Feast and Famine: Food and Nutrition in Ireland, 1500-1920

Feast and Famine: Food and Nutrition in Ireland, 1500-1920

Feast and Famine: Food and Nutrition in Ireland, 1500-1920

Feast and Famine: Food and Nutrition in Ireland, 1500-1920


'Besides being an able and reliable account of Irish diet over half a millennium, Feast and Famine is also an excellent introduction to much of the new research in Irish economic history over the past two decades.' -The Agricultural History Review'Illuminating and innovative study... The authors handle sources cautiously and convincingly. Even when at their most technical they write lightly and attractively... They have set a rich but finely prepared dish before us. Its many novelties and subtleties will take time to digest. It satisfies while whetting the appetite for more.' -English Historical Review'The style is felicitous, the exposition clear and issues disposed of only after a conscientious discussion of the difficulties... The book is an effective opening up of dietary issues, and it ably and at times innovatively explores and presents detail, and brings a novel and refreshing competence in nutritional knowledge to historical study.' -Irish Studies ReviewThis innovative title traces the history of food in Ireland from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century. The authors explore the evolution of Irish diets over the centuries, in the process putting the role of the potato and the history of the famines into their proper perspectives.


We have spent nearly two decades writing this book. This pace is not in step with the emphasis on speed that is currently the research culture in universities in the United Kingdom. Our leisurely progress is partly explained by one of the authors becoming caught up in the oxymoronic world of university management. There is something quaintly quixotic in urging one’s colleagues to make haste, whilst at the same time proceeding on a time scale that is scarcely less than geological. a second reason is that both authors have had other teaching and research commitments.

There has been one great benefit from our slow progression. the last three decades have been most fruitful ones in Irish historical studies. Professional historians in the universities and other institutions of higher learning, and dedicated local and amateur historians, have greatly enlarged our understanding of Ireland’s past. the ‘Troubles’ have been a powerful stimulus to research, as was the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Great Famine. Most of all, though, the burgeoning has being owing to the industry of the scholars of Ireland. We have drawn freely and profitably on their work. It would fill too much space to acknowledge them all by name and invidious to identify only some. We hope the bibliography will reveal the extent of our debts. We apologize to any who recognize their arguments whom we have failed to acknowledge.

There is one scholar whom we must identify. the late K. H. Connell, professor and first head of the Department of Economic and Social History in the Queen’s University of Belfast, was one of the few truly seminal historians of Ireland in the second half of the twentieth century. He reconfigured population history, in Britain as well as in Ireland. and he pioneered the study of dietary history on this island. We have not always agreed with him, but we have continually been stimulated by him.

We are indebted to our University. Queen’s has paid our salaries and has given us several research and travel grants to support our work. Some of this money enabled us to employ Dr Myrtle Hill and Mrs Marianne Litvack as research assistants at various times. Just as important, the University has remained faithful to its true principles as a place of learning, embracing the humanities as well as the sciences, liberal studies as well as the vocational. At a departmental level, successive heads of department—Cyril Ehrlich, Kenneth Brown, Alun Davies, and the late David Johnson—have been patient about a book that they must have thought at times existed only in our imaginations. We are grateful to Professor Brown for finding the time to comment on the manuscript.

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