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The Great Irish Famine

Famine pic

Approved by the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education on September 10th, 1996, for inclusion in the Holocaust and Genocide Curriculum at the secondary level. Revision submitted 11/26/98.

This section of the Ireland First webpage was originally located at http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish/irish_pf.html It was in a format that IMHO was hard to navigate around easily. I decided to mirror the site with some technical modifications to make it easier for visitors to navigate and read. The actual content has not been altered.


This curriculum is dedicated to the millions of Irish who suffered and perished in the Great Starvation. It is also dedicated to those who escaped by emigration, and to the great Irish Diaspora worldwide.

The Irish Famine Curriculum would not have been possible without the work of New Jersey Senator James E. McGreevey, Rutgers Economics Professor Jack Worrall, historian Dr. Christine Kinealy, teacher Jim Masker, and author Liz Curtis.

We express our gratitude to Eoin McKiernan, Fr. Des Wilson, the late Dennis Clark, and the late Michael J. Kane, who have shown us their Faith by their Works.

"Truth flourishes where the student's lamp has shown, and there alone..."

- W.B. Yeats, 1921



Between 1845 and 1850, more than a million Irish people starved to death while massive quantities of food were being exported from their country. A half million were evicted from their homes during the potato blight, and a million and a half emigrated to America, Britain and Australia, often on-board rotting, overcrowded "coffin ships". This is the story of how that immense tragedy came to pass.

The necessary historical and political context for a study of the Irish Famine is provided to you in the Teacher and Student Summary, immediately following the Table of Contents.

It would be very difficult for the student to understand any of the six study units that follow without first reading the Summary. If time constraints only permit the study of one or two sections of this curriculum, the Summary should be used first. Thank you for all your efforts to make this history come alive.

Prepared by the Irish Famine Curriculum Committee, James Mullin,Chairman: 757 Paddock Path, Moorestown, NJ 08057 (609)727-4255, FAX: (609)866-9538, email: JVMullin@aol.com


0. TEACHERS/STUDENT INTRODUCTION/SUMMARY: This section has already been explained above.

I. LAWS THAT ISOLATED AND IMPOVERISHED THE IRISH: This section shows how the Penal Laws, and the Statutes of Kilkenny, reduced the Irish to the status of disenfranchised non-persons in their own country, and it examines how "laissez faire" and repression of trade laws laid the groundwork for the Famine to take place.

II. RACISM: This section provides numerous examples and cartoon illustrations showing how the Irish, as well as Africans and others, were made into racist stereotypes.

III. MASS EVICTION DURING FAMINE: This sections shows the extent to which eviction was employed during the Famine, the reasons why it was employed, and its devastating consequences for the suffering people.

IV. MORTALITY RATES AND "THE HORROR": This sections shows death rates in relation to Ireland's population at the time of the Famine, and gives personal accounts of Famine scenes to help put a human face on the tragedy.

V. EMIGRATION: DEPARTURE, CROSSING, AND ARRIVAL: This section describes the conditions faced by the famine-stricken people at disembarkation centers, on board "coffin ships" and at quarantine stations.

VI. GENOCIDE: This section gathers together several definitions of genocide, as well as statements made by historical figures and historians, and asks the students to relate facts, opinions and definitions.

VII. POETRY: This section features a selection of poetry inspired by the mass starvation in Ireland.

To download a PDF format (Acrobat format) of this "Irish Famine" section of Ireland First! (www.eirefirst.com), click here. Download this if you intend to print this section for off-site/off-line reading. It prints to 93 pages and is 735k in size. If you do not have Acrobat reader (which is free), then click here to visit the Acrobat homepage to download it.