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