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Poverty in Ireland, 1837
— A Hungarian's View —             follow us

Szegénység Irlandban
by  Baron József EÖTVÖS

One of the most insightful and sympathetic reports of the horrifying conditions to which millions of Irish had been reduced in the decade before the Famine—from an idealistic young poet who would go on to become one of 19th-century Hungary's most admired statesmen, authors, and political thinkers.

The first complete translation
by Paul SOHAR and László BAKOS,
with Foreword by Dr Tamás MAGYARICS

ISBN (hardback): 9781908420206 r.r.p.: £21.99 / €25.00
ISBN (paperback): 9781908420213 r.r.p.: £14.95 / €17.95 – comprehensively indexed
220 pages, 70 illustrations, demy octavo size (138 x 216mm),
with English and Hungarian on facing pages, Author's Biography and Historical Background Notes.
[• click on cover image, or here, to browse Pdf sample pages •]pdf

'Poverty in Ireland, 1837' by Baron Jozsef EOTVOS“…an extraordinarily lucid and 'modern' analysis of the desperate conditions and suffering that prevailed in Ireland in the decade preceding the Great Famine…”—Dublin Review of Books.
“…acutely accurate …a vivid and gripping tale …totally contradicts the official story of Ireland peddled by its then administrators.” —Books Ireland.
“The tragedy of the Irish – through Hungarian eyes… should be among the recommended readings for the responsible citizens of the European Union…”—Central European Political Science Review.
     [more reviews below ↓]

In 1837, the power of Daniel O'Connell's oratory focused the attention of Europeans on Ireland. They were horrified at what they saw there.
The Irish poor – a third of the population – had no food except the potatoes they grew, and not enough clothing to cover themselves. They went hungry for two months of the year, and half-naked for all the year. Yet this would be their last “good” decade before more than a million of them would vanish into unmarked graves in the 1840s.
The idealistic young Baron Eötvös – a humanitarian and already a much-praised poet – struggled to understand how Ireland could have been reduced to this state under English rule, and why English journalists wrote with such bigotry about the Irish.
In Hungary, he was a campaigner for the freedom of serfs, but conceded that those serfs lived in better conditions and had more protection than Irish tenants and labourers. The only protection for the Irish poor came from illegal organizations such as the Whiteboys.
His visit coincided with a pivotal moment in Irish history, when debate was raging about the introduction of a 'Poor Law' (with Poor Tax to pay for it) – a charitable-sounding term for a cruel Act aimed at clearing the land of people who had no other means of survival.
His deeply researched summary of the English occupation of Ireland – uninfluenced by modern revisionism – makes compelling, often harrowing reading.

 THE MOST DISTRESSFUL COUNTRY        [—reviewed in the Dublin Review of Books]:
“… an extraordinarily lucid and 'modern' analysis of the desperate conditions and suffering that prevailed in Ireland in the decade preceding the Great Famine…
In every sense, it is a discovery to read…presented here bilingually and carefully illustrated with prints of the era…it makes an elegant if disturbing book. This translation (by Paul Sohar and László Bakos) is exceptional,
Eötvös records that serfs in his own country (whom he campaigned for) were much better off than the poor in Ireland…As someone with liberal views, particularly concerning religion, he viewed discrimination against Catholics as one of the root causes of the stark contrast in every social sense between England and Ireland. … Poverty in Ireland is an extraordinary account and indictment of the most calculating subjugation and oppression, the full extent of which would reveal itself in less than a decade later with the catastrophe of the Great Irish Famine. …”
—Joe Woods, the Dublin Review of Books, July-August 2017  [•Click here for the full text of this review•]

 A REMARKABLE STUDY OF PRE-FAMINE IRELAND        [—reviewed in Books Ireland magazine]:
“ This remarkable study of the causes and effects of poverty in pre-Famine Ireland was written by one of Hungary's first novelists and it's an acutely accurate account of conditions in the country in the mid-1830s.
Baron Eötvös came from the multilayered aristocracy of Hungary, but this was no hindrance to his remarkable insights into a country far from his own. That very distance gave him remarkable perspicacity regarding the social and economic problems of Ireland, through which, inspired by Daniel O'Connell, he travelled extensively. Unlikely as it may have seemed to many of the dispossessed poor whom he met, his sympathies were entirely with them.
His book was first published in Hungarian in 1840 but, amazingly, it has had to wait until now for publication in English. The Phaeton Press has done an excellent job in creating this bilingual publication, with the Hungarian text on one side of the double pages and English on the other, all intermingled with an excellent series of period lithographs and a striking cover. …”
—Hugh Oram, Books Ireland Magazine July-August 2015.  
[•Click here for the full text of this review on pdf•]

“Highly interesting and an excellent publication both in content and format ... an important contribution to an understanding of Eötvös in the international academic community.” —Dr Paul Bődy, [author of Joseph Eötvös and the Modernization of Hungary 1840-1870,  American Philosophical Society, 1972].

“Amongst many visitors to pre-Famine Ireland was the Hungarian baron József Eötvös (a campaigner for the freedom of serfs who went on to become a major literary and political figure in his homeland); he was horrified by what he witnessed here, and castigated Ireland’s British and/or Protestant rulers for exercising, as he put it, their ‘unlimited and self-serving power over the people.’ His account of his travels has now been published as Poverty in Ireland 1837. This is a dual-language production with the original Hungarian text facing the English translation.” —History Ireland Magazine  May-June 2015.

         [Magyar szemmel az írek sorstragédiájáról – 1837-ben]       [—reviewed in Central European Political Science Review]:
“ More than 170 years after its first publication [in Hungarian], Baron József Eötvös’ Poverty in Ireland has been published as a Hungarian-English bilingual edition in Ireland. … Eötvös’s exposition describes the centuries-long English oppression…with scientific precision and compassion towards the suffering Irish Catholic poor. … As an author who had set out in the summer of 1836 to investigate prison conditions in the Western world, he was drawn to faraway Ireland by the tireless struggle of the Europe-wide known revolutionary, Daniel O’Connell. … He uses expressive contrasts to highlight the differences between England and Ireland – e.g. that following the centuries-long confiscation of lands by the English, hardly one-tenth of Ireland remained in the hands of Irish landowners. Most of the Irish peasants worked for starvation wages, barely surviving, while the English landlords prospered. … The growing misery and the debauchery of the rich not uncommonly seen at the very same time in the streets of Dublin was a depressing view. … By the end of the 19th century the population of the Irish island halved as compared to the population young Eötvös had encountered when he had started to uncover the reasons leading to that tragedy for his book. … József Eötvös, a writer, scientist, statesman, and an outstanding figure of the pioneers of the Hungarian revolution and transformation into a civil society, made his mark in Irish cultural history with the present essay written at a young age. There are few examples of showing this troubled period of Ireland through the eyes of a foreigner (not Irish or British) with such scientific thoroughness and literary sensitivity.
Central European Political Science Review“ The book should be among the recommended readings for the responsible citizens of the European Union, as it brings forth lots of information, patterns and morals about the history of our continent, about the roots of our present concerns. From a philological point of view, this is an exemplary edition, being the first annotated version of Eötvös’s work …every work cited by him has a bibliographical reference in the footnotes…and the quotes appear as they were in the original sources. … The volume should be useful for historians dealing with the period preceding the Great Famine and those dealing with Irish history generally, because of its abundance of sources, even French and American scholars, and such reports, that… are scarcely referred to nowadays. The 20-pages-long Background Notes by the publishers also deserve commendation, as it puts Eötvös’s work in context, proving how widely informed the author was, and how accurate his account of the era was. … And one should also praise the harmony between the content and the design of this marvellous volume that reflects the spirit of Eötvös, his social sensitivity and human solidarity towards the oppressed and impoverished Irish Catholics. … The book’s the suffering Ireland of the 18th and 19th centuries, or present the historical figures and groups referred to in the text (such as the Whiteboys who stood up for the tenant farmers and labourers…) so as to help evoke the atmosphere of those times, the world described by Eötvös. Furthermore, the publishers tried to collect illustrations and images about the memory of Eötvös that still survive, from statues and coins to film posters and film stills from the movie- and televised versions of his literary works. … This essay had much influence on the 19th century relationship between these two kin-fated people: both the Hungarians and Irish paid more attention to each other at that time…
“ Baron Eötvös’s whole oeuvre, and especially his great essay on the Irish poor, [is] an encouraging example of human solidarity bridging space and time…
—Central European Political Science Review  [the Book Review of the Summer 2015 Edition].

In Hardback, ISBN (hbk): 978-1-908420-206,
200 pages; r.r.p.: £16.99 / €19.99
in both English and Hungarian on facing pages,
and with 70 contemporary illustrations.

The Author

Statue of Jozsef Eotvos outside Intercontinental Hotel in BudapestBaron József EÖTVÖS – whose statue stands in Budapest in the square that bears his name – was one of the most interesting and appealing Hungarian public figures of the 19th century: a statesman driven by deep humanitarianism, a much-admired political thinker, and the first master of the Hungarian realist novel.
He was born to a noble family in Buda in 1813, at a time when Latin was the official State language and German the language encouraged by the Habsburg monarchy. He did not learn Hungarian until he was 13.
By the time József visited Ireland, he already had a reputation as a poet; and over the next ten years, he would publish a number of novels, including Hungary's first realist novel – The Village Notary /A falu jegyzője (1845) – which was immediately hailed as a classic and translated into many languages.
He campaigned for the freedom of the serfs and the emancipation of the Jews. As a government minister, he introduced ground-breaking proposals for universal education. He died in 1871.

Poverty in Ireland 1837 /Szegénység Irlandban was launched in Ireland at a reception hosted by H.E. Dr Tamás Magyarics, Ambassador, at the Embassy of Hungary in Dublin — Magyarország Nagykövetsége, Írország, with guest of honour Deputy State Secretary Kristóf Altusz of the Hungarian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade >>

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