In Ireland, the Great Famine was a period of mass starvation, disease and emigration between 1845 and 1852. It is also known, mostly outside Ireland, as the Irish Potato Famine. In the Irish language it is called an Gorta Mór, meaning "the Great Hunger" or an Drochshaol ( meaning "the bad life").
During the famine approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island's population to fall by between 20% and 25%. The proximate cause of famine was a potato disease commonly known as potato blight Although blight ravaged potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s, the impact and human cost in Ireland – where one-third of the population was entirely dependent on the potato for food – was exacerbated by a host of political, social and economic factors which remain the subject of historical debate.
The famine was a watershed in the history of Ireland. Its effects permanently changed the island's demographic, political and cultural landscape. For both the native Irish and those in the resulting diaspora, the famine entered folk memory and became a rallying point for various nationalist movements as the whole island was then part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Modern historians regard it as a dividing line in the Irish historical narrative, referring to the preceding period of Irish history as "pre-Famine".
This image is of a sculpture entitled ‘Famine’ by Roman Gilespie, unveiled by her Excellency President Mary Robinson, commissioned and donated to the people of Ireland by Norma Smurfit on the 27 May 1997. It is located on Custom House Quay in Dublin, close to the Custom House, a place of embarkation for many of the millions who emigrated throughout that tragic period, many of whom died on the overcrowded ‘coffin ships’, never to return to the land of their birth.
In June 2007, a series of statues by Gillespie was unveiled by President Mary McAleese on the quayside in Toronto's Ireland Park. The work commemorates the arrival of refugees from the Great Famine. The Hamilton Spectator described the work as follows:
"The early immigrants are now honored at the Toronto waterfront park by five haunting bronze statues created by Irish sculptor Rowan Gillespie. One figure depicts a man lying on the ground, emaciated; another shows a pregnant woman clutching her bulging stomach, while behind her a meek child stands wide-eyed. One frail figure is bent over with hands clasped in prayer, contrasted by a man whose arms are extended to the sky in salvation."
Most people who stand amid these works for the first time are moved to tears, I certainly was.
Weary men, what reap ye? Golden corn for the stranger.
What sow ye? Human corpses that wait for the avenger.
Fainting forms, Hunger-stricken, what see you in the offing
Stately ships to bear our food away, amid the stranger's scoffing.
There's a proud array of soldiers—what do they round your door?
They guard our master's granaries from the thin hands of the poor.
Pale mothers, wherefore weeping? 'Would to God that we were dead—
Our children swoon before us, and we cannot give them bread.