A magisterial account of one of the worst disasters to strike humankind--the Great Irish Potato Famine--conveyed as lyrical narrative history from the acclaimed author of The Great Mortality
Deeply researched, compelling in its details, and startling in its conclusions about the appalling decisions behind a tragedy of epic proportions, John Kelly's retelling of the awful story of Ireland's great hunger will resonate today as history that speaks to our own times.
It started in 1845 and before it was over more than one million men, women, and children would die and another two million would flee the country. Measured in terms of mortality, the Great Irish Potato Famine was the worst disaster in the nineteenth century--it claimed twice as many lives as the American Civil War. A perfect storm of bacterial infection, political greed, and religious intolerance sparked this catastrophe. But even more extraordinary than its scope were its political underpinnings, and The Graves Are Walking provides fresh material and analysis on the role that Britain's nation-building policies played in exacerbating the devastation by attempting to use the famine to reshape Irish society and character. Religious dogma, anti-relief sentiment, and racial and political ideology combined to result in an almost inconceivable disaster of human suffering.
This is ultimately a story of triumph over perceived destiny: for fifty million Americans of Irish heritage, the saga of a broken people fleeing crushing starvation and remaking themselves in a new land is an inspiring story of revival.
Based on extensive research and written with novelistic flair, The Graves Are Walking draws a portrait that is both intimate and panoramic, that captures the drama of individual lives caught up in an unimaginable tragedy, while imparting a new understanding of the famine's causes and consequences.
Author of nine books on medicine, science, and human behavior, Kelly (The Great Mortality) traces a path of misery and devastation as he documents one of the 19th century's worst disasters, a nightmarish six years that left twice as many dead as the American Civil War. Beginning in 1845, potato blight led to crop failures, starvation, disease, and despair, mass evictions, widespread unemployment, women with dead infants begging on street corners, and feral dogs digging up the graves of the famine dead. Peasants scaled cliffs in winter in search of seagull eggs, while thousands festered with fever and died in hospitals and overcrowded workhouses. The destitute contrived to be arrested since there was better food available in Irish jails. By the time it ended, more than one million were dead and over two million had fled abroad, leaving Ireland's population reduced by a third. Kelly mined newspapers, diaries, correspondence, journals, and memoirs for in-depth details, all amplified with 25 b&w images (portraits, drawings, political cartoons) for a remarkable recreation of the period. His exhaustive research covers every aspect, threading the gruesome events into a huge panoramic tapestry that reveals political greed lurking behind the pestilence.
This book is excellent. It documents, among other things, the horrible conditions in Ireland and on the British ships transporting the Irish to Canada. The number of deaths in Ireland, on the ships, and in Canada is astounding. The British treatment of the starving Irish was uncivilized, disgraceful and cruel.