This is a reading by actor Stephen Rea of an account of events in County Cork during the Great Famine of the 1840s.
Historian Breandán Mac Suibhne draws on the source material of a local doctor’s notes to describe how an entire society, its customs and norms, collapsed under pressure of dispossession, starvation and disease.
Click here to read the text of this reading, which was published in the Irish Times under the title ‘Disturbing Remains’ in January 2018.
‘Reduction’ is an adapted excerpt from Breandán Mac Suibhne’s ‘Subjects Lacking Words? The Gray Zone of the Great Famine’ (Cork University Press/Quinnipiac University Press, 2017)
2 Replies to “Reduction, read by Stephen Rea”
A fine piece of writing; a fine reading.
The suffering and the choices of the widow Keating are, of course, to be respected. But we are in the gray zone, and we may find that many of our moral conventions function reasonably successfully within one social and economic framework only. In a different framework, e.g. of privation such as in the famine, they may no longer suffice. The literature of the gulags and the concentration camps often suggests that selfishness and a drive for self-preservation are the moral approaches that work best in such extreme conditions. Maybe Diogenes was right. And maybe, too, some of the neighbours who did nothing to help her.
There is I feel a collective guilt in the Irish psyche at least that is in areas of the country most affected by the dire consequences of the famine.
Visiting Connemara from the 1960’s onward, an area of the country which saw its own population halved due to starvation and migration, I recall there was never any enthusiasm among my family there to discuss the cause, effects or passing of that calamity, which most surely would have seen relatives of these people perish, yes indeed they spoke of the Boston side of the family, having left never to be seen again and the pride we took that they were now Yanks in America as if that in itself spelt success.
What did your father do Granddad so that he survived and all the O’Connors from Glan perished? How come we are still here when so many others starved?, we too were peasants on a land that even in good times saw hunger, a land so rocky wet and barren that deprivation was a constant visitor.
“Don’t ask me what he did during an Gorta mor..he lived that’s what he did. He lived so that you too might live, don’t ask me to revisit that place and relive that what eyes should never see”.
I have always felt that Ireland as a nation suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and that could possibly account for the higher than average, percapita ,number of mental institutions that sprung up in the country in the years immediately after the famine.
No doubt the aftermath of such horror witnessed by so many would have had a lasting effect on those poor souls, don’t you think?
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