The Great Famine: Ireland's Potato Famine, 1845-1851by John Percival. Published by BBC Books, Woodlands, 80 Wood Lane, London W12 0TT. 1995. Index, photographs. 192 pp. £16.99. Fax. 011-44-181-749-8766.
This is an easy to read detailed book about Ireland's potato famine and its consequences. The book begins with a brief overview of the colonization of Ireland, followed by a description of the potato culture and its effect on Irish life. It points out that there were numerous potato crop failures, but rarely over wide areas and never all varieties of potato species. A realistic picture is painted of the background to the famine with the feudal structure of the country and with its many great estates owned by Anglo-Irish landlords whose tenants and small-holders struggled to survive.
The potato crop fails. The hunger begins. A vivid description is given of the effects and consequences of the crop failure, both in terms of the effects on the people themselves and the politics involved between England and Ireland. The strengths and weaknesses of the Poor Laws are clearly presented, and how the relief efforts were both helped and hindered by Catholic and Anglican priests quarreling over dogma while the poor starved around them. The result for many was eviction and large scale emigration.
There is a discussion of ways in which the Irish were and were not accepted in American Society. The election of John F. Kennedy as President of the United States is seen by many Catholic Irish-Americans as the end of the long struggle for acceptance into US society. The book concludes with a discussion of who is to blame.
This book accompanies a documentary series, The Great Famine, which was produced to commemorate the 150th anniversary. The author acknowledges that it is very difficult to discuss the famine without political biases and blame. This reviewer feels that Percival has done a good job at keeping his biases controlled and highly recommends this book.
Reviewed by Paul Milner
BIGWILL v.4 no.2, 1997