Monday, 8 August 2011

They fed us in the famine.

Many of the Lagan Love’s characters opinions, particularly those of Aidan, are simply the re-voicing of things that I heard growing up in Dublin and do not necessarily reflect my own beliefs. It is, after all, a work of fiction and as such, an effort to capture the echo of the voices of the Dublin I grew up in.

That said, some of these opinions, much like what we often believe to be true by virtue of widespread belief, are inaccurate in the true historic sense. Aidan, like so many people, expresses opinions to suit his purpose. Early in the story, while sitting in Bewley’s with Sinead, Aidan asks: “Quakers? Weren't they the fuckers who gave soup to anyone who gave up the Old Religion during the famine? They think we'd sell our souls for a bowl of soup.”

That comment caught the eye of Eamonn O’Loghlin, a decent honest man with a passion for accuracy and fairness, who sent me the following:


Just started reading “Lagan Love” and enjoying it very much. That being said, I note the less than complimentary comment on the top of Page 13 about the Quakers and Souperism during the Famine.

Understanding that “Lagan Love” is a fictional novel and the opinions are obviously of the characters in the book, I thought I would take this opportunity to set the record straight about the Quakers lest any of your readers came away with the wrong information.

During the darkest days of Irish history - the Great Famine, the Quakers, also known as The Society of Friends, saved the lives of thousands of our people by feeding them and not asking or demanding anything in return.

The facts are that the Quakers never practiced Souperism and I fear these words have caused them a great disservice.

For those not familiar with the term, Souperism was a phenomenon of the Irish Potato Famine. Non-Roman Catholic Bible societies set up schools in which starving children were fed, and were subjected to religious instruction at the same time. Its practitioners were reviled by the Catholic families who had to choose between their faith and starvation. People who converted for food were known as soupers, a derogatory epithet that continued to be applied and featured in the press well into the 1870s. In the words of their peers: they "took the soup".

Not all non-Catholics made being subject to proselytization a condition of food aid. Several Anglicans, including the Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, Richard Whately, decried the practice; many Anglicans set up soup kitchens that did no proselytizing; and the Quakers, whose soup kitchens were concerned solely with charitable work, were never associated with the practice (which causes them to be held in high regard in Ireland even today, with many Irish remembering the Quakers with the remark "They fed us in the famine.”

For the record.

Eamonn O'Loghlin
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