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An Gorta Mór: The Irish Famine and Persistence of Hunger Today

By Katrina Heilbroner

Editors note: The paper below was recently submitted to Elaine Weintraub’s Irish History class.

The Irish Famine was a period during which resentment, desperation, and misery spread throughout Ireland, ultimately changing the history of the world. Although this time began with the Blight affecting the potato crop, the famine was truly caused by corruption within the British government.

In 1845, a disease commonly known as the Blight infected all of the potato crops in Ireland. The scientific name of the Blight was Phytophthora infestans. Because potatoes were the primary food and farming source for the Irish, this disease created a massive loss of income as well as the beginning of the Famine. Killing all of the potato crops, the Blight left the Irish people to the biggest struggle in their history.

While potatoes may have been the food staple for Irish people, other means of sustenance were available in Ireland at the time. Cows and their products were being exported to Great Britain while the Irish starved helplessly. The English held the power to save Ireland from the Famine and chose to maintain their strict laws. Despite the amount of food being produced in Ireland, the Irish had been restricted to their potato crops for food. This meant that once the blight destroyed these crops, the Irish were forced to starve because of British political oppression.

The Famine not only caused starvation, but it also caused disruption on a global scale, a mass movement of American immigrants, and eventually, a mass political movement within Ireland against the British rule. The Irish population was reduced from 8.2 million people to 6 million people in just ten years (1841-1851). At least 1 million of these people had died, and the rest had fled from the island. While the British continued to prosper, the Irish were left to suffer brutally.

Despite the attention this major historical event brought to starvation, hunger is still an issue around the world today. One in six countries faces issues with food deprivation. Although there is undoubtedly enough food to feed all of the people in the world, a staggering percentage of the population suffers to find nourishment. The number one cause of famine is poverty. Poverty is most commonly the result of corruption, upper-class favoring political policies, and ignorance within the wealthy. This causes disorder and tragedy. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam adeptly states that “Almost half of the population of the world lives in rural regions and mostly in a state of poverty. Such inequalities in human development have been one of the primary reasons for unrest and, in some parts of the world, even violence.” Kalam touches on the important point that not only does poverty and starvation cause misery, but it causes anger within the poor because of their resentment of the wealthy upper class. It also caused unrest throughout the poor because of their desperation for survival.

In North Kenya, a major drought has caused watering holes to dry up, and pastureland to be destroyed. John Munyes, Kenya’s Minister of State, said, “These areas depend on livestock production for income and food. Malnutrition rates among children are alarmingly high and the areas have already seen large numbers of livestock deaths.” Because of the drought, Kenyans are unable to nourish and give their livestock water. This has caused 70% of the cattle to die, as well as the milk in the camels to dry up. The famine in Kenya has also exacerbated conflict between the many cultures and tribes that are trying to survive under these harsh circumstances. This is comparable to the Irish Famine because while it may not be in the government and the wealthy’s control to solve the issue of the draught altogether, it is in their control to feed and supply the suffering Kenyans. There is absolutely enough food for everyone in the world to survive, yet thousands are starving.

The Irish Famine changed world history because not only did it cause thousands of deaths, but it also showed that corruption causes destruction, and that starvation can be stopped. Confucius emphasized this concept, saying that “In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” While England was wealthy and prosperous, Ireland suffered immensely, helplessly waiting for relief from the Famine.

Not only did the Irish Famine show the world how dangerous corruption and poverty can be, but it also brought thousands of Irish immigrants to America, influencing the culture majorly. America will forever have Irish heritage, making it the country it is today. Irish communities were largely populated (many in New York City), and were a major source of labor. Despite the racism they often encountered in this country, it was far better to be here than to be left starving in Ireland.

The ignorance that Britain had regarding the Irish Famine will always be frowned upon around the world. Frederick Douglass aptly states that “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” He is absolutely correct in making this point; a concept very important to the outcome of the Irish Famine. An Gorta Mór was a terrible result of bad luck (the Blight) followed by the response of a corrupt and selfish government, and it changed the world forever.

Work Cited

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/poverty.html

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2006/02/afri-f23.html

http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm

http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/ireland_great_famine_of_1845.htm

Announcing the of winners of the “Under the Sea” Recycled Beach Trash Art Competition

After the beach clean-up this past fall, MVironment Club members were inspired to raise awareness of the need to keep our beaches clean.  As a club, they decided to challenge students to use the equivalent of the trash they found at the beach to make sea-themed art as part of an “Under the Sea” Recycled Beach Trash Art Competition.  The hope was that in working with the trash items, such as plastic containers, bags, straws, styrofoam, etc, students would think about the impact of having those items in our oceans.  The club appreciates all of the entrants in this valuable awareness-raising exhibition.  The entries were judged by Emma Green-Beach from the Great Pond Foundation and Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group and Liz Baldwin from BiodiversityWorks, and the winners are listed below.

The student organizers within MVironment who worked on this were Maddy Moore, Zach Bresnick, and Ellie Reagan,

The club would like to thank the art department, especially Brendan Coogan and Chris Baer, for helping us with ideas and installation.  Over 90 students worked to create 43 beach-trash awareness projects.

We hope you have enjoyed the display, and the plan is that some of the pieces will be pulled to be included in a larger public display in Oak Bluffs that is being worked on by Brendan.

Thanks,

Natalie Munn and Anna Cotton, club advisors

Third Place - "Sheldon" Emma Caron, Kyra Whalen, Samantha Potter, Sabrina Reppert
Third Place – “Sheldon”
Emma Caron, Kyra Whalen, Samantha Potter, Sabrina Reppert
Second Place - "Jellyfish" Kenny Hammond
Second Place – “Jellyfish”
Kenny Hammond
First Place - "Scuttle" Sam Hargy, Sara Poggi, Olivia Jacobs, Casey McAndrews, Caley Bennett,  Molly Houghton.
First Place – “Scuttle”
Sam Hargy, Sara Poggi, Olivia Jacobs, Casey McAndrews, Caley Bennett, Molly Houghton.

Honorable Mention – “Sea Star”: Annie Bettencourt

Honorable Mention – “Pontoon”: Kaitlyn Marchand, Emily Turney, Eli Laikin

Honorable Mention – “Shrimp”: Julia Peters

Honorable Mention – “Portuguese Man of War”: Cheyenne Cormier

Honorable Mention – “Majestic Trash”: Justine Cassel

Honorable Mention – “Keagan the Krab”: Oliver Silberstein, Peter Engley, Austin Chandler