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Tim Pat Coogan opens old wounds

As an Irish historian who claims he wrote the definitive book about the Irish Republican Army and Irish revolutionary Michael Collins, Tim Pat Coogan is hardly one to shy from controversy.

The author takes Great Britain to task in his latest tome, "The Famine Plot," released in December, arguing that the Great Famine between 1845 and 1852 was the fault of neglect by England's Protestant government. When blight ravaged rural Ireland's potato crop, about 1 million Irish died and another million emigrated from the country.

The blame, Coogan argues, laid with England's feeble relief efforts and their history of anti-Catholic prejudice. Coogan will discuss the famine and sign his book at Books and Books in Coral Gables on Monday and Tim Finnegan's Irish Pub on Tuesday.

Q: In your book, you argue that a bottom-rung government official named Charles Trevelyan led England's neglect of famine-troubled Ireland.

A: Trevelyan had the ear of the prime minister. He believed Ireland had overpopulation and a proliferation of small land leases. He thought the Irish would bring barbarity into Anglo-Saxon good behavior, and with help of providence and this weapon called the famine, the Irish could be gotten rid of. He was like the Adolf Eichmann of the Jewish Final Solution, I would compare him.

Q: Why did you decide to publish the book now?

A: The famine was in the back of my mind all my life. My mother wrote a famous Irish novel called "The Big Wind," and that had a famine background.

Q: On that point, you say some Irish historians have been reluctant to explore England's role in the famine.

A: I quote in the book [New York University] professor Joe Lee, who says one of the reasons historians take uncontentious attitudes toward the famine is that they work at universities and they don't want to let it ruin their careers. It may also be guilt. A lot of Irish people's prosperity today started with the famine. That's how they got larger land holdings.

Q: Reviews of your book say your tone is "fiercer and angrier" than other books about the famine.

A: I do feel for the people. They aren't just statistics. It's a most significant exercise in extreme brutality, and the mission of a historian is not to propagandize it.

Tim Pat Coogan

When/where: 8 p.m. Monday at Books and Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables; and 8 p.m. Tuesday at Tim Finnegan's Irish Pub, 2885 S. Federal Highway, Delray Beach

Cost: Free

Contact: 305-442-4408,; 561-330-3153,

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