Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Graves Are Walking - a book about famine

John Kelly
WATKINS GLEN, New York - The Great Famine in Ireland, the one that sparked the massive migration of Irish from Ireland to the United States and Canada, has been written about extensively since the 1845s when the potato crop went bad and agriculture was decimated.

But a 2012 book by John Kelly, The Graves Are Walking, gives a fresh look (and accurate historical account) of that terrible time, for which most Irish people blame their English overloads of the era.

There is plenty of blame to go in that direction. But after reading Kelly's work, it seems clear that the famine and subsequent events were as much a fault of classic British bumbling as malignant intent.

The book walks through the famine years, explaining the massive exodus from Ireland and why the millions died of starvation. Could many of them have saved had the British acted more in the interests of the Irish? Yes. That they didn't was part ineptitude and a large dose of British attitude about the Irish people.

The Brits believed - perhaps still believe in some cases - that the Irish reliance on the potato as the major farm crop was because the Irish were lazy. Potatoes were simply too easy a crop to grow, Kelly writes, leading the British to have nearly complete a lack of sympathy when the crops failed.

And when I say crops failed, I mean the entire planting of potatoes. Without shipment of food from outside of Ireland, people knew the Irish would starve - which they did because relief measures were pathetically inadequate.

The Graves Are Walking is not easy reading, but it's hard not to hear echoes of some modern American attitudes about the poor in the U.S. eerily reflected in this book.

It might be a good volume to ship to some of our GOP legislators who want to slash food programs for the poor.

It's on the new book shelf at the Watkins Glen library and was published by Henry Holt and Company of New York city.
A starving Irish family in County Galway