Ireland's Great Famine in Irish-American History: Memory and Meaning

Presenter: Mary C. Kelly

Ireland’s Great Famine of 1845-1852 launched a powerful new chapter in the history of Irish America. This illustrated presentation centers on the human floodtides who escaped Ireland’s ravaged countryside on grim “coffin ships” to seek refuge in teeming American urban tenements. We begin with contemporary images of Ireland’s devastation and the large-scale, unanticipated, and unwelcome Catholic Irish presence in east coast harborsides, followed by reflection on the harsh reception that greeted the Famine exiles in America. From there, we encounter powerful sources of ethnic Irish political and cultural advancement over late 19th and early 20th century decades, from John L. Sullivan to the Kennedys and beyond. As we contemplate pillars of Irish-American achievement in spheres of politics, education, labor, faith, and sports, we navigate shadowy and contested pathways of Famine remembrance over the same years and decades. Enrich your understanding of the Famine as a crucial episode for the Irish in America, and reflect on how its memory and legacy continue to shape what it means to be Irish-American today.


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Ireland's Great Famine arguably represents the cornerstone event in Irish-American immigrant history. The episode that began with the failure of successive potato crops in the mid-19th century mobilized an epic transatlantic voyage undertaken by almost two million Irish. This Famine floodtide duly transformed Irish immigrant settlement and the ethnic identity in America over the next century and beyond. Combining contemporary accounts with compelling illustrations and images, this presentation tracks the enduring impact of the Great Hunger and its ongoing significance within America's Irish community. The course of Famine memory is also explored, from the shadowy public silences over much of the 20th century to the vibrant wellsprings of remembrance and commemoration today. As the presentation reveals, the Famine's emotional inheritance continues to shape the ethnic identity and what it means to be Irish-American today.
Event Details


Saturday, March 18, 2023 1:00pm


James A. Tuttle Library
45 Main Street
Antrim NH 03440

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James A. Tuttle Library

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James A. Tuttle Library