California Schools to Study Irish Famine
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.