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The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  998 ratings  ·  199 reviews
A compelling new look at one of the worst disasters to strike humankindthe Great Irish Potato Famineconveyed as lyrical narrative history from the acclaimed author of The Great Mortality.
Paperback, 397 pages
Published July 23rd 2013 by Picador (first published August 21st 2012)
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Start your review of The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People
The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People was a well researched and documented history of the Irish Potato Famine beginning in 1845 when a fungus-like organism spread rapidly throughout Ireland, and ran rampant over the next several years, causing suffering and death throughout Ireland. John Kelly documents all facets of this suffering from the accounts of the families that are impacted to the government entities that so dramatically failed these people. This was ...more
♥ Sandi ❣
Feb 22, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to ♥ Sandi ❣ by: Buddy Read in Bound Together
3 stars

I was totally unprepared for this book. I read a lot of non-fiction, but usually what is now referred to as 'contemporary' or 'novel' non-fiction, which has it's facts put into an easy to read story-like format. This book was true non-fiction - textbook non-fiction. It took me chapters to meld with this book and the information that was being presented.

Now saying the above, does not take away from the book. I feel it did a good job of explaining the Irish potato famine in the mid 1800's.
Diane S ☔
Mar 03, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5000-2019
Thoughts soon.
Jan 29, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-history
Available as a two-part, 14-hour audio book download.

Honor the suffering of millions of now-still voices and forgotten names of Ireland by listening to or reading their story in this narrative or one like it. It's more appropriate than drinking cheap beer in a green cardboard hat.

Just like certain problems of today, the cause of the Irish potato famine (a fungus) was known, but the people who knew were insufficiently media-savvy and charming, so their voices were drowned out by people with wrong
Anne ✨
Feb 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, atw-uk
Extremely well researched, this is a very detailed history of the The Great Famine of the 1840's. With a perfect storm of circumstances, a natural disaster (potato blight) in Ireland snowballed into a horrendous tragedy of famine, disease, and death to over a million people mainly in Ireland but also in England, US, and Canada as a result of mass exodus.

I had known very little about the scope and scale of this tragedy, so this was an eye-opening read for me, to learn of the many factors that
Dec 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although I didn't like this as much as Kelly's previous book on the Black Death, The Great Mortality , it was certainly an absorbing read and a sobering one. I hadn't known much about the potato famine before reading this, but it wasn't one of those kind of books where prior knowledge was required to fully understand the text.

The saddest thing of all about the story, I think, is that it wasn't anything evil that doomed the Irish. Contrary to what some people believe, no one was deliberately
Colleen Browne
Jan 03, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I wanted to like this book. I had planned to read it for quite a while but there were many books ahead of it. I recall listening to a program on RTE radio which featured Tim Pat Coogan, John Kelly, a descendant of Trevelyan, and another woman author whose name escapes me. At the time, Kelly came off as rather conservative on the issue of genocide but I wanted to read what he had to say before passing any judgment. I have studied the Famine, written papers on it, and read other books, including ...more
Mar 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction, 2018

So many factors contributed to the Irish potato famine in the 1840s. Weather, geography, government, religion, and the class system all played a role in making a terrible situation worse. In The Graves Are Walking, we get a brief overview of Irish history before the 1840s and how the landed gentry played a role in exacerbating a horrible situation.

This is the first book I’ve read on the Irish potato famine, so I have nothing to compare it to. Because I know little of Irish history, I learned
Kiwi Begs2Differ  ✎
This is an informative and comprehensive book on the potato famine which wiped out a third of the Irish population from 1845 to 1849. Drawing both from facts and anecdotes, it illustrates the social, economic and political situation of Ireland in the middle of 1800s when the potato blight hit the country. It chronicles, in exhaustive detail, its swift spread trough the countryside and vividly describes the snowballing consequences of deadly famine, life-threatening diseases (typhus, dysentery ...more
Jim Gallen
Feb 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The Graves Are Walking” is another of the current histories of the Potato Famine that places much of the blame on British governmental policy, but this work goes much farther.

Author John Kelly shows how a potato blight, opportunistic disease and social policy combined to turn a natural disaster into a deadly famine. From 1845 to 1847 Ireland was transformed from a poor, overcrowded country into a living hell. The blight began on the continent whence it spread to Ireland and Scotland. What made
Nov 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Irish potato famine is something I remember hearing about in school but never really understanding it. "The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish" filled in that gap in my historical knowledge. It is incredible to me, as this book shows, how ideology and religion can blind people, and be used to justify terrible suffering.

Ireland in 1846, at the beginning of the famine, had a population of about 8 million. At the end of the famine 1.5 million were dead and at least
Jud Barry
Oct 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There was some warning that the potato blight was on its way--the fungus worked its way across Europe in a westerly direction--but the questions uppermost on the minds of laissez-faire public officials were "How can we 1.not allow relief to encourage a lifestyle of dependency 2.make the Irish landord (as opposed to the English taxpayer) bear the cost of relief and 3.enable the Irish agricultural export market to continue as usual?"

When the blight hit, producing two years of near-total potato
Aug 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
An amazing book. My knowledge of the potato famine was naive enough to believe that the major problem was the blight that caused the famine. It was the impetus, but what transpired afterward was heartbreaking and maddening. Between the governmental abuses of power and their ineptitude in handling the situation, the "moralist" attempts to use the famine and ensuing pestilence to show God's punishment on these "lower people", and the overall prejudice toward the Irish, it is amazing that any ...more
Nov 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Simply devoured this non-fiction read in two days...a page turner and scholarly. This book was amazingly comprehensive in the impact of the potatoe blight on the Irish and subsequently, the rest of the world. My only complaint would have been the lack of how the Irish found themselves in the position they in the first place, that's only because I would have like to read how THIS author wrote it. Going to hunt down his previous book about The Plague.
Feb 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the early part of this historical account of one of the great human tragedies to affect mankind, we are introduced to the political players, local persons affected, and relief brought in earnest but severely mismanaged, as well as a plethora of good intentions seemingly gone awry. In all truth, there was an effort and attempt to diagnose, understand, and then salvage what could (or what was believed to be an ability to salvage) for humanity with the P-infestans that afflicted the potato with ...more
Elia Princess of Starfall
Nov 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Irish History
Recommended to Elia Princess of Starfall by: No one

Tell me, have you ever wondered why there is such a wide-ranging and entrenched Irish diaspora throughout the world? Have you ever thought about why there has been great bitterness between England and Ireland in the past? Or why the Irish were so determined to achieve national independence through the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence or the Irish Civil War?


Growing up in Ireland, I often heard vague and quiet references to the Irish Famine of 1845-1851. When you're Irish, its a given
Will Singleton
Just couldn’t get into this even after 145 pages. I really wanted to like this. Sorry to say i abandoned this one.
Aug 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think the title of this book is a clear sign that it is not a shiny happy story. In fact there is very little good in this book. As the author said in the second to last paragraph England has a lot of wonderful moments in history it can be very proud of. The Irish Potato Famine is probably one of the periods of history it should be most ashamed of (kind of like America's history with slavery. . .).

John Kelly did an excellent job explaining how the political responses to a crop failure lead to
Mary Regan
Jan 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A somber work by the author of The Great Mortality, which was a history of the Black Death. The Great Hunger is the subject of this book, a great mortality that afflicted Ireland when the potato crop, the only food for most small Irish farmers, failed again and again, from 1845 to 1852.
Kelly takes a very small slice of Irish history -- really from August of 1845 through "black '47," and adds the story of those who fled that year to Canada and to the U.S. The book is rich with detail, and it
Aug 07, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This took me well over a month to read, which is never a good sign. I enjoyed learning more about the political part of the Irish Potato Famine but I felt Kelly overdid it. I studied history in college so I understand that all historical writing has some sort of bent and I've read a few accounts of the Irish Potato saga told from a pro agricultural reform side as well, warning against growing just one variety of one crop, in this case potatoes. I like reading books from all political views so I ...more
Apr 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Remarkable and stinging assessment of England's role in the tragedy of the famine. Eminently readable, which is not always the case with these scholarly works, while devoid of easy but spurious appeals to pathos, e.g., accusations of premeditated genocide. There are many grim descriptions of the deep suffering inflicted upon the Irish during this period of terrible governance, but it would be pretty hard to tell the story without these.

I find myself quite frustrated by the English government's
Feb 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Difficult to read because of the suffering and inhumanity described, so I took it slowly. It is definitely worth reading, even if one already knows something about the great potato famine and emigration. Well researched and written, it is full of personal stories that make the history more relatable than simply a presentation of the facts.
Lisa M.
When I added this to my to-read list, I realized I knew very little about the Irish potato famine. All I really knew was that it inspired many Irish to emigrate to America, where they were discriminated against. I wasn't sure if the title - "the graves are walking" - would be appropriate. I wondered if this book was capitalizing on the overly-used zombie fad to get sales. I was wrong. If you are considering reading this book and are of weak of stomach, this may not be for you. The Irish potato ...more
Oct 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british-history
The Irish famine is one of the most tragic and contentious periods in the long and often tragic and contentious history of Anglo-Irish relations. Talk about the famine still causes controversy and outrage today, more than 150 years later; and the mass exodus of Irish citizens fleeing the desperate situation at home has had a lasting influence on the populations of Ireland, Britain, Canada and the United States. One could quite reasonably argue that the Irish famine went further towards creating ...more
This is a history of the potato crop failures in Ireland in 1845-46, the famine that went with those failures, and the additional struggles of the Irish people with disease and emigration during this period. It is a well written and well organized history that holds a reader's attention fairly well.

I had read about this period before and had heard about it since I was young, as grandparents relayed what they had heard from their grandparents, who spoke in detail of the poverty, disease, and even
Carl Williams
Sep 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is a well-written, well documented, history of an Gorta Mór, the Great Famine, in the middle of the 19th century—its causes, the suffering, and the lack of compassion that exacerbated the whole tragedy.

The potato blight was a Europe-wide phenomena, not solely Irish, but in Ireland the potato was the major food source for the majority of the population and so hit there the hardest. Once in need, the Irish were met with a combination of mismanagement and hard hearts. As the famine worsened
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Up to date history on the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-55. Not the worst famine that British maladjusted social policy created. A famine in India during WWII caused more destruction and death but the Irish case was significant in that brought about the Irish diaspora and planted the seeds of one of the earliest resistance to British Empire and would lead to the easter uprising 70 years later. In fact, it seemed to be a harbinger of the greater de-colonization of the mid-twentieth century. It is ...more
Lexie Graham
This is a well written book about a tragic time. As I read about the struggles of the Irish to survive after the blight hit in the 1840s I couldn't help but notice parallels between then and now. The English aid response to the situation in Ireland was grossly inadequate and laced with attitudes about non-interference by government and handouts encouraging dependence on government. Of course, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer as landowners took the opportunity to oust tenants from the ...more
Dec 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ireland
This is an excellent explanation of the potato famine and its causes. The book doesn't dwell heavily on the actual effects of the famine but the examples given are enough to make you shiver... and to make you furious at the English, who apparently used the famine as a method of social engineering. The author spends a lot of time on the attempts of the English government to deal with the problem - not by feeding the starving, but by trying to wipe out an entire class of Irish small farmers.
Amy Masonis
Sep 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am loving this book so far, especially the commentary about the politics of the day. Absolutely the same as now. I'll finish it and get get back withcha!

I am 2/3 through and John Kelly is now my go-to guy for descriptions of the absurdities of politicians and paperwork. The Irish Famine is a lesson in extreme conservatism and the subsequent disregard for human life. This is happening all over the world NOW, and everybody talks about it and nobody does anything practical. More later...
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John Kelly specializes in narrative history. He is the author of The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People; The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death; The Most Devastating Plague of all Time; Three on the Edge; and more. Kelly lives in New York City and Sandisfield, Massachusetts.