Irish Consul General Discusses Georgia-Ireland Bond Ahead Of Film Screening

GPB is hosting on Wednesday a film screening of Black 47, an action-adventure drama that takes place during the Irish potato famine of the late 1840s.

Shane Stevens, consul general of the Irish Consulate, will be in Atlanta for the screening of the film alongside GPB CEO Teya Ryan and the film’s star, James Frecheville.

Some 800,000 Georgians claim Irish heritage. The first shipload of immigrants from Ireland docked on the coast of what became the colony of Georgia and 1734. Thousands were escaping the potato famine of 1845 to 1849, when nearly 1 million Irish nationals died. Black 47 examines the horrors of the famine and the resilience of the Irish people.

Stephens spoke to On Second Thought about why talking in 2020 about the ramifications of the famine is so important. He also talked about the special relationship that Georgia has with the Irish people.

The memory of the famine is still a difficult part of history for many Irish people.

“It was almost too painful for us to address the famine directly in the modern era until now,” Stephens said. “The memory of the famine is seared onto the Irish personality and it's been a big factor in making Irish people what they are.”

Stephens said the population shrank by nearly half during the course of the famine, with the “laissez-faire” economics of the time playing into its severity.

The famine plays into the history of Georgia, as well.

800,000 people who are Irish American here in Georgia wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the famine,” he said.

Stephens said that while there was some resistance in the U.S. to Irish refugees at the time, the Savannah gave them a warm willing.

“Savannah was one of those cities in the United States where, like Boston or New York, Irish people came in real numbers,” he said. “They formed a particularly strong Irish community in the city.”

Stephens sees a common thread in the histories of both Georgia and Ireland, both in their history of agriculture and how they’ve adapted economically through the years.

“We both have that rural character based around our history, but we're adaptable,” Stephens said. “We’re able to turn our hand to what industry requires.”

Stephens hopes Black 47 will bring a light to the circumstances of the famine through a familiar film narrative.

“It’s a revenge western model, a bit like Django Unchained as well,” he said. “So it is an explicitly violent and exciting movie, but also one that is set against the backdrop of this profoundly fascinating and terrible historic event.

He said that despite how terrible the famine was for the Irish people, the resilience gained from surviving it has helped the nation become a leader on the world stage, including becoming ranked the third most developed nation in the world.

Stephens is optimistic that will help in Ireland’s recent campaign to have a seat on the UN Security Council for the 2021-2022 session.

“We feel that are we really have a genuine understanding of the of the people and nations around the world who are facing terrible challenges,” he said.

GPB will host its screening of Black 47 at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. Stephens will host a panel afterward, joined by actor James Frecheville and Clemson Universtiy professor Michael Silvestri.

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