The Great Irish Famine had enormous repercussions on world history. It established the Irish-Americans as one of the great power blocks of the world because of the numbers who emigrated from Ireland during and after the catastrophe. In turn it was the Irish-American factor which proved to be the decisive force in the peace process which has led directly to the present cordial state of Anglo-Irish relationships, writes Pat Coogan, author of a new book on the subject, in The Catholic Herald.
The path to the Queen's successful visit last year could be said to have opened when Tony Blair began his policy of rapprochement with militant republicans by apologising for the Famine shortly after taking office in 1997.
There was much to apologise for. No doubt the youthful Blair, holidaying with his grandmother in the famine-stricken county of Donegal, would have imbibed famine folklore along with the Guinness he remembered so fondly. But there was nothing about the famine to remember fondly, except perhaps the disinterested efforts of the Quakers to stem its effects.
Famine and near starvation were no strangers to Ireland during the century which proceeded the outbreak of the “Great Hunger” itself following the coming of the potato blight in 1845.
As Earl Grey, a member of Peel’s Conservative cabinet, declared, Ireland was a disgrace, the great blot on the British Empire. The coming of the Whigs to power a few months after Grey’s utterance, made the blot deeper and wider.
When the Whigs took power, under the premiership of Lord John Russell, party discipline had been ravaged by the ferocious parliamentary war over the dismantling of the Corn Laws and there were far bigger beasts than Russell sitting around the Cabinet table – Palmerston, for example.
Moreover, Ireland had been ravaged also by successive conquests and by the effects of the Act of Union, which obliterated the Irish parliament and, on paper, made Ireland a part of the United Kingdom exactly as were Scotland and Wales.
FULL STORY Irish famine was an unnatural disaster (Catholic Herald)