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THE FAMINE’S SCARS: WILLIAM MURPHY’S ULSTER AND AMERICAN ODYSSEY KERBY A. MILLER AND BRUCE D. BOLING WITH LÍAM KENNEDY1 until very recently, scholars have neglected the Great Famine’s impact on the northern Irish province of Ulster and especially its impact on Ulster’s Protestant inhabitants. This neglect stemmed in part from historians’ reading of published census and other data indicating that the North’s general experience of excess mortality and emigration in 1845–52 was indeed less catastrophic than that of southern and western Ireland. Thus, whereas between 1841 and 1851 the populations of Munster and Connacht declined by 22.5 and 28.8 percent, respectively, that of Ulster fell “only” 19.8 percent.2 To be sure, Joel Mokyr and other scholars have noted that several counties in south or “outer” Ulster—Monaghan, for example, and especially Cavan—witnessed high rates of famine mortality, but this is commonly understood by reference to the fact that their populations were composed predominantly of Catholic petty farmers and cottiers.3 By contrast, conventional wisdom holds that Northeast Ulster or, even more WILLIAM MURPHY’S ULSTER AND AMERICAN ODYSSEY 98 1 An earlier version of this article was written several years ago for a collection of essays on the American and Irish-American responses to the Great Irish Famine, to be edited by Professor Timothy Sarbaugh of Gonzaga University. Tragically, however, Tim suffered an untimely death, and his project was aborted. Hence, we are grateful to editor Kevin Kenny for including our greatly revised essay in this volume of Éire-Ireland as well as for his helpful suggestions. 2 W. E. Vaughan and A. J. Fitzpatrick, eds., Irish Historical Statistics: Population, 1821–1971 (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 1978), 15–16. See also Líam Kennedy, Paul S. Ell, E. M. Crawford, and L. A. Clarkson, Mapping the Great Irish Famine: A Survey of the Famine Decades (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1999). 3 Joel Mokyr, Why Ireland Starved: A Quantitative and Analytical History of the Irish Economy, 1800–1850 (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1985), 267. See also Cormac Ó Gráda, Ireland before and after the Famine: Explorations in Economic History, 1800–1925 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988), 87. broadly, the six counties that later became Northern Ireland—and particularly their Protestant inhabitants—escaped the famine with comparatively minimal damage, whether measured in excess mortality or in abnormally heavy out-migration. To explain this apparent phenomenon, historians often have cited socio-economic and cultural factors relatively unique to Northeast Ulster, such as industrialization and urbanization, the prevalence of tenant right and comparatively congenial landlord-tenant relations , and, among the rural populace, a greater variety of income sources and less dietary dependence on potatoes than prevailed in Munster and Connacht.4 However, some scholars may inadvertently have repeated contemporary claims by Irish unionists, who argued that “Ulster”—i.e., its Protestant inhabitants—eluded the famine because of the province’s superior “character” for industry, virtue, and loyalty. But in reality, many Protestant as well as Catholic Ulstermen and -women suffered grievously. Between 1841 and 1851 Ulster’s population fell by nearly one-fifth—significantly more than the 15.3 percent decline that occurred in heavily Catholic Leinster. During the same period the number of inhabitants of the future Northern Ireland fell 14.7 percent (or 13 percent if Belfast’s burgeoning population is included), and in the four northeastern counties that in 1861 had Protestant majorities (Antrim, Armagh, Down, and Londonderry ), the comparable decline was 12.1 percent (or, including Belfast, nearly 10 percent).5 Of course, it is likely that northeastern Catholics suffered more severely than did Protestants, and it is probable that population losses in the region, particularly among Protestants, were primarily due to out-migration rather than to the effects of starvation and disease.6 However , as David Miller has argued, in the prefamine decades the contraction of rural weaving and spinning had created in Ulster an impoverished Protestant underclass whose members’ vulnerability to the crisis of WILLIAM MURPHY’S ULSTER AND AMERICAN ODYSSEY 99 4 On the socio-economic developments in prefamine Ulster, especially in the northeastern counties, that generally stemmed the famine’s effects in the region, see...


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