The Famine that Changed Ireland & America

Christine Kinealy joins Tim to talk about a tragedy that reshaped the landscapes of Ireland and the United States and Canada. The Great Hunger, The Great Famine, or better known as the Irish Potato Famine, but it was about anything but potatoes. If you’re of Irish descent in America, there is a good chance your ancestors were spurred to come to America due to blight and famine in Ireland in the mid-1800s. Christine is the Director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac University, an author, and a member of the Irish American Hall of Fame.

This is how the New York Times described it in 1995 on the 150th anniversary of Ireland’s Great Hunger:

“This was a fine spring in Ireland 150 years ago. By summer, farmers were forecasting an abundant potato crop, “the most luxuriant character.” But in September came the first reports of a disease that could blacken crops overnight and putrefy an entire field within days. Ireland’s eight million people were overwhelmingly reliant on potatoes.”

This is how the Great Famine started. It was a tragedy of proportions unimaginable today. The failure of the crop was just the first in a series of failures that combined led to the death of as many as one million people from hunger or diseases. Another two- to three million fled to North America.

The impact emigration had on America can be seen through the numbers. By 1850, the U.S. Census revealed that one out of four New Yorkers had been born in Ireland. Other cities that saw a huge influx of Irish immigrants were Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

In this episode, we learn the difficult story of the Great Famine and its impact on Irish and American culture with Christine Kinealy.


About this Episode’s Guest Christine Kinealy

Christine Kinealy is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, where she completed her doctorate on the introduction of the Poor Law to Ireland. She then worked in educational and research institutes in Dublin, Belfast and Liverpool.

She has published extensively on the impact of the Great Irish Famine and has lectured on the relationship between poverty and famine in India, Spain, Canada, France, Finland and New Zealand. She also has spoken to invited audiences in the British Parliament and in the U.S. Congress.

Based in the United States since 2007, she was named one of the most influential Irish Americans in 2011 by “Irish America” Magazine. In 2013, she received the Holyoke, Mass. St. Patrick’s Day Parade’s Ambassador Award. In March 2014, she was inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame.