The Great Hunger is the story of one of the worst disasters in world history: the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s. Within five years, one million people died of starvation. Emigrants by the hundreds of thousands sailed for America and Canada in small, ill-equipped, dangerously unsanitary ships. Some ships never arrived; those that did carried passengers already infected with and often dying of typhus.
The Irish who managed to reach the United States alive had little or no money and were often too weak to work. They crowded into dirty cellars without light or sanitation, begged in the streets, and accepted whatever employment they could get at wages which no American would accept. Epidemics, riots, and chaos followed in the wake of this hopeless flood. Irish immigrants came to be regarded as a danger to the health of the community and a burden on society.
Cecil Blanche Woodham-Smith, in this balance and dispassionate look at a terrible tragedy, attempts to apportion the blame among the then unknown disease which destroyed the potato on which the vast majority of the Irish depended almost exclusively for existence, greedy landlords, and the total lack of comprehension of the British government.
The Great Hunger is a heartbreaking story of suffering, insensitivity, and blundering stupidity, but it is also a story of courage, dignity, and, against all the odds, a hardly supportable optimism.
"A moving and terrible book. It combines great literary power with great learning. It explains much in modern Ireland, and in modern America." --D.W. Brogan