Talk:Great Famine (Ireland)/Archive 1

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I removed the following section - largely added by , who seems to be somewhat unaccountable. Im surprised by the fact that you guys let this biased material stay unchecked for this long. All it seems to be is a rant against liberal 'charities' as being a 'disaster', and disputes estimated of the number of dead, which is qualified as an estimate, anyway. eyes open, people. forget the star wars action figures bullshit and get on the real material. --Sv ps. im currently in the process of mining the below for factual material, and will repost what is relevant shortly.


I presume the above editing was done by some two year old who is playing with a computer. It certainly wasn't done by anyone with an elementary grasp of history. If they wrote the nonsense they placed in the page on a history exam, they'd be laughed out of the exam hall and told to try reading a book on history sometime. The laughable garbage has been removed and the correct factual stuff re-instated. JTD 19:27 Jan 4, 2003 (UTC)

I have a problem with this sentence:

That in itself was a result of the tradition of sub-division of each farm equally among all male children, leaving holdings by the 1840s so small that the only crop that could be grown in sufficient quantities on such small holdings to feed a family was potatoes.

This sentence currently carries the burden of an ultimate cause in the article. As such it is woefully inadequate and misleading. The use of the word "tradition" is misleading since it suggests some primordial practice. In fact there is a complex history of changing land-ownership and use in Ireland as a consequence of English colonialism. This article needs to provide at least some of this history. Slrubenstein

Your lack of understanding of the complexities of Irish history is mind-blowing. Where did you learn this 'version' of history that would be laughed out of any school in Ireland? Re sub-division it was there in large measure WAS social tradition. Whereas english law and culture tended to act on the principle of primogeniture, with property being inherited by the oldest legitimate son, Irish cultural traditions, dating back to the Brehon Laws that pre-dated English/British rule, did not recognise the oldest son as superior, accepted the property rights of all men equally (and women sometimes). (This fact was shown, for example, in the inheritance of Irish thrones, where the first legitimate son did not automatically inherit the throne, but in fact an election took place involving all male relatives within five generations of the monarch to elect a new king!) Furthermore, whereas english cultural traditions recognised only the 'legitimate' family, Irish cultural traditions dating back millenia recognised the position of all children, irrespective of legitimacy or bastardy. This socio-economic and cultural relationships were further complicated by the Penal Laws which discriminated against all religions with the exception of the established Church of Ireland. These complicated issues such as tenancy, inheritance and the enforcement of the millenium-old tradition of equality among children. Such laws were inforced in different ways, rigidly or otherwise, against different classes and religions, prior to the period in question.

A combination of all of this produced the phenomenon of sub-division, which as family sizes increased in the early 19th century, led to an ever increased scale of sub division. A twenty acre tenancy within one generation could become ten two acre tenancies. The smaller they became the more reliant they became on the one foodstuff that could be grown in sufficient bulk to feed a family on a small tenant farm, potatoes. That is why the famine hit so severely, as indeed it did in other states where people were heavily reliant on one primary foodstuff.

Stevertigo, why did:

The Irish had overbred and there wasn't enough food to feed them all given the crop failure. However, as Frank O'Connor once observed, "'Famine is a useful word when you do not wish to use words like 'genocide' and 'extermination.'"


The fact that only four types of potato were brought from America was at the root of the famine. In fact the lack of genetic diversity in the food made it possible for a single fungus-relative to have those devastating consequences.

I'm a microbiologist who is deeply interested in history (esp. the history of microbiology) and can tell you that the removed text above is factually correct from at least a microbiologist's point of view. Decreasing genetic diversity in a crop makes it much easier for a pest species to adapt to the population and infect a majority of individuals. Its kinda like having only four car keys in a whole city. All an organized crime syndicate has to do is to figure out the drum settings of four locks and then all the cars of the city are theirs for the taking.

However, the fact that the Irish were so poor as to need to depend on such a cheap and dense food source is also a major reason why the famine happened. Why they were in such a precarious position can be debated but there is no reason to delete useful content. BTW, modern crops have failed for similar reasons: in the 1970s there was a major crop failure of maize in the US due to a pest species adapting to the a few different hybrid maize varieties. Luckily, Americans had a very diversified food basket and were able to import maize from other nations to minimize the shortage. The Irish were not in such a privileged position.

The other text that was removed IMO was factually correct with a slight and easily removed bias. So why then was all the text removed instead of simply NPOVd? I've seen some really badly POV material placed in articles but this doesn't even come close to being so bad that it has to be deleted outright. In fact, with some copyediting and minor NPOVing I think this could become brilliant prose. We really frown on the deletion of large chucks of text like this. Please see Wikipedia:Most common Wikipedia faux pas #4

Jtdirl, it is counter-productive to say:

Your lack of understanding of the complexities of Irish history is mind-blowing.

to any contributor. The only thing that is accomplished by saying things like that is the alienation of yourself and by extention your argument. When emotions are evoked and feelings hurt it doesn't matter how logical or correct your arguments are - the other person's emotions of anger and harmed pride will prevent them from agreeing with you. --mav

Mav, I appreciate your sentiment (and respect your opinion) but in this particular case, Jtdirl's melodramatic, patronizing, and aggresive stance doesn't bother me -- and while it does reveal something about his/her quality of intellectual engagement, it doesn't prevent me from agreeing if there is something to agree about. I have no doubt that local practices concerning inheritance were one, important, factor in the famine. I maintain that it was not the only factor, and that English colonialism is another factor (which is all that I wrote). It seems strange that someone would think that the claim that there was more than one factor suggests that I don't appreciate the "complexities" of Irish history -- and strange that someone would think that a monocausal model somehow does provide an appreciation of the "complexities." In a similar vein, I want to add to Mav's advice to J and S: do not get into a reversion war, or delete one another's contributions wholesale. Engage, and build. J, do not delete what S adds if you disagree with it, and do not dismiss the contribution with a hollow and patronizing insult; explain what is wrong with it and give S a chance to respond. S, do not delete all of J's contributions, ad to it to provide needed balance and complexity, and explain your additions here. Slrubenstein\

--- Hello, everyone. this is no doubt, a topic of much contention, and as such will find some disagreement. I am bothered by the insults, and have learned over my few years that they dont serve any cause. Ive learned to be civil here on the WP especially, since most people ive 'met' through WP are respectful and intelligent, though they may disagree.

I agree with mav that the microbiology material is valid, and removing it is a hack. - Overall the rule seems, cut out what is invalid, only, and i broke that rule. however, i didnt have time to completely reword all of the implications in the J's sections. 'Catholic overpopulation', 'tradition of splitting farms'. he weaves them all cleverly into an agenda, that can no doubt be seen as defencist of British policy (or lack of it) in dealing with its starving irish subjects at the time.

I would suggest, again, that my version is more in the news style, has more of the relevant material in a more relevant order, and additional theories about how catholics tendencies to overbreed go down lower, perhaps in the trash, if nothing can be salvaged from them.---Sv

- Sorry, Mav. I suppose I take my contributions to Wiki too seriously sometimes! Apologies. But the garbled analysis that keeps being added in here here infuriates Irish historians, because such ill-informed propagandistic nonsense is one thing we have had to put with for so long. And simplistic claims of genocide are seen as Irish propagandistic parallels to holocoust denial; ie, twisting facts in a manner that does history no service, and damages the credibility of the publication that publishes such facts. I stand over my article and have been told by other serious historians who read it that it was a accurate, rounded, non-propagandistic account of a serious event in Irish history. What it keeps being replaced by reads more like something from the 'X Files' than serious historical analysis.

Yes, S is right that colonialism had an overall impact on mid 19th century Irish society, but to talk of the famine as genocide is dismissed by all historians as poppycock. The central issue in the famine was (a) the disastrous impact of blight, (b) the reason (principally subdivision) why Irish tenant farmers in the 1840s were dependent on potatoes, the (c) failure of the Government to respond, which was to a significant measure due to the prevailing economic policy of laissez faire, which was the economic analysis believed in passionately by the Russell Government. Other issues did enter into the equation, but a full analysis would take up five or six times the space this already long article on Wiki does. But genocide is plain wrong and seen as such by all modern analysis. It is seen as the Irish historical equivalent of holocaust denial, the deliberate mischevious and propagandistic mis-representation of historical events which cannot be allowed to stand or given any serious credibility; all it amounts to is the disneyfying of history. If written in a history exam in Ireland, it would get a 'F' grade. JTD 03:49 Jan 5, 2003 (UTC)

I have to agree with points a, b and c. These points seem correct from everything I have read and have been taught about the famine. The genocide stuff is new to me but can and should be mentioned in the article so long as this is at least a sizable minority viewpoint. All we would need to do is say something like "such and such group thinks this, even though most historians disagree." I suggest the longer version be restored and any valid content in the shorter version not already in the longer one be merged into it. Then we can start the give and take of neutralizing any still-present POV in the longer merged version via the WikiWay. --mav

--- whoah, i got bumped! - this is a ps: P.s. Im soliciting some sources for use of their photos to augment this article. Im considering a photo of British constables evicting Irish tenants, as my primary choice. Perhaps a photo of the fungus should be included in the article? ;|===~~ ---Sv

Response to Jtd: Genocide is aslo "debatable" as to whether or not it is "wrong." Dont many historians commonly view the killing of say women and children, during ancient times, as 'common practice and a part of warfare at the time.'

The point isnt to moralise the argument- the point is to explain the facts. among these facts is how these topics are seen by different people. genocide is a strong word though, where "ignorance" and 'lack of consideration' may fit better. nevertheless nearly a million people died, as best can be told, and thats a lot of 'inconsideration.'--Sv

I am very glad to see that the two main contributors are expressing themselves in more reasonable and constructive (and perhaps transparent) tones -- I am sincere, as a non-expert I learn more from reading this kind of explanation than from rounds of insults. I want to make an observation and a suggestion. Observation: whever killing "civilians" during wartime is common or not, the word genocide is inflamatory (see the article and the talk pages that accompany it) and I do not think the word should be used casually. I am not saying it has no place in this article, but it can't just be thrown in; it has to be discussed in a nuanced way. Suggestion: can the two of you discuss the general structure of the article, and then work on it? For example, how about starting with a basic chronology, then a discussion of the causes (and please acknowledge how historians and politicians may have presented different explanations, how peoples explanations may have changed over time, and current debates among historians over explanations), and then a discussion of the larger debates over the meaning of the famine (not just for Irish identity or politics, but for how we view the 19th century, how we view colonialism, whatever)? Just a suggestion -- but I am trying to make clear what I think are some important distinctions (for example, one can cite British colonialism as one cause of the famine without accusing the British of genocide) (and, of course, the distinction between form and content. It is hard to argue over both at the same time; perhaps if we could agree to one, arguments over the other would be more easily resolved). Slrubenstein

Genocide is the deliberate mass murder of people. People in Ireland were NOT deliberately killed. They died largely from disease and hunger. A significant contributary factor was the failure of the policies of the Russell ministry to deal with the crisis. But no-one in Whitehall said 'lets let a million people starve' or 'lets kill off a million Irish people'. Some had theories that claimed Ireland was over-populated; it wasn't but the land structure, the existence of many large (frequently all but bankrupt) estates and an improverished tenantry on increasingly small land-holdings made it difficult without major reform (which did begin with the Encumbered Estates Act and was followed through with the Land Acts) to cope with a crisis if one did come. And unfortunately one did, in the form of a potato blight. That's not propaganda or making excuses for the British. It is explaining, FACTUALLY what happened, how and what the long-term results were JTD 04:10 Jan 5, 2003 (UTC)

By the way, when I first mentioned English colonialism I think I was under the impression that the division of farmland in Ireland into large and small estates, as well as shifts in crops under cultivation (and what was cultivated for local consumption versus export) were products of policies of the Crown or Parliament -- if I am wrong, I apologize. In any event, I hope the article would spell these factors out in depth. As for genocide -- there is some debate over what genocide is (your definition is not isomorphic with the definition of International Law). But my point above was to encourage more nuanced discussion, not a black or white distinction. Okay, no historian labels what happened as genocide. My question is, does anyone (I mean, besides Stevertigo)? Did any British or Irish politicians or journalists ever cry "genocide?" If so, the article needs to discuss this in a dispassionate way -- someplace (if not, of course, it doesn't need to. Like I said, I come here to learn; my suggestions are meant to be constructive in producing an article that will be more informative to non-Irish-historians, which I think is the point). Slrubenstein

Ok, im going to be inflammatory here and get it out of my system ;).  +  

- + - The above argument by you, JTD, seems similar to the arguments given by Holcaust revisionists. (not always does the history go to the victors). + - Revisionists have been in a debate in recent years as to the degree to which Hitler knew about the 'genocidal' acts by his Nazi officials. + - + - Of course continuing along this line, with the IPF as the subject, we then get to the Queen, and her role in non-response. Deparaging the sweet queen is not something we do much even in this day. Also, technology, and the ability of the british to know about the famine, is an issue - (maybe they just didnt know??) the truth lies in the grey areas, like with anything else. The queen couldnt act without the consent of parliament. parliament was locked politically in inaction due to infighting between responsible human beings, and selfish landholding bastards. give or take a few details.

Were not trying to impose a 21st century morality upon the acts of a British imperialist system that was quite humane for its time. We are however, saying things as they are, with a vocabulary that has much developed in the time since. be well. - ----Sv

for SR, here are some links: pick one.

Thanks. I just want to add, for J, please look at the Genocide article; would the famine count as genocide according to the UN resolution? Remember, the Nuremburg trials worked retroactively too. Historians have one perspective, international lawyers have another, and both can be represented in this article as long as the different points of view are clearly explained. Slrubenstein

As to the claim that I am making excuses for British policy, that is blatently absurd rubbish, but it does reveal S's agenda, which is to use the Famine as part of a wholescale argument on colonisation, in a bout of Brit-bashing. There are plenty of things about Britain's colonisation policies that need criticising (not bashing, that's hardly NPOV). But twisting the famine through emotive phrases like 'genocide' that no historian in Ireland uses, and all of which condemn as unwelcome, unhelpful and deliberately provocative, is unacceptable.

The views of historians are central to this article and should be presented clearly. But no academic discipline can monopolize discussion of an issue. If non-historians have raised issues that historians consider unacceptable, the article can make clear that historians find these views unacceptable (and explain why) but the article itself should nonetheless describe these views, specify who holds them, and why, as well. Slrubenstein

As to S's desire to use pictures of Irish constables (they were Irish by the way, S, and catholic, not British) evicting tenants shows the scale of his ignorance of the history of the time. There ARE NO photographs of the famine. Historians wish there were, so we could use them in books, but there are none. All there are are line-drawings. By all means use them. provided you actually contextualise them, not turn them into a simplistic disneyfied Brit-bashing rant. And using terms like 'British imperialistic system' and 'selfish landlording bastards' doesn't give much evidence of S' objectivity, simply S's agenda. JTD

Jtdirl, I thought that during the 19th century many British leaders (maybe not Gladstone, but certainly Disraeli) embraced the notion of "imperialism." Am I wrong? Slrubenstein

I think were getting somewhere. And I apoplogise JTD, if i hacked your work. I know I dont like it when people do it to me. But its all, assumed to be in the interest of the wikipedia- to tug and pull and generate a good article, and that that improvement should be continuous. I will agree to disagree with you JTD on many of these issues. perhaps you might take the time to rewrite the article yourself, as your project. We of other persuasions will eagerly await your improvements, and the inclusion of varied persectives in this article. I might suggest you read my news style article as a primer. there is no time limit, though someone may feel the impetus to engage this article before youve had time to, so i suggest sooner rather than later. I for one, am tired of this page today, and am going to have a gourd of mate. ---thank you everyone, ---Sv


When did I ever hack your work? I have only converted your hacks into something resembling encyclopedia articles (with a great deal of effort on at least on occasion). BTW, the quality of your work here speaks for itself. --mav 01:11 Jan 8, 2003 (UTC)

Not at all, Sirub, but their concept of imperialism as understood by them is different to our analysis, given that

  • many contemporary leaders in the UK, US and elsewhere in the nineteenth century and beyond believed they were 'bringing civilisation' to the 'inferior natives'. (Our analysis rightly regards that idea is offensive and rascist;)
  • Disraeli and Gladstone's periods in power occured in the decades after the Great Famine, and so the concept of how Ireland was perceived by Britain in the 1840s is different to Disraelian and Gladstonian definitions later;
  • British Imperialism means different things, depending on whether one is taking it from a politicised 21st century perspective, a late twentieth century perspective, a marxist analysis, a right wing analysis, a neo-colonial analysis, etc.

As a result terms like 'british imperialism' are seen as too agenda loaded by many modern historians, certainly in the Irish context, to be used. That does not mean that British colonial policy cannot be criticised in depth, merely that the terminology used, should be, as Wiki would put it, NPOV, thus capable of analysing facts, not simply using catchphrases to sum up emotional reactions that may not in a specific context do history justice. For example, in Ireland, the only people who use the phrase British imperialism are small ideological parties on the left, namely Sinn Féin, the Socialist Workers Party and the Communist Party of Ireland. No-one else will touch the phrase because it is seen as too agenda-driven. Irish Americans, in contrast, do tend to have an overall analysis of Irish history that is usually a generation or more behind analysis in Ireland, which is one problem on Wiki, where ideas discarded as factually inaccurate or propagandistic in Ireland still are taken as correct or accurate among Irish Americans. Irish governments and academics have striven in recent times to try to explain a different analysis of Ireland to the greater Irish and Irish American diaspora, with some success. (Some Irish universities have their students contribute to Wiki to correct simplistic Irish American analyses on it) JTD 04:53 Jan 5, 2003 (UTC)

Thank you for the clarification -- perhaps some of this can/should be worked into the article itself? I mean, both your account of the differences betwen debates among historians and debates among certain Irish political parties/movements, and your account of the differences between forms of Imperialism. Of course, I understand too that English "colonialism" in Ireland will of course be different from the form it took in N. America or India -- what I mean is, a discussion of this broader context, where British policy in Ireland fitted in with/diverged from earler and later examples elsewhere, might be very helpful. Slrubenstein
Yeah, I think it is a good idea. I certainly never meant the famine page to be seen as excusing British policy in Ireland, merely to point out that contemporary Irish historical analysis doesn't follow the traditional 'Irish = good, Brits = bad' senario which was commonplace in Irish historical analysis in the early-mid 20C and still exists a lot in Irish America. I did a substantial re-write on the page on Irish history to show the full complexity of our history. (Some conservative historians would see MY contributions are Brit-bashing!!!) The Irish Famine was not a simple case of Irish-hating Brits committing genocide, but a product of ignorant government following a disastrously misplaced economic theory, population growth in a rural economy of ever decreasing small farm units that made survival dangerously reliant on one food stuff, a famine of that foodstuff, and a whole land-holding system in need of wholescale reform, reforms which did occur over the following 70 years. Its very complexity was not even hinted at in S's contribution, which in tone and context read like the sort of history that contemporary Irish historians, academics and the entire society had ditched decades ago (though still repeated in Irish-America) and which when re-appearing is like a red rag to a bull for Irish historians. . And now, finally to bed (at 5.36am here in Dublin!) JTD 05:34 Jan 5, 2003 (UTC)


this was very unuseful for me. i did not provide eneough information for my report. thanks a lot.


It is a little known fact when it comes to any discussion regarding An Gorta Mor that the British government, not only did not aid the Irish when the famine struck, but were also guilty of exporting foodstuffs during the course of the famine. Blame for this disaster should not be placed entirely on the failure of the crop, there is also blame to be shared by those who were alleged to be governing the country. of course, this action on their part, I suspect played into larger agenda of continuing their persecution of the Irish people. Tony Blair, in fairness to him did issue an apology to the Irish people several years ago regarding the inaction of the British government