Donnelly, Mass Eviction and the Great Famine 1997) at 173.  Ciarán Ó Murchadha similarly noted that whether the British government’s actions amounted to genocide depended upon how the term “genocide” was defined, saying that genocide is:

[D]efined as the deliberate, systematic used of an environmental catastrophe to destroy a people under the pretext of engineering social reform, then there is certainly a case to be answered.

(Ó Murchadha 2011) at 197.  He went on to say that the British government’s actions constituted, at the very least, a “uniquely hideous humanitarian crime committed on a defenceless people.”  Id.

[56]     (Kinealy, The Great Irish Famine—A Dangerous Memory? 1999) at 240.

[57]     Id.

[58]     (Hogan 1999) at 155-59.

[59]     A later 19th century dictionary defines “coffin ship” as a “term applied to vessel which from overloading or from any cause is dangerous.”  (Hunter 1879) at 315.

A google search indicates usage in an 1837 article entitled, A Biographical Sketch of Captain Dampier, in the The United Service Magazine, Vol. 25, Part III, at 295 (1837).

[60]     (Harris 1999) at 7; see also (Kinealy, The Great Irish Famine—A Dangerous Memory? 1999) at 246-47.  Harris quotes Kevin Whelan stating about the scholarly reaction to Cecil Woodham-Smith’s work, “It is hard not to detect certain tones of chauvinism in their attitude.”  Id. (omitting internal citation).

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