Archive for Bridget O’Donnel

The Hunger

Posted in Art, History, Television with tags , , on December 8, 2020 by telescoper

An iconic image of the Great Irish Famine: pen & ink drawing of Bridget O’Donnel and two of her children by (it is believed) James Mahony, published in the London Illustrated News on 22nd December 1849.

The last couple of Monday nights have seen the airing of a two-part documentary series called The Hunger on RTÉ. It was, of course, about the Great Irish Famine, which led to the death of one million (mainly poor) Irish people and the emigration of over two million in the subsequent years. It was a shattering episode that altered Ireland for ever; the population of this island still hasn’t recovered to pre-Famine levels.

The series, based on a serious scholarly book called Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, and narrated by Liam Neeson, was unflinching and sometimes harrowing to watch, the dreadful personal accounts of suffering juxtaposed with equally shocking graphics showing the scale of the depopulation of rural Ireland. I haven’t read the book on which the The Hunger is based, but have ordered it from the local bookshop.

‘No imagination can conceive — no tongue express— no brush paint— the horrors of the scenes which are daily exhibited in Ireland’, observed Senator Henry Clay in 1847 at the height of the Great Hunger.

I think it would be great if The Hunger were shown on British television, though I suspect few would watch it. The British prefer their own propaganda to the truth about the empire. Oscar Wilde once remarked “The problem is the English can’t remember history, while the Irish can’t forget it”. I don’t think the Great Famine will be forgotten soon, but I for one don’t see that as a problem.