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California Schools to Study Irish Famine

Eviction scene: The descendants of the family in this photograph, taken in Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry in 1888, may have survived the Great Famine, but one wonders what became of them following their eviction and demolition of their home. From the Sean Sexton Collection.

By Matthew Skwiat, Editorial Assistant
June / July 2014

A new initiative set forth by Cork native and California resident John F. O’Riordan hopes to introduce study of the Irish Famine (1845-52) into the curriculum of California public schools. O’Riordan is a parishioner at St. Dominic’s Parish in San Francisco as well as a member of the California Democratic Party’s Irish American caucus. California currently has the largest Irish population in the country, and O’Riordan is passionate about bringing it into the California curriculum saying, “There are more people in San Francisco who can trace themselves back to the Irish famine than to the American Revolution. The Famine is central to the history of California and the United States.”

The Irish Famine was a watershed moment in Ireland and the United States. Between 1845 and 1852 over 1 million people died and another million left Ireland through emigration. Its lasting consequences have shaped the histories of both Ireland and the United States, but its importance in American studies has not been fully integrated. As O’Riordan states, “the current public school curriculum mentions the Famine, but nowhere near how it should, given the scope and impact of the catastrophe.”

O’Riordan is making progress in seeing his initiative fulfilled. Recently the Irish American Caucus met with Tom Torlakson, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction. After this meeting the delegation was invited to meet with Tom Adams, director of curriculum frameworks and instructional resources for the California Department of Education, who will, they hope, make the Famine part of the ethnic studies program. O’Riordan is wasting no time, however, embarking on a plan with others in the San Francisco Irish community to erect a monument to the victims of the Famine that is hoped to be installed by 2016.

2 Responses to “California Schools to Study Irish Famine”

  1. Bob O'Brien says:

    Do you have any information on the picture of the family? Location, year?

  2. LJ says:

    I think it’s wonderful that this info be taught, but it needs to be the truth, not the version that has passed on thru generations. There was NOT a famine in Ireland, just another attempt at genocide by the English. There are plenty of records to verify this. There are groups in Ireland and America who are attempting to rectify this misinformation.

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