Liverpool And The Great Hunger

A chara

Where does the Irish Free State government get off taking it upon itself to thank Liverpool for its benevolent role towards the Irish refugees that arrived in the port of Liverpool during the 'famine' years. "It is keen to acknowledge the city's special role in accepting and caring for Irish immigrants" - Avril Doyle TD, Irish minister for state.

Their praise conjures up pictures of these starving and dying refugees being rushed to Emergency Ward Ten on arrival, awash with Live Aid concerts. As is known the truth was far from that! These starving people were left mainly to fend for themselves, countless thousands died in appalling conditions; 40 or 50 deep in Liverpool's pestilent cellars. These 'dungeons' had already been condemned in 1842 after another Irish influx from hunger, and bricked up thanks to the work of the famous Dr Duncan of Liverpool. Our people had to smash their way into these cellars because them was no other place for them.

The living were left to lie with the dead in these hell-holes. Disease was rampant. At the same tine, British merchant ships stuffed tight with quality foodstuffs arrived at Liverpool from Ireland throughout the 'famine' years while this dispossessed Irish  mass perished a couple of yards from where these ships berthed with food destined for the belly of the British bourgeoisie. In fact both food and starving refugees were shipped out together from Ireland bound for Liverpool.

Dr Duncan became the fist Medical Officer of Health ever to be appointed in Britain from 1847-1863. His appointment was as a direct result of the horrors of British rule in Ireland exploding onto the streets of Liverpool, horrors that were seeping into the wealthier districts of this city.

England 'was' a socially backward country compared to other European nations of that time. The English working class of Liverpool lived and worked in the most horrendous conditions, the worst in Britain. The British army complained after rejecting 75% of the city's working-class men on health grounds that they 'were unfit to be shot at'. It is hard to believe that people could live in worse conditions, but they did. "It is they [the Irish] who inhabit the filthiest and worst of these unventilated courts and cellars." (Dr Duncan of Liverpool speaking in 1842.) Much worse was to come with the advent of the Great Famine looming in Ireland

The only reason the 'kindly' city fathers didn't close off the Port of Liverpool to the Irish as did the Isle of Man authorities was Liverpool was the ex-African slave capital of the world; it was well used to shipping millions of humans in stinking fever-ridden holds of its ships across the Atlantic. There was much money to be made for the powerful ship owners etc.

To say people chose to stay on in Liverpool, rather than cross the Atlantic, is laughable. Liverpool was the most hostile place the Irish could possibly find themselves in. Media outlets ran intense anti-Irish feeling to prevent any solidarity there may have been with the Irish from the English working class. Vicious Orange Lodge attacks were common on the vulnerable, murders and suicides wore near daily occurrences. Corpses were fished out of the Mersey daily. Then the final insult: the bodies would be put on display naked to the public from behind bars that opened on to the street known as the 'Drowned, House'. No, this was the flight of the very poor, many having been given the small amount for the crossing by landowners' agents to clear them off the land once and for all. Others were carried as live ship's ballast; they wanted only to be fed. Decades after the 'famine' the Liverpool Irish ghettos were a death trap; 64% of its children never reached the age of nine compared to 39% in London. For the rest of working-class in Liverpool it was 49%.

During the 'famine' years Liverpool's answer wasn't medical help or sufficient food. In fact, Martial Law was called for from certain quarters. Many arrests and deportations took place. Two thousand fully armed soldiers were sent north from London, 800 Cheshire Yeomanry, 700 Auxiliary men arrived and three war ships sailed for Liverpool and anchored in the Mersey.

Twenty thousand, mainly from the lower middle-class, many of them Orange Lodge members were made special constables to bolster the already 800-strong Liverpool police force, for the sole duty of keeping these destitute Irish contained.

They may have also been used to dig the secret mass graves that have been unearthed in the city and recently came to light, the latest in 1973 containing 3,561 bodies stacked in order of presumed age that were secretly incinerated before tests could be carried out. This was on British Home Office orders which it now denies knowledge of. It is now known as the 'Mystery' Mass Grave, It took eight years before this mass grave was reported in the press and then only in the Catholic Pictorial (September 6,1981).

Those Irish who escaped the typhus infection in Ireland and paid passage to the Americas too had reason to 'thank' Liverpool for its benevolence. Three quarters of the human traffic to cross the Atlantic sailed from Liverpool; 95% of which were Irish. Dr Douglas, the Medical Officer at Grosse Isle, Canada stated in his report that in his opinion "the filthy Liverpool slums, where poor emigrants were forced to lodge before embarking, were one of the main causes of the ship fever disaster." (The Great Hunger p 278.)

It has been estimated, though not widely known, that 100,000 Irish souls were swept away in Liverpool during the genocidal years of the Gael (Pardon and Peace by Rev Friel). This is a city that up until today has no memorial to those who perished in its guts nor has much consciousness of this trauma, much to our shame. The schools of the city teach the descendants of the banished Gael who survived this Holocaust only the 'glorious' ride of the British Empire, not the fact that it tried to wipe them out.

The truth about this British manufactured 'famine' tragedy has never really been told.  And if this revisionist tampering carries on, it never Will.

Just for the record, Ms Avril Doyle, the first relief ever organized in Liverpool for Irish 'famine' victims was by Irish navies who were building a railway from Liverpool to Bury, Lancashire. They donated a day's pay each. This is in stark contrast to the 'Honourable' James Lawrence, the Tory Lord Mayor of Liverpool in 1845 and local booze baron, who refused to hold any conference on relief for the Irish.

A book that is a must to be read on this Holocaust is The End of Hidden Ireland by RJ Scally

S Ryan
DO hEANACHAIN
James Larkin Association
Liverpool

*SAOIRSE - Eanair / January 1997

Continue