The Great Hunger: Ireland: 1845-1849
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The Great Hunger: Ireland: 1845-1849

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  433 ratings  ·  50 reviews
The Irish potato famine of the 1840s, perhaps the most appalling event of the Victorian era, killed over a million people and drove as many more to emigrate to America. The impact on Anglo-Irish relations was incalculable, the immediate human cost almost inconceivable. This book provides a definitive account.
Paperback, 528 pages
Published September 1st 1992 by Penguin Books (first published 1962)
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DoctorM
A fine introduction to one of the great disasters of the modern world--- the Irish Famine of the mid and late 1840s. Woodham-Smith tells the tale with both compassion for a land where perhaps a quarter of the population was destitute even in good years and with a subtle, icy coldness for the administrators in London who refused to take any of the steps that seem so obvious today. (Yes, I'm New Orleans-born, and my thought while reading "The Great Hunger" was that the relief efforts undertaken in...more
Leslie
This is an older history of the famine (first published 1962), a good example of well-written general history. Its subject is, of course, thoroughly horrifying. What struck me as I read was how much history repeats itself and how little some learn from it. The Irish died not really because of the potato blight but because of insanely stupid laws governing land ownership and tenancy that were set up to benefit a tiny few and to exploit and degrade the many and were subsequently defended, even at...more
Arwen
I picked this book up at a time when I am researching my family history and at the moment in particular my 3 x great grandparents Hugh and Catherine who came from Roscommon, Ireland, to England in 1852. They would have been teenagers at the time of the great famine.. Having read the book, I'm surprised they or anyone else lived to emigrate. I know my ancestors were humble people who couldn't read or write, and I really wonder how they survived, and how many of their families perished.
It's easy h...more
Suzanne
Oct 07, 2012 Suzanne rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: serious students of European history
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Well , that wasn’t pretty. Well-researched, informative, and educational, but definitely not pretty.

I’d always wondered how the Irish potato famine happened, how a country could depend so heavily on one crop, one food source so completely, that its failure could have the kind of devastating effect this one did. The Great Hunger explains the perfect storm of conditions and forces that resulted in starvation for millions of people, emigration for hundreds of thousands more. At the time, all of Ir...more
Mary
This is the best book I have ever read in my life. It is extraordinarily informative, gripping and horrifying. The catastrophe developed after centuries of colonialism, where the bountiful agricultural resources were extracted from Ireland while the Irish people were reduced to barely subsistence level lives: diet of one staple (in spite of the variety of exports they raised), starvation every year before the potato crop was ready, work to pay rent with hardly any currency exchanged, education a...more
Louise
After reading this book I'm amazed my Irish ancestors survived long enough to be able to emigrate to England and for that I am truly thankful or I wouldn't be here to write this review. Truly harrowing in it's detail of the sufferings of the Irish people and what we now see as their callous treatment by the British government. I also hadn't realised that famine was a regular occurence in Ireland because of their reliance on the potato, although in this case it went way beyond anything that had e...more
Viola
'Is Britain’s cover-up of its 1845-1850 holocaust in Ireland the most successful Big Lie in all of history?

The cover-up is accomplished by the same British terrorism and bribery that perpetrated the genocide.
Consider: why does Irish President Mary Robinson call it “Ireland’s greatest natural disaster” while she conceals the British army’s role?

Potato blight, “phytophthora infestans”, did spread from America to Europe in 1844, to England and then Ireland in 1845 but it didn’t cause famine anywh...more
Phillip Kay
How equipped are our governments to deal with emergencies? Supposing a worldwide epidemic, which many scientists forecast, or even a tornado, were to strike, would there be an effective support system with adequate funds to spring immediately into action? Do we want this to happen? Have we learnt anything from the past?

Cecil Woodham-Smith wrote a book in 1962 called The Great Hunger which implicitly asks these question. She had shown how slow the British Government was to learn from the mistakes...more
Jo
This is excellent, a really comprehensive account of the famine. The digression about the life of the Irish emigrants in New York is too long, but on the other hand there's a good explanation of contemporary theories about the cause of the potato blight, and of the discovery of the real cause in the 20th century.
Mark O'hagan
It was only after visiting the Famine museum in Strokestown House that I felt compelled to investigate the full story of the famine. This book is an outstanding piece of research into Ireland's darkest hour and should be considered as essential reading for every student of Irish history
Matthew Bartlett
A heart breaking, step by step retelling of how the Great Famine afflicted Ireland, causing a mass exodus by the population. It reveals a poor response to the famine as well as what diseases resulted and what happened to many who tried to flee and survive.
Katy Walters
This is such a heartbreaking and emotional read. It is also full of history, politics of the time and an indepth soul searching account of the suffering of the Irish people.It is a book that I keep close as my family suffered in that period.
Timothy Riley
I had always wanted to know more about this sad topic. One of the things I learned was how complicated it all was. Lots of people unilaterally blame the british, but it was more complicated than that. It as caused by centuries of british repression that caused huge land ownership problems and dependence on one crop because the people were so poor and treated so badly by the landlords who were mostly british or scottish protestants. Trevelyan was the biggest bastard of all the british bureaucrats...more
Mark Oconnor
An amazing account of the events from 1845-1849 of the Irish Famine. The amount of correspondence that survived from that era is impressive, and the author is very thorough at establishing the conditions immediately preceding the famine that provided the perfect storm for this tragedy. Trevelyan comes out as the chief villain for his utter callousness towards the Irish, with his lieutenant Charles Woods coming in at a close second during the second half of the book. The author also spends a grea...more
Debbie
People interested in immigration issues should read this book.
I knew of the Irish Famine, I had no idea 2 million people disappeared.
So many Irish people were lost, went to Canada and poured over the borders to America.
England did not handle this famine well at all, even though there were scientists who knew about the problem and how to solve it.
I learned so much about what does not work as immigration policies.
Nelleke
A terrible but good book. About the patato-famine in Ireland. The book explains how it could happen and what the awful consequences were. A great part is about politics, that part was hard for me to understand (probably because in general I am not interested in politics). But the other part was about the irish people and how they lived in the country. This part is terrible, because people were so poor they only possessed a pig and a dungheap and patatoes. Even before the famine many people did l...more
Bernadette
I've had this book on my shelves for too many years now but for some reason decided to take it on hols to Ireland in October. For a serious work on a tragic period in Irish history, it was a very accessible read. What was fascinating for me was that the reasons for what happened during 45-49 were many and complex - far more subtle in some cases than simply a failure of the potato crop and cruelty by UK politicians. But the consequences of a failure of nature and of people who should care was bre...more
Bap
It was the worst of all possible worlds. The potato crop, the mainstay for th e Irish underclass, fails not once but repeatedly. The English are hobbled by their antipathy for the Irish and their devotion to unvarnished capitalism and millions die and millions emigrate at a time when the Ireland is actually producing a surplus of food that is exported the England. Any possibility of a continuation of unification with England is extinquished by this four year period and its aftermath even though...more
Grumpus
This really explained the Irish Potato famine. What led up to it and the British response to it. I never knew the politics and political structure behind it and how that exacerbated the situation there.

I was always curious about why the Irish were always so hated in America around the turn of the century. Many of the Irish were shipped to America with disease and were the illiterate poor that were "kicked to the curb" by being offered free passage to American and Canada. There they were held in...more
Simon
This book is a savage indictment of the British Establishment over their handling of the Great Irish Famine. Regrettably, the indictment is fully justified.
Karen
I have learned so much from this book about Ireland and it's history. A little heavy reading for me, but I like this type of book, even if it's a bit over my head at times. My eyes have been opened with regards to the misconceptions surrounding the Irish potato famine. Reading a historian's perspective is so enjoyable because you are reading a well researched historical account, and this author writes in a style that I can grasp. I would highly recommend it, really interesting!!
Kath
An informative account of tragic human suffering and a government that could have prevented a good portion of that suffering but chose not to. It's still difficult for me to grasp how deeply the Irish were despised, both at home and abroad. And this book as well as several others I've read makes me wonder if immigrants stopped thinking of America as "the land of opportunity" as soon as they hit our shores. We didn't welcome them at all!
Echo
This is one of the books I used when I was researching for my senior thesis in college. The writing style is easy to read, but the subject matter is absolutely devastating. I've read criticism that the author places too much blame on the English government, and I can certainly see where there's some bias in the writing. But it gives a pretty detailed account of the famine, and there's plenty of information that makes it worth reading.
D.J. Kelly
Although there are more recent works on An Gorta Mor - the Irish Famine, which of course wasn't a famine per se but an induced mass starvation of a food producing nation, this book is the definitive account and one which anyone interested in the period ought to have on their bookshelf. Cecil Woodham-Smith's book is an erudite account yet is clearly written and illuminating.
Tom
This was a dense, factual book with a solid analysis of Potato Famine. It covered so much material that it was a hard slog. Some of the run-on sentences made it hard to follow in segments as did antiquated British terms for property and currency. It was however incredibly insightful. If you want to know more about the Potato Famine, this is the definitive resource.
AmblingBooks
"Mrs. Woodham-Smith has made an individual contribution to Irish history. Her thoroughness in research, compassionate fair-mindedness, and gift of narrative are all again in evidence." � Times

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Temple Dog
I found this book quite informative about a subject matter I had absolutely no knowledge of, prior to reading this.

However, I found it laden with redundant data, overtly graphic and unnecessarily long.

But, despite that, I am glad that I read it and I would encourage students of British/Irish history to add it to their reading list.

TD
Englisharchaeologist
honestly? I'm a Brit, and all this portrays us as is evil, short sighted lunatics. Britain didn't control Ireland in the Victorian era. this is racist to Brits and extremely convinced that the Irish are a superior race. Bet you the guy who wrote this was Irish! PLEASE, FOR YOUR SAKE, NEVER READ THIS BOOK!
Jessica
Finally Finished!!!Devastating circumstances that the Irish went through,I would love to read a book from someone who survived The Great Hunger and the epidemic of diseases (if anyone knows of any message me!). This book is a great resource for Ireland's history.
Les Wolf
Another book by an author who turns history into a seamless work of master story telling. Cecil Woodham Smith wrote four books in her lifetime. I have read two, this one and The Charge of the Light Brigade. I definitely plan to read her other two books.
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