Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Historical Note

The night before TRANSLATIONS opened to a full house in Gist Theatre, the local PBS station KEET in Eureka broadcast a program on 19th century immigration. In the section on Ireland, the program described the dire events foreshadowed by this play.

The potato blight that has several characters worried, spread in subsequent years until by 1845, what has become known as the Irish Potato Famine began. But as the PBS program pointed out, there was not a true shortage of food in Ireland in those years. Other food crops were not affected, but they were for sale and export. By then most of the farms and land were owned by British absentee landlords, who also owned the crops. Potatoes were the staple of the Irish diet, of those who worked the land. Surrounded by food, the Irish starved. When they were unable to farm, they were evicted. If they owned their land, it was seized and sold.

In London, the British government did little to ease the suffering of the Irish people, believing that the workings of the marketplace should be unfettered by state intervention. Some even suggested that the famine would help correct what they regarded as overpopulation in Ireland.

Up to a million died as a result of the famine in the next six years. Many left their homes in Ireland for other parts of the world, perhaps two million. A million of them came to America in this period. Like Maire in the play, though they loved their homeland, they saw their future elsewhere.

TRANSLATIONS continues at the Gist Theatre on the HSU campus on Thursday, October 27 at 8 pm. Final performances are on Friday and Saturday nights.


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