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The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and…

The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People (edition 2012)

by John Kelly

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1015119,589 (3.56)12
Title:The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People
Authors:John Kelly
Info:Henry Holt and Co. (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 416 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:history, food, illness, famine

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The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People by John Kelly


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Showing 5 of 5
Joy's review: God, but this book is a slog! Kelly has included every fact he uncovered in his research in this book and done so with out any kind of coherent narrative. The only reason I included the extra 1/2 star is that he did to a lot of research and I learned some interesting things. If only he had an editor to force him to organize this pile of facts into some kind of structure. All of our non-fiction group agrees: Kelly ruined what could have been an excellent book. ( )
  konastories | Apr 9, 2014 |
If you are keenly interested in the Irish Potato Famine and its effects on the Irish people, this book is essential. However, there is a very large caveat to anyone who decides to read this book. It is unrelenting, brutal and mind-numbingly depressing -- just as the Famine was to the millions who suffered so horribly in this famine. I can't imagine how Kelly made it through the research and writing without losing his sanity. ( )
2 vote Richard.Mansel | Jun 15, 2013 |
This is a history of the famine period in Ireland by Irish-American John Kelly. Between 1845 and 1850, of a population of approx. 8.2 million, some one million died and another million were forced to emigrate. By 1881 the population had fallen to 5.2 million and continued to fall for many more years. This book, based on detailed research involving primary sources, is an involving read but not an easy one. There is a wealth of personal accounts and stories of the impact of the famine across the length and breadth of Ireland, and fitting all this material into a readable volume was I'm sure no easy task, but this I think he has largely succeeded in accomplishing. The author's conclusion that the famine was a genocide in outcome if not in intent is one some readers and scholars might take issue with; I think further reading of scholarly works on the famine period is necessary regardless. The recently published Atlas of the Great Irish Famine (Cork UP)is one such work everyone interested in the famine should reference.
See Irish Times review of "The Graves are Walking" at http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/features/2012/0925/1224324356401.html ( )
  ebyrne41 | Jan 15, 2013 |
Although I didn't like this as much as Kelly's previous book on the Black Death, The Great Mortality, it was certainly an absorbing read and a sobering one. I hadn't known much about the potato famine before reading this, but it wasn't one of those kind of books where prior knowledge was required to fully understand the text.

The saddest thing of all about the story, I think, is that it wasn't anything evil that doomed the Irish. Contrary to what some people believe, no one was deliberately trying to starve the Irish to death. The British weren't practicing genocide like the Soviets did to Ukraine during the Holodomor. Rather, it was a kind of Hurricane Katrina like situation: the government was trying to help, but it didn't have a clue what it was doing and ignorance and self-interest and misplaced priorities prevented any real progress from being made. And so millions died.

Well worth a read for anyone interested in this kind of thing, though I prefer straight-out plagues to famines. ( )
1 vote meggyweg | Dec 6, 2012 |
"By the summer of 1847, newspaper readers in North America and Europe could be forgiven for thinking the only thing the Irish knew how to do any more was die."

That sums up the horrific story of the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1848ish, a dreadful event that was sadly in need of a new and readable history. That is what John Kelly has delivered -- in spades. He does the world a service by not arguing that the collapsed of the potato crop was artificially manufactured and created by the British with the express purpose of triggering what ended up becoming the equivalent of a genocide of the Irish, nor does he romanticize life in pre-famine Ireland. What he does do is deliver a crisp, well-researched and authoritative history of the cataclysm and its consequences.

In Kelly's eyes, the English have a responsibility for the astonishing fatality -- about a million died; another million emigrated -- but it's of a different kind. English policies and especially the commitment to policy ideals rather than the preservation of human life (eg the government determination that no one should interfere with the market's operations by providing free grain or selling below the market price) had an impact that proved devastating. Kelly makes clear that the starting point of their thinking was radically different than what ours might be today, 160 years later: to the English of the 1840s, it was easy to see the famine as a kind of divine judgment, whether on the over-reliance on the potato crop, the antiquated system of barter rather than a modern cash economy, or simply the fact that the Irish were Catholic. To them, the crop failures were a welcome opportunity to reshape Ireland, and the policies that they tried to execute exacerbated the catastrophe.

In the wake of any tragedy of this kind, it's easy to slip into the "but they should have known..." analysis -- 20/20 hindsight. That has been particularly true of the famine, which has played a critical role in the thousand years or so of conflict between England and Ireland, so it's not surprising that Kelly does do a bit of that. (Another example of what I mean by this: it's akin to the comments made about Jews in Germany and Austria in the mid-1930s -- why didn't they leave? Didn't they realize?? Kelly occasionally slips into comments along the lines of "they should have realized...") But the deft marshaling of the complicated facts and the juxtaposition of these against some vivid writing (the only other history of the period I've read was very very dry) and an anecdotal style more than offsets this.

Many of my ancestors are Irish, although Irish protestants, with names like Duke (Kelly quotes a Co. Leitrim physician, John Duke, who was viewed as a savior by some of his Irish Catholic patients and whose grave marker is still decorated with flowers today) and Casement (yes, as in Roger), but most left before the famine, in the 1820s or 1830s, in the aftermath of the failed 1798 rebellion. Most were themselves small farmers or craftsmen, not peasants, but not landowners. I wish that my g-g-g-g-grandfather Francis Duke had left some mention of what he thought of his great-nephew's actions during the famine, and what he thought of the flood of new Irish immigrants to Canada in the years before his death. What is sure is that the Co. Leitrim he left today has a population that is only about 10% of what it was before the famine -- and that for every person now living here, there are at least 7 or 8 members of the Irish diaspora who can trace their roots to Leitrim. That's an example of the impact of this horrifying few years of Irish history, a period that still affects the sense of what it is to be "Irish", and that country's relationship with England.

Kelly has a knack for combining great historical detail and accuracy with narrative detail and vivid writing, making this compelling reading. Recommended: 4.4 stars. ( )
3 vote Chatterbox | Oct 3, 2012 |
Showing 5 of 5
Kelly intersperses the nitty gritty of the shifting Irish economic situation with horrific glimpses of its human toll ... Recognizing that the British handling of the famine was “parsimonious, short-sighted, grotesquely twisted by religion and ideology” rather than deliberately genocidal is important because while powerful, paranoid, racist madmen like Hitler are relatively rare, our own time is replete with men like Trevelyan. ... That version of the story may not be as satisfying dramatically and morally as the one with the evil, homicidal Englishman, but it does do what history does best, which is to show us how not to repeat it.
added by lquilter | editSalon, Laura Miller (Aug 19, 2012)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 080509184X, Hardcover)

A magisterial account of the worst disasters to strike humankind—the Great Irish Potato Famine—conveyed as lyrical narrative history from the acclaimed author of The Great Mortality

Deeply researched, compelling in its details, and startling in its conclusions about the appalling decisions behind a tragedy of epic proportions, John Kelly’s retelling of the awful story of Ireland’s great hunger will resonate today as history that speaks to our own times.

It started in 1845 and before it was over more than one million men, women, and children would die and another two million would flee the country. Measured in terms of mortality, the Great Irish Potato Famine was the worst disasters in the nineteenth century—it claimed twice as many lives as the American Civil War. A perfect storm of bacterial infection, political greed, and religious intolerance sparked this catastrophe. But even more extraordinary than its scope were its political underpinnings, and The Graves Are Walking provides fresh material and analysis on the role that Britain’s nation-building policies played in exacerbating the devastation by attempting to use the famine to reshape Irish society and character. Religious dogma, anti-relief sentiment, and racial and political ideology combined to result in an almost inconceivable disaster of human suffering.

This is ultimately a story of triumph over perceived destiny: for fifty million Americans of Irish heritage, the saga of a broken people fleeing crushing starvation and remaking themselves in a new land is an inspiring story of revival.

Based on extensive research and written with novelistic flair, The Graves Are Walking draws a portrait that is both intimate and panoramic, that captures the drama of individual lives caught up in an unimaginable tragedy, while imparting a new understanding of the famine's causes and consequences.


(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:14 -0400)

This compelling new look at one of the worst disasters to strike humankind--the Great Irish Potato Famine--provides fresh material and analysis on the role that nineteenth-century evangelical Protestantism played in shaping British policies and on Britain's attempt to use the famine to reshape Irish society and character.… (more)

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