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Global Legacies of the Great Irish Famine

Transnational and Interdisciplinary Perspectives

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Edited By Marguerite Corporaal, Christopher Cusack, Lindsay Janssen and Ruud van den Beuken

The 150 th anniversary of Ireland’s Great Famine in the 1990s generated a significant increase in scholarship on the history of the crisis and its social and cultural aftermath. Two decades later, interest in the Irish Famine – both scholarly and popular – has soared once again. A key event in Irish cultural memory, the crisis still crops up regularly in public discourse within Ireland and among the Irish diaspora. This volume, containing essays by distinguished scholars such as Peter Gray, Margaret Kelleher and Chris Morash, offers new perspectives on the Famine and its contexts. Addressing the challenges and opportunities for Irish Famine studies today, the book presents a stimulating dialogue between a wide range of disciplinary approaches to the Famine and its legacies.
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Margaret Kelleher: The ‘Affective Gap’ and Recent Histories of Ireland’s Great Famine

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MARGARET KELLEHER

The ‘Affective Gap’ and Recent Histories of Ireland’s Great Famine

Rowan Gillespie’s sculpture ‘Statistic I and Statistic II’, part of the Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum collection at Quinnipiac University, Connecticut, is accompanied by the following artist’s commentary:

Under one small municipal parking lot on Staten Island, some 650 human bodies have been discovered. Most are the remains of Irish immigrants who, having fled the devastation of Famine, survived the horrors of the ‘coffin ships’, had, on arrival in the New World, died in quarantine from the diseases they carried with them. Amazingly it has been possible to identify the name, age, date, and cause of death of most of those who were so unceremoniously disposed of in this mass grave. Having spent some time at the site and with those involved, I felt the need to offer some small dignity to those forgotten dead by cutting their names into bronze. It was my way of taking time to contemplate the horror behind these statistics. I would need to make 5,000 tables like these to record the known deaths resulting from the Famine in Ireland.1

Gillespie’s piece speaks to one of the central tensions which has traditionally characterized histories of the Great Irish Famine: the drive to establish historical fact while attesting to the affective dimensions of what occurred, and, with this, the potent commemorative impulse – more often a historical impossibility – to name the Famine dead. ← 19...

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