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Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Turkey's role in Ireland's famine

New evidence shows the extent of Turkey’s role in alleviating Ireland’s devastating famine.

In 1847 the Sultan Abdulmecid I pledged £10,000 to alleviate the suffering of Irish farmers. However, the British Consul in Istanbul warned him that sending more money than the British queen (Queen Victoria gave £2000) would be against royal protocol. Queen Victoria’s donation became the single largest donation to the famine relief.

However, the area most associated with the Turkish relief effort is Drogheda. The town reportedly received three ships stocked with food sent from the Sultan. However, the Drogheda Historical Society has previously denied the donation ever arrived, saying there is no record of the ships’ arrival. 

 Sultan Abulmecid I

But a recently uncovered letter has shed new light on the debate. In the letter, currently on display at the European Commission office in Dublin, the Anglo-Irish gentry of the time express their gratitude to the Sultan for his generous donation, sent at a time when the famine was at its worst. 

Records show that the three ships were intended for Dublin – but their entry was blocked by officials. The ships travelled along the coast and secretly unloaded their goods at Drogheda. The clandestine operation is perhaps why there is no record of the cargo’s arrival.

Around one million people died during the famine, which lasted from 1845 to 1852. A further million Irish emigrated.

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