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Book Review on My Story: The Hunger - the Diary of Phyllis McCormack, Ireland 1845-1847

Updated on January 28, 2013

This book that I've read a couple of days ago retraced the agonizing struggle of Irish people, involving the Potato famine, the unprecedented exodus of families who were evicted as tenants from their homes and the crime of stealing due to the nationwide hunger that divided the citizens of this island nation.

As the subject of the United Kingdom, the people of Ireland were thirsty of the elusive sovereignty that they long to embrace.

Note and Disclaimer: My Story is a book series printed by Scholastics Limited in the UK, based on actual historical events and real people but bended by authors who re-created the scenes into a more fictional atmosphere.

The grim situation during the Potato Famine

Sir Robert Peel (Photo Source: Popperfoto)
Sir Robert Peel (Photo Source: Popperfoto)
Daniel O'Connell engraving by J. Lewis (Photo Source: Mary Evans P.L.)
Daniel O'Connell engraving by J. Lewis (Photo Source: Mary Evans P.L.)
An evicted tenant and his family (Photo Source: Mary Evans Picture Library)
An evicted tenant and his family (Photo Source: Mary Evans Picture Library)
Homes of evicted tenants put to the torch@ Glendeigh, Amedee Forestier in Illustrated London News (Photo Source: Mary Evans P.L.)
Homes of evicted tenants put to the torch@ Glendeigh, Amedee Forestier in Illustrated London News (Photo Source: Mary Evans P.L.)
A painting of a farmer showing his affected crop as he grimaced in despair (Photo Source: Mary Evans P.L.)
A painting of a farmer showing his affected crop as he grimaced in despair (Photo Source: Mary Evans P.L.)

Ireland and its true story based from Phyllis' diary

The main protagonist of the story, Phyllis, was given a diary, as a gift by her brother Pat during her fourteenth birthday.

The McCormacks were potato farmers and they depended their income (for food, clothing and house rentals) with the crop.

The life of the storyteller (now through her daughter: Carol Drinkwater) was documented through her diary, exposing the hardships that were experienced by the Irish people, both Catholics and Protestants in the hands of British landlords.

Sir Robert Peel was the British Minister at the time of the Potato Famine.

It's his decision where the fate of Irish people were sealed.

This included the lives of Phyllis and her family.

Her eldest brother Pat was accused of being a member of the subversive Young Irelanders, a a movement of nationalistic young minds who were opposing the presence of the British government.

They wanted Ireland to be independent.

Daniel O'Connell formed the Repeal Association in 1840 in an attempt to end the Act of Union with Britain.

On May 15, 1845 entry on the diary, Phyllis wrote: "I was writing what Da (father) and Pat are always fighting over. Here in Ireland, Daniel O'Connell is known as "The Liberator" because he won back the equal rights for Catholics and because he opposes the Act of Union which was made by law by the British in 1800. This act abolished our Parliament in Dublin, leaving us to be governed by the British from Westminster. It is 45 years since we lost our government and there are many who are tired of the British rule. They are fast losing faith in O'Connell. Pat is one of them."

As subject of UK, Ireland and its people will always share whatever crops that will be harvested from its plantation, especially the potatoes.

Potatoes are usually stored in the roof of a dwelling. Poor families would also have shared their home with the few animals they owned (as in dogs and chicken or cats).

February 11, 1846: "Only the potatoes are blighted. All our other produce is succulent and delicious, but it's being exported! I don't understand. Politics and economics leave me confused. Neither seem to have the interests of the people at heart. Even those Irish who are no so fussed about being self-governing are fussed about going hungry while others abroad make profits out of our food. f anything will cause uprisings then this must."

As the entries on the diary of Phyllis became dimmer and hope was like a sun that sets for a long, dark night, and so the fate of the Irish people.

Then, came March of the same year, as the blight struck potatoes, six month after, Black Fever became an epidemic on the island nation as people died because of hunger. And the Yellow Fever struck after as people are turning yellow due to the said pestilence. To sum it up, it will called the Famine Fever as Phyllis concluded it.

So, the Ireland became an eerie, classic version of the "Land of the Living Dead" due to hunger and diseases and the pitiful condition of the homeless. Typhus and dysentery were siphoning lives by large numbers.

Stealing was the major effect of the hunger and what cause the British government to send most of the offenders to far away, to Van Diemen's Land (Australia and Tasmania).

The character of Phyllis was on a lucky streak because of her involvement with the son of a British landlord, she and the remaining members of her family were able to be transported in America, the land of the free.

And we're lucky to be reading her historical account during that dark period of Ireland, through her daughter, Carol Drinkwater (Is it just her pen name or num de plume?).

For my mother, Phyllis McCormack, and in memory of all those who have lost their lives fighting for Ireland or struggled to make a living there.

Irish Potato Famine of 1845 to 1849

In 1845, about a third of the potato crop in Ireland was destroyed by blight - that began the Irish Potato Famine - the Great Hunger until 1849.

Historically speaking, it was the effect of the 'Great Frost' that spread in the entire Europe.

Almost a million of people in Ireland died due to the famine and immigrants coming to America were almost half the total number of the settlers at the prosperous continent.

The importance of Potatoes around the world

It is believed that the wild potato species grow entirely in Americas. The European invaders found out that it was abundant specially in Latin America, specifically in Peru, Chile and Bolivia.

Now, as 21st century comes, data estimate an average global citizen to be consuming more than 30 kilograms of potato products annually. It can be potato fries, potato chips or simply boiled or sugar-coated potatoes.

Here in the Philippines, if you'll ask me about my consumption, it ranges from a boiled one, potato fries from fastfood outlets or the sugar-coated one, we called camote cue.

China is now the world's largest potato-producing country, while India is second in production.


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    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 5 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      @carol7777: I'm glad you made it here. Yes, for now. I am surrounded with books I neglected to read when I was in navigation.

      I am making for the lost times and concentrate more on historical fictions and more.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      Though my reading choice is generally mysteries I thought I would take a gander at this review. It does look interesting and a reminder to me I need to broaden my horizons. Very well done Travel Man.

    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 5 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      @Ms. Dora: My true mom's story about potatoes were also both pitiful but inspiring.

      I neglected it due to the fact that this hub focused on the fate of Irish people, as narrated by the daughter of an Irish immigrant.

      My mother also experienced a related fate regarding potatoes. Orphaned at a young age of 5, she and her eldest sister and brothers were treated like slaves of their relatives as their parents died. Seldom they have eaten rice for breakfast, instead lots of boiled potatoes were served for them, even though they needed much energy as they studied at the nearby elementary school.

      Rice is the staple food in the Philippines, while potatoes in Ireland, UK and the rest of Europe.

      The hunger my mother felt as she attended home chores, cleaning dishes and washing clothes of her relatives and even taking care of younger cousins were part of the hardships she endured, including the many breakfasts of sweet potatoes.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for sharing the views of Phyllis McCormack on the Potato Famine. (Not really your mom, right?) Interesting and Informative.


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