Scotland's Famine Winter
by James Hunter
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Hunter adds to his remarkable body of work with a new and in-depth exploration of the impact of the potato famine on the north of Scotland. …Scene after scene of popular resistance and the state’s bungling responses are brought to life through Hunter’s clear prose. His loving attention to detail shines through
The Bottle Imp (Best Scottish Books, 2019)
Hunter never forgets that history is first of all narrative – and this book is rich in stories – or that is subject is the experience of individual men and women, creatures of flesh and blood, not abstractions. Insurrection is fascinating reading, both painful and uplifting
A gripping, heart-breaking account of the famine winter of 1847. … Hunter’s pacily written history turns a telescope on the society and culture, and the economic and political predicament of these regions. Insurrection takes the generalisation and theories of [the communist manifesto] and puts a face to them. They stare out from this book – thousands upon thousands of them – gaunt and helpless with hunger
The Scottish potato famine was caused by the same blight that brought disaster to Ireland, … Insurrection describes how Scottish landowners were both the cause and cure of the famine
Tells the story of a savage, brutal, largely forgotten episode in Scotland’s history through the human tales Hunter uncovered in his research
No one has done more to help us understand the reality of life in the Highlands and Islands over the past few centuries. Graphs and statistical analyses he leaves to others – his focus has been to give individual Highlanders a voice. It is a deeply troubling yet quite uplifting tale that this most readable book tells
Press and Journal
Distinguished Highland historian Jim Hunter sheds light on a turbulent episode in the history of the north
Insurrection is an inspiring story of forgotten history
About the Book
'A gripping, heart-breaking account of the famine winter of 1847' - Rosemary Goring, The Herald
Longlisted for the Highland Book Prize
When Scotland’s 1846 potato crop was wiped out by blight, the country was plunged into crisis. In the Hebrides and the West Highlands a huge relief effort came too late to prevent starvation and death. Further east, meanwhile, towns and villages from Aberdeen to Wick and Thurso, rose up in protest at the cost of the oatmeal that replaced potatoes as people’s basic foodstuff.
Oatmeal’s soaring price was blamed on the export of grain by farmers and landlords cashing in on even higher prices elsewhere. As a bitter winter gripped and families feared a repeat of the calamitous famine then ravaging Ireland, grain carts were seized, ships boarded, harbours blockaded, a jail forced open, the military confronted. The army fired on one set of rioters. Savage sentences were imposed on others. But thousands-strong crowds also gained key concessions. Above all they won cheaper food.
Those dramatic events have long been ignored or forgotten. Now, in James Hunter, they have their historian. The story he tells is, by turns, moving, anger-making and inspiring. In an era of food banks and growing poverty, it is also very timely.
James Hunter is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of the Highlands and Islands. He has written extensively about the north of Scotland and about the region’s worldwide diaspora. In the course of a varied career Hunter has been, among other things, director of the Scottish Crofters Union, chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise and an award-winning journalist. His book Set Adrift upon the World (Birlinn 2016) was Saltire History Book of the Year in 2016.
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