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Response to Review no. 295a

We are grateful to Professor Murphy for her careful and generous review. She leaves us little to say, save to thank her for her assessment. Perhaps, though, we might comment on four points.

First, to correct a misunderstanding, we did not conclude ‘that it was climate, and not diet, that was responsible for diseases like the scourge of tuberculosis.’ On page 241 we quote Professor Sir John Byers of Queen’s College, Belfast, writing in the late nineteenth century, who explicitly excluded the effects of climate on tuberculosis. Elsewhere (e.g. p. 159) we point to the importance of poor diets and the high infectivity of the disease. Professor Murphy is correct, however, in drawing attention to the fact that visitors to seventeenth-century Ireland were more struck by the risks to health from the climate than from the food (see pp.223-6). One of the few things they liked about Ireland was the whiskey that was good for keeping out the cold and damp (it still is).

Secondly, we would not like to be thought of as diminishing the importance of famines in Ireland. The point that we argue at some length is that Ireland’s famine experience does not seem to be much out of line with the rest of pre-industrial Europe. This statement needs to be qualified to the extent that grain-growing on the western periphery of Europe has always been more vulnerable to the weather than further east. Against this, the climate of Ireland was well suited to the rearing of cattle and the production of milk and butter. Most important of all, the Great Famine came late to Ireland and it was a disaster. Chapters 6 and 7 reflect the importance that we attach to famines in general and the Great Famine in particular.

Thirdly, we are grateful to Professor Murphy for her references from literature. As she remarks, our book is a beginning and we are conscious of how little use we have made of literary sources. No historian who has tried to follow in the footsteps of K.H. Connell can fail to appreciate their importance.

Finally we can assure Professor Murphy that at least one of the authors intends to extend the study of food and nutrition into post-partition Ireland. At the heart of such a study will be the nutritional survey conducted in Ireland between 1946 and 1948, the results of which were published in 1949 and 1950.