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One Genocide We Don't Talk About
An Irishwoman Learns Her History
jonihnj 7 weeks ago
The Skibbereen Heritage Centre, where I first learned about my cousin Gearoid O’Sullivan, the central subject of my proposed book, is located in a town of the same name, within County Cork. This is within the area where the O'Sullivan branch of my family (on the maternal side) has lived and farmed for several generations. The family originally hailed from, but suffered the misfortune of forced eviction from their lush ancestral homeland, as did many others.
The O'Sullivan clan’s properties were seized in order to reward those English warriors who pledged allegiance to Oliver Cromwell, the man whose troops stormed through Ireland in the mid-1600s, determined to crush, as he called them, Ireland’s “papist rebels.” This idea of picking off valuable properties must have seemed quite splendid to subsequent members of the English aristocracy, which continued encroaching on Irish lands until Ireland no longer belonged to her own people.
The new landholders (or might we without offense call them "land robbers"?) rarely appeared on Ireland’s shores. Generally speaking, this was a good thing, because their occasional visits were spent hunting with abandon, drinking, raping young Irish virgins and engaging in other such jolly "sporting" activity. Making themselves even more lovable to the Irish people, these absentee property owners charged exorbitant rents to their tenants in exchange for small patches of land.
They also exploited expanses of fertile properties for food for export.
Without doubt, this commodity was produced here in bountiful, mouth-watering quantities, as the hard-working tenant farmers who cared for the crops and cattle probably could not help but notice. Unfortunately, these poor sods were forbidden from enjoying the fruits of their labor, and instead found sustenance in the one crop their tiny scraps of rented land would yield – the cursed potato.
When blight killed off these small potato patches throughout the country in the mid-19th century, Ireland’s Great Famine was unleashed. This was not the first potato famine to occur during the years of Ireland's occupation by the English, but it was by far the country’s most devastating. Millions of men, women, and children died of starvation, often dropping dead in the middle of the road as they traveled miles on foot to the nearest soup kitchen. Others had no choice but to leave their native land, some dying in the holds of ships that brought them across the Atlantic, most never to see family members again.
Perhaps most tragic of all is that, as historical records reveal, more food left Ireland for export to England during this bleak period than ever before in Irish history.
On this cheerful note, I will end.