[In Our Time] The Great Irish Famine

The Great Irish Famine

04/04/2019 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: http://podplayer.net/?id=67083227
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p075chlg.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss why the potato crop failures in the 1840s had such a catastrophic impact in Ireland. It is estimated that one million people died from disease or starvation after the blight and another two million left the country within the decade. There had been famines before, but not on this scale. What was it about the laws, attitudes and responses that made this one so devastating?

The image above is from The Illustrated London News, Dec. 29, 1849, showing a scalp or shelter, “a hole, surrounded by pools, and three sides of the scalp were dripping with water, which ran in small streams over the floor and out by the entrance. The poor inhabitants said they would be thankful if the landlord would leave them there, and the Almighty would spare their lives. Its principal tenant is Margaret Vaughan.”


Cormac O’Grada
Professor Emeritus in the School of Economics at University College Dublin

Niamh Gallagher
University Lecturer in Modern British and Irish History at the University of Cambridge


Enda Delaney
Professor of Modern History and School Director of Research at the University of Edinburgh

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: 2019-05-06


  • I am prejudiced towards the Irish, and this did not much reduce my prejudice.
  • Maybe it reveals that I am a bastard, but I felt that when the panel said that the Irish migration to elsewhere was inevitable (hello there, Thanos) and the Great Famine only hastened it, I found myself thinking of the Kashmiri Pandits and how their facing violence at least meant that future generations of KPs got to grow up in big cities instead of an insular backwater. Likewise, the Irish in America.
  • Ah, so post famine, Ireland shifted over to dairying because actually growing things was permanently affected.
  • The bit about how that particular bureaucrat became such a hated figure in Ireland only a hundred years later was interesting.
  • I see that here too, famine relief fell victim to “Don’t interfere in the market price”.



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