An Gorta Mór – The Great Irish (Potato) Famine


Since learning of my Irish ancestry and figuring that my family, which came from Maine, was probably descended from the Irish who immigrated there during The Great (Potato) Famine, I decided to do some research. I’ll consider the view from Ireland first.


Potato Blight, Phytophthora infestans

Potato Blight, Phytophthora infestans

During the summer of 1845, a blight devastated Ireland’s potato crop, the basic staple in the Irish diet. The blight was Phytophthora infestans, a fungus-like microorganism. When infected with this organism, potatoes will, a few days after being dug from the ground, begin to turn into a slimy, decaying, blackish mass. The fungus had traveled from Mexico to Ireland.

What is different about this famine is that it was a product of social causes. Under British rule, Irish Catholics were prohibited from entering the professions or even purchasing land. Instead, most Catholics rented small plots of land (half under 5 acres) from absentee British Protestant landlords. Since Catholics made up 80% of the population, the bulk of the population lived in conditions of poverty and insecurity, with no chance for opportunity and innovation.

According to historians, the landlords regarded the land as a source of income from which to extract as much money as possible. The rents from their Irish tenants were enormous, an estimated £6,000,000 in 1842 alone. Landlords seldom if ever visited their properties, which generated enormous resentment.

The potato was introduced to Ireland as a garden crop, with the main diet of the 17th century

Skibbereen, Ireland, 1847 by artist James Mahony (1810–1879), commissioned by Illustrated London News, 1847

Skibbereen, Ireland, 1847 by artist James Mahony (1810–1879), commissioned by Illustrated London News, 1847

still consisting of butter, milk and grain products, with potatoes as a supplementary food. In the early 18th century, potatoes became the food for the poor, especially in winter. Furthermore, most of the potatoes grown in Ireland were of a single variety. The dependency for food on a single crop and its lack of genetic variability were the two main reasons why the potato blight has such a devastating effect.

Without the primary food staple, famine and its associated diseases (cholera, dysentery, scurvy, typhus) spread through the poor of the Irish countryside. Observers reported seeing children crying with pain and looking like skeletons, little more than bones. Mass graves were everywhere.

But even during the Famine, wheat, oats, barley and other crops were still grown on landlords’ farms; these were shipped abroad while the people starved.

Beggars on the O’Connell Estate, Pictorial Times, Feb 14, 1846

Beggars on the O’Connell Estate, Pictorial Times, Feb 14, 1846

To add to the misery, landlords, who were responsible for paying taxes for every tenant who paid less than £4 in yearly rent, evicted tenants who couldn’t pay their rents and let the land in larger plots to reduce their costs. With the Famine in full gear, a great mass of evictions came in 1847.

Britain adopted measures to try to cope with the famine. The Corn Laws were repealed; these had been enacted to protect British grain producers from Irish competition. The repeal failed to end the crisis since the Irish lacked sufficient money to purchase foreign grain, and corn proved to be a poor dietary substitute for potatoes. Then they set up soup kitchens and devised programs

At the Gates of the Workhouse, 1846

At the Gates of the Workhouse, 1846

of emergency work relief, many of which ended when a banking crisis hit Britain. Finally, in the end, a system of work houses, originally established in 1838, took in the poor and the starving. These grim institutions had never been intended to deal with a crisis of such enormity. Some 2.6 million Irish entered overcrowded workhouses, and more than 200,000 people died there.

Longford Workhouse, built between 1840 and 1842

Longford Workhouse, built between 1840 and 1842

Irish Emigrants on the Mersey, Pictorial Times, June 6, 1846

Irish Emigrants on the Mersey, Pictorial Times, June 6, 1846

During the famine, approximately two million Irish left their homeland for Great Britain, Canada, and the United States. Within five years, the Irish population was reduced by a quarter. Whole families did not migrate but sent their younger members, and unlike similar emigrations throughout the world, women emigrated just as often and in the same numbers as men. The emigrants started new lives in a new land, which was not always friendly to them, but sent money home in amounts approaching £1,404,000 by 1851.

The Famine also had some long-lasting effects. It changed the already strained relations between Ireland and England, with many Irish blaming England for genocide. These intense feelings led to the rise of Irish republicanism and eventually to Irish Independence.

Leonard Elmore


Leonard Elmore, a popular and prolific western and crime fiction writer, died recently. A friend of mine sent me his ten rules for good writing, which have been around for some time (guessed I missed them):

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

At first, I thought how could I take umbrage at any of them? After all, he is a famous writer, beloved and admired by everyone who’s read his books. I’m never going to be famous or idolized as he is; I’m just an amateur writer. Who do I think I am to criticize? Still, I’m not sure you can reduce good writing to 10 rules. Are these are a result of his economical style of writing?

I’ve opened some of my stories with some weather to set the scene. Not “It was a dark and stormy night” type of scene-setting, but I guess I need to work on that.

My first book has a prologue, as does the one I am working on. I used the prologues to describe action that led to the opening of the book. Should I forget about prologues?

I can’t imagine only using the word ‘said” in conversations, especially where you have three or more people and you have to identify them. That and never using an adverb to modify a verb would make any conversation unbelievably monotonous. However, having read some of Elmore’s writing, he doesn’t indulge in a lot of conversation. Maybe I should try to be more economical with my conversations?

Avoid detailed descriptions of characters? I guess it would depend on what Elmore meant by ‘detailed.’ He nevertheless does a good job of describing his characters, and I sort of agree with him because something should be left to the imagination of the reader. Same with greatly detailed descriptions of places and things; you can overkill to the point of deadly dullness.

As for leaving out the part that readers tend to skip, if you write something and in the rereading find it tedious, leave it out. He’s right!

What do you think of these rules?



I spent the last week or so in Maine. How wonderful it was to step out of the heat and humidity of North Carolina, if only for a short while, and enjoy the rugged coast of this northern state that was once part of Massachusetts.  My family and I sailed there several summers when I was young, and I remember the cold water and the great lobster!  My true purpose for the trip was to gather background information for my next book, which is already underway, so we visited a number of harbor towns for descriptions, the peat bog and the University of Maine in Orono, and I interviewed both a lobsterman and a sail maker.

We stayed in my favorite harbor town, Boothbay Harbor, for most of the week, and I learned that Damariscove Island, which lies outside of Boothbay and was first settled in 1604 as a commericial enterprise, was where the Pilgrims came in the spring of 1622, asking for assistance. They were provided with a boatload of cod.

The interview with the lobsterman, Captain Clive Farrin, was on his boat and I got to see firsthand the retrieval of lobster traps, the culling of lobsters by size and sex, and the baiting and return of the traps to the seabed.  Lobstermen are true conservationists, and perhaps that is why the lobster haul has increased each year. Maine now provides over 50% of all the lobsters caught in the US. Fascinating stuff, but even better was the description of lobster economics, all of which I intend to put into an article.

My interview with the sail maker was another highlight.  Nathaniel Wilson has been making sails the old fashioned way – by hand and not computer – since 1975 and stepping into his loft was like a trip back in time.  Many of his sails are made for old square riggers and historical boats – the USS Constellation, the Eagle, and the Mayflower II, to name a few.  His work is a combination of science and art and it was clear from talking to him that he is an artist with few rivals.

So now I need to get back to work and you are left to guess what will be in my next book about Rhe Brewster.

PS If any of you have now read my books, you know where these interviews show up!

Up, up and away!


I am off with Hubs to Europe for three weeks! Some of you I will see at the Blogger’s Bash in London, my first time attending. While I am gone, I am re-posting some of my early contributions to this blog. You may read or not as you wish – I just wanted to stay in contact. I won’t have time to post comments on your blog posts, and for that, I apologize. We are visiting friends in three countries, then off on our own to three more, much like the old movie: If This Is Tuesday It Must Be Belgium.

I promise to have pictures of our adventures on my return – should be fodder for many posts!


Lest We Forget


Just a brief word to all of the members of the Armed Forces, many of whom are no longer among us, who engaged in the battle that changed the course of WWII in Europe: Thank you!

Seventy three years ago today, allied troops stormed the beaches at Normandy and turned the course of the war against Hitler and Germany.

Your sacrifice and bravery are not forgotten.

Chad & Jeremy


Nope, this is not a short fiction piece about two guys – it’s an homage to a duo of the 60’s. Now there I date myself, but I loved them in my teens and still do. Their music brings back a boatload of memories.

Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde were one of the many British Invasion acts that stormed the charts in the wake of the Beatles. It has been said that their music possessed a subtlety and sophistication unmatched among their contemporaries, essentially creating the template for lush, sensitive folk-pop.

Chad and Jeremy met while attending London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. The two became fast friends, and Stuart taught Clyde to play guitar. Apache, an instrumental, is the first song they played together.

Here they are playing at at their 50th anniversary.

The two young men then formed a folk duo, as well as a rock & roll group, the Jerks, which Chad described as “the world’s screwiest rock and roll group.”

Because he graduated a year ahead of his bandmates, Clyde relocated to Scotland and performed with the Dundee Repertory Theatre. When the Jerks dissolved, Stuart dropped out of school, but reunited with Clyde, when he returned to London soon after an actors’ strike. They quickly earned a fan following and were signed by Ember Records, releasing their debut single, “Yesterday’s Gone.” This remains my favorite of their songs.

In early 1964, Chad & Jeremy were headlining the West End landmark Hatchett’s, but a photo of young Clyde in royal garb at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation nearly sank them. They were branded as upper-crust nancy-boys, in contrast to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who had working class backgrounds.

Chad & Jeremy’s U.S. label, World Artists, scored a Top 20 American hit with “Yesterday’s Gone,” followed in August of 1964 by “A Summer Song,” a gorgeously nuanced and pastoral folk-pop masterpiece that cracked the Billboard Top Five.This one IS my favorite.

When “Willow Weep for Me” also charted in the U.S., Chad & Jeremy relocated to California and signed with the infamous manager Allen Klein, who negotiated a buyout of their World Artists contract and landed the duo a new deal with Columbia.

Chad & Jeremy made American television appearances on the sitcoms The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Patty Duke Show and were television fixtures for years to come. The pace of TV, tour stops and studio dates, the pace was relentless and, in the spring of 1965, Stuart contracted mononucleosis.  While he recovered, Clyde accepted a role in the London musical Passion Flower Hotel, a nine-month commitment.

While their recordings waned, tensions between them were exacerbated by Clyde’s burgeoning acting career, and eventually the duo split.

Clyde turned to acting full-time and appeared alongside ex-Manfred Mann vocalist Paul Jones in the long-running stage production Conduct Unbecoming. Stuart, meanwhile, signed on as music director for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, followed by a stint as a staff producer with A&M Records.

The duo reunited in 1977 and continued touring intermittently well into the 21st century. In September 2010, Chad & Jeremy marked 50 years of performing together with a limited-edition CD entitled Fifty Years On.

May they play on for another 50 years!

This post was triggered by one on the Rascals by Thom Hickey at

Thanks, Thom!



Blessed With New Followers


I am blessed to have new followers on a regular basis, and this is a shout out to them:

Robert Kirkendell at


Max Meunier at


Mathias Sager at

Naturesroar at

Mal at

Dr Martina Feyzrakhmanova at

Michelle Scott (Coffee Shop Book Reviews) at

Mithud at

Manumausam at

The Accidental Romantic at



Jessica Bakkers at

Sreeblog at

Pamela Morse at

Their blogs are varied: poetry, music, art, reviews, philosophy, thoughts – I am grateful to all of you for the follow.




House of Memories #writephoto


This is a short story written in response to the photo prompt from Sue Vincent last Thursday.


I hadn’t seen the house in seventy years. A lifetime. I stared at the ravages of time: stone walls still standing, but roof collapsed and weeds brought by the wind finding a home in pockets of the structure. For a brief moment, I saw it as it had been when I was a little girl. Tidy, neat, with its red slate roof intact…flowers growing in a plot by the front door, vegetables in a garden to the side, smoke wafting from the chimney, and three red-haired children running in and out the door. The sound of my Mam’s voice coming from within, “Mind your sisters, Siobhan. Don’t let them go down by the river.”

There was magic in those days, when Da came home from the fields and we all joined hands in prayer before a hearty meal, with stories and laughter for dessert. Then our lives took another road. Da died and Mam remarried to keep us all together. I never called him Da, that brute of a man, who beat our Mam and stole all the sunshine from our house. We learned to be quiet, to obey without question, to endure the whippings when we didn’t. Until, until…I found him on top of my youngest sister, grunting his desire over her screams.

Mam never said a word when she came through the door and saw him lying on the floor, blood seeping from his crushed skull. I was standing beside him, an unmoving stone, holding a log from the fireplace. My sister sat on the bed, shaking, wrapped in a blanket to cover her nakedness.

We buried him deep in the woods, the four of us dragging his body on a blanket to the hole Mam had dug. There were questions about where he’d gone, and under a cloud of suspicion, we were separated – I to serve in a great manor as a scullery maid, my sisters and mother to the workhouse. Mam died the next year of consumption, but my sisters survived. We lived.

I bent over, leaning on my cane, feeling the bones in my back cracking as I picked up a stone. I threw it at the house. Propelled by a strength I didn’t know I had, the stone hit the door frame with a thud. I had dreamed of this house every night from the day I left it, the sound of the log spitting his skull repeating itself over and over in my head, the darkness of the hole where we’d dumped his body reaching out, dragging me into its maw. Oh, I had paid many times over for my sin. Now I felt free, as if the flight of that stone had pulled the evil of my deed from my soul and carried it back to whence it came.

I turned my back and walked back down the lane, wishing I could skip. But that wouldn’t be proper for an old lady, would it?


Book Review: Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat (@LizaPerrat) #RBRT #historical fiction #French Revolution


After reading reviews of The Silent Kookaburra by some of Rosie Amber’s book review team, I decided to read Spirit of Lost Angels by the same author. This book is the first in this author’s French historical trilogy, The Bone Angel series.

The Spirit of Lost Angels is the story of Victoire Charpentier, who lives with her parents and siblings in a rural French village in the years before The French Revolution. The family is poor but happy, until a series of devastating tragedies occurs. First, her young twin siblings die in a house fire that destroys their home, then her father is run over and killed by an aristocrat. Finally, her mentally distressed mother, a midwife and an herbalist, is killed by the villagers for being a witch. During this time, the old king dies and Louis XIV marries Marie Antoinette, and the country sinks even deeper into poverty with new taxes.

The village priest arranges for Victoire to become a servant in the home of the Marquise de Barberon in Paris. There the nobleman repeatedly rapes her, and she becomes pregnant. She manages to hide her pregnancy with the help of the Marquise’s cook, Claudine, and after she gives birth, she leaves the baby on the steps of a church. There the baby is picked up by Matron, the head of a large, state-run orphanage.

Victoire’s experiences leave her with a deep and abiding hatred of royalty and the aristocracy (no surprise). As whispers of revolution run rampant through Paris, Victoire returns to her village to marry a kind and good man, many years her senior, who is willing to overlook the fact she is no longer a virgin. For a period time she is happy. But it isn’t to last…

I have to admit, while this book is a barn burner, at this point, the unending tragedies in Victoire’s life were wearing me down. And there are more to come. Here I will stop and allow potential readers to find out what happens next, but I will tell you that Victoire returns to revolutionary Paris, and actual historical figures, one of them Thomas Jefferson, make an appearance in the book.

The author is a meticulous historian who describes village life, Paris, and the Revolution in colorful and compelling detail – the sounds, the smells, the colors – with an unsparing introduction to the mores of the time. I think that, more than anything, kept me reading. There is plenty of politics once the idea of revolution takes hold in Paris as more than just an intellectual concept, and the danger of living there at the time is very real. My one other less than positive comment concerns the amount of the book devoted to the Revolution. After the breathless pace of Victoire’s life, once she returns to Paris, her story slows to a sedate pace, which I found distracting. Too much of politics and the Revolution frustrated me.

There are many, many characters,, but with rare exception they are well drawn and realistic. To mention just three: Victoire can be frustratingly indecisive one minute and a strong and determined the next. The cook, Claudine, is a flour-sprinkled tower of strength, and the Marquise, although brief in appearance is suitably ignorant and evil.

I strongly recommend this book – it is a great summer read. For any reader with a love for historical fiction, especially about women at the time of the French Revolution, this is the book for you!

About the author (from Amazon):

Liza Perrat grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years. When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her family for over twenty years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator, and as a novelist. Since completing a creative writing course twelve years ago, several of her short stories have won awards, notably the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Spirit of Lost Angels is the first in her French historical trilogy, The Bone Angel series. The second – Wolfsangel – was published in October, 2013, and the third, Blood Rose Angel, was published in November, 2015. She is a founding member of the author collective, Triskele Books and reviews books for BookMuse.

You can find her

On her website:

Her blog:

On Facebook:

And on Twitter: @LizaPerrat

 Spirit of Lost Angels is available on Amazon:


Book Review: Sinclair by Julia Herdman (@juliaherdman) #RBRT #historical fiction #Georgian romance


Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1 by Julia Herdman is historical fiction and a twisting love story set in Georgian England, a setting I’ve come to enjoy from the mysteries written by William Savage. The author did not disappoint with this first outing, and I look forward to more from her.

Sinclair begins with two disparate story lines. Edinburgh surgeon, James Sinclair, is leaving England and his beloved, a woman he feels is out of his reach in society, to make his fortune with the East India Company. As a surgeon, Sinclair was educated in a medical school in Edinburgh, learning to perform surgeries, and trained in obstetrics. The ship on which he sails runs into a ferocious storm and founders on the English coast. Only he and Captain Greenwood, who is overseeing a company of British soldiers deployed to India, survive the shipwreck. Both return to London shaken and adrift in their lives, both needing to find a way to support themselves.

The second story line begins in a Yorkshire farmhouse, where John Leadam and his mother, Charlotte, are mourning the sudden death of Christopher Leadam, a surgeon at Guy’s Hospital in London who, together with his wife, ran an apothecary on Tooley Street. Apothecaries at that time were not legal practitioners of medicine but had the drugs to treat people who could not afford a physician. Charlotte, as a woman, could not continue to run the apothecary without the onsite presence of a physician. John was his father’s apprentice, hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps. Now their lives were also adrift. Charlotte has no idea how she will support herself and her son, other than moving back into her parents’ upper class home. She dreads being married off by her mother, who disapproved of her deceased husband, to a wealthy, older man.

Gradually the lives of Charlotte, John, and Sinclair begin to interweave, brought together by Charlotte’s brother-in-law, who happens to be Sinclair’s lawyer. The book is interesting on many different levels: the plight of women and their utter dependence on men in Georgian society; the practice of medicine at the time; social customs; and the growing attraction between Charlotte and Sinclair and their off-again, on-again relationship. The author does not shirk from some of the more distasteful details of Sinclair’s dalliances nor the results of typically unprotected sex: disease or pregnancy and death.

There are many colorful characters to draw the reader, and the author does a perfect job making them memorable. The historical background is wonderfully detailed, as is the medical scene in London, evidence of the author’s interest in the medicine of the time. There are love affairs with twists and turns, villains and saviors, passion and politics – in short, everything needed for a great read.

The author was inspired to begin writing The Tales of Tooley Street series by a real family of apothecary surgeons, the Leadams, who lived and worked in London there from the late 18th century to the mid- 19th century.

I highly recommend this book: five stars.

About the author (from Amazon):

Julia Herdman studied history at the University of Kent in Canterbury where she focused on medieval and early modern history reading the Roman classics, Norse sagas and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Now her interest and inspiration is the development of the urban middle class in Georgian Britain, particularly the development of the medical profession in Edinburgh and London. Writing about the things nice girls shouldn’t mention in polite conversation – politics, religion, sex and money is her passion. Her books are steeped in period detail and focus on family, friendship and love. At the heart of every story there is always a powerful and compelling romance.

You can find the author

On twitter @juliaherdman

On her blog:

And on Facebook:

Sinclair can be found on Amazon books: