The Irish Famine and Migration

Published in Issue 2 (Summer 1996), News, The Famine, Volume 4

As a contribution to the on-going commemoration of the anniversary of the Famine, a one-day symposium on the theme The Irish Famine and Migration was held in March at Queens’ College, Cambridge. Organised by the Cambridge Group for Irish Studies, under the auspices of the Cambridge University History Faculty and in association with History Ireland, the symposium brought together a range of speakers who addressed various aspects of this major feature of the Irish famine experience.
Jim Donnelly (University of Wisconsin) opened proceedings by considering how the popular understanding of the collective experience of the Famine was shaped in the succeeding decades, particularly by those who had left Ireland. John Belchem (University of Liverpool) addressed the effects of the Famine and consequent emigration on radical political movements in Britain, especially the Chartists and their leader, Fergus O’Connor. Robert Scally (NYU) provided a treatment of the individual Famine experience. Citing prison records as evidence for the physical condition of Irish transportees and emigrants, he questioned the traditional assumption that the Irish poor were physically relatively robust. Frank Neal (University of Salford) examined the experience of Irish Famine emigrants in Britain and in particular their reception in the major cities of the north-west: popular reaction to the emigrants influenced the culture of certain cities down to the present day. Peter Gray (Downing College, Cambridge), in a paper entitled ‘Shovelling out paupers’, considered the attitude to emigration of the higher echelons of the British administration: he re-emphasised the role of particular providential religious and laissez-faire economic beliefs in directing official policy.
The large attendance, from many different parts of Britain and Ireland, made its own contribution to the symposium with many stimulating questions and comments from the floor.

Peter McDonagh

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