'Famine got under my skin'

Dónal Nolan

First hand accounts of the deprivation, death and disease suffered by the people of Kerry in the Great Famine electrify what is one of the first great histories of the period in the Kingdom.

From the first infant deaths signalling the start of the cataclysm in Kerry through the unremitting horror of the disease and starvation to the ghostly landscape left in its wake, The Great Famine in Tralee and North Kerry by Bryan MacMahon presents readers with a remarkable overview of the Irish holocaust as experienced here.

It's the product of years of painstaking research of firsthand documents that left the Ballyheigue-native historian haunted by the ghosts of the period. "It got under my skin to a great degree and I felt a kind of responsibility, almost a debt of honour, to the people of North Kerry to get their stories across."

We might think we know the score - a million dead, a million emigrated, etc - but it's a subject the Irish have yet to fully deal with, Bryan said.

20 per cent of the Kerry population was wiped out. "But it was particularly bad in the coastal region from Kerry Head to the Cashen, particularly Causeway where over 50 per cent of the population was lost. Ballinclogher, Lixnaw, was one of the worst hit too, losing 58 per cent of its people - at least going by the crude statistics."

"Despite the magnitude of the disaster, Kerry still lacks a single, outstanding monument to the Famine," Bryan said.

The Great Famine will be launched by Jimmy Deenihan at O'Mahony's Bookshop in Tralee on Thursday June 22 next at 5.30pm.


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