Gail Francis's Reviews > The Famine Plot: England's Role in Ireland's Greatest Tragedy

The Famine Plot by Tim Pat Coogan
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bookshelves: history, non-fiction

Tim Pat Coogan asserts that the famine was a case of genocide. He quotes another public figure often in saying "God caused the potato blight, England caused the famine." And he makes a pretty compelling case.

Two things in particular struck me. First, the famine was happening so close to the time that Adam Smith's theories had taken told and just prior to the ideas of Marx and Engels coming into circulation. So you had all these people in London viewing the famine in terms of waiting for the "invisible hand" to use the famine to make Ireland a better place. Many viewed it as a sort of laboratory in economic theory.

The second thing is just how similar so much of the language used by the British was to language used today to describe welfare recipients or people without healthcare. There was mass starvation and suffering beyond measure, but time and again those in England--the very ones responsible for designing and distributing relief schemes--referred to the crisis as first and foremost a moral crisis on the part of the Irish. The Irish, they believed, were lazy, immoral, and superstitious, and this, according to this line of thought, is why they could not figure out how to eat. The physical reality of the potato blight and the policy of continued exports of what little food remained were not the actual causes of starvation, according to this theory. And, following this logic, the administrators were careful to make sure aid only went to those who were "truly poor." The lengths that starving people had to go through just for the privilege of entering a workhouse (where they would perform meaningless work in exchange for gruel) is really sick. And this mentality foretold much of how the United States would parcel out welfare in the next century.

I will say that I wish Tim Pat Coogan had a better editor. The writing is not really as organized as it could be and gets pretty bogged down in places, but still I learned a lot.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 12, 2014 – Finished Reading
April 13, 2014 – Shelved
April 13, 2014 – Shelved as: history
April 13, 2014 – Shelved as: non-fiction

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