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Kennys since 1940

Maps & Prints


Exhibition of Works in Mixed Media
by Padraic Reaney
March 1st 2002 - Ongoing

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Exhibition Notes - An Gorta Mór

In 1845 there were over 8,000,000 people living in Ireland. Of these, one third were entirely dependent on the potato for food, and many, many more ate mainly potatoes with very little else. It was during 1845 that a disease of the potato (potato blight) struck Ireland. This blight had originated in North America, spread to the European mainland and finally reached Ireland. The disease destroys the potato plant completely and destroys whole fields almost overnight. There was no way of preventing or eradicating potato blight, and, therefore, by 1846 the basic source of food for millions of people no longer existed.

The Famine had come, with starvation and emigration in its wake. The Famine struck hardest at the rural poor: the farm labourers, the cottiers, and the small farmers. The cottier was a farm labourer who rented a tiny piece of land by the year. Working for a certain number of days on his landlord's farm paid his rent. At best, his was a hand-to-mouth existence. The small farmers rented townlands in partnership. Usually these families lived in small, thatched, one or two room stone houses grouped very closely together in little villages called clachans.

When the poor could no longer pay their rent because of the failure of the potato, the landlord's answer was usually eviction. Mother, father, children, grandparents - old and young were torn from their homes and flung out on the roads. Thousands of families were evicted to wander the country starving and to survive as best they could.

Even these who were not evicted starved, and with the weakness of starvation came disease and death. Typhus, dysentery, and cholera ravaged the land. An eye-witness has written: "In the first [hovel] six famished and ghastly skeletons, to all appearance dead, were huddled in a corner on some filthy straw, their sole covering what seemed a ragged horse-cloth, and their wretched legs hung about, naked above the knees. I approached in horror, and found by a low moaning they were alive, they were in fever - four children, a woman and what had once been a man..." (from "Ireland before the Famine" by Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh)

Some were saved from starvation by the soup kitchen. These kitchens were first run by the Quakers during the winter of 1846. By 1847 the government had opened many more. In August, 1847, every single day 3,000,000 people were being fed by these soup kitchens.

However, over a million people escaped from this unhappy land, emigrating to Canada, the United States and Australia. Many of these died on the voyage or in quarantine, but the rest were saved from misery and death by the tall ships, which had waited for them in the harbors. Between 1845, when the Famine began, and 1851, when the census was taken again, the population of Ireland had fallen by 20%. One and a half million people had emigrated; at least 800,000 had died of starvation and disease. The potato could be grown again in 1851 as the blight had begun to disappear. The Famine was almost over.

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