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The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845 - 1849

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  1,005 ratings  ·  97 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. It may not have been the result of deliberate government policy, yet British ‘obtuseness, short-sightedness and ignorance’ – and stubborn commitment to laissez-faire ‘solutions’ – largely caused the disaste ...more
Paperback, 528 pages
Published May 30th 1991 by Penguin (first published 1962)
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David Eppenstein
"It has been frequently declared the the parsimony of the British Government during the famine was the main cause of the sufferings of the people, and the parsimony was certainly carried to remarkable lengths; but obtuseness, short-sightedness, and ignorance probably contributed more."

"As Sydney Smith, the celebrated writer and wit, wrote: The moment the very name of Ireland is mentioned, the English seem to bid adieu to common feeling, common prudence and common sense, and to act with the barb
Dec 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, 19th-century
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
Mar 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Czarny Pies
Nov 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone living in the British Commonwealth.
Shelves: european-history
Cecil Blanche Woodham-Smith's "The Great Hunger" is a veritable tour de force in which the author demonstrates that the governing class of Great Britain failed utterly in its leadership role during the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1849. Woodham-Smith shows that the politicians never took the initiative. They consistently ignored reports of problems from the field and always acted too late. They were essentially indifferent to the sufferings of the Irish peasantry embracing the ideology of "laisse ...more
Nov 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ireland-history
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
Phillip Kay
Dec 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Mark O'hagan
Aug 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Aug 12, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Feb 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
'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
2.75 stars

In the mid-1800s, the main food in Ireland was potatoes. A disease (blight) hit potatoes and was devastating for the people of Ireland. There was nothing else to substitute, as it’s what the most vulnerable populations ate.

This was an audio, and as soon as I heard the narrator, I had a bad feeling. I’m sure I’ve listened to this narrator before; also male and a British accent – sadly both of those are warnings that I am more likely to lose interest and miss a lot of what’s going on. A
Feb 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
An odyssey of my poor english. Half a year brothers and sisters, half a year!
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
Heartbreaking, thought provoking; a must-read for anyone interested in Irish history. Amazing how we survived as a race of people that were subjected to centuries of colonialism and the genocide of the famine years.
Varapanyo Bhikkhu
Jan 27, 2021 rated it really liked it
Michael Jones:

List's indictment of capitalism and the moral bankruptcy of England's ruling class elites received vindication from an unexpected quarter when the potato crop failed in Ireland in the fall of 1845.

Benjamin Jowett, the famous Oxford don, claimed that he had "always felt a certain horror of political economists," ever since "I heard one of them say that he feared that the famine of 1848 in Ireland would not kill more than a million people, and that would scarcely be enough to do muc
Niall Fitzpatrick
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Having learned about the great famine during school in Ireland I was always aware of Britain's maltreatment but the potato crop failure seemed to be highlighted as the main culprit. The evil truth was always going to be too much for innocent young minds to fathom.

From the many sources used in this important book it is amazing that to this day the systematic policies of privation that kept Gaelic Ireland restrained in a constant precarious state of cyclical starvation have never been acknowledge
Aug 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Katy Walters
May 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Matthew Bartlett
Aug 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Adrian Fingleton
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I actually bought this book about (probably) ten years ago and put it off for so long possibly because I did not expect it to be a pleasant read. And I was right, it’s not, but it is an important book. And I certainly think that it’s a period which anyone who wants to understand modern Ireland should understand more fully.

The book is exhaustive, exhausting, horrifying and educational. I’m not especially interested in the politics of the tragedy, but with the cold light of 20-20 hindsight it’s ev
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
You don’t have to stretch your imagination too much to be able to make comparisons between the British treatment of the Irish in the mid 1800s and Russian oppression of Eastern Europe during and after WWII, Turkish treatment of Armenians in early 1900s, the treatment of Jews and Christians by radical Islam in the Middle East in the last hundred years, or even the Nazi genocide of the Jews during WWII minus the death camps and gas chambers. I was shocked to read about the Irish Potato famines of ...more
Nov 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is by now a classic on the subject, and fans of detailed documentation will not be disappointed. The human disaster that was the Irish Famine was an event defying easy explanation, though it stands as a grim reminder of the biologist's dictum that it is the little things that rule the world. In this case the spores of phytophthora infestans--the potato blight--combined with the single-crop reliance of the vast majority of Ireland's inhabitants to produce a catastrophe that in turn gave rise ...more
Jun 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I wasn't taught about the Irish Potato famines at school. Although I thought I'd self-taught myself about them subsequently, I still wasn't prepared for the tragedies described in this book; tragedies that have left a legacy to this day. There were famines before and after the period covered by this work, but the author argues convincingly that it is the period 1845-49 that is largely responsible for the sometimes difficult Anglo-Irish relations that persist to this day (and even before Brexit.) ...more
Oct 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
". . . as a nation, the English have proved themselves to be capable of generosity, tolerance and magnanimity, but not where Ireland is concerned. . . The moment the very name of Ireland is mentioned, the English seem to bid adieu to common feeling, common prudence and common sense and to act with the barbarity of tyrants and the fatuity of idiots."

The story of the Great Famine period (1846--49), and the absolute colonialism practiced by the British over the Irish, directly and/or indirectly cau
Sean Chick
Oct 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A detailed, at times dry, but good account of an event that led to Ireland's losing an estimated 30% of its population through death and immigration. Woodham-Smith can be a bit too ready with generalizations about peasant culture, and in discussing immigration, New Orleans is never mentioned (although it was second only to New York as a destination) and Philadelphia only briefly. Yet the thesis of government incompetence, at least after 1845, and the ravages of laissez faire capitalism and free ...more
Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recall seeing over the years references to bits and pieces of this remarkable story of human suffering, but having the bulk of the catastrophe laid out in a complete work strikes at my soul - and I'm not Irish. The vision of human beings(a significant percentage of the populace in 1840) living in windowless sod igloos along with their animals and everyone's excrement nearby starts one down ugly paths. As the story progresses through the throes of typhus, typhoid fever, and ship fever added to ...more
Susan Oleksiw
Jan 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Over the years I've heard numerous stories about the Irish famine in the 1840s, but this book walks through the four years of misery with minute detail and careful analysis. It is hard to imagine the ease with which Lord Trevelyan took over the management of the famine and turned a deaf and cruel ear to every entreaty, every desperate plea for help. At the end of it all, a million were dead, often dying in front of the English who cared so little they were willing to cart them to the docks and p ...more
Dorothy Caimano
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very thorough and heart-breaking account of the potato famine in Ireland in the middle of the 19th century: The prejudice against the Irish, both in England and in the United States, is addressed. The weak and ill-informed efforts of the British government to respond to the needs of the starving thousands did little to alleviate the situation and actually caused additional problems. I better understand why our U.S. presidents visit areas of crisis in person today. There is no substitute for se ...more
Ann McReynolds
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Cecil Woodham-Smith’s magnificent record of the Irish diaspora led by the infamous policies of the absentee Anglo-Irish landowners of the early 1800s stands alone in defining the causes, the conditions under which “tumbling” of the people’s’ homes left them to walk the roads, the “murrain” which caused potatoes to rot in the fields, and the infamous steerage passage to America with its own deadly costs.
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A lot of information about Great Famine is in this book. I liked insight into the immigration process, detailed process about potato blight and also I learned something about people who "were in charge" during famine. A lot of citations, in a well arranged way divided chapters...great introduction to one of the biggest disaster of 19th century and its consequences. ...more
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Cecil Blanche Woodham-Smith (née Fitzgerald) was a British historian and biographer. She wrote four popular history books, each dealing with a different aspect of the Victorian era.

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