I wanted to go into more detail about the land system in Ireland, touch on Plantation Ireland set up by those British who followed Henry VIII's Church of England; touch on how some of those things were the seeds of the division in Ireland we see today.
I wanted to talk about the important people and the politicians that were in power during the famine. The relief efforts. The work houses. The road projects where three-quarters of a million people were put on public works. I wanted to tell how the people didn't know about the strange foods being given to them through the government's programs to relieve their hunger; how, as my friend mentioned in an earlier comment, the Indian corn purchased from America was totally strange to these people and they didn't even have the proper mills to mill the hard kernals fine enough to make porridge of it, so, finally, a lot of it was brought over from America already milled. They still didn't know how to cook it or what to make with it.
I wanted to talk about the gradual weakening and the dying of the children; how people were found next to roads and in the fields and on their farms, just lying there. The death carts, reminiscent of the Black Plague or of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. But I probably couldn't describe that adequately anyway.
And I wanted to try and explain the fearful emigration to unknown lands, that vast diaspora of the Irish people. I wanted to convey how fearful they were as they left Ireland forever, how terrible were the ships and the voyage, almost like slave ships, packed with people not used to the sea, fearful, still not fed, dying still from hunger and disease on those ships. How they must have wanted to return to their homeland even to face starvation there instead of those terrible ships!
I wanted to try and describe how they were received like animals, placed in quarantine, taken advantage of, made fun of, made to live in dungeon-like tenements in filthy New York City in double basement tenements that were below the water and sewer level.
I wanted to try and tell of their humiliation and how they were ridiculed and discriminated against in their new land of opportunity.
But I also wanted to try and tell the story of human survival, and how America was made so much better because of the arrival of the Irish (as well as many sons and daughters of Scotland - Scots like Andrew Carnegie who would build his enormous steel empire in Pittsburgh. Incidentally, Pittsburgh doesn't rhyme with Edinburgh.)
These things are not for a small blog, but for several books. I hope you will investigate some of these things on your own. I think few of you realize, even Americans, the incredible impact these people, these survivors, had on America. The Irish cleaned our toilets and built our railroads. They tended our children and became maids and worked in our mines. They fought our wars, some taken right off the ships into the army.
The story of the Irish in America is truly the real story of America herself. A story of survival. A story of renewal. A story, eventually, of redemption.
Finally, in January of 1961, a descendent of those exiles walked into the Oval Office of the White house and became our president.
In the U.S. today, 11.9% of the population (36,278,332) self-identifies itself as being of Irish descent. I don't know how many of them have been back to Ireland to visit the land of their ancestors, and I know most non-Americans reading this don't consider them Irish at all, and put them in the same category, or even further removed, as today's Irish who have voluntarily left Ireland to live in Great Britain or Europe due to hardship and living conditions in modern Ireland. But, in America, these people are Irish still. You see, they didn't leave Ireland because they didn't like Ireland, or because they wanted to live somewhere else and morn for Ireland like today's transplants in England. These left Ireland because to stay in Ireland was to die.
John F. Kennedy; Maureen Ohara; George M. Cohen
James Braddock; Michael McGivney; Ronald Reagan
Victor Herbert; Eugene O'Neil; Ed Sullivan
Grace Kelly; F. Scott Fitzgerald
"It is that quality of the Irish--that remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination--that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not. It matters not how small a nation is that seeks world peace and freedom, for, to paraphrase a citizen of my country, 'The humblest nation of all the world, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of Error.'" —President Kennedy's address to the Irish Parliament, June 1963.
All 8 of John F. Kennedy's great-grandparents emigrated from Ireland during the general time period of the Great Famine. On his mother's side, the Fitzgeralds were from rural County Limerick (Bruff.) His father's line, the Kennedys, were from County Wexford (Duganstown.)