Ports of Recall: Memory of the Great Irish Famine in Liverpool and Montreal

Type of resource
Ports of Recall: Memory of the Great Irish Famine in Liverpool and Montreal
The author undertakes a transnational and comparative study of the Great Irish Famine memory from the late nineteenth to the late twentieth century. He examines how Irish groups in Liverpool and Montreal commemorated the Great Famine (1846-51), a catastrophe that claimed the lives of one million people through starvation and disease and spurred the emigration of another two million. As the busiest British and Canadian urban ports of entry during the Famine migration, Liverpool and Montreal struggled to cope with the influx of Irish refugees, particularly in 1847 when typhus epidemics struck both cities, killing thousands, despite the implementation of quarantine measures. Though most of the Irish newcomers out-migrated subsequently, memory of the devastation wrought settled into popular historical consciousness. In the century spanning the Famine's jubilee and sesquicentenary, Irish groups on both sides of the Atlantic kept Famine memory alive through political rhetoric, religious rituals, and historical commemoration, often recalling it as the traumatic genesis of Irish emigration and mobilizing its memory in service of various forms of Irish nationalism. The author, however, demonstrates that Famine commemoration, which took different forms in the changing social and spatial contexts of Liverpool and Montreal, functioned as more than a conduit for the transmission of Irish or Irish-American nationalism. The Famine was a memory through which collective identities--ranging from the local to the diasporic--were generated, maintained, and modified over time. During the most intense phases of commemoration, which coincided with the Famine's 50th and 150th anniversaries, groups in Montreal and Liverpool used this memory to bolster claims to political power, to elevate their socio-economic standing, to strengthen local, national, and diasporic solidarities, and, most recently, to combat world hunger. Yet this study also highlights the different ways in which the Famine was commemorated and the distinct Irish identities that were organized in Montreal and Liverpool, as these cities were affected uniquely by their proximity to the people and politics of Ireland and its diaspora, processes of urban restructuring, shifting socio-economic relations, the changing role of Irish Catholic parishes as centres of community, and the creation of sites of memory and memorial practices.
PhD dissertation
York University
Toronto, ON
# of Pages
McMahon, Colin. “Ports of Recall: Memory of the Great Irish Famine in Liverpool and Montreal.” PhD dissertation, York University, 2010. http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/thesescanada/vol2/002/NR80549.PDF.
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