Studies in Irish History and Literature
The Great Hunger (The Irish Famine)
Dr. William Rogers


Many historians believe that the Famine (1845-1852) known as The Great Hunger or An Gorta Mor in Irish, is the defining event in all of Irish history. While this claim may be debatable, there can be no doubt that the Famine had profound effects on Ireland, Britain and the United States. When the potato blight struck in 1845 the population of Ireland was over 8 million. By the time the Famine “ended” seven years later, the population was about 5 million, with parts of the west of Ireland nearly totally depopulated. Of the three million, over a million died and the rest emigrated to England, America, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many other nations around the world.  The Potato Famine has been included in the New Jersey State curriculum on genocide and Holocaust because some see a clear record of government complicity in this tragedy. This course seeks to explore the causes of the Famine, to discover why hundreds of thousands starved while tons of food was exported to England and Europe, to look at the long-range impact of the Famine on Ireland and America, and to engage the profound question of whether or not this horrible event can be properly classified as genocide as defined in the modern period. Readings will include primary texts such as memoirs, government reports, and newspaper accounts, as well as contemporary observers and modern  historians, both Irish and American.

A starving Irish family from Carraroe, County Galway, during the Famine. Source: National Library of Ireland

Class participation, 20%; and Book review (2-3 pages) and class presentation, 30%; and Final paper (12-15 pages), 50%. Book review will be an analysis of a work–fiction, biography or historical–concerning the Famine, which is then presented to the class. The final paper should explore in depth any topic related to the Famine, preferably covered (or at least touched upon) in class, although the paper may approach the subject through the use of readings not used in class.

"Digging for potatoes" from the London Illustrated News, 1849:


 The Great Hunger, Cecil Woodham-Smith
 A Death Dealing Famine, Christine Kinealy
 Black ‘47; Cormac O’Grada
 The Great Famine; Arthur Gribben
 Famine; Liam O’Flaherty
 Hungry Earth, Sean Kenny
  Irish Hunger: Personal Reflections on the Legacy of the Famine; Tom Hayden



January 28: Introduction; “All of Irish history in a day!”

February 4: Prelude to Disaster, W-S,  1-7; Kinealy, 1-2

February 11: The Famine Begins, W-S, 8-12; Kinealy, 3-5

February 18: A Blessing from God, W-S, 13-end; Kinealy, 6, O’Grada 1-3

February 25: Black ‘47, O’Grada, 4-5

 March 4: The End of a People, Kinealy, 7

March 11: Spring Break

 March 18: The Famine and the World, Gribben, 1-5  Presentations Begin.

 March 25: The Famine and the World, cont., Gribben 6-10

April1: The Famine in Literature, Begin O’Flaherty

April 8: The Famine in Literature, cont., finish O’Flaherty

April 15: The Famine in Literature, cont., read Kenny

April 22: The Great Hunger and the hole in our hearts: The Famine and Memory
  O’Grada, 6; Gribben, 11-12; read Hayden

April 29: The Famine in Memory, cont.

May 6: Conclusion, Final Paper Due.

A family evicted by their landlords. Source: Lawrence Collection, National Library of Ireland.

The Great Famine, Arthur Gribben
The Boston Irish, Thomas O’Connor
The Irish Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett, Sara Orne Jewett
How the Irish Became White, Noel Ignatiev
 Angela’s Ashes/Tis, Frank McCourt
 A Monk Swimming/Singing My Him Song, Malachy McCourt
 Sweet Liberty: Travels in Irish America, Joseph O’Connor
 Ireland’s Unfinished Revolution, Kevin Griffith
 The Troubles, Tim Pat Coogan
 The Irish War, Tony Geraghty
 The Irish Brigade, David Conyngham
 Whoredom in Kimmage: The World of Irish Women, Rosemary Mahoney
 Are you Somebody?, Nuala O’Faolain
 The American Connection, Jack Holland
 God and the Gun, Martin Dillon
 The  Brendan Voyage, Tim Severin
 The Great Calamity, Thomas Kineally
 Anam Cara, John O’Donohue
 Beyond the Ballot Box, Dennis P. Ryan
 The New York Irish, Ronald Bayor and Timothy Meagher, eds.
 The Irish in America
 Out of Ireland
 The Ulster Question Since 1945, James Loughlin
 Ireland: The Politics of Independence, Mike Cronin and John Regan
 Irish America, Reginald Bryon
 Inventing and Resisting Britain, Murray Pittock
 Writing in the Irish Republic, Ray Ryan

From The Illustrated London News, July 6, 1850. "The Embarkation, Waterloo Docks, Liverpool."