Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Irish History - The Great Famine

Recently Amy and I have begun to research Irish history together!  What an interesting subject!  I am loving being able to learn alongside her.  As I was born and raised in England, Irish history is somewhat of an unknown to me.  It has also opened up many impromptu late night history lessons for me from my husband!  We have begun our studies at 1845; the beginning of the potato famine.

We started by  reading a historical fiction named 'The Hunger' by Carol Drinkwater.  Brian and I gave a set of these books to Amy as a gift for her 11th birthday this year.  This simple story has given us a grounding on which to base further research.

We were also lucky enough to find a great DVD boxed set at our local supermarket for a very good price.  The set contains 6 documentary discs which deal with varying times in Irish history.  So one afternoon Amy and I picked out the disc that delves into the potato famine and cuddled up on the sofa to watch it.  It was an American production which actually surprised me...it made me a little wary of the historical accuracy!  However I vouched most of the main points with Brian later that evening.  We all enjoyed the documentary thoroughly; although it was obviously very sad in parts. 

It was interesting to us all to learn that the blight disease which so grossly affected the potato crop is thought to have originated in Mexico and travelled all across Europe before it affected the Irish potato.  So there were many countries affected by devastating potato crop losses.  Only within Ireland however, were the effects so catastrophic.

One afternoon I organised a 'Pre-famine' lunch for myself and the children!  What fun they had!  It really was just a simple lunch of boiled potatoes in their skins, lots of butter, some soda bread and cups of milk.  Brian had also indicated that were not allowed to use cutlery to eat with, as most families would not have used them...urgh!  So I tried to be, as good a sport as I could, and let my children eat with their fingers (*shudder*)  Unfortunately this was during the time my camera died, so no photographs which was so disappointing, as such a wonderful time was had!  Whilst we ate, I read from a very interesting book we had checked out from the library on the subject of 'The Great Famine'.

I read this book aloud to the children during our school days and Amy also did some of the projects and activities suggested.  Amy drew pictures that depicted families during the time of the famine, imagined her family had to decide whether or not to enter the workhouse and made up a list of pros and cons; also she created a newspaper page containing an eye witness account she wrote herself of an eviction.  Even Dylan enjoyed this read time and loved to look at the pictures of the Irish farmers planting their potatoes by hand.  To our dear boy imagining a time were there were no tractors is...unfathomable!  Next I have included the best YouTube video I could find in regards to the famine, it does explain some of the key factors in why the loss of the potato crop was so catastrophic within Ireland...and surprisingly it has nothing to do with food shortages!  

You may have noticed reference to 'coffin ships' whilst watching the above video.  Many families emigrated aboard one of these ships in the hopes of finding a better existence for themselves in countries such as: Canada or America.  One such ship was named the Dunbrody Famine Ship and she carried many a family to the shores of America; including the ancestors of the late amercian President Kennedy.  A replica of the Dunbrody has since been built and is docked at New Ross, County Wexford; visitors can now board her and experience an authentic recreation of life aboard this ship.  The Dunbrody is closed for maintenence at present, but when she re-opens I am hoping to take the children along for the tour, as I think that will be a nice outing to cap off our studies on this topic.

We are all so enjoying our history research on this topic.  As we continue studying the time of The Great Famine we are beginning to look back at pivotal moments in previous history including the invasion of Oliver Cromwell and his armies, and also we will be looking at life in the workhouse.  We hope that you will enjoy learning with us!


Fin Dwyer said...

Hey just read your post there, you might be interested in my podcast and blog on Irish history. I am currently working my way through medieval Irish history - check it out at www.irishhistorypodcast.ie or www.facebook.com/irishhistorypodcast

Cheesemakin' Mamma said...

I'm fascinated with this subject. Recently watched an interesting moving called "The Hanging Gale" not one you would want to watch with children, but it sure opened my eyes to what the people of Ireland must have suffered and why they were willing to take the risk in those coffin ships for a better life elsewhere.