27 June 2019

Thoughts Sparked by "Paddy's Lament"

Being of Irish descent, I periodically get curious of my cultural heritage. Movies are grand, but overly dramatized from the seeds of truth. The web is a wild source of knowledge that may or may not be based in fact - websites that cite their sources can be a good place to read, but are those sources credible? Tracking sources is a skill I learned in college - a very good skill mind you. I enjoy reading over the web, but sometimes having a book in the hand is the best way to read up on history.

During a recent jaunt to The Reader's Corner, I found some good resource books for my SCA research. I also picked up a book that is way out of the SCA period, but on a topic that has piqued my interest for some time, the Great Potato Famine of Ireland during the 1800's. If not for this famine, my own ancestors may have never immigrated to the United States - and I may not exist. World History lessons in schools only mentioned the famine and the Irish immigrants in passing - mostly as a composite of the social studies that makes this country a melting pot of cultures. Asking my great grandmother didn't give much information - she having been too young and her own family not speaking much about it. No, if I wanted to know about this period, I would have to find my own way.

An Interesting Find

It was at The Reader's Corner that I came across Paddy's Lament, by Thomas Gallagher. Now I typically don't like buying soft-cover books, but this one in particular caught my attention as I personally know the term "Paddy" is a slang word which loosely means, "lowborn male of Ireland" - sometimes used in derogatory ways (pretty much on par with "the N-word" for African Americans - although you won't find that particular word as part of a book title). Reading the back of the book, I noticed it hit upon the potato famine. Plus this snippet from the Milwaukee Journal, "'Anyone wondering about the violence and depth of emotion in Ireland today need only read this book. It goes a long way toward explaining what's at its root,'" captured my attention. To whit, I always wondered why the Irish were so hateful of the English.

I bought the book.

After reading it, I now understand quite a few things, and how grossly overlooked (and sometimes romanticized) the Irish condition is - even now. As I read this book (originally published in 1982, so context of the time must be kept in mind), I grew angry. Part of my heart really just turned cold, and I felt a hatred that goes back generations. Mind you, I don't know much about my family heritage going back - I know we were from North Ireland (which today is still under British Government rule) and I know my family line was in farming and textile (although which part goes to which, I am not sure) - so it goes to reason that the famine did affect my ancestors - as it did almost all of Irish blood.

A Short Review

As for Mr. Gallagher's book, it was a bit hard to read at first, until you get used to the language and his style of writing. With inserts pulled from Victorian sources (newspapers, letters, etc.), one has to understand the way they spoke in that period to get the meaning of the words - some of it was rather cumbersome. I like to read though, and quickly became engulfed by the words. The majority of the book focuses on 1846 to 1847, and the subtitle of the book, "A Prelude to Hatred", just about covers it. With vivid description of the conditions while keeping from the scientific methodology of the famine, I would turn the page looking for more. The excerpts from various eye-witness accounts lends credibility as well as context. I thoroughly enjoyed the way Gallagher would use actual brogue which would help situate the reader's mind with the various archetypes used in the book - from the Irish farmer to the British aristocrat. I really got a sense for the people of the period.

I rightly cannot fathom how British government officials of the English Parliament could utterly ignore - or even make light of - the obvious situation in Ireland at the time. Knowing some British people today, I had asked how this mentality could exist? I won't relay our conversations, but a couple of these people won't speak to me anymore.

The prevailing attitude makes me think about social prejudices as a whole - and I see the cyclic meandering of such throughout my life experience. From one racial or religious group to another, round and round again. Do we ever learn from our past as a race? In Paddy's Lament, it is between the English and the Irish (and dare I say, it continues on some level) - today is Western Ideals and Muslim Ideology. What will it be tomorrow?

A Personal Lament

After I finished the book, I set it down and cried - really cried. I wept for the families that were and will never be. I mourned for the starved and the lost. My heart ached for Tara and the injustices done to her. I lamented Inisfail. I felt deep within my soul the anguish of those that survived and shut the memories from their minds lest they go mad. The memory in my blood, though thinned as it may be, cries for vengeance.

Is it any wonder that "The Troubles" of Ireland are still considered recent-memory happenings, but not really spoken of anymore? As contemporary as the turn of this current century, there are deaths attributed to the seething conflict. There has been at least a decade worth of "peace" - but is it really? Chatting with people I know in both the Republic of Ireland and North Ireland (which remains under British Parliamentary rule), there is a sense of suspended apprehension because of Brexit. Will Ireland be a unified country again, or will it continue being split by issues centuries old? Are The Troubles merely on pause, or truly over? Will more people on the Emerald Isle die for political and generational wrongs?

If climate changes due to Global Warming do not cause "modern world upheavals", we will find out in due time.


There is a hardcover version of the book on Amazon, must get it for my permanent library (added to my Amazon Wishlist).
CAIN website, is it still being updated?

Unification of Ireland

Links of interest...
  • Wikipedia
  • OXPOL - Oxford University's Political blog space; post on the topic
  • The Globe and Mail - Canadian news outlet on the topic (Brexit and North Ireland)