John Kelly’s factual account of Ireland’s Great Famine tears at your heart

The Graves are Walking by John Kelly

The Graves are Walking by John Kelly

This review was originally published by the Historical Novel Society in the Historical Novel Review, February 2013.  

John Kelly’s account of the Irish potato famine is a thoroughly researched and smoothly written story of the events that led to the famine and efforts to bring relief. In The Graves are Walking: The Great Famine and the Saga of the Irish People he covers it all: from the disease that caused the European-wide potato failure to the policies and philosophies of the British to the Anglo-Irish landowners, and cultural prejudices about the Irish. Kelly places the blame on the British but shows in detail how the thinkers of the day believed in a moral and social philosophy that was at odds with giving the Irish the help that was required.

This is a factual account of a tragedy that tore at my heartstrings, because it is contains accounts of people and places that make up my family tree. My heart broke as I read the stories of eviction, mass graves, and epic stupidity in policy-making and famine relief. I understand now why my ancestors left Mayo and Down for the difficult life of coal mining in Scotland, and why my Donegal ancestors fared a little better living in a remote area by the sea. They harvested, along with fish and seaweed, a deep distrust of the British. Indeed, it is hard to read this book without feeling anger and frustration at the British policies and the cruelty of land owning gentry, which led to genocide.

2 comments on “John Kelly’s factual account of Ireland’s Great Famine tears at your heart

  1. Moira Donnelly says:

    You have a real talent in writing sum up so nicely and accurately, giving the gist of the story.

    Sent from my iPad

    Moira Donnelly

    • Yer a bit biased but I’ll take the compliment. This was a great non-fiction book, so well done. You could cry at the injustice and stupidity and all the horrific stories. Makes you realize we’re from really, really hearty stock – survivors.

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