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A gobshite Dublin taxi driver explains African famine to a descendent of a wicked Donegal squire

Tom Winnifrith
Monday 9 October 2017

170 years ago my Church of Ireland forebears were sitting happily at Edenmoor, a country house in Donegal with bellies full while in the fields outside the poor catholics starved. Actually Donegal got off relatively lightly with its population falling by less than 20%. In Clare or Mayo the events of the Irish famine were truly terrible. A million Irish folks died and the same number emigrated. There is little doubt that British Corn Laws and the exploitative nature of the Landlord tenant relationship added to the woes of the potato blight. We Brits & the Cochranes of Ballybofey and their ilk have a good deal to answer for.

And so there am I sitting in a taxi heading into Dublin as a cabbie mouths off about the immigrants. I do not bother to say that I am married to the daughter of immigrants and that Irishmen and women have been immigrants around the world for centuries, my driver just does not want them coming to Ireland. He is particularly vexed about the Africans noting that all this talk of famine in Africa is just because they have too many children.

My mind is drawn to a work by a fellow Anglo Irishman and scholar of Hertford College Oxford (then Hart Hall), Jonathan Swift, "A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick". His work of satire published in 1729 offered up a solution to the poverty of his homeland where even then the population was booming, the Irish should eat their kids. Swift notes:

"A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout."

He was joking and making a point about the wicked indifference of the British to Irish misery. I thought of mentioning this great work to my driver as a way of dealing with Africa's problems but I fear that he might have thought it a rather good idea and taken it seriously. Gobshite.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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