EVERY news item currently viewed or listened to has its focus on the appalling position of people trying to escape the war torn region of the Middle East and other areas, writes Mark Muller.

But the problems associated with homeless, destitute people, isn’t new to Pembrokeshire.

Most recently, but still over 60 years ago, Pembrokeshire became the home of many young German women who had been made homeless by the assimilation of Eastern Europe and former areas of Germany into the Russian empire after the end of WW2.

Further back, Haverfordwest gave refuge to Belgian refugees during WW1. But these examples are different because these people were invited into the UK, and subsequently Pembrokeshire.

Traversing back an additional 70 years takes us to the horror of the Irish Famine.

The potato blight caused unimaginable problems for the Irish population, taking away not only their immediate staple food source, but leaving them without seed potatoes.

The whole scenario takes on a much darker hue when the antics of the British Parliament are viewed in conjunction with the problem; the Corn Laws made the importation of corn almost an impossibility; the absentee landlord habit, and the insistence that the Irish Workhouses continue to repay construction loans during the whole crisis intensified everything.

Additionally, the British Government believed in laissez faire (let the free market sort itself out), and Anglo Irish landowners continued to produce and slaughter pigs by the thousand for export out of Ireland.

But perhaps the main reason for the refusal of help was that the Irish were Catholic and very few English politicians or others were inclined to give aid.

About one million people died through starvation between the years 1845-1851 which represented one eighth of the population.

Another one million tried to leave Ireland in desperation and after being evicted by their landlords. And it is at this point, that the appearance of unscrupulous boat owners who targeted the starving, wretched Irish people becomes familiar with what we are currently hearing and seeing non-stop in the Mediterranean.

The very poor and those already dying from starvation were herded on to boats and for 2 shillings, taken to Welsh ports such as Newport.

Those who had a little more cash (usually it was the family’s savings) tried to make for North America.

The boats that took them became known as coffin ships due to large percentages of the passenger list on every ship dying during the passage.

But just 50 miles away was the coast of Pembrokeshire. Ships loaded with the poorest crossed the narrow channel and they were dumped in coves all along the Pembrokeshire coast. And then as now, amongst those in authority, there was a large amount of talking and (some) hand wringing... and little else.

Pembrokeshire wasn’t a preferred destination for the starving Irish, (if starving people can have any preference). The railway hadn’t reached Pembrokeshire and was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy due to the problems in Ireland (no business, or work force, or investors).

Without the railway and the advancement, activity, wealth and people which it brought with it, it meant that Pembrokeshire was still wrapped in its centuries old position of being little more than one rung above the Irish, which isn’t where the Irish wanted to be.

But many of the Irish men had fought in the Napoleonic Wars as part of the British Army and during their time in the UK had seen the wonders of the Industrial Revolution (which hadn’t been exported to Ireland - meaning ruin for Irish hand loom weavers) especially in Wales, and the potential for work that it might bring.

However those that made it to Wales became the target for abuse; became blamed for a host of crimes and inconveniently died in their thousands on the streets.

In many instances, those that stubbornly clung to life were herded back on to ships and returned to Ireland.

It took many years for anything to improve in Ireland.

Perhaps the main residue of the whole horror was the memory of the treatment received which intensified an embittered desire for independence.