News release: Irish and British merchants stood by while Irish people starved

Media and Promotion Office (2001) News release: Irish and British merchants stood by while Irish people starved. Other. University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), Preston.

[thumbnail of Scan of paper copy]
PDF (Scan of paper copy) - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike.


Official URL:


"Human life was sacrificed to ideology and more importantly, high
profits," - Christine Kinealy, Author and Irish Historian, University of
Central Lancashire.
IRISH and British merchants who exported vast quantities of food to Britain during the
Great famine of 1845-51 indirectly contributed to the deaths of one million Irish citizens
and prompted the immigration of a further two million people.
Historian Christine Kinealy makes the startling claim -which is bound to provoke
controversy in both Ireland and Britain- in her new book entitled The Great Irish
Famine: Impact, Rebellion and Ideology.
Christine, a lectw·er in Irish Histo1·y at the University of Central Lancashire, debunks the
popular myth that the terrible sufl'ering of the Irish people was unavoidable after blight
devastated the potato crop in 1845, o1· that the British Government was largely to blame
for the tragedy.
She also underlines the importance of the 'class' division between the 'haves' and the
'have not<;' within Ireland, which exacerbated the problem.
"Even allowing for a massive shortfall in potatoes - which accounted for only 20 per cent
of agricultural produce- immense quantities of foodstuffs left Ireland between 1845 and
1851," she says.
But Irish merchants - in alliance with British counterparts • ruthlessly applied the
conunercial ideology of the time, eerily echoed by senior Government figures in Britain
during the 1980s, that you mustn't buck the market.
"The Irish merchant class was extremely powerful and the ideology of the time meant that
you don't intervene in the market place. Some people in Ireland actually viewed the
famine as God's will," claims Christine, who has already written several books on the
''In short, human life was sactiticed to ideology and, more importantly, high profits."
Aftet months of painstaking research examining the tecords of ship cargoes stored at
Liverpool, Christine uncovered the staggering truth behind exports of food from Ireland.
For example, in 1846 186,000 oxen, 6,000 calves, 259,000 sheep and lambs and 480,000
pigs were shipped to Britain.
And in 1846 and 1847 430,000 tons of grain was exported • a quantity that would have led
two million people in Ireland fo1· 16 months.
"The trade in eggs was also massive and remained buoyant throughout the 1840s,"
reveals Christine.
"By 1850, an estimated 90 million eggs were being imported into Liverpool each year
from b·eland."
Christine argues that Irish historians have deliberately downplayed the significance of
Irish tood exports during 1845-51 and the actually famine itself as a major historical event
because they didn' t want to fuel republicanism.
However, the faniine did set a precedent for international aid. The Sultan of Turkey, the
Tsar of Russia, ex-slaves in the Caribbean, native Americans, the Pope and even Queen
Victoria - still remembered as the 'Famine Queen' in Ireland • donated money for famine
Notes to editors:
• Christine Kinealy is available for interview and/or photograph. Please contact Alan
Air on Mobile: 07974 765870 for further details.
• Christine completed a PhD in Modern Irish History at Trinity College, Dublin, and
has lectured extensively around the world, including India and the United States.

Repository Staff Only: item control page