Caption: Famine Memorial Dublin, Ireland
Famine Memorial Dublin, Ireland 

Irish Famine: Orphan Girls

From: Siobhan McHugh
Length: 42:26

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The story of 4,000 orphan girls sent to Australia from Ireland after the Great Potato Famine of 1845-9, told by their descendants. Read the full description.

Famine_statues_jpeg_small There are many memorials worldwide to the Great Irish Famine of 1845-'49, in which one million Irish died, and another million were forced to emigrate - that's a quarter of the then population of 8 million. The Potato Famine left a deep psychological scar on the irish at home and abroad that resonates to this day. But how could a potato blight kill so many? True, potatoes were the staple of Irish peasants on subsistence plots - but the huge casualties were a result of political decisions by the colonial English government, which continued to export food from Ireland as desperate people tried to eat grass. 

This documentary traces the paths of some of the Famine survivors, who made it to Australia. These vulnerable single girls, aged 14-18 and mostly without family or friends, did surprisingly well. In a country where men outnumbered women 9:1 in rural parts, they were in great demand, both as domestic servants and as future brides. Over half married across religion and race - integrators of irishness in a British-run colony.But how much did their experiences, cultural and political background shape their new life? And what is their legacy today?

Descendants talk with humour and feeling about their resiient and feisty forebears. The moving Sydney memorial is another contributor, designed by an Iranian refugee, Hossein Vallamanesh, and his wife Angela, with sound design by Paul Carter. Irish traditional music enhances these emotional stories, allowing them to breathe.
 

Piece Description

There are many memorials worldwide to the Great Irish Famine of 1845-'49, in which one million Irish died, and another million were forced to emigrate - that's a quarter of the then population of 8 million. The Potato Famine left a deep psychological scar on the irish at home and abroad that resonates to this day. But how could a potato blight kill so many? True, potatoes were the staple of Irish peasants on subsistence plots - but the huge casualties were a result of political decisions by the colonial English government, which continued to export food from Ireland as desperate people tried to eat grass. 

This documentary traces the paths of some of the Famine survivors, who made it to Australia. These vulnerable single girls, aged 14-18 and mostly without family or friends, did surprisingly well. In a country where men outnumbered women 9:1 in rural parts, they were in great demand, both as domestic servants and as future brides. Over half married across religion and race - integrators of irishness in a British-run colony.But how much did their experiences, cultural and political background shape their new life? And what is their legacy today?

Descendants talk with humour and feeling about their resiient and feisty forebears. The moving Sydney memorial is another contributor, designed by an Iranian refugee, Hossein Vallamanesh, and his wife Angela, with sound design by Paul Carter. Irish traditional music enhances these emotional stories, allowing them to breathe.
 

Broadcast History

RTE Doco on One (Ireland)
ABC Radio National, Hindsight (Australia)

Timing and Cues

Breaks possible at various points as required.

Intro and Outro

INTRO:

In the Great Irish Famine of 1845-'49, one million Irish died, and another million were forced to emigrate - that's a quarter of the then population of 8 million. The Potato Famine left a deep psychological scar on the irish at home and abroad – not least because the colonial English government continued to export food from Ireland as thousands starved. Most of those fleeing the Famine came to America, but this documentary traces the paths of an unusual group of Famine survivors, 4,000 orphan girls aged 14-20, who made it to far-off Australia. There they became domestic servants and wives, making a deep impact in a country where men outnumbered women 9:1 in rural parts. But how much did their experiences, cultural and political background shape their new life? And what is their legacy today? In this documentary, Irish-born Siobhan McHugh talks to descendants of the Famine Orphan Girls about their resiiient and feisty forebears.

OUTRO:

N/A

Musical Works

Title Artist Album Label Year Length
A Stor Mo Chroi (traditional, no copyright) Fintan Vallely - recorded by producer :00

Related Website

www.mchugh.org