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The Real Irish-American Story Not Taught in Schools


The Real Irish-American Story Not Taught in Schools

Bill Bigelow

“Wear green on St. Patrick’s Day or get pinched.” That pretty much sums up the Irish-American “curriculum” that I learned when I was in school. Yes, I recall a nod to the so-called Potato Famine, but it was mentioned only in passing.


Don't forget Jonathan Swift's satire "A Modest Proposal." Seriously.
Not much has changed in the past 300 years in the rich's attitude towards the poor.


Right wingers always compile these lists of supposed "deaths due to communism" typically amounting to some tens of milions. Why have we never compiled a similar, and I suspect much larger, list of the deaths due to capitalism? The Irish Famine, among many others, would be at the top of the list - and we are not even counting the capitalist-imperialist wars and massacres, violent death and disease in the satanic mills and mines, homenessness and starvation due to unemployment and capitalist economic depressions, massacres of workers when they rise up, etc. The number would be in the hundreds of millions.


Being half-Irish, I watched "The Quiet Man" yesterday, and coincidentally, or not, I am halfway thru "Far and Away" this fine morning - exactly the story this article seeks to remind us of.

My Irish mother and I did visit Ireland, many years ago - for the first and only time.

We climbed the Hill of Tara, and visited Galway, near to where my mother's ancestors lived - and left from, yes - during the potato famine.

I seethed with hate as I suveyed the destruction another empire had wrought - and now the mantle of empire has passed to the United States - and I can well imagine the hate in all of this present empire's client states.

For all that, I am glad my ancestors had the strength to leave Ireland.

For me, the land is everything -

Here in Canada, and in the United States - the landscapes are awesome.

How do we manage to screw everything up so badly, I wonder ?

Is it those who value other than the land - those who do not see - or feel - the connection ?


Excellent points, and important ones. But of course the US observance of St.P's day doesn't come from Anglican Irish and is more about the triumph over American disdain for the immigrants, the move from "no Irish need apply" to generations-long traditions in municipal emergency services and the booming voice of the US Roman Catholic Church, once dominated and driven by Irish-Americans.

The point of the monoculture should also be taught more than it is, with its parallel to our velvet-green lawns with nary a dandelion allowed to feed the bees. And with it the reminder that potatoes are not native to Ireland, or indeed to Europe, but had been cultivated there a mere couple of centuries, just long enough to become peasant food rather than a cash crop for the landlords. It's not blame-laying, but understanding unintended consequences when we mess with the web of life that we need to be about.


"How do we manage to screw everything up so badly?"

Well, we don't. Our elected officials do.

The real question should be, 'Why don't we voters learn that the parties we support, have sold our futures to the corporations?'


Thank you, Mr. Bigelow, for this excellent article, and for your commitment to real education. This is a very timely reminder of the inherent flaws of Capitalism, and the often deadly outcomes which
result from the commodification of all things essential to life. It never ceases to amaze me exactly how the ethos of "profits before people" can somehow be reconciled with "Christian" belief systems.

In a historical sense, death and suffering caused by the "Terrorists" with whom we are so obsessed, represent a grain of sand on the wide beach of souls destroyed by the Capitalism which is so
worshipped in Western culture.


Somehow, I think that's an editorial "we," as in 'everybody but me.' The story of the potato famine is not about voters and corporatist parties. As Bigelow demonstrates, it's about aristocracy, serfdom, and sectarianism. But even turning it to "our elected officials" is shirking responsibility. Let's talk about what we can do to unscrew a few things.


Ahh ~ the question of the ages ~

If there is a "We the People" - there is no room for compromise or parley.

I would prefer that "We" have screwed things up - then "We" can fix it.

The alternative is to lay the blame on others.

As a Pilot - and a Mountaineer - that is not an option !

And as a Citizen - same !

"We" have screwed things up, and by God, "We" will fix it.


Excellent point. And it seems one cause of untold numbers of dead and imprisonment of millions since it began in the early 1900's is often overlooked in textbooks and is not seen from an historical perspective, and that is the War on Drugs. And the War on Drugs is not anti-drug, it is anti-human.

If we disregard 1937-1971, just since Nixon declared the war, we have wasted over a trillion dollars on the most obscene failure of US policy. That is enough money to put every college bound kid through 4 years of college.

At the very root of this war is greed. Greed of money, of power, of domination over the masses: the greed of capitalism.

Logical next steps here at the Global Commission on Drug Policy, with their 2016 report, which should be shoved up the arse of every remaining prohibitionist in office (my house rep and both my senators are prohibitionists).


Excellent article Mr. Bigelow.

If I might addle a musical selection: From the Isles to the Courts by Ensemble Galilei. I have yet to play this album for anyone who did not thouroghly enjoy it. Good summary/review here. http://wwno.org/post/ensemble-galilei-isles-courts

Not to dis headphone/earbud listeners, but on a fine audio system it really shines. If you know the feeling of a classical live quartet in an intimate setting--that's the feel/imaging I perceive. The outstanding recording/production is part of the artistry, and these artists are at the top of their game.

RRR. I have used Musicstack with good results. And you can find many out of print works as well. Cheers


One of the best recent books about the Irish famine and migration to our American shores (my great grand parents all came from SW Ireland) is The Graves Are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People by John Kelly.

"In this masterful, comprehensive account of the Irish Potato Famine, delivered with novelistic flair, Kelly gives us not only the startling facts of this disaster--one of the worst to strike mankind, killing twice as many lives as the American Civil War--but examines the intersection of political greed, bacterial infection, religious intolerance, and racism that made it possible. Kelly brings new material to his analysis of relevant political factors during the years leading up to the famine, and the extent to which Britain's nation-building policies exacerbated the mounting crisis. Despite the shocking, infuriating implications of his findings, The Graves Are Walking is ultimately a story of triumph--of one people's ability to remake themselves in a new land in the face of the unthinkable."


Interesting article, Mr B.
NB A Bengali economist Amartyeh Sen won a 'Nobel' Prize for Economics with his book on famines. He studied the great Bengal Famine (1943) and some later famines in East Africa. He argued strongly that in the modern world famines are largely caused by capitalist economics.
Not by an actual shortage of food but by the poverty which means that with grain hoarding and speculation, when food prices are ramped up, the poor end up starving.
In Bengal, under British administration, over 3 million people died. Even though there was plenty of grain in other parts of India. And the Churchill government denied there was a famine, and refused to arrange for ships to bring food to the afflicted area.
In each case study, Sen showed the famine had economic and political causes - i.e. a market failure.
So long as we have a 'production for profit' system and society is class, famines of this sort will remain.
They afflict the poor, while the rich profit. Such is the nature of


Pure Capitalism is a recipe for Disaster. The United States has been modifying that to try to find a more humane economic system. Mr. Trump seems to be advocating a return to Pure Capitalism. What are you advocating? It is not enough to be against something, what are you for?


From everything i've read and viewed of Irish History, the division was not as simple as greedy British landlords and starving Irish peasants. Many of the landlords were Irish themselves.


History repeats when it is unremembered


And the republicans want to cut UN funding to help in South Sudan which is in a famine crisis at this moment----never mind what the US is doing to Yemen???????Its all about GREED!


Thank you for this excellent article, both for your views regarding education and also for your commentary regarding the Irish famine.

As an otherwise excellent student, I hated Social Studies/History for the very reasons that you mentioned. It wasn't until college that I was awakened by the fascinating, "real" details and backgrounds that made history suddenly come alive. By whitewashing facts and generalizing /condensing details to mush, as still done in our textbooks, we are doing no favors to our children and failing to provide a painless and powerful way to develop and reinforce critical thinking skills, so necessary (and yet so deficient) for real learning and decision-making.

Since this article addresses education as well as the Irish famine, it seems appropriate to add that Britain also banned the Irish from receiving any education, including learning to read.


And, Protestant, as well.Hint: Bigelow mentions the Anglican churches failure to provide any criticism, let alone moral leadership. About 5-7% of the population was Anglican but, of course, they had been installed and aided by British Crown cunning and treachery. Remember, as the Irish do, that to a Slimey Limey, " an Irishman is just a nixxer, turned inside out ".
The British are the scourge of the Western Hemisphere. And, their extractive practices here, let them spread their disaster capitalism around the planet. " good riddance to bad rubbish "; the EU should say to Farange & Co, don't let the door hit you in the arse on the way out works, too.


I agree – but first let’s clear up a few things.

‘Capitalism’ – pure or not – cannot exist except as a worldwide system. In some countries there is more state involvement, in others less.

But always it is based on production for profit and the wages system. Instead I and others would like to replace capitalism with its class divisions, wars and exploitation with socialism/communism – based on common ownership and democratic control of all means of production worldwide.[www. socialiststudies.org.uk]

”From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” – that would be preferable to the current disastrous mess.

Oh and BTW nothing about Mr Trump can be thought of as “pure” – unless it be his greed!