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January 2020 Theme - The 19th Century Irish Experience

Reading Through Time

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Dec 16, 2019, 9:49am Top

Map of Ireland, 1827

Welcome to the new year! To get things started, I’ve decided on a theme that I hope is broad enough to include lots of different topics. 19th century Irish history is fascinating to me, and much of what occurred continued to have reverberations into the 20th century. The obvious events are the potato famine, immigration, and the struggle for independence from Great Britain. I think it’s fair to include the experience of new Irish immigrants in other countries, too.

A (very limited) selection of titles:
Trinity by Leon Uris
Gracelin O’Malley by Ann Moore
Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly
Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor
The Law of Dreams by Peter Behrens
The Silent People by Walter Macken
Death and Nightingales by Eugene McCabe
Red Sky in Morning by Paul Lynch
The Good People by Hannah Kent
Cashelmara by Susan Howatch

The Great Shame: And the Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World by Thomas Keneally
Everyday Life in 19th-century Ireland by Ian Maxwell
The Farm by Lough Gur by Mary Carbery
The Immortal Irishman by Timothy Egan
The Famine Ships: The Irish Exodus to America by Edward Laxton

I look forward to seeing what everyone is reading!

Dec 16, 2019, 9:52am Top

I am likely to focus on fiction this month, and will try to read at least two. At the moment, I'm most keen about Red Sky at Morning and Star of the Sea, but we'll see what grabs me in January.

Dec 16, 2019, 11:50am Top

havent read Trinity in decades, nay, centuries. Think its time for a reread, time for a much more adult perspective.

Edited: Dec 16, 2019, 12:38pm Top

>3 cindydavid4: - I remember being completely swept up in Trinity, but it's been a looooong time for me too!

Dec 16, 2019, 1:32pm Top

I'll be reading either Castle Richmond by Anthony Trollope, which is set during the famine years in Ireland, and was written while Trollope lived & worked in Ireland.

OR--The Absentee by Maria Edgeworth, which is set in the early 19th century, and centers around the behavior and attitudes of ambitious Irish absentee landlords towards their struggling tenants.

Dec 16, 2019, 5:09pm Top

I am going to be reading a non-fiction book for this theme. The Burning of Bridget Cleary is about the mysterious death in 1895 of a 26 year old Irish woman whose family thought she had been taken away by fairies and a changling left in her place.

Dec 16, 2019, 7:25pm Top

I'll be reading Gracelin O'Malley, it's been waiting on my TBR since 2016.

Dec 16, 2019, 8:08pm Top

>5 kac522: - Those both sound good!

>6 DeltaQueen50: - Ooh, let us know how it is, Judy. Sounds fascinating.

>7 clue: - I've owned that one for a while, too. Maybe I'll join you and Gracelin :)

Dec 17, 2019, 1:59am Top

>7 clue: I'm reading Gracelin O'Malley too, although >6 DeltaQueen50: sounds really intriguing.

Dec 17, 2019, 3:32pm Top

>1 katiekrug: How can I *not* read The Famine Ships? And this is a chance to re-read a 1980s gay take on The Hunger called...unusually enough...The Hunger by David Rees. It's been a solid 25 years since I read it and, thanks to that blasted leak, I know which crate it's in!

Edited: Dec 17, 2019, 4:39pm Top

1>, >10 richardderus: Another book about Irish immigration to Canada during the famine: Flight from Famine: the Coming of the Irish to Canada by Donald MacKay.

This was interesting for me because I had ancestors who ended up in Upper Canada (Barrie), and the author spends a few pages on this special group of families who came from the County Wicklow estate of Lord Fitzwilliam. This "benevolent" landowner paid for most of the famine poor to be removed from his estate and resettled in Simcoe County, Ontario.

Dec 17, 2019, 11:09pm Top

I'm trying to read off my shelves, so I think I'm going with a book of short stories, Changing Skies: Manchester Irish Writers

Dec 19, 2019, 1:09am Top

>11 kac522: I was wondering what to read for January and I have Flight from Famine on my shelves. Thanks for reminding me.

Edited: Jan 13, 4:34pm Top

I'm going to read The Killing of Major Denis Mahon: A Mystery of Old Ireland by Peter Duffy. I'm looking forward to reading something outside US History. It touches on both the Irish Famine and immigration to the US.

I've finished the book and I was impressed with all the research that went into the book. I like how it went into not only the people displaced due to the potato blight but also all the surrounding bureaucracies and programs aimed at "helping" that only made things worsen into an outright catastrophe. There was good research regarding landowners, charities, politics, and religion that all had a hand in exacerbating matters.

Dec 26, 2019, 12:43pm Top

This theme is excellent, Katie. I must take part. But since I just discovered this thread five minutes ago, I will have to ponder what book(s) I should read.

I be back.

Dec 26, 2019, 5:42pm Top

>15 weird_O: Can't wait to see what you come up with, Bill. Maybe it will give me some inspiration.

Dec 28, 2019, 10:44am Top

I’m going to read The Road Home by Charlotte Hardy for this theme.

Dec 28, 2019, 10:47am Top

I’m going to read The Road Home by Charlotte Hardy for this theme. Not sure why Touchstones doesn’t recognize this.

Dec 28, 2019, 2:23pm Top

I pulled The Famine Plot from the shelves. Nothing like a little light reading to bring in the New Year. The 19th century in Ireland didn't go very well, did it?

Dec 29, 2019, 2:52pm Top

Unfortunately I don't have anything on my tbr that fits, but I found one that I'll try.

The Great Hunger / Cecil Woodham-Smith

I just have to wait on the audio from the library, so I can't promise to finish in January. I hope I will, but either way, I'll post here when I do finish.

Dec 30, 2019, 12:41am Top

>20 LibraryCin: The Great Hunger is an excellent book. I'd read it for this whateveritis, except I've already read it. A book I read years ago but still recall. Ms. Woodham-Smith also wrote an excellent bio of Florence Nightingale.

Dec 30, 2019, 12:55am Top

>21 weird_O: I'm a little concerned as it's an audio book. I'm not sure I always have good luck with nonfiction/history audios, but we'll see. It's the only version my library has, so...

Ah, I've love to read something about Florence Nightingale. I might look into it after I finish this one.

Dec 30, 2019, 9:29am Top

I love hearing about everyone's plans! Do report back once you've finished, even if it's not in January :)

Jan 4, 2:02pm Top

I have copies of Trinity and The Great Shame, both of which are mammoth. So I rummaged in the TBR and on WikiPedia for alternatives. The novel Cashelmara you mentioned, Katie, piqued by interest because when we visit Ireland two summers ago, we spent a couple of nights at Cashel House in County Galway, in a region known as Conemara. In the end, I've settled on Thomas Keneally's history.

Jan 4, 2:38pm Top

>24 weird_O: - I used The Great Shame as a reference for a paper I wrote in high school on the famine. It's what got me really interested in the topic and period. If you get bogged down (I don't think it's terribly dry but I don't recall all that well), Trinity is long but reads very quickly.

Jan 4, 2:40pm Top

I've started reading Gracelin O'Malley, set in the 1840s in the west of Ireland. I am not very far into it. The author obviously did a lot of research, but I wish she would have been better at weaving details into the story rather than just info-dumping.

Edited: Jan 4, 4:56pm Top

I'm in the mood to join in with this, but all the Irish books I have on hand (and there's a slew of 'em) seem to be set in the early 20th century, or are things I've read already. Of course, I may not have properly tagged everything... And speaking of tags, the tag mash for "Ireland, 19th century" comes up with a good many books that have little or nothing to do with Ireland.

Jan 5, 10:22am Top

>26 katiekrug: I read Gracelin O'Malley earlier than I intended to, as I knew three library holds were due to come in. I understand what you mean about the details; extremely descriptive writing. It seemed a bit over the top for me, within an otherwise good story.

Jan 5, 2:56pm Top

I read Changing Skies: Manchester Irish Writers by Arlene Hughes and translators. This was a collection of short stories written by immigrants from Ireland to Manchester. (England). I'm not a short story fan, but these were excellent reads about the immigrant's life before they left and afterwards. This book, although tagged 19th century, didn't always stay in the 19th century. There was a Great War story, a WWII story and a 1960's story, as well. 72 pages 4 stars

Jan 6, 5:14pm Top

>27 laytonwoman3rd: I would actually like to read about Ireland that is not about the troubles, something even pre British.

Jan 6, 6:31pm Top

>28 This-n-That: - It is a bit over the top, isn't it. A bit soap opera-ish...

Jan 6, 6:35pm Top

I have The Immortal Irishman in the stacks, and I am trying to read my own books this year. *blinks* Let's see if I can actually get to it this month.

Jan 8, 4:14pm Top

I finished up Gracelin O'Malley last night. My comments, as posted on my thread:

Gracelin O'Malley by Ann Moore

I've long had an interest in Irish history (probably thanks to my maternal lineage), and in the famine years, in particular (probably thanks to the same ancestors, who came to the US during and immediately after the famine). It's a bit misleading to refer to "the famine," as there had been many in Ireland, but The Great Famine, or Great Hunger, was unprecedented. It lasted from 1845 to 1849 and saw the potato crop fail in successive years. There was other food in Ireland, but most of it was exported to England and beyond, and potatoes made up the bulk of the diet of most poor Irish. The population of Ireland fell from over 8 million in 1844 to just over 6 million during these years. An estimated 1 million people died, with the rest lost to emigration. The long-term effects of the famine (additional emigration, renewed calls for freedom from Great Britain, the division of the country, etc.) lasted well into the 20th c. It's a really sad piece of history, but a fascinating one.

Ann Moore obviously has an affinity for the Irish and their history, and she must have researched her a** off while writing this book. I learned a lot, and if it sometimes felt like an information dump, well, I was willing to forgive her. She centers her story on Gracelin, the only daughter of tenant farmers in southern Ireland, who loses her mother at a young age, sees her brother crippled in the same accident that took her mother, and lives in a tiny cabin with her whole family - father, grandmother, and two brothers. Through a series of events which beggared belief a bit, she becomes the wife of the English squire on whose land her family lives. As the famine begins, other terrible events take place, and there is brutality and loss and death and betrayal. It reads like something of a soap opera, but I ate it up. I appreciate that Moore didn't draw crude stereotypes of the Irish OR the English. There are some definite bad guys, but not all the English are evil and even the evil ones have a bit of complexity drawn into them.

This can be a brutal read at times, what with the starvation and death and all, but it's also a (yes, fictional) snapshot of a resilient country and her people. It's the first in a trilogy (the second follows Gracelin and her daughter to America when she is forced to flee the English authorities), and I may pick up the second one eventually, though I don't feel a strong calling to right now.

If you like very dramatic historical fiction and don't mind stretching your credulity occasionally, then I recommend this one.

4 stars

Famine, a 1997 sculpture by Rowan Gillespie; in Dublin. Taken from brittanica.com.

Edited: Jan 9, 10:57am Top

>33 katiekrug: Forty pages to go here so I'll finish it today. My opinion will be very similar to yours.

Jan 10, 2:44am Top

>33 katiekrug: Wow, Katie, that sculpture is amazing, really paints a strong picture!

Jan 10, 9:21am Top

>34 clue: - I'll look for your final comments, clue!

>35 DeltaQueen50: - Or sculpts one... ;-)

Jan 10, 1:33pm Top

Just a point of order question, since I manage to be clueless a lot.

Is this "Reading Through Time" thingie to be an ongoing challenge? Is it your enterprise, Katie? Or will someone else pose a theme for February?

Jan 10, 1:57pm Top

>37 weird_O: - Hi Bill!

Reading Through Time is a group (group page here: https://www.librarything.com/groups/readingthroughtime).

There is a monthly theme, as well as quarterly ones. As you will see from the group page, the February theme has been posted ("Crime & Mystery").

Jan 10, 9:50pm Top

I need to hear from the Overdrive help tech people, but I suspect I will not be able to listen to the audio book I was planning (nor, likely, any audio book anymore, for that matter - unless and/or until I get myself a Smartphone, which I don't want, is too expensive, and still too bulky, in my opinion, to listen to audios).

Sorry for the b****ing, but I'm really annoyed with this. Sigh.

Jan 10, 10:08pm Top

I've completed Gracelin O'Malley by Ann Moore. This is the first of a trilogy and I'll probably continue.

Jan 11, 11:12am Top

>33 katiekrug: The sculpture is just beautiful!

Jan 11, 11:19am Top

>39 LibraryCin: My sister's phone sound started sounding like she was in a tunnel and they weren't able to fix it. She purchased a Kindle for less than $99 and uses it only for reading books/audio books and she loves it.

Jan 11, 3:05pm Top

>42 Tess_W: One of my other friends mentioned that I should be able to get an old smartphone without a plan, connect to wifi, and download to it.

However, I heard back from the Overdrive tech support people, and it turns out I can still use the old software and it will still transfer to my mp3 player! Whew! It's still so much smaller and lighter and more portable than any smartphone.

The message I got when I checked it out and tried to download it initially, I though was very misleading. It sounded (to me) like I needed the new app. Of course, the new app doesn't transfer books, so it wasn't going to work for me. The tech person was able to walk me through how to get it to the old software in order to transfer it instead. What a relief!!

Edited: Jan 11, 3:41pm Top

>43 LibraryCin: I like my mp3 reader, too. I borrow audio CDs from the library, copy to my computer and then transfer to my player. A bit of work, but then I have the audio on both my computer & mp3 player, so I have a couple of options.

I don't have a smartphone either; they are just too big and bulky and I'm on the computer all day anway, so I don't need one in my pocket. When they make smartphones smaller or foldable, I may reconsider.

Jan 11, 4:55pm Top

>44 kac522: I agree with everything you've said. I'm online often enough as it is - I don't need the internet with me at all times!

Smartphones are also very expensive in Canada. (I'm sure I've read this is one of - if not the - most expensive place for Smartphone plans.) Anyway, I think it would cost me a minimum of $50/month (likely more), when my landline + flip phone cost me $25/month. I also don't want/need to spend more money!

Jan 11, 11:03pm Top

>45 LibraryCin: glad you got it resolved!

Jan 12, 12:26am Top

>46 Tess_W: Me, too! So, I started listening to it today. I will need the full 3 weeks from the library, I'm sure.

Jan 17, 12:41pm Top

I have completed my read of The Burning of Bridget Cleary by Angela Bourke and although this book actually fits the theme very well as the author included culture, politics and religion in the narrative, I wasn't a fan of the book finding it watered down and confusing at times.

Jan 19, 11:16pm Top

William Wright, The Brontes in Ireland (1893) 2**. One of those books I'd been for ages meaning to read for the sake of completeness, but it's one of those books that gets panned in Lucasta Miller's The Bronte Myth for being highly inaccurate. It's actually more 18th Century but moves into the 19th toward the end so I'm letting it qualify.

Jan 21, 7:02pm Top

I had to switch to Kindle Fire last year because our library system dropped Overdrive and switched to RBdigital. I was not a happy camper!

Jan 21, 7:24pm Top

>50 cfk: That doesn't sound good! What is RB digital?

Jan 25, 12:00am Top

The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849 / Cecil Woodham-Smith
2.75 stars

In the mid-1800s, the main food in Ireland was potatoes. A disease (blight) hit potatoes and was devastating for the people of Ireland. There was nothing else to substitute, as it’s what the most vulnerable populations ate.

This was an audio, and as soon as I heard the narrator, I had a bad feeling. I’m sure I’ve listened to this narrator before; also male and a British accent – sadly both of those are warnings that I am more likely to lose interest and miss a lot of what’s going on. And that’s what happened.

Although, I did follow more than I expected. There was also a lot of politics – coming out of England, how would they help the people (or not)? I followed at least some of the issues with the potatoes, the starving population, and some of the immigration to North America; I missed something about a trial (no idea what that was about), and the queen visited Ireland after it was over, but I missed most of that, as well (beyond that everyone loved her during her first trip). Given how much of it I missed, I couldn’t quite rate it “ok”, but I didn’t want to rate it too low, either, as what I did pay attention to was interesting.

Jan 28, 5:54am Top

I also read Gracelin O'Malley and I am glad I did! 4 stars.

Edited: Jan 28, 5:33pm Top

I finished and enjoyed reading The Road Home by Charlotte Hardy. This is a coming-of-age story set in the late 19th Century in Roscommon, Dublin and Sligo. The famines are a memory, Home Rule the hope of many. Eirinn go Brach!

Edited: Jan 29, 12:28am Top

It’s common knowledge that the 19th century was a hard one for Ireland, coming as it did with the failure of the potato crop for many years in a row. In The Famine Plot: England's Role in Ireland's Greatest Tragedy, Coogan tells us about the British policies and attitudes to the Irish that created a full-scale tragedy out of the failure of the country’s main food crop. I knew the British policies weren’t good but had no idea how devastating they actually were until I read the book.

Jan 29, 8:48am Top

>52 LibraryCin: - Too bad that one didn't work better for you.

>53 JayneCM: - Do you think you'll read the sequel at some point?

>54 marell: - Have you read Trinity by Leon Uris? IIRC, it's also about the fight for home rule/independence. I remember it being quite a page-turner!

>55 Familyhistorian: - This was touched on a bit in the novel I read, Meg. So many pieces contributed to the tragedy...

Jan 29, 8:48pm Top

>55 Familyhistorian: I'm sure this (the British policies) was also mentioned in the one I read.

Jan 30, 12:30am Top

>56 katiekrug: Thanks to some help from other LTers, I found all three books of the Gracelin trilogy secondhand. I was very disappointed that my library didn't have the next two books, so was happy to find them. I have a great love of historical fiction so really enjoyed the first book.

Jan 30, 8:11am Top

>58 JayneCM: - That's great! The second in the trilogy was on sale for Kindle here yesterday, so I bought it. Not sure when I'll get to it, but it'll be there when I'm ready :)

Jan 30, 3:11pm Top

I'm cutting this one close, I afraid. Reading The Great Shame by Thomas Keneally. I'm on page 25. Just 580 more to read. Check here tomorrow to see if I finish it.


Jan 30, 4:59pm Top

I haven’t read Trinity. I think I started it many years ago but didn’t get far. Maybe I’ll give it another try because I really like his writing. Thanks!

Jan 31, 12:30am Top

>59 katiekrug: Perfect timing!

Jan 31, 12:47pm Top

>60 weird_O: I looked at The Great Shame as a possible book for this month's theme as well, Bill. I decided to go with something shorter. Good luck with the book!

Feb 1, 1:38pm Top

Okay, so it's like this. I re-read The Hunger by David Rees, a book I was thoroughly delighted by in 1986. I found it at Liberty Books in Austin, the first exclusively gay/lesbian bookstore we'd ever had. It was a joy to have something as good as A Different Light, the New York store that seemed like Mecca to my book-loving queer self; there wasn't A Section, like there was at the University Co-Op on the Drag, it was the point of the place! BOOKS BY QUEER PEOPLE!! ABOUT US!! All over the place there were covers with *men*touching*men*!! It was heady stuff. I spent $400 (in 1986!) in the first month it existed. This book was one of the first I bought. I'd heard of the Famine, had a vague sense that the English did it on purpose, and that Irish folks in the USA were still pissed about it. That struck me as weird, and it still does to be honest, but it made me think there was some kind of good story here. That, and the cover had a lovely tableau of a dark-haired man tenderly cradling what was clearly his heart's treasure, a blond guy with closed eyes. Sold!

Wealthy Englishman Anthony Altarnun and Irish smith's son Michael Tangney are lovers in pre-Famine Ireland. The neighbours (to misspell it in the manner of the London-published book) are, well, suspicious...the men behave queerly (in the old sense) in their intimacy, as they are pretending to be master and servant. But Altarnun is a fine, upstanding man, honest, forthright, and genuinely good to his tenants.

Then the Famine hits.

Altarnun beggars himself to feed his people. The politics of the Famine means that, because of the duration of the engineered crisis, he ends up destitute and on a Famine Ship to America with Michael. He contracts typhus, is nursed by his not-quite-faithful Michael, and dies before they reach America. And that's where a framing device, the family left behind family members' heirs receiving a mysterious bequest, comes into play. Michael's life in America is apparently successful. Of course his left-behinds wouldn't keep in touch with him, since he was a Sodomite and a catamite and a vile shirt-lifter. So this descendant, unnamed and without any evident personality, has set their eyes on recovering and retelling the story.

It was an astounding blow to my generally poor acceptance of how we were written out of history by our dearly beloathèd families, by the set-up of a society that wouldn't let us form legal families...Michael is telling an Irish fellow emigrant about Anthony:
"My...he...died of typhus. On the ship."
"There isn't a name like husband, because the world doesn't admit such things exist. But I was as married to him as any mand and his wife are to each other."

And there it was. That year, 1986, was mid-AIDS crisis. My older boyfriend from my teens, Paul, had died not long before. But there was nothing for me to hang my grief on, "geez what's wrong with you, he was just a friend!", and you know what? That moment on, I was absolutely convinced that marriage equality was not going to make a damn bit of difference because human beings are vile and irredeemable. This idea was borne out once and for all on 9 November 2016 and subsequent events.

The end of the book:
So nothing of Michael Tangney's exists now.
Except for a silver spoon, which {a lawyer} sent to {the writer's great-aunt}; it has engraved on it the initials M.T. and this motto: Hungry dogs will eat dirty puddings. It is on my desk in front of me, as I write this.

The blight that is prejudice afflicts populations as well as people. Survivors of one, both, more than enough forms of this uniquely human evil don't have nearly enough of y'all's...our...attention for their stories. As the President of Ireland said to the English government's flunkies on a 1995 visit:
Even now, it is not too late to say sorry. That would mean so much.

Fat goddamned chance.

Feb 1, 2:17pm Top

I also read The Famine Ships: The Irish Exodus to America by Edward Laxton, a non-fictional indictment of the heinous politically engineered, prejudice-motivated famine the English inflicted on the Catholic Irish from 1845-1851. Two and a half million people died or emigrated; Ireland was permanently radicalized; and still the goddamned perps haven't apologized, still less made amends...though, now that I've said that, how would that even be possible? Money won't resurrect the dead.

The book. Yes.

Laxton tells the tale via facts and figures, anecdotes drawn from the documents and media of the day. The unusual facet of this book's focus, for a US audience, is that he uses the Irish ships and the Irish crews as well as the Irish emigrants as the sources. It remains underappreciated, at this distance in time, that the Famine wasn't universal in Ireland; there were Irish who ate and lived as normal even at the lowest depth of the crisis. Laxton tells us the story of the downtrodden, but he does so via the lens of the lucky. He even reminds us that Henry Ford, he of the Ford Motor Company and designer of the Model T, was the son of a Famine emigrant. If not for the hideous, vile, evil people who perpetrated the Famine, the world would not look the way it does today for both good and ill.

There are many period illustrations, facsimilies of documents, and two signatures of lovely color plates reproducing paintings of the ships of the title. The jacket is a Rodney Charman painting of an imagined embarkation from Ireland; his work is all marine-themed painting or drawing, and it is lovely. I'd recommend the book for someone wanting to know factually what happened in a compact telling that doesn't stint on sources or on stories.

Feb 1, 2:51pm Top

>64 richardderus: and >65 richardderus: - Thanks for sharing those great comments, RD! I especially enjoyed the first with the personal connections you made.

Feb 1, 3:50pm Top

I saved them for last; they really don't quite fit the brief of a group read. Or so it seemed to me. But I'm glad you appreciated what I was trying to do.

Feb 4, 3:19pm Top

>65 richardderus: There was an apology issued. Tony Blair gave the first ever apology for the famine in Cork in 1997.

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