Ireland's Great Famine in Irish-American History: Memory and Meaning
Presenter: Mary C. Kelly
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.
Drawing on material from her book Ireland's Great Famine in Irish-American History, Dr. Kelly will discuss the role of the Famine in shaping Irish-American ethnic identity. Focusing on the long-term impact of the episode between the 1840s and 1990s, she explores the shadowed landscape of Famine legacy and its status in Irish-American culture today. Referencing contemporary press accounts and the writings of Famine survivors and their descendants, Dr. Kelly shows how interrogating Famine memory enables the Irish on both sides of the Atlantic to deal with the material and emotional inheritance of this tragic experience.