Why the Great Silence!
Any individual looking out over his Fermanagh townland in 1850 would have experienced the Great Silence – the Great physical Silence which followed the Great Hunger. It was a dismal scene to survey empty cottages and untilled fields. Many of the familiar faces – often a hundred or more, men, women and children in some townlands, lay dead, often uncoffined, in hurried graves. Their children’s playful laughter stilled forever; the adults’ music and conversation gone forever. Those lucky to have got away to the corners of the world will never return. In little over a period of five years famine, disease and emigration swept away over 40,000 Fermanagh people; (more than two-thirds of today’s county population). In these pages we hear the voices of the people of the time tell of life and how it was in the words of the time in a local Fermanagh newspaper.
There is a second Great Silence – that of the guilty and greedy, the profiteering merchants, farmers, landlords, shippers, the uncaring, the vilifying English press and the murderous indifference of Government. Not many of these want to talk about the famine or recognise its terrible legacy. Some who profited from the misfortunes of those around them during those years have good reason for wanting it forgotten.
And there is a third Great Silence born of a condition of the mind known as non-rational guilt. Victims burdened with non-rational guilt have not earned this guilt through their own wrongdoing but feel the guilt of survivors – why not me too when others I knew perished. Paradoxically, while victims have been observed to cling to their non-rational guilt, perpetrators often disavow their guilt though the use of a variety of strategies including projection, rationalization, and denial. They may also promulgate the idea that the abuse is but a fantasy in the mind of the victim. That failing, they will attempt to justify the abuse on the basis that it is deserved by the victim. Sir Charles Trevelyan believed that the Famine was an act of God directed on Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland but then too many clergymen like Archbishop John Mc Hale of Tuam said that the famine was a divine punishment on his flock for their sins. So God had it in for us!! Can our great silence be non-rational guilt. Our ancestors survived while thousands perished around them.