Friday, 30 September 2022

Textile Details

'The great Irish famine 1845 - 1852' by Helen Heron. (Photo: Colin Peck)
'The great Irish famine 1845 - 1852' by Helen Heron. (Photo: Colin Peck)


Title of Textile:The great Irish famine 1845 - 1852
Maker: Helen Heron
Country of Origin: Northern Ireland
Year Produced: 2010
Size (cm): 68cm x 60cm
Materials: layers of fabric depicting a mountain and sea view superimposed onto a map image.
Type of Textile: Arpillera

This piece was specially made for the arpilleras exhibition at the Chilean Embassy in Berlin in May 2010. It illustrates a dark period of Ireland's past, the Great Famine of the 1840s, when one million people died from starvation and disease, and a further one million emigrated. The famine occurred after the repeated failure of the potato crops upon which the poor depended almost entirely for food. Its impact was exacerbated by the actions and inactions of the Whig government from 1846-1852.

The government did not prohibit the export of grain from Ireland, especially during the winter of 1846-47, when there was little food in the country. Nor did they take steps to ensure that imported grain was distributed to those in greatest need. The soup-kitchen scheme was terminated in September 1847 after only six months of operation despite the enormous harvest deficiency that year. The pitiful wages that the government paid on its short-lived public works scheme in the winter of 1846-47 did not provide people with the means to afford the greatly inflated price of food. In addition, the poor-law system of providing relief, either within workhouses or outside them, was very restrictive adding to the burden of additional sectarian policies placed by the government on those in need of food.

The government did nothing to restrain the ruthless mass eviction of families from their homes during the famine. Up to 500,000 people were evicted in the years from 1846 to 1854, as landlords sought to rid their estates of pauperized farmers and labourers.

The death of one million people in the midst of an absolute sufficiency of food and the violence, suffering and oppression inflicted on families through mass evictions stemmed partly from their perceived status as the cultural and social inferiors of those who governed them.

Heron uses this arpillera to imaginatively voice her own connection to one of the areas worse affected by the famine - her ancestral home of Bantry in County Cork. The piece is made up of layers of fabric depicting a mountain and sea view superimposed onto a map including Bantry. A number of quintessential images of the famine are included: the workhouse (where many of the destitute died), the Coffin Ship (used to transport emigrants to the USA), the burning cabin with its evicted tenants, the woman scrambling for potatoes in the earth, and a funeral procession.

Owner: Helen Heron collection (deceased, December 2019)
Location: Northern Ireland
Original / Replica: Original
Photographer: Colin Peck

Textile exhibited at: Arpilleras: Voices on Tapestries, 8/03/2010 - 31/03/2010
Arpilleras: Embajadoras para el Bicentenario Quilts/Arpilleras: Ambassadors for the B, 14/04/2010 - 20/05/2010
'Arpilleras Aus Chile' -Eine Retrospektive, 6/05/2010 - 28/05/2010
Exhibit of Chilean Arpilleras, 20/05/2010 - 22/05/2010
Stitching Resistance, 12/10/2010 - 16/01/2011
Transforming threads of resistance, 27/02/2012 - 9/03/2012
Conflict, Famine and Displacement: Then and Now, 13/06/2020 - 27/06/2020

Textile Detail Image(s)