Famine in Ireland
In his preface to Ireland Since the Famine, F.S.L. Lyons compares writing a general history of Ireland to making bricks without straw. He notes that there has been little synthesis of the Irish historical studies, and that even specialist study is less than complete. Moreover, he argues that a great deal of the historical scholarship has revolved around the “making and breaking of the Union with Britain”. He agrees that this should be a major theme in Irish history, it has been at the expense of many other social themes, according to Lyons. And this is the contribution of Lyon’s book to Irish history. Ireland Since the Famine offers a view of the Home Rule question that looks beyond the solely political aspects of this issue, and examines its religious, economic, social, administrative, constitutional, and cultural impact on Ireland.
Lyons is thoroughly qualified to write this historical examination of this important era in Irish history. In addition to being a Professor of modern history and Master of Eliot College in the University of Kent, Lyons has also published several works on the subject of nineteenth and twentieth-century Irish history. The book’s selected bibliography includes nine of Lyon’s books and essays, all of which became important contributions to Irish history. In areas, which Lyons does not feel he has adequate scholarship, he has employed the assistance of his colleagues at the University of Kent, whom he thanks for their contributions in the book’s preface.
The famine caused not only resulted in the death and emigration of millions of Irish, it also caused widespread social disruption. The repeal movement faltered as the Irish concerned themselves with the immediate matter of survival. To deal with the growing agrarian unrest and renewed activity of Irish secret societies, the British government formed the Royal Irish Constabulary to keep tighter control over the population. In effect, the famine served to strengthen the British control over Ireland. As a result, the British government had no interest in providing effective famine relief and was content to let the natural catastrophe take its course.