The blurb of The Famine Plot claims that Tim Pat Coogan is Ireland’s leading historian. This is not exactly right, but it is true that Coogan’s works sell widely and have a significant influence both in Ireland and internationally. The dominant academic consensus is highly critical of British policy during the Irish Famine of 1845–52 – its moralism, its doctrinaire adherence to the norms of political economy, and (particularly in the later stages of the Famine) compassion fatigue bordering on indifference. John Kelly’s The Graves are Walking: The History of the Great Irish Famine reflects this school of thought. But Coogan takes the argument a step further and argues that British policy, as carried out by the Whig government and the senior civil servant Sir Charles Trevelyan, represented an act of deliberate genocide.
This is easier to argue if, as Coogan does, you do not present a sequential narrative. A chronological account shows policy-makers responding to events, often short-sightedly or mistakenly, and grappling with serious problems; a thematic account, removed from the flux of events, finds it easier to present an image of