Lanigan to Speak On Potato Famine

Pittsburgh presenter and spoken-word artist Chuck Lanigan will offer a program, “The Irish Potato Famine in History and Memory,” at Lunch With Books at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling on St. Patrick’s Day.

The program at noon Tuesday, March 17, is free and open to the public. Lanigan will go beyond the green beer and Riverdance depiction of Irish “troubles” to explore the most traumatic event of Irish culture and history. The Irish Potato Famine (An Gorta Mor, or The Great Hunger) of 1845-50 compares to the Soviet famine in the Ukraine and more recent human tragedies in Rwanda and Darfur in terms of impact, according to historians.

Lanigan will address questions such as: Was the potato famine in Ireland genocide, or just an unfortunate convergence of historical and agricultural factors? What was the culpability of the British government, or indeed of Irish culture itself?

Through music, images and first-hand accounts by figures such as Charles Trevelyan, assistant secretary of the British treasury, the Dickensian Mr. Twistleton and Edward Pine Coffin, this presentation will challenge popular perception about an event that killed one million Irish and sent many more fleeing to Canada, New Zealand and the United States, including southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Lanigan lectures on subjects ranging from labor and identity to the Irish famine. One reviewer described him as having an “eye for hard-chiseled observation, who has made it his business to tackle weighty issues.”

Inspired by Studs Terkel and the late Spalding Gray, he has collaborated in Pittsburgh with Carnegie Mellon University’s Future Tenant gallery, Rivers of Steel, the Carnegie Library People’s University and the Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theater. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Allegheny College and a Master of Arts degree in educational communication.

He has written for Western Pennsylvania History Magazine, the Pittsburgh City Paper and CIO Magazine. In 2013, he received a Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts grant for producing his original live radio adaptation, “The Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh.”