1836 was the first of many years of unseasonably cold summers in Ireland. No one knew what lay ahead, of course: that by 1851, almost one-eighth of Ireland’s population, a million Irish, would be dead from starvation or disease. Potatoes, originally from Central and South America, had become a staple crop across much of northern Europe, including the Rhineland region that the family in A Land Too Fabulous flees.
This article from History Magazine tells what we know now about the potato disease that spread across Europe and devastated Ireland. In A Land Too Fabulous, the family meets Irishmen who fled an earlier Irish disaster, the failed 1798 Irish Rebellion, and in the sequel, an Irish nun learns about the terrible summer of 1836.
In 1836: A Land Too Fabulous, Friedrich sees Ardennes horses pulling “railroad” cars in New Orleans. He recognizes them because he was in Napoleon’s cavalry, which owed its return from Moscow to Ardennes. Only this breed of horse was able to survive the cold and privations to keep pulling supply wagons through axle-deep mud and snow on the long march across Russia.
The Ardennes is the root of all heavy draft breeds existing today. It is a true cold-blooded horse, a direct descendant of the Solutrian horse that roamed the basins of the Rhone, Saone and Meuse during the Paleolithic period. They are relatively unchanged since the last Ice Age, 15,000 years ago.
The Ardennes have been war and draft horses for at least 2,000 years. Julius Caesar declares in his commentaries (58-48 BC) that "the horses of the second Belgium" are "rustic, hard and tireless" and he recommended their use "in heavy cavalry work."
In the thousand years of Middle Ages, knights found the sturdy, compact, good-tempered Ardennes strong and tireless chargers, easily able to carry the weight of men in full armor into battle. In 1096 Geoffrey of Boullion, a nobleman from a region in the heart of the now-Belgian Ardennes Forest, rode off on crusade on his Ardennes stallion.