Belfast meeting (2017)

Queen's University Belfast hosted our conference on The Great Famine and Social Class: Conflicts, Responsibilities and Representations (20-21 April 2017). The programme can be found here.

Jason King, Marguérite Corporaal, Peter GrayPeter O'NeillAudience


‘Negotiating Famine? Food blockades and other protests
John Cunningham (NUI Galway)JohnCunningham

September and October 1846 were the months of most widespread and animated popular protest in the Famine period. Over seven weeks, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children mobilized on quaysides, canal banks, and carriageways in several parts of Ireland. Prompted by the realization that the entire potato crop was lost, and that circumstances would be even worse than in the previous year, the major objective of the protestors was to have locally-grown grain retained in their own communities and to have it made available below the market price. This paper will examine the distribution and character of the protests of late 1846, and reflect on their effectiveness through comparisons with contemporary food protests in Scotland.

John Cunningham is Lecturer above the Bar in the Department of History, NUI Galway. A former editor of Saothar: journal of Irish Labour History, his research interests include Irish local history, the moral economy, and global syndicalism. He is the author of Labour in the west of Ireland: working life and struggle (Atholl, 1995) and A town tormented by the sea': Galway, 1790-1914(Geography Publications Dublin, 2004).

How the Other Three-Quarters Lived: The Cabin in Famine Literature
Melissa Fegan (University of Chester)MelissaFegan

In the 1841 census, three-quarters of houses in Ireland were placed in the lowest two classes, one-roomed mud cabins and slightly larger mud cottages. What Harriet Martineau describes as ‘Irish cabin life’ was a matter of fascination for visitors to Ireland before and after the Famine, and the cabin became a key site of ethnographic exploration. Curious or philanthropic observers were either shocked by the poverty and wretchedness they saw or puzzled or even offended by the seeming happiness and healthiness of cabin-dwellers. During the Famine, the cabin was a scene for tragedy and horror: the place from which the people were evicted, from which they emigrated, in which they were quarantined, where they were found dying or dead, where they were buried. The roofless cabin later eloquently attested to their suffering and absence and has become one of the most significant visual icons in the commemoration of the Famine. This paper will examine the representation of the cabin in literature from the time of the Famine to the present day, considering the ways in which social hierarchy and communal relations are mediated through its space in texts set during the Famine, and its spectral signature in modern and contemporary literature as concrete or symbolic inheritance, a time-machine, a haunted house, a place to desecrate or take refuge in, and a crime scene.

Melissa Fegan holds a PhD from the University of Oxford and is Reader in Nineteenth-Century Literature, Department of Ebgkush, at the University of Chester. She is currently working on twentieth- and twenty-first-century representations of the Great Famine in literature, and the Irish hotel in early nineteenth-century Irish fiction and travel books. Among her publications are Literature and the Irish Famine 1845-1919 (Clarendon Press, 2002) and Wuthering Heights: Character Studies (Continuum, 2008).

Famine Irish labour and America’s middle class: a cultural history

Peter D. O’Neill (University of Georgia)PeterONeill

In charting the Famine Irish journey to American respectability, this paper presents a cultural history of the “middle class” in order to illustrate both how the term signifies differently in America than it does in Ireland, and how this difference is rooted in a class politics shaped by the demands of the American racial state. The social and cultural formations of Famine Irish themselves signified differently in America than they did in Ireland under British colonial administration. The Alien and Sedition Act of 1790 declared US citizenship to be open to “free white persons,” a category for which the Famine Irish qualified upon arrival at US ports. For these mostly poor, mostly Catholic refugees, the transatlantic crossing represented a movement from the outside to the inside. Instead of dispossession and disenfranchisement at home, in America they could claim full citizenship and avail themselves of the opportunity for material advancement. For many Famine Irish, however, existence in America was precarious. Nevertheless, for them the impediments to social advancement diminished precipitously in comparison to those the US state considered non-white, since such advancement was predicated upon the double binary, implicit in the 1790 law, of Black/white and slave labor/free labor. In California, to meet regional conditions, these binaries morphed into Asian/white and coolie labor/free labor. Ultimately, this paper’s cultural history will demonstrate how the Irish gained not just citizenship, but also entry into the American nationalist fold, their success commensurate with the extent to which non-whites were denied full citizenship and even their very humanity.

Peter D. O’Neill is an Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature, Franklin College of Arts & Science, at the University of Georgia in Athens. He has served as a Lilly Teaching Fellow and as a Research Fellow of the university’s Willson Center for Humanities and Arts. O’Neill’s monograph, Famine Irish and the American Racial State, is forthcoming (Routledge 2017). He is the co-editor, with David Lloyd, of The Black and Green Atlantic: Crosscurrents of the African and Irish Diasporas, an essay collection published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2009.  O’Neill’s other publications include articles in journals such as Atlantic Studies: Global Currents, the Internationalist Review of Irish Culture, and Journal of American Studies.

Maynooth conference (2016)

Between 14-16 March 2016 Maynooth University hosted the conference The Great Famine and its Impacts: Visual and Material Culture. The conference was organised jointly by Maynooth University and INIFS and is funded by NWO and Maynooth University.

The Great Famine of 1840s Ireland left a profound impact on Irish culture, as recent groundbreaking historical and literary research has revealed. Less well documented and explored, however, is the relationship of the Famine and its related experiences (migration, eviction, poverty, institutionalization and urbanization) to the visual and material cultures of Ireland. This conference, which is hosted by Maynooth University and organised as part of the NWO-funded International Network of Irish Famine Studies, aimed to consider broadly how the material and visual cultures of Ireland and its diaspora (including painting, sculpture, photography, drama, architecture, film, dance, ritual, musealisation, heritage, archaeology) intersect with the multiple impacts and experiences of the Famine.

The aim of the conference was to highlight new research and resources, yet also to refocus attention on material and visual technologies, economies, and epistemologies that shape Famine memories and legacies. Examples of these issues include the visibility of impacts of the Famine upon the land and environment; social and material cultures of food and hunger; ritual and social practices of protest, resistance and commemoration; the architectural history and legacy of workhouses and other institutions; print and periodical culture; photographic and cinematic engagements; dramatic stagings of the Famine; folklore collection and the museology of social histories; archaeology of death and burial; the Famine and popular culture; tourism and heritage development; tenement life and displacement/settlement in Ireland and the diaspora; historical and contemporary artistic engagements with the Famine; intertwined representations of  Famine and contemporary migrations.

Taking a broad approach to the impact of the Famine on visual and material cultures, the conference brought together scholars from various fields to promote new, cross-disciplinary dialogues and deepen our understanding of the Famine’s cultural history.

For the programme of the conference, please click here (docx, 2,3 MB).


Helsinki meeting (2015)

Between 6-8 December 2015, Andrew Newby of the University of Helsinki hosted the second meeting of the International Network of Irish Famine Studies. The programme for the meeting included a seminar on "Nineteenth-Century European Famines in Context" on 7 December. For the programme of the seminar, please click here (pdf, 1 MB).


Nijmegen meeting (2015)

The "Famine Migration and Diaspora" expert meeting took place at Radboud University Nijmegen on 23 and 24 April 2015. For the programme of the expert meeting, please click here (docx, 14 kB).