Between 1845 and 1850, out of a population of approximately 8.2 million, some one million died and another million were forced to emigrate. By 1881 the population had fallen to 5.2 million and continued to fall for many more years. The Great Famine, otherwise known as the Great Hunger, impacted on Ireland and her people like no other event in history, and in world terms the famine is rightly termed one of the greatest catastrophes of the modern era.In recent times a number of new histories of the great famine have been published, and having just finished reading one of these, I thought I might stir your interest in this period of Irish history by reference to those recent publications that have come to my attention. Of course I can't mention the new without first mentioning one not so new that most of us have likely come across at some point or other, most probably in our school or college days. "The great hunger, Ireland 1845-1849" by Cecil Woodham-Smith was first published in 1962 and remains one of the most widely read books on Irish history. But to the new. I recently read "The Graves are Walking, a history of the Great Irish Famine" by Irish-American history writer John Kelly (London Faber 2012. 397pp.). This book, based on detailed research involving primary sources, is an involving read but not an easy one. There is a wealth of personal accounts and stories of the impact of the famine across the length and breadth of Ireland, and fitting all this material into a readable volume was I'm sure no easy task, but this I think he has largely succeeded in accomplishing. The author's conclusion that the famine was a genocide in outcome if not in intent is one some readers and scholars might take issue with; I think further reading of scholarly works on the famine period is necessary regardless. One can read a review of this book published in The Irish Times from September 2012The recently published "Atlas of the Great Irish Famine" (Cork University Press, 2012. 726pp., 200 maps, 400 illustrations), edited by John Crowley, William J. Smyth and Mike Murphy, in my estimation is sure to become the definitive reference work on the famine. This hefty 700 page volume is a very comprehensive work containing a wealth of illustrations and maps, and bringing it to print involved the efforts of a large number (60) of contributing writers. It won the International Education Services Best Irish Published Book of the Year at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards 2012. Most of the copies in our branch libraries are reference only, but there are a small number of copies for borrowing."The great famine, Ireland's agony 1845-1852" by Dr Ciarán Ó Murchadha (London, Continuum, 2011. 272pp.), is described by the Times Higher Eduction Supplement as a "popular account based on scholarly research", the reviewer further stating that "the result is a highly readable, nuanced book". The author is based at the Department of History at the National University of Ireland, Galway."The famine plot, England's role in Ireland's greatest tragedy" (London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 287pp.) is written by Tim Pat Coogan, one of Irelands' best known historians and the author of books on the IRA, De Valera and Collins. I have read where a reviewer claims this book to be a "fiercer and angrier" book than Kelly's book mentioned above."The curse of reason, the great Irish famine" by Dr Enda Delaney (Dublin, Gill & Macmillan, 2012. 303pp.) is said to focus primarily on the years to 1848 and largely on the testimony of four main contemporaries: John MacHale the Catholic Archbishop of Tuam, John Mitchel the radical nationalist, Elizabeth Smith the Scottish-born wife of a Wicklow landlord, and Charles E. Trevelyan the Assistant Secretary to the Treasury. The Times Higher Education Supplement describes the narrative as at times "gripping", and the book as "one of the most fluent and original" on the topic of the famine. The reviewer further states that "although... based on large amounts of primary research, its style is accessible and engaging, and the result is a valuable study of a truly harrowing crisis." The author is a historian at the University of Edinburgh.You can locate many other works on the great famine in our library catalogue.
Mid October 1962: the crisis began on 14 October when photographs of Soviet military installations in Cuba, taken by a U2 spy plane from the United States air force, showed that nuclear missile sites were being constructed. The United States government demanded that the missiles be withdrawn, and they put in place a naval blockade of Cuba with the intention of preventing any further military equipment being delivered. The crisis came to a head when a Soviet convoy approached some of the blockading ships. However at the last minute the Soviet ships halted and after a tense stand-off they eventually turned around.The confrontation lasted until 28 October, with both sides issuing threatening statements, most notably at a stormy session of the United Nations General Assembly, where United States ambassador Adlai Stevenson, revealed an extensive dossier of evidence showing the extent of the Soviet military operation. At the same time secret negotiations were being held between representatives of President John F. Kennedy and First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev. These eventually produced an agreement whereby the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles and not install any others, in return for a United States guarantee not to launch a military invasion of Cuba. A further clause in the agreement whereby the United States agreed to remove nuclear missiles from NATO bases in Turkey and Italy, was not made public at the time. The risk of nuclear war and the dangers it posed was one of the most significant issues throughout the 1950s in a world dominated by the confrontation between the Eastern Bloc led by the Soviet Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) led by the United States. As this so-called Cold War occasionally threatened to become an actual military conflict both sides stockpiled large quantities of ever more powerful nuclear weapons. By 1962 it was calculated that the United States and Soviet Union between then held enough weapons to destroy the planet several times over. Britain and France also held smaller quantities of nuclear weapons.The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 was the closest the opposing powers came to nuclear war. It was in the aftermath of that crisis that the Irish government issued the booklet Bás Beatha, which was intended as a guide on how to respond should such a war ever happen. Most of the measures recommended seem hopelessly inadequate, but it is an indicator of how great the threat seemed to be and how overwhelmed people felt by the prospect. It is part of a pattern of world-wide responses comparable to the "duck and cover" exercises carried out in United States schools, or the constantly repeated warnings to people to know where fallout shelters were located, which were such a feature of life in the United States and Soviet Union at that time. 700,000 copies of this booklet were distributed to every household in Ireland in 1965, with later distributions in 1968 and 1972 as new houses were built.
Although the Dublin: One City, One Book choice for April this year is James Joyce's 'Dubliners', it is timely to remember that the choice for April 2009 was 'Dracula' by Dublin-born writer Bram Stoker; timely because April 20th this year marks the 100th anniversary of Stoker's death (20th April, 1912).About Bram StokerBram Stoker was born in Dublin's Marino Crescent on November 8th, 1847. After an early life plagued by illness, he went on to graduate from Trinity in 1868 with a Masters Degree in mathematics. His early work life was as a civil servant in Dublin Castle, while he was at the same time a freelance journalist and theatre critic.Stoker first met the actor Henry Irving in 1878, soon after his marriage to Florence Balcombe (who had spurned Oscar Wilde in his favour), and he left Dublin to become Irving’s theatrical agent and business manager in London. He afterwards became manager of Irving’s Lyceum Theatre, a position he held until Irving's death in 1905.Continuing the tradition of gothic fiction already established in Dublin by writers such as Charles Maturin and Sheridan le Fanu, Stoker's most famous novel, 'Dracula', was published in 1897. Bram Stoker produced several other writings with a supernatural theme, but none to rival 'Dracula' and its enduring popularity. Dracula - the BookI read 'Dracula' back in April 2009 when it was the Dublin: One City, One Book choice, and I found it a book I did not want to put down. And I did not find it at all hard to read; to the contrary, I found the diary style a refreshing change from the norm, and the language, while obviously reflecting the period in which it was written, to be beautiful, poetic and descriptive. It gets a definite thumbs up from me.Also available to borrow is an audio (CD) version, plus a number of film (DVD) versions; an old favourite being the 1931 version starring Bela Lugosi.The Bram Stoker CollectionDublin City Public Libraries houses the Leslie Shepard Bram Stoker Collection, and this valuable donation of books by and about Bram Stoker, gathered over a lifetime of interest by the late Leslie Shepard, is a treasure-trove for researchers and enthusiasts. The collection comprises in excess of 230 books and pamphlets relating to Bram Stoker and his creation, Dracula. The collection can be found at Marino Library and at the Dublin City Library and Archive, Pearse Street.