Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Famine Ships


I finished my first Spring reading book. The Famine Ships by Edward Laxton. It's non fiction so I probably wouldn't have finished so fast if I hadn't been sick as a dog this last week. What else can you do when you and your kids are sick? Read, surf the internet, watch TV. That about sums it up for me. The kids have watched our collection of DVD's and hours of Baby TV and I have lounged on the couch reading about Pat Maloney, Mary Lynch, William Ford, and many other Irish emigrants from the Famine years. Here's what I knew about the potato famine in Ireland before I read this book:
1. People went hungry
2. The English were bad and took advantage of the poor Irish
3. Far and Away starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman pops into my head every time I think of Ireland.
Here's a few things I know now after reading the book:
1. It wasn't really a famine. Ireland still managed to export food, just not potatoes.
2. The potato famine lasted from 1846-1851. (Not during the years of Far and Away which actually was around the turn of the century.)
3. It took anywhere from 27 to over 100 days to travel from Liverpool or Dublin to the East Coast of North America.
My favorite story in the book tells of a ship called the Jamestown that was filled with food and provisions and sent to Cork to aid the starving Irish. All the food that was sent was donated by the American people, even the Choctaw Indian Tribe donated a large sum of $170 to the cause. The total cost of all the goods was assessed at $35,868. What a beautiful thing! The captian of the ship, Robert Forbes, wrote about his experience when he stepped ashore in Cork:
"I went with Father Theobald Mathew only a few steps out of one of the principal streets of Cork into a lane; the Valley of the Shadow of Death, was it? Alas no, it was the valley of death and pestilence itself. I saw enough in five minutes to horrify me; hovels crowded with the sick and dying; without floors, without furniture, and with patches of dirty straw covered with still dirtier shreds and patches of humanity."
He wrote later that that voyage he had made in the Jamestown was the happiest moment of his life. I think it must have been. To be able to bring such welcome items to such needy people. I am not happy that so many people had to suffer so much, but I am happy that so many Irish did come to America. If there was food on their tables, they never would have come.
It was an enlightening book. It really made me think what a human can endure and still survive. The stories within this book made me feel guilty to complain about being sick, or cold, or hungry. After we're all feeling better we'll have a week of potatoes in honor of the Irish.

3 comments:

Code Yellow said...

This sounds like a good one! My husband and I both like books like this...you learn so much and the fabulous thing is that it is REAL people who did these things!

Hope you all are on the mend soon!

Strawberry Girl said...

;p I made myself eat potatoes and carrots after reading about Corrie Ten Boom and her sister in a Nazi concentration camp. This does sound like a good read, thanks for the review.

Cameron said...

You might consider 1421 too it is very interesting. Treasure and lost and forgotten history is the subject that interests me.