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January/February 2015


Like many other foreign governments, the Ottoman court

indeed sent famine aid to Ireland in 1847. And the Sultan’s

initial pledge was, in fact, reduced in deference to diplomacy.

It is further true that many foreign nationals, including at

least one Irish physician, served in both Topkapı Palace and

the Sublime Porte (the administrative seat of the Ottoman

government) during the reign of Abdülmedjid



1839 and 1861. To what extent, if at all, this son of Ireland

influenced the Sultan’s decision to send aid, however, is unclear.

Even murkier are the details of the ships and their connections,

if any, to the town’s symbolic star and crescent.

News of a “blight of unusual character” ravaging potato

fields on Britain’s Isle of Wight first reached the desk of

University of London botanist John Lindley in August of 1845.

As editor of the

Gardner’s Chronicle and Horticultural Gazette


Lindley expressed guarded concern, and he requested that his

readers submit any further information about the blight. But

later that month, when the catastrophe hit closer to home,

leaving “hardly a sound [potato] in Covent Garden market,” as

Lindley observed, his tone shifted to alarm: “A fearful malady

has broken out among the potato crop. On all sides we hear of

the destruction.... As for cure of this distemper, there is none....

We are visited by a great calamity.”

If the English were alarmed, that was nothing compared

to the panic that gripped Ireland by autumn. Seemingly

unstoppable, the disease wiped out one-third of the crop that

was practically the sole source

of nourishment for more

than 3 million of Ireland’s

lower classes. The cause of

the blight—unknown to

Lindley and his Dublin-based

colleagues who desperately

sought a remedy—was the


Since the late 12th

century, Drogheda, Ireland, has

thrived on maritime commerce.

This photo of the Boyne River

docks was made in 1885, a

generation after “The Great

Hunger” of 1847 that lasted into

the early 1850s: If indeed three

Turkish ships brought food aid

during that time, it is likely they

would have tied up here.


Dedicated in 1997 in Dublin to

honor the millions of Irish who

variously endured, emigrated or

perished, “Famine,” by sculptor

Rowan Gillespie, is a graphic

reminder of the nation’s most

desperate years.