Belfast Telegraph

The misery of the Great Famine affected Ulster Protestants and Catholics too, says historian

Dr Costello said that by 1846 one in five people in Belfast had been affected by some sort of contagion linked to the famine

The Great Famine affected both the Irish Catholic poor and the Protestant poor in the north of the country, a historian has said.

A new cross-community project in Belfast is aiming to shatter myths and raise awareness about the famine across Ulster.

The initiative 'Sharing the Past' brings people from Belfast and from Larne together to look at how the poverty and disease came in the wake of the potato blight.

The Great Famine took place between 1845 and 1852, resulting in the deaths of over one million people to die across Ireland and forced millions to emigrate.

Historian Dr Francis Costello will lead a lecture series on the Great Famine as part of the project and is currently writing a book on the global impact of the hunger.

He told the BBC: "What is rewarding about this project is that it is driven by the grassroots up. There are very harrowing stories about people's ancestors from Larne and the Shankill.

"This is education from the ground up that breaks down the myths and the shibboleths surrounding the famine. Ulster - all of it - was hit very badly, not just Donegal."

Dr Costello said that by 1846 one in five people in Belfast had been affected by some sort of contagion linked to the famine.

As hungry people flooded in from the Ards peninsula - disease spread easily in the tenement houses.

However amidst the suffering there were also gestures of help and charity.

"In Howard Street in Belfast, the local merchants fed 2,000 people a day at soup kitchens. The Society of Friends, the Quakers, did tremendous work and butchers and vegetable growers helped," said Dr Costello.

"It was a calamity that struck across all classes and all faiths and no faiths."

He added: "In Belfast, then with an overwhelmingly Protestant population, the evidence shows there was a rekindled ardour of the early Christian Church characterised by charity and alms and the desire to alleviate starvation and illness.

"This saw people across traditions and classes coming together to support the poor."

The project is being supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Further reading:

Bones found on Canadian beach likely to be those of Irish children from 'coffin ship' of Ireland's Great Famine

Outrage at proposed 'Shameless' style sitcom about Ireland's Great Famine

Irish famine programme protest planned at Channel 4 HQ

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