A photo from the (Manchester) Guardian newspaper published in February of 1925 describing famine conditions in Ireland, with the claim that 750,000 men, women and children faced starvation. Many of those most at risk were in the Irish-speaking communities who again were left to fend for themselves (Íomhá: Irish History Podcast)

These are the people, the right-wing Nationalist forces, that initiated and won the counter-revolutionary civil war of 1921-23 and this is the conservative Irish Free State they replaced the liberal Irish Republic with. From an article by Fin Dwyer of the excellent Irish History Podcast:

“In the early 1920s Ireland was in a ruinous state. The war of independence, the civil war and an economic depression were taking their toll on society.

The governing party, Cumann na nGaedheal, were committed to bringing the country back onto an even keel.  However this led to one of the darkest chapters in Ireland’s economic history when they attempted to cover up severe levels of starvation among substantial numbers of the population.

The government plan was simple and will resonate with many today – extreme austerity. A highly conservative party, they were committed to trickledown economics seeing large farmers as the engine of the economy. Therefore they tried to cut the richer farmers’ tax and costs while also reducing government expenditure – regardless of the social cost.

The harvest in 1923 and, in particular, 1924 was nothing short of disastrous. The weather, while not particularly cold, was unusually wet. Crop yields collapsed.

The worst affected areas were in the west of Ireland and particularly the Atlantic Islands [ASF: that is, of course, the predominantly Irish-speaking communities].

As early as the 20th of August 1924 the Meath Chronicle reported “a famine condition is imminent as bad as 1847”. Through the early autumn, local and national newspapers were littered with similar predictions of mass starvation.

By October, people in Connemara were reported to be surviving on seaweed and shell fish.

On New Year’s Eve 1924, a doctor was called to the home of Michael Kane who lived on Omey Island.  Arriving at the house, the physician found “Kane was lying on the stone floor near a small turf fire. His emaciated face showed only too plainly the cause of his illness. The man was starving and too far-gone to benefit from medical attention. Two children, of three years and two years, respectively were lying by the fire trying to keep warm.  They too were weak for want of nourishment.”  Kane died two days later in Galway hospital…

He was not the only casualty. In January and February, newspapers in Clare and Galway reported the deaths of over 10 people, predominantly children, from starvation or starvation related disease. Harrowing accounts of desperate poverty filled newspaper columns.

English newspapers began to carry articles outlining the nature of events in Ireland. In the following months it was carried around the world; by April it was receiving prominent attention in the Soviet Daily Pravda. However it was The Manchester Guardian that carried the most detailed reports which claimed around 750,000 people were starving.

Speaking in the Dáil the Minister for Agriculture, Mr P.J. Hogan, ludicrously asserted “There is no abnormal distress in the West this year. I say that definitely and deliberately. There is always distress in the West, but the distress this year is not…particularly unique….There is never real famine in the West…”

Hogan was not the only one to ignore the suffering and starvation of the population. No one in the Dáil challenged the minister’s assertions – not even the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Thomas Johnson.

Indeed despite the fact that there were numerous cases of deaths and widespread reports of destitution, the topic of starvation or ‘distress’ did not dominate political debate in the following weeks. When the topic was discussed, the government was almost hostile.

Why cover up the crisis?

When faced with a choice of downplaying the starvation or risking their international reputation, the choice was simple for the politicians of Cumann na nGaedhael.

Individuals like P.J. Hogan lived in a world apart from those who were starving. He belonged to a different class…

Ultimately, Ireland was saved from a full blown famine in later 1925 and 1926 but not by government action. Instead a greatly improved harvest in the Autumn of 1925 saw the plight of most of those at risk improve slightly.”

On the perennially supine role of the Irish Labour Party at this period, the tail to the conservative dog, the magazine History Ireland has this to say:

“The Labour Party’s response to the crisis reflected the policy of the party at the time. Under [Thomas] Johnson’s leadership, the party had entered the Free State parliament and effectively accepted the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Johnson, a strict constitutionalist, wanted to help consolidate the new Free State. While critical of the government on many issues, the party did not question the constitutional status of the state for fear it would weaken its foundations.

In response to reports of famine in the west, government supporters claimed that the British press sought to denigrate the fledgling Free State. The Labour Party, true to form, completely backed the government in its response to the crisis. Johnson… took credit from the fact that his party had asked the government to look into the crisis. This was the line coming from the leader of a supposedly left-wing opposition that had little representation among those worst affected by the poverty. As on many other occasions, Johnson chose to provide the government with a crutch rather than try to win the working-class vote in a time of crisis.

The severe poverty in the west was at its worst in 1925 owing to the failure of the potato crop and the lack of turf. In the following years the winters were less severe but poverty continued to cause serious problems. From 1926 onwards, the major difficulty for inhabitants of the western seaboard was the inability to pay land annuities, which had to be collected by the Free State and paid to the British government every year.”

Everything that went wrong with independent Ireland, everything that is wrong with independent Ireland, began in 1921 when several misguided patriots signed an agreement in London that betrayed an entire revolution – and an entire generation of young men and women who so nearly won it.

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20 comments on “The Irish Famine Of 1925

  1. Graham Ennis

    Deeply depressed by it all. My Grandmother spoke to me of these events, outlining the harshness of conditions in Ireland in the twenties. Even in Dublin, severe conditions were not uncommon, with great lack of employment, general neglect by the Government, etc…….How much of this true history of Ireland is ever taught in the schools?. Little, very little, I fear.

    • Graham, I quite agree. In this case it is notable that a significant number of those effected by the 1925 crisis were monolingual or bilingual Irish-speakers, and it was their communities that bore the brunt of the “famine”.

      Someone posed a question to me yesterday in relation to the Irish-speaking population of this country: when does a policy of neglect by the state cross over into becoming a policy of ethnocide by the state?

      While a dramatic phrasing it is worth debating.

  2. Could this famine be the result of the massive debts the British inflicted on the Irish, Ofc you mention the land annuties and also partition which denied the Country 90% of it’s industrial base.
    Are there any good internet articles detailing how unfair the debt burden the Brits place on Ireland was?
    And has the Free State, done the same again with the bank bailouts.
    I never heard of the famine of 1925. And Labour haven’t changed.
    You only have to listen to the g*bsh*te Pat Rabbite complain about too many left wing TD’s been elected to the Dail in the shape of independents.
    A real true the looking glass moment when a so called Labour party complains about the left wing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    George Orwell had it about right. That guy was a genius.

    • My answer would pretty much be YES to all of those questions and points.

      Some people in the United States are currently discussing reparations in relation to Afro-American communities for the slave-trade, etc.

      I think we should be discussing the same here in relation to the colonial exploitation of our island nation and people.

      • Repartions?
        The Irish Govt. don’t have the balls to ask..Sure they don’t even complain offically about the Nuclear plants on the Brit West coast. I agree that we should demand them. Also the removal of Cromwell statue from Westminster. That is an insult to Irish people. If they must have a Statue to him. It should NOT be in front of their parliament. That would be like the Germans having a statue of Eichman or Himmler outside the Bundestag.
        Speaking of Germany. They paid repartions to Israel. But they did it in a clever way. For example they sent to Israel German built ships,( Zim line) Buses etc. Equipment of German manufacture. This meant that whilst Germany footed the bill. they also got something in return. i.e employment for their manufacturing industry. and of course orders for spare parts. If the Brits were clever they would have done a similar thing. This would have kept their wheels of industry going and it would have enriched their former colonies allowing the population to buy more British goods and services.
        But the Brits are Too Dumb.
        that is the real problem, we allowed ourselves to be colonised by not only a fading power..but a power with no real cop-on.
        The Brits have ruined their own industries and their own Country..And the Irish politicians don’t seem to have any sense, coz they just copy the Brits!!!!!!!!
        This is the world we inhabit.

      • john cronin

        Er, of course it had nothing to do with the fact that the republican anti-treaty forces had just blown up half the railways, roads, creameries and factories in the country?

        • There wouldn’t have been a war If the Brits accepted the fact that Ireland isn’t Britain.
          Something that seems to have escaped you.
          And please refrain from droning on about Home Rule. Because that is NOT Statehood or Nationhood.
          It’s crumbs from the Brit table. And it wouldn’t have led to anything.
          After WW1 the World experienced the Wall Street Crash..then WW2 and then the Cold War.
          Ireland would have been kept under the Brit thumb for WW2 and later the Cold war.
          So,your point about home rule is a Lie.
          Perhaps, you are sad for the days when Irish textbooks reminded their readers to give thank for having a benevolent Queen and for been born English.
          You are a Brit licker of the worse sort. Constantly tugging your Forelock. to an English Shitehole.
          An English shitehole that has pissed everything it had up against the wall.
          It’s sad really.
          But you go ahead.

      • john cronin

        Possibly the most intelligent thing I ever heard said about reparations for slavery was said by Thomas Sowell, the black American economist in a tv debate with Je$$e Jackson which I witnessed in the U.S. many moons ago. “Look” said Sowell: “I am a Harvard graduate, a consultant economist, I run my own consultancy, have a column in the New York Times, nuther one in the Boston Globe. I’ll probably make $200,000 this year. If you look at my standard of living and yours, and compare it to the average African’s standard of living, maybe we ought to be paying the white guys the compensation.”

        Could someone organise some compensation for me, for all the Cronins who died in the Union Army putting an end to slavery?

        • John, that is a very poor counter-argument indeed. Especially when one looks at the dreadful socio-economic circumstances of contemporary Afro-American communities which has its roots in the era of slavery.

          • john cronin

            Throughout history, at various different times, Europeans enslaved Africans, Africans (well, North Africans) enslaved Europeans (ever heard of Baltimore, Cork?) Europeans enslaved Europeans and Africans enslaved Africans: and Moslem Arabs enslaved both Europeans and Africans. Most African slaves sent to the Americas were from tribes who lost wars to neighbouring tribes and were then sold off to the Europeans. Nobody seems to be asking the current King of Dahomey (assuming there is one) to pay anything foe the actions of his forebears.

            • Yes to all of those points but the people of Cork are still not struggling with the poisonous legacy of slavery a 150 years on.

              The North Atlantic slave trade was on an industrial scale and it occurred in the early modern period not medieval times.

              You left out Irish indentured slaves in the New World, by the by…

              • john cronin

                There were also plenty of Scots and English indentured slaves as well. Those who fought on the wrong side in the Cromwellian period, or the West Country folk who were kicked out to the Americas after the rising put down by Judge Jeffries.

                Prior to circa 1800, it is difficult to discern any culture which regarded slavery as morally problematical. If it were not for the New England abolitionists and their British counterparts like Wilberforce, it is entirely conceivable that there would still be slavery.

  3. ar an sliabh

    This was what essentially wiped out my family (at least as far as I know – which is not much). I find it amazing how little attention this has to this day, along with the many orphans it created as many, like Mr. Kane, died honorably for their children. The survivors often suffered more at the hands of religious tormentors in the many homes of the lost and the “unwanted.” I had the “privilege” of such a home in the late sixties, luckily only for a very short time. Even though apart from the occasionally brutal attempt to instill the English language into me, I did not suffer much. I did know others who did not fare so well. I left the home like I arrived, with two changes of clothes, no socks, no shoes. It gave me some, albeit little, insight on how what was left of my family survived through that period. I really do not think it was a left or right wing thing. Any political organisation anywhere, especially after the “compromise” (the treaty) would have kept that little dirty secret – it would have broken their back. The prevailing poverty of the Gaeltacht sure did not help much, the disparate view of the language added its part, and we all know that to this day those with British ancestry still have most of the money and still think they are a notch above.

      • ar an sliabh

        Did not mean it that way, but I understand that it could be taken as such. It was more of a statement born out of the frustration that period of dire survival evokes to this day, and the economic situation that many in this part of the country still face. I duly apologise.

        • My apologies, ArAnSliabh. I was agreeing with you there by posting the link. Sorry I didn’t have time to explain myself properly. Crossed-wires I think 😉

          • ar an sliabh

            There are many of the slighted ancestry that I count among dear friends that bear no such ilk. That is why such generalisations rarely contribute to anything but further strife and division. For that, an apology is due. Very good article at the link, btw.

  4. Amy Rose Murphy

    I often heard my granmam speak of this

    • Yes, Amy Rose, there seems to be a lot of oral history about the mini-famine of the 1920s but very little recorded details. It was certainly news to me and I thought I knew the period well, including the (exaggerated?) fears of famine in the lead-up to the Easter Rising of 1916.

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