In December last year, I included a guest post by Professor Terence Dooley about the establishment of a Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates (CSHIHE) at the National University of Ireland (NUI), Maynooth. Here is a wonderful follow up to that which highlights a particular project currently underway concerning the Great Irish Famine by Dr Ciarán Reilly.
The subject of the Famine is something of which I know very little within the context of the country house. Aspects of Irish history are discussed in English schools as part of GCSE level history, but that’s probably as far as most people take it, and any specialisms only surface at a later stage with further or higher education. The following certainly pulls the wider histories of the country house into view. As the piece suggests, a great many public outcomes have so far come about because of the project, and it is hoped that the research will have far reaching effects even when the project has been completed, both academically and socially.
Dr Ciarán Reilly is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses & Estates at the Dept of History, NUI Maynooth.
At the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses & Estates at NUI Maynooth of the most exciting projects on the Great Irish Famine is being undertaken. Paying particular attention to how the Famine impacted on the Country House & Estate, Dr Ciarán Reilly is presenting groundbreaking findings on how the Famine impacted and unfolded. This research is the result of the collaboration between the Irish National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park House and the CSHIHE. In 2008 the archive was transferred on loan to the Office of Public Works (OPW)/NUI Maynooth Archive and Research Centre at Castletown House, county Kildare.
The Strokestown Park House Archive is one of the most important and extensive nineteenth-century estate collections in Ireland comprising over 50,000 documents, including rentals, accounts, correspondence, maps and plans, property deeds, rent books, labour returns, pamphlets, press cuttings and even photographs. Of particular importance are the papers relating to the Great Famine of Ireland, 1845-51. Given the paucity of Famine records in a great many other estate collections, the Strokestown Archive has thus an added significance because of the microcosmic insight it offers into the Famine at local level. To date an in-depth analysis has been carried out on what can now be described as Ireland’s most important collection of documents relating to the Great Famine. While the archive details the running of the Mahon (and later Pakenham Mahon) estate from the 1600s until 1979, the majority of the papers relate to the tenantry on the estate. In the case of the Great Famine of the 1840s, the archive reveals the very people for whom Famine was a living nightmare. Here, through daily petitions for food and relief, we see the ‘forgotten voices’ of the Great Famine. It is through the study of such local estates that a greater understanding of how the Famine unfolded and impacted upon local communities can be fully understood. Through themes such as blight, eviction, emigration, murder and the struggle for land, a picture of Ireland in the 1840s and early 1850s is clearly identifiable. Significantly, the archive challenges long held assumptions about the Great Famine.
To date a number of public outcomes have resulted from the project including the annual International Famine Conference at Strokestown Park House. In July 2013 the third annual conference will take place organised by the Department of History, NUI Maynooth (a call for papers will shortly be advertised). In addition, the Strokestown Winter/Spring Lecture Series is also in its third year. The project has also seen an ambitious search for the location of more than 5,000 Famine emigrants from Strokestown who settled in Britain, Australia, America and Canada.
In the summer months of 1847 more than 1,400 people were assisted by the owner of the estate, Major Denis Mahon, in emigration to Canada. It has been estimated that more than 600 never made it ashore in Canada, having succumbed to fever at sea or died in the quarantine station at Grosse Ile. More than sixty children were orphaned at Grosse Ile and through the generosity of the Catholic Church and local people, they were adopted. It is hoped that the descendents of these children and others will return to Strokestown Park in July 2013 as part of the Gathering.
Staff profile, http://historicirishhouses.ie/people/dr-ciaran-reilly
Strokestown Park & Irish National Famine Museum http://www.strokestownpark.ie/
Putting the Great Famine into perspective http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/famine_01.shtml
Atlas of the Great Irish Famine book with links http://greatirishfamine.ie/
Exploration of the Famine by Professor Cormac O’Grada for the Economic History Society 1992 http://www.ehs.org.uk/ehs/refresh/assets/OGrada15b.pdf
A heavily referenced overview on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_(Ireland)
The Strokestown Park House Archive: What it tells us about the Great Famine in county Roscommon’ in Journal of the Roscommon Historical and Archaeological Society (forthcoming, 2011)
The Strokestown Park House Archive: Offering new perspectives on the Great Irish Famine’ in The Bonfire: Newsletter of the Ballykilcline Society, vol 13, no 2 (Fall, 2011)
James Donnelly, The Great Irish Potato Famine (Sutton Publishing, 2002)