This book addresses perceived lacunae in the historiography of the Land War in late nineteenth-century Ireland, particularly deficiencies or omissions relating to the themes of the title: famine, humanitarianism, and the activities of agrarian secret societies, commonly referred to as Moonlighting. The famine that afflicted the country in 1879–80, one generation removed from the catastrophic Great Famine of the 1840s, prompted different social responses. The wealthier sectors of society, their consciousness and humanitarianism awakened, provided the bulk of the financial and administrative support for the famine-stricken peasantry. Others, drawn from the same broad social stratum as the latter, vented their anger and frustration on the government and the landlords, whom they blamed for the crisis. The concern of marginal men and women for the welfare of their less fortunate brethren was not so much the antithesis of altruism, as a different, more rudimentary way of expressing it.The volume’s opening chapter introduces the famine that tormented Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard counties in the late 1870s and early 1880s. The four chapters that follow develop the famine theme, concentrating on the role of civic and religious relief agencies, and the local and international humanitarian response to appeals for assistance. The 1879–80 famine kindled benevolence among the diasporic Irish and the charitable worldwide, but it also provoked a more primal reaction, and the book’s two closing chapters are devoted to the activities of secret societies. The first features the incongruously named Royal Irish Republic, a neo-Fenian combination in north-west County Cork. The volume’s concluding essay links history and literature, positing a connection between agrarian secret society activity during the Land War years and the Kerry playwright George Fitzmaurice’s neglected 1914 drama The Moonlighter. This original and engaging work makes a significant contribution to our understanding of modern Irish history and literature.
Laurence Geary is a retired Senior Lecturer in History at University College and author of Medicine and Charity in Ireland, 1718–1851 (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2004).
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