Remembering the Irish Potato Famine

Star of the sea: farewell to old Ireland by O'CONNOR ...


Star of the Sea: Farewell to Old Ireland

By Joseph O’Connor

Published by Secker and Warburg (2002)

Book Review

Although fiction, this novel is based on more than a dozen books and website documenting the Irish famine, as well five eye-witness accounts published between 1847 and 1850, and passenger manifests from the Irish and Canadian national archives.

The plot concerns a trip aboard the fictional Star of the Sea in December 1847. Passengers included 402 in steerage, fifteen in First Class staterooms and 37 crew. Among the steerage passengers were 239 Irish victims of the potato famine who could pay the £8 fare to emigrate from Liverpool to New York.

Although the failure of the potato crop (from blight) starting in 1845 is blamed for the famine leading a million Irish to die and more than 1 million to emigrate, the causes of the famine were complex. The grain crops Irish tenant farmers produced for export to England were probably sufficient to feed the entire starving peasantry. However as frequently happens, the preeminence of the export market, dramatically inflated the cost of food in local markets.

There was the added issue of landlords setting fire to the homes of farmers unable to pay rent (to replace them with sheep). In these instances, it was clearly the sudden loss of their land, not the potato blight, that caused their families to starve to death.

Only the First Class passengers received regular meals. Steerage passengers were provided with biscuits and water unless they brought their own food. With only two water closets for 402 of them, living conditions were extremely unhygienic and smelly.

During the Atlantic crossing, which took 26 days, an average of three to four steerage passengers died daily of starvation and starvation-related infectious disease.

When the Star of the Sea arrived in New York, it, like other ships with large numbers of Irish immigrants, was refused permission to dock, leading to additional deaths from starvation. First Class passengers were rowed to shore after eight days. Those in steerage remained on board for almost seven weeks, awaiting interview by police and health officials from the Office of Aliens.


Greek Austerity and the Rise of Fascism

Golden Dawn

Konstantinos Georgousis (2013)


Golden Dawn is a remarkable documentary tracing the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece. Despite their role in several high profile murders, Golden Dawn has held 18 seats in the Greek parliament since 2012.

Their rapid rise to power relates in large part to dire austerity measures the European Union has imposed on Greece. With 28% unemployment (55% youth unemployment) and drastic pension cuts, many starving Greek citizens join Golden Dawn because of their free food distribution programs.

However as Georgousis makes clear, the strong support Golden Dawn enjoys from police (who openly admit to being members), the media, the Greek Orthodox Church and Greek security services is even more instrumental. In all respects the parallels with Nazi Germany are chilling.

Golden Dawn is notorious for openly beating up and murdering both illegal and legal immigrants – with the police looking on and, in many cases arresting legal immigrants instead of perpetrators.

Only anarchist groups have tried to protect immigrants from these attacks. When they do so, the police step in and arrest, beat and torture them.

In 2012, following the murder of a high profile Greek national, the Greek government finally arrested four Golden Dawn leaders on a charge of criminal gang activity. However instead of stripping them of their parliamentary seats, they then directed Greek jail staff to transport them between jail and Parliament.

What I found most remarkable about the documentary is its excellent footage of actual Golden Dawn meetings and its in-depth interviews with some of its members.