The British Official's Story is the third in a new drama series inspired by the real people who lived through the Famine. Author Anna Carey reveals how you can find out more about the true events that inspired it.
I spent much of last year working as an editor on The Great Irish Famine project, and reading so much about the Famine both broke my heart and opened my eyes to the sheer scale of the horrors experienced by those who lived through it. One thing that was very clear was how wildly inadequate the official British response was to a horrific situation in what was then part of the United Kingdom, and how those responses were sometimes coloured by prejudice against the Irish.
Of course there were plenty of people in England who were horrified by what was happening in Ireland. But those prejudices were still there, and they were frequently given voice in the mainstream media. The fictional unnamed official in this episode, played to perfection by Frank Blake, may seem extreme in his contempt for the Irish, but everything he says is based on documented views expressed at the time.
In 1846, the Economist declared that the misery of the starving Irish was "brought on by their own wickedness and folly", and the Times repeatedly argued that the Britosh exchequer should not fund Irish relief measures. Cartoons in Punch magazine sometimes depicted the Irish as grotesque simian freeloaders - this is the cartoon mentioned by the unnamed official in the podcast. You can read more about how the British media covered the Famine in this excellent piece by Niamh Gallagher.
Britain's attempts at famine relief were a disaster for many reasons - Peter Gray explains exactly why relief measures in Ireland were so ineffective in this comprehensive piece. The first attempt to alleviate the distress of the Famine was the Temporary Relief Commission, set up by Robert Peel's government. You can read about it and what it did in this piece by Helene O'Keeffe. One name has become synonymous with British responses to the Famine - that of Charles Trevelyan, immortalised in the song 'The Fields of Athenry'. You can read about the real Trevelyan and his in this piece by Enda Delaney.
And finally, the official talks with disdain about Irish emigrants in Britain, many of whom were being sent back to Ireland - you can read about the real life experiences of Irish arrivals in the northwest of England in this piece by Lewis Darwen, and find out how Irish emigrants changed Scotland forever in this piece by Martin Mitchell.
The Famine Monologues was produced by Eithne Hand with Sound Design by Jon Jon Meghian and the official is played by Frank Blake. I hope this episode inspires you to read more about the realities of Ireland during the Famine. And I hope it reminds you that behind all appalling statistics, then and now, are real people whose suffering can never be forgotten.
Listen to all six episodes of the Famine Monologues on RTÉ.ie/podcasts. You can also follow the series on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.