Thursday, September 20, 2012

Famine Echoes

     Well, it’s a brisk late summer day here in upstate New York; even I can’t deny fall is in the air.   Being so close to the Great Lakes, fall means lots of cloudy gray days and rain.  In other words, perfect weather for listening to a radio series.  I want to share a link to one I’ve enjoyed over the years.  The show is called Famine Echoes and as I’m sure you’ve guessed its topic is the great famine which hit Ireland in the 1840’s. 
 A little background:
     After fighting and winning a war of independence with England from 1919 to 1921, Ireland found itself embroiled in a Civil War.  The Anglo-Irish Treaty ended hostilities with England and established the Irish Free State, but without the six northern counties.  That agreement brokered by Michael Collins, who would himself die in the war, and his supporters was unacceptable to the Irish Republican Forces who viewed it as a capitulation and betrayal.  The two sides came to blows in June of 1922 and the exceptionally brutal conflict would last eleven months.  On April 30 of 1923 a ceasefire was called by the Irish Republican chief of staff and on May 24th he ordered the IRA volunteers to dump but not surrender their arms, ending the fighting but clearly not the bitter feelings.
     On the heels of the Civil War came a renewed interest in the history and traditions of Ireland. The long centuries of British occupation had nearly erased the Irish language and culture, which after all was England’s goal.  With freedom came the strong desire, and rightfully so, to resurrect that vibrant culture, and preserve it for future generations.  Enter the Irish Folklore Commission.  Founded in 1935, the Commission’s collectors fanned out over the countryside, studying the Irish language, conducting interviews and recording an astonishing amount of folklore.  Above is an image of a questionnaire they used. The fruit of their efforts was preserved in what is now the Department of Irish Folklore. 
     It is from their manuscript collection that Cathal Póirtéir, producer and writer, took the accounts of the famine as told by the survivors themselves to their children and others, and incorporated them into the sixteen part series.   All sixteen episodes are narrated by actors and actresses who assume the persona of the survivors and those they told their stories too.  Listening to the melodic Irish accents is a treat enough for someone like me who lives in the USA and rarely gets that opportunity.  As I listen, I find myself pondering how many of these experiences were also my ancestor’s?  How did they view what was happening around them?
     The episodes are free to download, and like much of Irish history are inspirational, depressing and maddening all at the same time.  There is also a companion book of the same name compiled by Cathal Póirtéir. 


  1. Ellie, what a great resource! I had seen a video about this Folklore project, but being able to listed to it must be a treat.

    I've recently ordered a book covering the Irish Famine. It should come out in October. There is also a film produced in Canada that covers the same topic--another blogger shared that info. There is a lot of attention being directed to this historic tragedy at the moment. Just as you said, thinking about all this is simultaneously inspirational, depressing and maddening!

  2. These look great, Ellie. Unfortunately I couldn't get the files to play on anything I have on my work machine (it's a Mac), but will try at home on my Windows PC. I've recently got back to famine-era Irish ancestors of mine and would be good to find out more.

  3. Hope you can get them to work at home, they are interesting, I listen with Real Player