MKA Famine Forum Writers Week 2013

Michael Lynch, County Kerry Archivist introducing the speakers, Thomas Keneally, Kay Caball, William Smith, Mike Murphy | photography

Writers Week Forum – William Smith, Thomas Keneally, Kay Caball, Michael Lynch, Michael Murphy

Quoting from Listowel Writers Week it  reports  ‘Mapping the Irish Famine was a huge success on the Friday night at The Plaza Centre.The panel included Australian Booker prize winning author Thomas Keneally, William J Smith and Mike Murphy from UCC, who discussed their award winning Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, and Listowel historian Kay Caball spoke of the many famine connections in Listowel.’    There was great interest from both local Listowel people and the many visitors who had come to town for all the events.   Although we had strong competition from Rebecca Miller (wife of Daniel Day Lewis and daughter of Arthur Miller) at one of the other locations, we drew  200 people to the venue.   I gave an outline of the most relevant facts regarding the Famine in the North Kerry area (Baronies of Ireaghticonnor & Clanmaurice) and a summary of the history of the 117 Kerry ‘Orphans’, and in particular the 37 Listowel area girls who went out to Australia on the Earl Grey scheme in 1849/1850.  William Smith and Mike Murphy both spoke on their research which went on over twenty years to produce the Winner of the Best Irish Published Book of the year for 2012.  The outlined the precise work involved in mapping from townland/parish/county/barony upwards and the detailed and meticulous statistics involved in compiling the maps from extant census figures.  Thomas Keneally spoke from an International perspective, not just on the Irish Famine but also on the famines in Ethiopia and Bengal.   He spoke on the relationship between politics and starvation in these three locations, which are also the subjects of his book Three Famines.  Thomas Keneally brought a unique perspective to our Forum, as he speaks from an Irish/Australian background, some of his ancestors had served time as convicts in Australia.  We finished with some interesting and perceptive questions from the floor,

MKA Listowel Workhouse

Listowel Workhouse drawings. Courtesy of Peter Higginbotham.

Earlier in the day over 100 people turned out for the morning walk – Walk in the Shadow of the Famine, and which, to everyone’s delight, Thomas Keneally also attended.

John Pierse and Michael Guerin conducted the walk and spoke on their specialist subjects – John on the locations and history of the Famine in North Kerry and he brought us to Teampall Bán, the Famine Graveyard, which will also be the title of his forthcoming book.  Michael gave us a great run down on the Workhouse and we got an opportunity to see the location and what remains of it.  I spoke myself on the Nun’s story at the Presentation Convent stop – their arrival which coincided with the Famine and the help they gave then and over the following years.