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    The following classroom resource is offered to teachers who would like to use St. Anthony Messenger in the classroom. This resource is prepared with high school students in mind, but can be adapted for other age groups. We will feature one article for classroom use each month. Back issues, beginning in May 1997, contain a Teachers’ Guide. Teachers with access to computer labs should encourage students to access the article directly online. Students have our permission to print out a copy of the article for classroom use. We encourage you and your students to subscribe to the print edition of St. Anthony Messenger, where you will see all of the graphics, and more articles that you might find useful on a variety of topics. Please let us know how we can improve this service by sending feedback to

    “The Famine That Brought The Irish to America”

    This month’s classroom resource will connect to curriculum in the following areas:

    Social Studies - famine in different cultures and periods
    Literature - Irish writing and poetry History - American and Irish timelines for the mid-1840’s; patterns and effects of immigration Religion - cultural/historical influences on faith and devotion; social justice


    A. Famine in History and Today

    Discuss with your students the impact of dependence on one food for economic and individual survival. Ask your students to imagine life without fast-food French fries or potato chips. For us Americans it’s only one food, but still one that would be strongly missed. For the Irish of the 1840’s, potatoes were almost their only food, and economically their only source of income. A potato disease and the ensuing failed crops cost a million people their lives.

    More fled the country to emigrate to America. To get a feeling for what this is like, your students can research a famine ship (“coffin ship”) diary written by a man named Gerald Keegan in February, 1847. See the Web site

    History repeats itself. A major famine is occurring now in North Korea. One source (World Vision, Inc.) says that 85% of the children in North Korea are presently malnourished. Relief efforts often bog down in state and international politics. Your students can research this at World Vision is a non-profit Christian relief service dedicated to eradicating world hunger. Incidentally, the organization was started in the 1950’s to bring relief to children orphaned in the Korean War.

    Today, throughout the world, 34,000 children die of hunger or hunger-related illness every day, according to World Vision. Can your students understand what this means? Every day the equivalent of a small town or a large university population dies from hunger—every day.

    To see how some students work to combat hunger in today’s world, see This is a world-wide effort that engaged a million teens from 21 countries this past February.

    For resources on social justice, your students can research several other Web sites. Relief agencies are working in North Korea, Ethiopia and other parts of the world to provide justice for those deprived of basic human rights. These agencies educate caregivers, train farmers, and provide money for loans and start-up programs for the economically deprived. See;; and

    B. History in Writing and Poetry:

    The Irish have long been known for their contributions to literature and culture. Compare the message of How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill, Doubleday, New York, 1995, to what the Irish experienced when they immigrated to America during the Potato Famine. Cahill says the Irish kept culture and writing alive during the Dark Ages in European history. Judy Ball, the author of this month’s article, describes how the Irish immigrants who came to America during the Potato Famine found that their countrymen who preceded them and other Americans were now more educated and more well off than they. These Irish were now perceived as ignorant laborers, a far cry from the situation described in Cahill’s book.

    C. Social Influences on Religion:

    The author describes how the “immense depths of pain” experienced by the Irish led them to a religious faith influenced by melancholy.

    Your students can brainstorm in small groups to identify religious and devotional practices currently in use in their own communities. Compare these practices to those described in the article. Do we in present-day America come to faith and religion from a life of suffering and pain? If we are materially comfortable, do we express our faith differently from others who suffer daily?

    Have your students find several passages from the Book of Job in the Old Testament that may express sentiments similar to what the Irish may have felt. Is there any comparison to Moses and the Jewish people as they journeyed, often in frustration and anger, looking for the Promised Land?

    For English classes, a challenging project (perhaps for extra credit) would involve writing a short story for children based on an historical event related to the Potato Famine. See “Reflecting A New Confidence: Irish Historical Fiction for Children” by Celia Keenan. ( Note: This site is available only through a subscription to Project Muse, an online journal service. Many libraries provide this access to their members free of charge.) Using guidelines suggested by the author, guide your students in writing, singly or as a small group, a short story based on an Irish child’s experience during the Potato Famine, or on the journey to America, or living in a new land.


    A. Timelines: To provide students with a context or framework in which to place the Irish Potato Famine, or the Great Hunger, as it is sometimes called, help them to research and put together several timelines.

    1. A timeline of Irish history:
    See (Caution: there are other timelines, sometimes irreverent, on this site.) Also see the Web pages of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish society aimed at maintaining Irish culture ( Besides timelines, this site contains a wealth of perspectives on Irish culture. It will provide access to modern Irish commentators and poets writing on the Great Hunger.

    Events include:

    • 1704—Enactment of the Penal Codes, years before the American Revolution.
    • 801—Ireland becomes part of Britain.

    2. A timeline of American history:
    see What Happened When, by Gordon Carruth, Signet, New York, 1989. This paperback offers a year by year chronology of life and events in America, framing them all by each presidency. Highlights of 1845 to 1848 include:

    • 1845—Florida admitted to Union; first baseball club formed; Edgar A. Poe publishes Tales.
    • 1846—War declared with Mexico; Herman Melville publishes first novel, Typee; Mormons leave Illinois on trek across Plains; establishment of Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
    • 1847—Maria Mitchell discovers new comet from Nantucket, Massachussetts; Brigham Young reaches Salt Lake City.
    • 1848—Treaty with Mexico; Wisconsin admitted to Union; first medical school for women established in Boston.

    3. Other historical perspectives:
    If you or your students have access to America Online, you can reach a number of documents on the Potato Famine. Use keyword REFPERIODICALS, go to Electric Library, then to Research Zone, then enter “Potato Famine, Ireland.” You need to subscribe at $59.95 a year to gain access online to the articles’ contents, but for no cost you can get a list of the pertinent articles from recent periodicals and find them elsewhere, perhaps in a library. An example would be the Los Angeles Times article on “Coffin Ships” from September 3, 1995.

    B. Immigration
    For Social Studies classes: to help students appreciate the causes and impact of immigration, guide them in researching immigration history and patterns. For historical trends in immigration, and for related legislative history, see This site demonstrates that immigration today is bigger than ever. In the 1990’s, two immigrants per minute entered the United States! Half of the current immigrants to the U.S. come from ten countries, one of which is still Ireland. Other statistics are found at

    Ask students to research and map the major immigration routes used by the Irish during the Potato Famine. This will include America (through Ellis Island, New York) and Canada (through Grosse Ile, Quebec).

    What are other major immigrations that have occurred before or since the Irish movement to America? Research the slave ships bringing Africans to America; the immigration of Jews from Germany and Austria to escape Nazism; Asian immigration; the movements from Cuba and Haiti to Florida; recent movements within African states, in Armenia and in Bosnia.

    What patterns emerge? Are there common causes for any of these movements? What factors influence them?


    Further Resources

    Try accessing some of these Internet sources for reference. Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives. New York Times Los Angeles Times magazine —CNN —MSNBC —This site will take you to a number of online publications —The Associated Press Chicago Tribune magazine Washington Post

    Links Disclaimer:

    The links contained within this resource guide are functional at the time the page is posted. Over time, however, some of the links may become ineffective.

    These links are provided solely as a convenience to you and not as an endorsement by St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications of the contents on such third-party Web sites. St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications is not responsible for the content of linked third-party sites and does not make any representations regarding the content or accuracy of materials on such third-party Web sites. If you decide to access linked third-party Web sites, you do so at your own risk.

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