The Great Irish Famine Seminar, Sept 2012


The Great Irish Famine Seminar at the National Famine Museum, Strokestown Park House


On Thursday, 13 September last, the CSHIHE in conjunction with Strokestown Park House hosted a very successful and well attended seminar, part of the now annual International Famine Conference at Strokestown. The seminar provided an insight into some of the ongoing research and scholarship which is now being carried out on the Famine period. The event finished with a lively discussion which was chaired by Professor Terence Dooley, Department of History, NUI Maynooth. Pat Mc Carrick, Fundraising Projects Director, Bothair also spoke on the ongoing work of aid agencies like Bothair in the developing world. In concluding remarks both John O’Driscoll, Director and General Curator of Strokestown Park and Patrick Kenny, Chairman of Westward Group, paid tribute to the ongoing collaboration between NUI Maynooth and Strokestown Park.



Ciarán Reilly outlined plans for the 2013 Gathering which will take place in Strokestown Park House in conjunction with the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses & Estates and the OPW/NUI Archive & Research Centre. In a paper titled In search of the Strokestown Famine emigrants, Ciarán introduced some of the people who left Roscommon during the Famine and the lives they lived thereafter. Brian Casey examined the issue of proslytism during the Great Famine with special reference to the earl of Clancarty’s estate in county Galway.  Kevin McKenna’s presentation was on ‘Paternalism and the Great Famine on the estates of Lord Clonbrock’ and examined landlord-tenant relations on the Clonbrock estates in County Galway between 1845 and 1852. It assessed Lord Clonbrock’s performance of his paternal ‘duty’ to his ‘dependents’ to establish whether his late nineteenth century reputation as a benevolent landlord had any grounding in fact. It demonstrated that while Clonbrock's actions were comparable to representations if paternal landlords in contemporary English fiction that he, and the landed class in general, were negligent in their duty of care to the poor. Georgina Laragy’s paper dealt with suicide during the period 1845-50 when starvation and disease stalked the Irish countryside. Records of individual suicides are taken predominantly from contemporary newspapers and reveal a wide variety of explanations that were fairly typical of the nineteenth century e.g. physical and mental illness, romantic disappointment, alcohol, and financial troubles. However, others committed suicide for reasons that were directly linked to the social and economic catastrophe; emigration, failure of relief measures to relieve the poor, and involvement in charitable work all contributed to individuals ending their lives while others fought to survive. Reported suicides doubled during the years 1845-48 and this provides a broad quantitative perspective on this personal tragedy. Fidelma Byrne’s paper Wiping the slate clean provided a comparative study of assisted emigration from the Wandesforde and Coolattin estates in Leinster during the Great Famine.  Specially, the study examined the conditions that existed on the estates in the preceding years and the factors that exacerbated these, leaving many to view emigration as their only option.  The hierarchical nature of the tenantry, subdivision of land and debt that existed was considered, and found to amplify the death, disease and destitution that prevailed throughout this period.  Assisted emigration schemes had commenced years before the famine struck.  This was explored in tandem with the famine emigration to ascertain if this was the act of an benevolent landlord alleviating the distress of his beleaguered tenantry, or rather, that of a malevolent one relieving his own burden. Ciarán McCabe’s paper focused on the institutional responses of the Church of Ireland to mendicancy in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The views of a number of Anglican clergymen on beggary were firstly presented, and were placed in their wider social and political context of heightened sectarian tensions from the 1820s, as well as increasing concern for ‘the condition of the people’. The evolution of the Anglican parish vestry into an entity with civic responsibilities was outlined, with particular regard to the parish’s duties in providing poor relief and policing its jurisdiction. Particular issues which were addressed were the badging of parish beggars and the decline of parochial policing powers, as seen through the gradual diminishment of the offices of parish constable and beadle. Regina Donlon’s paperThe Mercy of Mullanphy's Millions’ considered the contribution of an Irish immigrant family to the social infrastructure of St Louis, Missouri during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. It traced the arrival of the family in St Louis and subsequently investigated the influence of the family in creating hospitals, convents, schools, foundling asylums and emigrant homes in a bid to aid the plight of famine immigrants from Ireland who arrived in the city during the second half of the nineteenth century. It also described the development of the Kerry Patch neighbourhood in St Louis and provided an overview of the development of the city during the nineteenth century.