Graphic Representations of the Irish Potato Famine
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A critical time in Irish History, the Great Irish Potato Famine in known in history books around the world, Europe’s last famine. Between 1845 and 1852 in Ireland was a period of excessive starvation, sickness and exile, known as the great Irish potato famine. During this time The Isle of Ireland lost between twenty and thirty per cent of its people. Although blight ravaged potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s the impact and human cost in Ireland, where a third of the population was entirely dependent on the potato for food, was intensified by a host of political, social and economic factors which remain the subject of Irish historical discussion. The famine was a watershed in the history of Ireland. Its effects lastingly changed the islands demographic, political and cultural landscape. For both the native and those in the resulting diaspora, the famine entered folk memory and became a rallying point for various nationalist movements.
Currently, we are marking the hundred-and-sixty-ninth anniversary of the single most catastrophic event in the history of nineteenth-century Europe, the Irish Famine. In saying this however, memorials of this catastrophe are clouded by the lack of visual material. As a matter of fact, this problem applies to much of the history of Ireland before the turn of the twentieth century and is something that has been commented upon by art historians, but never made explicit. All in all, it was the Famine that most likely got the most responsiveness from the contemporary artist, as opposed to other events in Irish history in that period. Most people are aware of the graphic representations in the Illustrated London News and similar periodicals of the time. One must ask the question, with a preo...
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This survey only touches on a handful of paintings, which cover a variety of typecasts, from the wretched to the cruel, and can be seen to be a pictorial catalogue of the difficulty of British views on Ireland. By representing the poor Irish as charming or the middle class as being similar to their British equals, the Irish could give the idea to be unthreatening and symbolically tamed. The artist, in their attempt to deal with the events of the great Famine accepted and indeed hid within the lines of conformity, refusing to tackle the reality of the situations, which more often than not were shabbily dealt with by those in power. As for the Irish artist, they revealed the greatest insight into the complications between the two nations. They thought themselves as different; there assumptions about art and subject matter left a lot to be desired.