A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

When an Ottoman Sultan Sent Aid to the Irish Famine

The Great Famine that ravaged Ireland beginning with the potato blight of 1845 killed a million people and sent another million or more  into exile in America, Canada, or Australia. As a descendant of famine immigrants myself, I realized I haven't blogged about one of the less well-known aspects of what the Irish call the Great Hunger; the effort of the Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid I (reigned 1839-1861) to send aid to Ireland. The subject of a forthcoming film, the tale is better known in Ireland and Turkey than elsewhere. The tale of a Muslim country with problems of its own sending aid to a Catholic country abandoned by its colonial overlords fascinated the Irish. As Joyce put it in Ulysses, "Even the Grand Turk sent us his piastres. But the Sassenach [Saxons, i.e. English] tried to starve the nation at home while the land was full of crops that the British hyenas bought and sold in Rio de Janeiro."
Sultan Abdülmecid I

As the tale is usually told, the Sultan offered to send £10,000 sterling for Irish relief. But because Queen Victoria herself had only contributed £2,000, the British government requested that the Sultan reduce his contribution to only £1,000. (See Joyce's comment above.) But the Sultan did send up to five ships carrying food, and while the records aren't clear, Irish newspaper and other reports say Ottoman sailors landed the food at Drogheda on the River  Boyne  in 1847. (Drogheda is ironically the site of a notorious massacre by Oliver Cromwell, another Sassenach not well remembered in Ireland.)

The Irish still remember.

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