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Robert Cane: A Famine Hero?

Many popular histories of the Great Famine can be described as narratives of victims and villains. They focus on those who suffered and those who are to blame. While it is a simplistic approach it is understandable. If we are trying to paint broad strokes of late 1840s Ireland, this certainly explains some of the overarching themes of Irish history at the time.

However humans are complex figures and this approach has limitations – detail fall through what are pretty big cracks. Through the course of my podcast series on the Great Famine I have tried to highlight the complexity of the late 1840s.

Stories of resistance to the famine are just one example of how Irish people were not helpless victims but frequently willing to resist the deprivations inflicted on them. Meanwhile patrons have access to podcasts which focus on aspects which make us uncomfortable. These include episodes which have looked at topics such as cannibalism and prostitution. These dont fit neatly into narratives of victims and villains.

In the same vein my latest exclusive patron’s podcast looks at another neglected angle – individuals who should be embraced or celebrated for what they did during the famine. This is certainly difficult given the subject matter. Furthermore the nature of how Irish society engages with the Great Famine, makes this difficult – these figures don’t fall into either category of victim or villain.

In this latest exclusive patrons podcast I look at a forgotten figure called Robert Cane (1807-1858). Cane served as the medical officer in the Kilkenny Workhouse during Black ’47. During the podcast I argue that Cane is man who should be celebrated for what he did during the Great Famine.

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