The Irish Famine

Image source: Atlasobscura.com

Prior to the eighteenth-century famine was normal in most societies, people regularly starved and died in large numbers. In every pre-industrial society, the rate of population growth usually outstripped the rate of growth of the food supply of a society and this led to food shortages and even outright famine. A chance event, such as war or storms in the summer could lead to hunger and widespread death. Famine was a fact of life, for many pre-industrial societies such as Ireland. For the purpose of this work, a Famine is a catastrophic event, where large numbers in a given society do not have enough to eat or starve and there is large scale suffering and a sharp rise in the death rate.

The Irish Famine or the ‘Great Hunger’ was the last great famine in Western Europe and also one of the most catastrophic recorded in that region. It led to the death of up to a million people and the emigration of two million people from the island of Ireland. It changed Ireland and its influence can still be felt to this day in the economy, society and politics of Ireland. The Famine was not only important for Ireland but for many other countries. The waves of emigrants that left Ireland as a result of the Famine, established new homes in North America, Britain, and Australasia and changed these societies. As a result, of the Famine, many millions of people now claim an Irish heritage. The Irish famine, as a result, changed not only Irish society but countries as distant as Canada and Australia. The Famine was also important because it was the first such phenomenon to be scientifically studied and widely reported upon. This led to a better understanding of the nature of Famine and led, especially the British Imperial authorities to develop new strategies to deal with famine in their Empire in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Political History

The island of Ireland had been conquered by the English Crown in the early medieval period. However, by 1500, much of the island was beyond the control of the English Royal Governments and the majority of Ireland was independent. Beginning with Henry VIII, the Tudor Dynasty, who claimed to be the monarch of Ireland, fought a series of wars, to make good their claims[1]. By 1603, the English monarchy effectively controlled the island and introduced widespread political, social and religious changes. In particular, they encouraged English and other settlers to emigrate to Ireland, where they were given land, as in the ‘Plantation of Ulster’. These settlers soon became the economic and political elite in the country. By the late 1600s, these colonists, and their descendants largely owned the land in Ireland. After a series of rebellions and confiscations, the old Irish elite were dispossessed and many were exiled. The native Gaelic-speaking population was largely Catholic, in contrast to the settlers, who were overwhelmingly Protestant. Ireland was dominated by a small number of Protestant landowners, who established a series of Penal Laws, that discriminated against Catholics, in order to preserve their position at the apex of Irish society and their privileged status. Despite the repeal of the Penal Laws in the eighteenth century, the Anglo-Irish elite continued to dominate Ireland, economically, socially and politically, well into the nineteenth century.

Politically. Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, after the 1801 Act of Union. This had led to the union of the British and Irish parliaments. The Irish parliament had been dominated by the Anglo-Irish Protestant elite, who excluded Catholics from political office. With the Act of Union, Irish MPs could sit in the British Parliament. Despite the Act of Union, the country was still dominated by the Anglo-Irish elite, who were only a small minority in an overwhelmingly Catholic country[2]. By the 1840’s, Catholics had won some political rights, such as the right to hold political office. However, in general, the Catholic majority were very much second class citizens and were economically and politically subordinated to the Anglo-Irish elite.

Famine was not new to Ireland. Every few years, there was a partial failure of the potato crop or some natural disaster resulted in a famine. In the 1740’s, an unseasonable frost destroyed the crops in the fields[3]. This led to widespread hunger and epidemics and by the end of the famine, some 10% of the population died over a two- year period. There were also small and localized food crises in Ireland in the 1820’s and the 1830’s. However, the famine in the period 1845-1850 was to be an unprecedented one and was to change Irish history.

 

Factors that caused the Famine

Irish Society

During the Napoleonic Wars, there had been a dramatic expansion in tillage in Ireland. This long conflict had created a demand for food from Britain, to feed its navy and army and a large agricultural workforce was required. Furthermore, many landowners decided to grow crops on their lands and this meant that there was less land for small tenant farmers. Rents rose and it was increasingly difficult for Irish cottiers and labourers to obtain sufficient land, for a family’s needs. The ability to rent a piece of land was often the difference between starvation and survival for many Irish Catholics. Because of the changing rural economy, more and more people came to rely on the potato. This was chiefly because potatoes could grow quickly and did not require much land to provide a large crop[4].

The root vegetable had been introduced into Ireland in the seventeenth century by Walter Raleigh. Since then the population had grown dependent upon it. During the eighteenth century, the potato had been very important in the Irish diet, However, it came to be the staple in the Irish diet by 1800, for up to one in three of the population.

At first, it had only been an addition to the diet and had been consumed with milk, fish, and bread. However, as Irish society became poorer and the farms became smaller, then more and more people were forced to depend upon the potato for their food. It was consumed boiled or in the form of potato cakes. The Irish consumed large amounts of potatoes, especially the poor. The diet of the Irish peasants, although monotonous provided them with all the nutrition that they needed. Potatoes are a very nutritious food. Irish society and the economy was almost wholly dependent on a single crop the potato. It facilitated the development of the cottier system, where a cheap agricultural workforce could work the land of the Anglo-Irish elite, who grow increasingly rich. They used the cheap Irish workforce to produce cheap food for England, which at this time was rapidly industrializing. The Irish peasant was reliant upon only one variety of the crop, namely the ‘Irish Lumper’, potato, which was highly nutritious and resistant to any indigenous diseases.

Irish Society and the land question

Irish society was shaped by the system of landownership. Land was the main source of wealth in the country prior to the Famine and continued to do so after it ended. The land was largely rented by Protestant landlords to Catholic tenants. Their holdings were often very small and it was not unusual for the tenant farmers to have only two or three acres of land. One in four Irish tenants had farms that were only 1.5-2 hectares in size. This group and their families made up the majority of the population, by some measurements over one-half of the nation, were subsistence farmers. Any chance event could reduce a tenant farmer and his family to penury and starvation. Another issue in Ireland was that often when a tenant died, they divided their lands, among all their children. This was an age-old Gaelic tradition. However, this practice of sub-division meant that over time, the holdings of the Irish cottiers was reduced in size each generation. There was not enough land for them to produce anything else than potatoes. This meant that they could not produce food for the market and their farms were used simply to provide for their food supply for the year- if they were lucky. Such was the hunger for land that more and more marginal land came into use, as in hilly and upland areas. At this time many of the islands off the west coast, such as the Arran Islands, became densely populated, as people desperately sought land. Before the famine, an official British government report indicated that poverty was endemic that some one-third of all Irish small farmers could not support their families after paying their rent. The majority of the poor lived in one or two roomed cabins. Despite this and other reports, there was nothing done to change the situation and the Irish poor continued to live in the shadow of famine and in wretched poverty[5]. Visitors to Ireland remarked that poverty was universal in rural districts as Skibberrean, County Cork especially in the hill areas, where one journalist witnessed the ‘the most dreadful privations’ in the early 1840s, even before the Famine[6]

There was a large labouring class, who were often landless and who would often wander the country looking for work, especially at harvest time. Many would migrate to England and Scotland during harvest time and here they would earn wages. These wages often helped them and their families to avoid starvation, during the winter. They made up to one-quarter of the population. Many labourers often relied on what they could grow in a small garden or acre of land in order to survive during the periods when they were not working. They would work on the landlords own land and other farms in order to pay their rent.

Many Irish peasants lived in a form of feudal dependency on landlords and largely lived in a barter economy. Any cash money they earned would usually be given to their landlords to pay their rents. The would swap their surplus of potatoes, if they had any, to purchase necessities items such as utensils in the local markets. Many Irish families were self-sufficient and women and men often made everything that they needed. The main fuel of the Irish was peat, which was dug from the many bogs in the island.

There was also a very large class of desperately poor people, who wandered the country begging. The towns and the cities were large and growing, but by and largely Ireland was an agrarian society. There was some industry in the urban centres and Limerick was called ‘a second Liverpool’ by Thackery, because of its industries. By and large Ireland was not industrializing like England and Scotland and indeed prior to the Great Hunger, and this meant that the surplus population in the countryside could move to the towns and cities for work. Poverty was not just confined to rural Ireland, in urban centres, there was widespread poverty, even by the standards of the time and in Dublin and elsewhere, the poverty was deemed to be greater than in Indian cities. There were many successful merchants and agents for landlords who composed the middle class, but this class was relatively small.

Irish society was very unfair and marked by great poverty. The majority of the people lived on the verge of disaster. This led to a great deal of agrarian unrest and there were many secret societies in the country, such as the ‘Ribbon Men’, who violently attacked the landlords and their agents. Murder, intimidation, and arson were very common in rural Ireland as secret societies sought to secure better terms for the poor tenants[7]. Ireland was a very violent society and that many in the British government believed that the island was on the verge of outright rebellion, in the years prior to the Famine[8].

Overpopulation

The Irish population expanded rapidly in the eighteenth century. The Catholics grew at a much faster rate than the Protestant community. By 1800, the population on the island of Ireland was some 6 million. By 1840, it was well over 8 million and the country was one of the most densely populated in Europe. The reasons behind the population increase are varied. It seems that the Irish poor tended to marry earlier, while the availability of the potato, allowed an increasingly impoverished society to expand and grow. The potato was a cheap and nutritious form of food and it allowed people, despite their poverty to survive for longer and many of the poor, were surprisingly healthy. This in turn allowed the Irish poor to have large families. Ireland’s population growth meant that there were more and more people, who were at the same time, becoming increasingly impoverished. In contrast to many other countries in Europe, at the time, Irish society was becoming poorer[9].

The expansion of the population was not linear, there were many demographic crises, before the famine. Ireland suffered harvest failures and epidemics of diseases such as cholera and typhus, and this resulted in many deaths. However, because of the cheapness and availability of potatoes, it meant that the population was quick to recover and continued to expand rapidly, when the harvest was good[10]. In retrospect it appears that Ireland before the Famine was on the brink of an economic and social disaster, according to some historians. However, there is another school of thought that argues that this was not the case. Ireland before the Famine was not a society on the edge of disaster, according to some historians. It had a complex socio-economic system and this had allowed the population to grow and remain relatively healthy. This is despite the observations of some who believed that there was a want of ‘improvement’ among the farmers[11]. The argument goes that but for an unforeseen event that Ireland was not doomed to experience a terrible famine.

The Potato Blight

In 1845, Irish newspapers reported that a new potato disease had been identified and it became known as the blight[12]. Experts believe that the blight was imported into Europe from Latin America, where it is endemic. The first reports of blight in Europe was in 1844. It was totally unknown in Ireland or Europe. Potato crops had been decimated in the past, but the blight was something new. It did not only impact on the potato crop in Ireland but throughout Europe. The blight attacked the potato, which had no resistance to the disease. This resulted in the blight destroying much of the potato crop in the country, in every year from 1845 to 1850. At first, it was hoped that the impact of the new disease could be limited. However, there was no way of treating the infected crop and the fact that Irish potatoes were all Lumpers, with no natural resistance to the disease, meant that the blight was particularly devastating. There was soon near panic in the elite, although some believed that the reports were exaggerated. The British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, who had served in Ireland was well aware of the catastrophe that Ireland was facing. He had repeatedly warned that Ireland needed to wean itself away from an overdependence on a single crop and needed to diversify its economy. By the late Autumn of 1845, it was reported that in some area that up to one-third of the potato crop had been lost[13]. It should be remembered that there was not a total failure of the potato crop, even during the worse year of the Famine in 1847.

 

Impact of the Famine

First effects of the Famine

The blight was a novelty to many of the Irish peasants. Potato diseases were not unknown and they have caused partial failures in recent decades. The blight was beyond the experience of Irish farmers. They were amazed to find their potato blacked and inedible when they took dug out of the ground. Because of the great poverty of the poorest elements in society, many tenant farmers simply did not have any food reserves. Typically, when the harvest was gathered, people began to eat the potato immediately, this was because the supplies from the last harvest had already been eaten. Upon discovering the potato crop was ruined, many knew that they would starve. A large number of tenant farmers and laborers also did not have the financial surplus to help them over the crisis. The economy of many poorer areas of the country was based on a barter system and little money actually circulated in these areas and this meant that they could not purchase the available food. Those that did have some money were forced to make a decision whether to pay their rent to the landlord or buy food. The potato blight was a disaster for many families. This meant that when the potatoes failed that they did not have enough to eat and they and their families were at risk of losing their land and their livelihood. Many people immediately began to seek relief from their local community, it was traditional in Irish society to help those who were in distress, especially family members, and neighbours. At first, the Irish poor would share their resources and this helped many throughout the hard winter of 1854-1846. However, soon, people began to hoard their own supplies, as they began to run out of food. This mean that the traditional support networks, that had helped people in previous famines collapsed and this meant that many more people began to starve. People bemoaned the fact that traditional charity and neighbourliness had ended and people were even turning on each other like ‘wolves’[14]. Some people became so desperate for food that they made the fateful decision to eat their seed potatoes. They were needed to plant next season’s potato harvest. When people ate their seed potatoes, then they would not have any potato harvest next season and they would be condemned to starvation. Within months of the first appearance of blight, it was clear that the situation for many of Ireland’s poor was disastrous[15]. At this time, it was very common for families to eat grass and nettles. The hungry often boiled nettles and ate them as a broth and this became very common during the Famine.

Who was hit hardest by the famine?

The famine devastated many areas of the country but its effects were not felt evenly throughout the regions and it impact on the different classes and religions was often different. Religion was the great divide in Ireland. The country was polarized between a Protestant community who made up 22% of the population and the Catholic population, who made up the rest of the inhabitants. The number of Catholics who died greatly exceed the number of Protestants. This was a result of the great poverty of the Catholic and as usual in a famine the poor suffered the most. This was the case in Ireland and in every subsequent famine around the world. The poor, because they were engaged in a monoculture, were unable to secure enough food for themselves and their families. The poor suffered in great numbers, especially the rural poor, who were made up of small tenant farmers and laborers. This people because of their great dependence on the potato were the first to feel the Famine. From 1845, the poor began to die in great numbers. At first, the poor died in significant numbers in their cabins and in the local dispensaries. The death rates usually rose sharply during the winter. The poor preferred to die in their own homes and it soon became a common sight for families to be found dead in cabins. By 1846, the local graveyards could no longer cope with the numbers who were dying. The Catholic Church was forced to consecrate new burial grounds for the many dying. These became known as Famine graveyards and today, nearly every locality in the island of Ireland has one such ‘Famine Graveyard’. The families of the poor usually had to bury their loved ones and they were too weak to bury them properly. Many families, because of a lack of food, did not have the strength to bury their dead. As a result, the bodies of the dead were often left in the open. The local authorities employed unemployed men or forced prisoners to collect these bodies and bury them[16]. The poor often abandoned their homes in the search for food and many died in forlorn attempts to search for work or food and many simply died in by the side of the road. By the winter of 184, large groups of poor people could be seen wandering the roads and lanes of the country, many begging for food. However, there was no food to spare. However, it was not only the rural poor who suffered and died. The urban poor also suffered greatly, and they went hungry and died in great numbers, especially the unemployed and the labourers[17]. During the ‘Great Hunger’ many tenant farmers could not pay their rent and after falling into arrears were evicted by their landlords. People were forcibly taken from their homes, by landlords often with the support of the police and military and forced to become homeless wanderers. Usually, the landlord or their agents forbade any of their tenants to help those who were evicted. To ensure that they did not return many of the evictees hovels and cabins were burned to the ground. Those evicted often were forced not only to leave their homes but their local areas. To be evicted during the great famine was almost a death sentence. Those who owned the least amount of land were most liable to be evicted. According to the Catholic Bishop of Meath, up to a quarter of those who were evicted died within a year[18].

Famine and the Regions

The impact of the Famine varied from region to region. In 1845, the blight was felt hardest by those who lived in the poorest areas and on marginal lands, such as those in the upland areas. The blight decimated the food supply of the poorest of the poor and those who were least able to bear the loss of their precious potato crop. However, not all areas of the country experienced a disastrous potato harvest and some farmers managed to retrieve at least a portion of the harvest. This is evident from the different death rates across the country, in the period 1845-1850. Some 24% of the population emigrated or died in Connacht and 23% in the province of Munster. This compares to 12% in Ulster and 16% in Leinster[19].

Initially, the Famine was felt hardest in the West and in part of Munster. This reflected the socio-economic structure of these regions. Areas such as Skibbereen in Country Cork became by-words for suffering   In the winter of 1846 and early 1847, conditions in Skibberrean and the surrounding district deteriorated. In the townland of Drimelogue, ‘one in four died that winter[20] .The continuing lack of food, meant that one Cork doctor declared that ‘not one in five will recover’ In these regions the tenants’ farms were generally small and that more poor and marginal land was in use and as a result the local inhabitants were more likely to suffer from any disruption to their food supply. Some areas of the country such as East Ulster did not suffer much at first, this was because it was more industrialized than the rest of Ireland. However, as the Famine persisted and the blight continued to attack the potato crop, those areas that initially did not suffer greatly, began to show real signs of distress and mass hunger became evident. By 1847 the Famine had spread to almost every area of the country. Even those areas in Leinster and Ulster that had been spared the worst of the disaster now were ravaged by Famine. The year 1847 is often referred to as the ‘Black 1847’ this was the year when the greatest number of people died, directly and indirectly from the Famine. Urban areas, especially Dublin, saw a massive spike in the death rate, especially in the vast slums. After 1847, some parts of the country began to recover. For example, many parts of Kerry and Cork, which had been the epicentre of the Famine, began to see signs of improvement in 1848. However, some areas of the country still saw mass starvation, such as Limerick, as late as 1850, a year when many historians believed that the famine had ended.

Despite the uneven impact of the blight during the famine the entire country, especially the poor suffered greatly all over the island of Ireland. Potatoes were the main food source in Ireland. It made up a sizeable percentage of the nutritional intake of even relatively affluent people. In 1845, the partial failure of the potato crop caused real hardship for nearly all classes, because it led to a sharp rise in all foodstuffs. As the supply of potatoes declined, then it became more expensive and people could afford to buy less of their staple food. Other foodstuffs also became more expensive as people who could not afford potatoes, tried to purchase other foods, such as barley and wheat to make flour for bread. This meant that there was hardship all over the island of Ireland, among all classes and groups. The years that coincided with the Famine witnesses also a severe economic downturn across nearly all of Ireland. The failure of the potato crop meant that people spent all their money on food and could no longer buy other essential such as clothes. This led to a dramatic contraction in the Irish economy and there was mass unemployment and bankruptcies in the urban areas, even in relatively affluent Belfast and Dublin. The effects of the Great Hunger differed from region to region, however, all of the country suffered because of the Famine[21].

Disease

The Great Hunger, as it became known, killed many hundreds of thousands. However, the greatest killer during the famine was not starvation as such but disease. This is typical of famines, the majority of deaths are not a direct result of starvation, but illness and disease. Only a small percentage of those who died in the Great Famine died because of a lack of nutrition or starvation. They largely died of illness and disease, as hunger weakened their immune systems and created environments where communicable diseases were easily spread. The Famine also caused a level of social breakdown, and the local infrastructure broke down, in particular, the local water supplies became polluted. Dysentery, caused by drinking, infected water, was endemic and killed many in 1847. Typhus was another great killer. Even illnesses that usually were not serious killed people, because of they were so weakened by disease.

The main killers were diseases such as fever, dysenterycholerasmallpox, and pneumonia, with the first two being the most lethal. Reliable estimates state that dysentery killed some 222,000 and ‘fevers’ killed 93,000. The government admitted that figures were incomplete and that the real number of deaths was probably considerably, higher. In 1847 Dr. Dan Donovan of Skibberrean Cork estimated that between one-third and a half of the local population were labouring under fever and dysentery. Donovan contributed medical articles, especially on the effects of starvations and Famine related diseases to publications, such as the Dublin Medical News and The Lancet. His knowledge was based upon the many autopsies he had undertaken during the height of the Famine. In his ‘Observations on the Disease to which the Famine of last year gave Origin’, and on the morbid effects of Deficiency of Food’, he differentiated those deaths by starvation and disease related to ‘want of necessities’. In his obituary, it was noted that ‘observations of the post-mortem changes as a result of acute and chronic starvation, were so accurate and original as to establish him in the medical world as the chief authority regarding the distinction between death from famine and disease’.   Dr. Dan also established the idea that the victims of famine often never fully recovered ‘Impossible to resurrect the energies of the truly famine struck’. These ideas influenced doctors around the world when treating the victims of Famine, especially British doctors in India. The death rate spiked in the winter, this was because many of the starving people, had not the strength or the resources to provide themselves with proper clothing and this meant that many more, died of illnesses, such as pneumonia. Another great killer at this time was food poisoning. Many people who starved ate anything they could and many consumed food, in their hunger that was tainted or inedible. This led to unknown numbers of people dying[22]. In particular, the practice of eating grass and nettles by desperate people, led to many deaths.

The Famine was an ideal breeding ground for diseases and they did not respect a person’s origin and background. As noted above many regions of Ireland, were saved from the worst effects of mass starvation and distress, but did not escape disease. This was especially the case in many urban centres such as Belfast. However, those who suffered during the Famine or who were evicted from the lands often sought relief in the urban centres. Desperate people would wander the roads of Ireland. They were weakened by hunger and often carried diseases, such as smallpox. When they made their way to urban centres such as Belfast, they would bring disease with them. This resulted in many outbreaks of disease, such as dysentery and typhus in towns and cities. Countless died, as a result, and it was not only just the poor that died but also members of the middle class and the elite. There were measures taken to prevent the poor coming into the towns and cities, spreading diseases, but it provided impossible to stop them.

The Export of Food

Historical research has shown that Ireland was a net exporter of food during the Great Famine, from 1845-1850. Even during the height of the Famine Ireland was a net exporter of food and many merchants and landlords earned vast sums from the export of foodstuffs. According to historians of the period, it was only the potato that failed during the Famine and other crops were unaffected. Indeed, the livestock industry went from strength to strength. Cows, pigs, and chickens were being fed so that they could be exported. Ireland’s livestock was being well feed and fattened, while children died on the streets and in the fields. Wheat, beans, barley and other crops were plentiful and there were even good harvests for many of these foodstuffs. It has been estimated that the country was still producing enough food to feed many of those who were starving in great need.

In 1847, the years regarded as the height of the famine, the country had a record year for food exports. There were record exports of bacon, calves, butter, and cereals. Even the areas hardest hit by the famine were exporting food to Britain and elsewhere. This food was not given to the starving population. The food was transported to ships under British military guard. This was to protect the food from being seized by the starving Irish.

During the Famine, Ireland could have fed itself, according to some accounts from the time. Food distribution was not a problem as it had been in other famines. The real problem in Ireland was not a lack of food but that the poorest could not afford to buy enough food[23]. Studies have shown that because of the shortage of potatoes and the increasing exports of Irish food that prices rose steeply from 1845-1849. This led to a situation, that even if the poor tenant farmers and the laborers had any money, that they could only have purchased an inadequate amount of food. The problem for Ireland, and why so many starved to death was the fact that during the Famine that the price of food was too high, for the majority of the population and in a land of plenty, many died.

Public Works and the Work House

The British government did provide some assistance for the poor, who had no food or could not support themselves. However, the relief proved to be of little help and even those it helped were left embittered by the form and nature of the help they received. Government relief efforts were organised by the local Poor Unions. Between 1845 to 1846, they provided some food to the starving populace. Public works were provided as a form of assistance from 1845 to 1847. This involved the poor working on roads and building harbours. Many of these projects were poorly planned and were later acknowledged to be a waste of money, by the British government. Many involved building roads that led to nowhere. The work was hard for undernourished people and they were often ordered great distance to work on projects that were often far away. On one occasion three hundred people, in County Galway, were ordered to work on a road some twenty miles away from their homes, if they failed to do so they risked losing their relief. A starving crowd of men, women and children walked to the new project, however during the walk some three hundred people died.

For those without any form of support and land, they often had no alternative but to go to the Workhouses. These were funded by local taxpayers in order to deal with the problem of the poor. Here the starving was obliged to work in return for food and clothing. The work was often gruelling and hard. Families were separated in the Workhouses and males and females were segregated. There were many instances of abuse in these institutions and they were often overseen by brutal officials. Furthermore, the Workhouses were very overcrowded and they were ideal breeding grounds for diseases such as typhus[24]. Furthermore, the food was rarely adequate and many went hungry in these institutions. Such was the reputation of the Workhouses that many of the Irish poor, despite, their hunger refused to enter these institutions and preferred to die in their simple cabins.

 

Responses to the Famine

Cultural Response

Ireland was a deeply religious society. People tended to explain events and phenomenon in religious terms. Many regarded, both Catholic and Protestants, regarded the Famine as punishment for the people’s sins. Many of those who starved believed that they were being punished for their past sins. Natural catastrophes were often seen as part of God’s plan, a warning to people to mend their ways and lived according to the teaching of his Church. Some regarded the Famine as the divine punishment of a sinful people and had little or no sympathy for those who starved. Lord Trevelyan, a member of the Irish administration, publically stated that God was punishing the Irish with the Famine, Many of the Anglo-Irish elite, such as the landlords believed that the crisis was a result of the Irish Catholics, feckless lifestyle and their laziness. They pointed out that the Irish had too many children and refused to improve their lot in life. This was typical of the time when poverty was seen as self-inflicted as issues such as economic trends were only poorly understood. However, the overwhelming response of Irish society and indeed British society was one of sympathy. Many, no matter their religion or background regarded the event as a human tragedy and if they could they tried to help the victims of the Famine.

Charity and Medical Response

The Famine drew an unprecedented response in Ireland and internationally, especially when it became apparent that it was not a typical food shortage but a major famine. Relief Committees were established in nearly every locality. These committees were usually formed by the local elite and the gentry. These committees raised money for local people who were suffering and experiencing privation. They also provided people with work and clothes. These committees were usually composed of the local Protestant and Catholic gentry. Professional people, especially doctors, played a prominent role in the provision of charity. A relief committee was established in Skibberrean and the surrounding districts and it is recognized as saving many lives in the local community. All the Churches in Ireland were very active in the relief efforts. They all provided various forms of charity and material assistance. The Church of Ireland provided many soup kitchens, but there were accusations that some of these only gave assistance to those who agreed to convert to Protestantism. One group that was particularly active was the Quaker Community. Ireland’s small Quaker community provided a large amount of relief and many praised their efforts and they saved countless of lives[25].

Large sums of money were donated by members of the Irish community abroad, especially from America. The Irish Diaspora provided a great deal of assistance and even purchase shiploads of food. Money was donated from across the British Empire, and beyond. The Pope and Queen Victoria donated £2,000, each. The Sultan in the Ottoman Empire provided a significant sum of money. Many non-religious Charities were also very active. The British Relief Association was one such group, it was established by Lionel de Rothschild and other wealthy business people and nobles. It raised money throughout England, America, Europe and Australia; the Association’s funding drive benefited from a letter from Queen Victoria appealing for money to relieve the distress in Ireland[26]. In total, the Relief Association raised tens of millions in today’s money and helped to alleviate the distress of thousands. Many other relief organisations helped provide relief to victims of the Famine. Many thousands of dollars were donated from America. The Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma provided significant donations to Irish Famine relief, having bitter experience of starvation. Today, all those who provided assistance to Ireland during its darkest hour, are still fondly remembered by the Irish.

The British government had introduced a series of local dispensaries throughout Ireland. Nearly every locality had a doctor and some medical staff who provided some medical treatment at these dispensaries. Many of the doctors at these disparages were gifted and provided free treatment to the poor and the starving. The Churches in Ireland were also very active in helping those who suffered from the consequences of the Famine. The Catholic and Protestant Churches ran hospitals and these provided health care to many of the victims of the Famine. These hospitals provide free care to many and saved many lives. Many Irish doctors and nurses gave unstinting service to the poor during the Famine and many gave their lives as they died from infectious disease as they tend the sick. However, despite this, the Irish health system was overwhelmed. There were simply too many sick and starving people to help and medical science at the time was too basic to make a serious difference. As a result, many hundreds of thousands of people died of diseases that would be easily treatable today.

Emigration

Ireland was an overpopulated and desperately impoverished island. Mass emigration was already underway before the Famine. Many thousands of Scots-Irish left Ulster for American in the eighteenth century[27]. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, more and more Irish Catholics began to move abroad in order to search for a better life in the 1830’s. It is believed that from 1800 to 1850 some 1 million to 1 and a half million people left the country. The impact of the Famine was to greatly increase the number of those who were emigrating from the country. Famine resulted in many more people seeking to leave Ireland. One authority estimates that some quarter of a million men, women and children left the shores of Ireland. Some counties lost half of their population in the generation after the Great Hunger.

As part of the response to the Famine, many local relief committees believed that the only way to save people was by sending large numbers of people out of the country, through assisted emigration schemes. Relief committees around the country collected funds to charter ships to take large numbers of people out of the country. Many landlords would help to pay the passage of their evicted tenants to new lands. These schemes even though they meant many people leaving their ancestral homes, undoubtedly saved many lives[28].

Usually, emigration is confined to the young and it is especially common among males. However, during the Famine, young and old left Ireland and as many women as men. Entire extended families often emigrated. At this period emigration usually meant leaving Ireland forever. Most of those who left their native land were never to return. Many simply left their small farms and cabins and selling everything they had they purchased tickets for ships leaving Irish ports. Many emigrants relied on family members already abroad to pay for their fares. Those who left Ireland usually joined family members already abroad or joined pre-existing Irish communities, especially in Britain. The destination of the emigrants was largely confined to the Britain, United States, Canada, and Australia. These countries’ economies were growing at this time and they needed labour and people to settle their vast territories. In general, the Irish were welcomed. However, over time tensions arose. The Irish were not welcome in many British cities as they were seen as driving down wages and bringing diseases such as Typhus with them. Many thousands of Irish found their way to Canada. There was massive emigration into cities such as Toronto. Soon many cities and towns in western Canada had significant Irish populations. This led to restrictions being imposed on Irish emigrants and led many even more to seek a new life in the United States. However, the large Irish Catholic influx was not welcomed by all in America and there were some tensions between the new immigrants and the resident population.

The only way that the emigrants could leave Ireland was by ships. The ships that left Irish poor at this time were not regulated. Such was the desperation of people to leave the country, especially in 1847, that they were willing to take passage on any ship in the hope of fleeing hunger and disease. Many of the ships that were taken by the emigrants were not seaworthy and dangerous. Many of those that left Irish ports sank in storms, thousands died in shipwrecks during the Famine. The ships soon had a terrible reputation and were popularly known as Coffin Ships. The ships were named Coffin Ships because of the high number of deaths on board these vessels, that were often operated by unscrupulous Irish and British merchants and ship owners. The majority of people fleeing the Famine left Ireland on these ships. For example, it is estimated that some 100,000 Irish sailed in these Coffin Ships to Canada in 1847[29]. The conditions on the ships were so bad that up to one in five or even more died on the Coffin Ships. Many of those who died on board the ships were simply tossed overboard. The ships were ideal breeding grounds for disease and there was also a lack of food on these ships. Many more, who made it to their new homes soon died after disembarking. In Canada, in one notorious incidence some 5,000 people who were being held in Quarantine died after the passage across the Atlantic, after sailing across the Atlantic in a Coffin Ship[30].

Responses of Landlords

Irish society, as we have seen was dominated politically and economically by large landowners, many of whom were Peers or members of the landed nobility. A large number of landlords were absentee landlords. They left the management of their vast estates, to agents, many of whom were Catholics. They collected rents from tenants. Many landlords were indifferent to the fate of their tenants during the Famine and did not help them in any way. They demanded their usual level of rents, which were often high and if they failed to pay their rent, they were evicted. Many of them saw the Famine as an opportunity. Some landlords saw the Famine as an opportunity to clear their land of tenants and to use their land for commercial farming. In the post famine period, landlords came under extreme pressure to carry the financial burden of relief. The 1849 Encumbered Estate Acts allowed them to have more financial freedom.   Landlords exerted their powers through the eviction of their tenants and by 1850 there were approximately 100,000 people evicted in Ireland.   Some Landlords cleared their lands of tenants and turned their estates into ranches where they breed cattle, which they then sold to Britain, for a high price. Not all landlords were willing to exploit their tenants. There were many cases where the landlords helped their tenants and provided them with food or reduced their rents. There were even cases, where landlords went bankrupt in their efforts to help their distressed tenants. However, the reaction of the majority of Irish landlords was uncaring and unhelpful. Many in the British government were unhappy with the response of the landlords. If they had acted in a more positive way, then they could have done much to ease people’s sufferings. This is evident if we compare the situation in Ireland and Scotland. The Scottish Highlands was very similar to Ireland and in the late 1840’s, the local potato crop failed[31]. However, the Scottish landlords, unlike the Irish landlords, helped their tenants and there was no great loss of life in the Highlands.

Government Response

The British Government in London was responsible for the organising of assistance to the starving Irish. The Government was initially informed of the problems in the potato crop in 1844. Their first response was to strengthen the existing laws with regard to public order. The authorities in London believed that the famine could lead to civil unrest or outright rebellion in Ireland. Many Irish historians believed that the British government under the able Sir Robert Peel initially did all that was reasonable under the existing conditions. Peel had served in the Irish administration in the 1830s and was very familiar with conditions in the country. His administration purchased large quantities of maize from North America to feed the Irish poor. Initially, Irish mills could not ground the maize into kernels and they were useless and the maize was too hard to eat and it was popularly known as ‘Peel’s brimstones’. However, after an initial period of time, the supply of maize helped to feed many people. They were given the maize or ‘yellow meal’ at relief centres. Peel also instituted a series of public work schemes around the country. At these people were given food in return for working on public works projects. Many of these public works were poorly managed, as we have seen, but did not provide much relief, but in many instances, they helped local communities and provide much need food and often some money. After Peel’s failure to repeal the Corn Laws, he resigned and a new Liberal government under Lord John Russell was formed. This government was far less willing to become involved in Irish affairs on ideological ground. The new Russell administration was influenced by laissez-faire economic theories and believed that the market could provide a solution to the crisis[32]. Russel was particularly concerned with the idea that the Irish could become dependent on relief and stop working. This led his government to cut back on the amount of food relief that they obtained for Ireland and also led them to cut back on the number of public works in Ireland. This meant that many people were left without food, work or money at a particularly difficult time. Just as the Russel government was seeking to reduce relief programmes in Ireland, the situation worsened. In 1847, the potato blight was particularly bad and much of the crop was lost. However, as the death rate rose, the British government was forced to become more active. The Russell government introduced outdoor relief in the form of soup kitchens and the provision of free food. They also expanded the number of people who were able to receive help in Workhouses. However, any person who had as little as a quarter of an acre of land were not entitled to any help. Russell’s policies were largely seen as having failed when it came to helping the starving Irish. This caused much bitterness at the time and since.

Nationalist Response

Since the first reports of the crisis in the Irish food supply, the British government lived in fear of a popular revolt or a nationalist uprising. Ireland, as we have seen, was a very unstable society in the period before the famine, many secret societies fought a violent campaign against landlords and those they believed that were oppressing the people, such as land agents. The British government gave the police and military in Ireland, sweeping powers to deal with any unrest. Irish secret societies continued to be active during the Famine and carried out arson attacks on landlords’ property and the maiming of their cattle. However, the violence was nothing like the level expected. This has perplexed historians and even the authorities at the time, who expected widespread violence from the starving populace. However, it seems that the people were too weak and bewildered and the majority of people accepted their fate.

However, there was a minority of people, who believed that the Famine was an unprecedented opportunity for Ireland. A group of Catholic intellectuals and journalists formed a revolutionary organisation, Young Ireland. It was a nationalist organisation and it sought full independence for Ireland from Britain. The organisation was modelled on similar nationalist organisations in other countries such as Italy. In 1848, there was a wave of revolutions across Europe and many governments fell. The Young Irelanders inspired by the turn of events decided to launch a rebellion in Ireland with the goal of the complete independence. The leaders of the rebellion believed that the revolution could be bloodless and would be very popular among the masses. The leaders of the rebellion began to travel throughout Leinster and Munster, raising the Flag of Rebellion. They sought to incite the Irish poor and tenant farmers to attack the local police and to disobey the government. The police acted quickly and arrested many thousands. Soon the rebellion began to fail. The Irish people had suffered too much and whatever their sympathies, they simply did not have the energy to resist the government and to support the rebels. After a violent confrontation in County Tipperary, the rebels dispersed. The leaders of the rebellion were imprisoned and the Young Ireland’s leadership were transported to Australia and Bermuda. After the Famine, the Young Irelanders, despite their failure, influenced nationalist opinion greatly in Ireland.

 

Consequences of the Famine

Demographic Consequences

The population of Ireland was in the range of 8 to 8 and a half million. By 1850 it was estimated that the population of Ireland was 6 million or even less. However, the exact number of deaths may never be known as the majority of those who died were Catholics and their births and deaths went unrecorded by local authorities. The estimates for the death toll vary but the lowest figures are three-quarters of a million to one and a half million. Generally speaking, the accepted estimate for the number of deaths from the Famine is in the range of 900,000 to one million[33]. The Famine also caused the birth rate to collapse as starving women, became too weak to have children. This together with emigration meant that Ireland witnessed an unprecedented demographic collapse. This continued in the decades after the Famine. According to government figures from 1890, the population of Limerick had decreased remarkably; in 1840 it was 330, 000; in 1851, 262,00, and by 1891 there were just 159,000 people in the city and county.

Socio-Economic Impact

Perhaps the greatest economic impact of the famine was a change in the nature of landholding and agriculture. Prior to the catastrophe, the vast majority of Irish families lived and worked on farms that were less than two acres. They survived on what they could grow, mostly potatoes. However, after the famine, this was no longer possible, and one of the main impacts of the Famine was that farms became larger, in order to ensure that they provided families with a sustainable level of income. Many landowners, who mostly lived in London or Dublin, sought to exploit the situation in the aftermath of the Famine. Many of their poor tenants had left the land and their farms. The landowners sought to encourage livestock rearing on their estates, which was more profitable. Increasingly, Ireland moved from arable farming to livestock rearing. Many of the landlords who had once rented land to tenant farmers, now became ranches with large numbers of cattle. However, this led to a great deal of unemployment in the country.[34]. Many landlords became bankrupt during the Famine and the number of landlords actually declined, However, those that did remain owned even larger estates. With the decline of landlord ownership came the decline of domestic servants, evidenced by the censuses of 1881 and 1901. In 1881, the total number of servants recorded was over 250,000, or 10 per cent of the working population. In 1901, this decreased to 135,000 servants, representing 7.5 percent of the working population. This resulted in even greater unemployment in rural Ireland. The net effect of the Famine was that a small minority of farmers and landlords increased their landholdings, while the majority of the population remained mired in poverty with little or no economic opportunities. Poverty remained endemic in Irish life. It remained one of the poorest countries in Europe and was fortunate to avoid another major famine in 1881, in what became known as the ‘Little Famine’

Prior to the Famine, many small farms had been sub-divided after the death of the leaseholder. However, after the Great Hunger, this was no longer the case. Increasingly, the eldest son, inherited the land and his younger siblings either worked the farm or emigrated. The average size of a farm increased and many ordinary farmers also moved from arable farming to livestock rearing. As a result, the rural economy became increasingly, reliant on livestock and dairy farming and this has remained the case until today. This, in turn, led to a dramatic change in the social structure of the country. The numbers of agricultural laborers declined by 20 percent between 1841 and 1851, while the population of farmers increased from forty to sixty percent from 1841 to 1881.[35] The laborers, cottiers, and small farmers were in decline during the post-famine years, often working as casual wage workers for farmers, and a new middle-class farmer was emerging, who were to dominate Irish society and politics until the late twentieth century.[36] [37] [38]

The Famine led to great social changes. Prior to the famine Irish people married young and had large families. This changed because of the end of the practice of subdividing farms. After the horrors of the famine, Irish people married later, and if they did not have a reasonable sized farm or a chance of steady employment, they never married. It was increasingly common for many family members to stay on family farms and never marry. On these farms, they were unpaid laborers. As a result of these changes Ireland had a high rate of single, unmarried people and this led to social problems. In 1871, 40 per cent of women aged 15 to 45 were married; by 1911, this had fallen to 39 per cent.[39] Alcoholism was a major problem in Ireland and the country was to experience one of the highest level of alcoholism in the world. Another major problem in Ireland was mental illness. As a result of poverty, continuing tensions over land and alcoholism meant that the country had very high levels of mental illness. Many were committed to local asylums or to Workhouses.

Religion

The majority of the population in Ireland were Catholics (75%) with a large Protestant minority (25%). Ireland was traditionally a very religious society. After the Famine, Irish society became even more religious. Some scholars have suggested that the trauma of the Famine resulted in the people turning to religion for support and hope. In the decades after the Famine, Irish Catholics became renowned for their strict observance of their religion. Prior to the Famine, the Church had been influential but after the famine, it became all pervasive. In the decades before the ‘Great Hunger,’ many cottiers and laborers had mixed Catholicism with ideas from folk religion. The growing power of the Catholic Church meant that people were increasingly orthodox and many aspects of the traditional Irish culture went into decline, such as the belief in the Banshee[40] Every year thousands of Irish people became priests, nuns and joined religious orders. The Catholic clergy became very powerful in Irish life and society. In the years after the Famine, the Catholic population strict interpretation of their religion and the growing influence of the Catholic hierarchy worried many in Irish Protestants. This was ultimately to lead to increasing tensions between Catholics and Protestants and this was to lead to conflict between the two communities throughout the twentieth century in Ireland.

Emigration

For many decades after the Famine, there was large scale emigration from Ireland. It led to a decline in the Irish population, in 1840 there were 8 and a half million people in Ireland in 1960 there were only 4.5 million, despite the country having a high birth rate. Many Irish people had left the country for America and elsewhere prior to the Famine. However, because of the Famine, millions were to leave the country.[41] Between 1856 and 1921, over four million Irish adults and children emigrated abroad.[42] It has been estimated that from 1848 to 1870, 45,000 availed of assisted migration to New South Wales, with over 3,000 of them from Limerick.[43] Assisted migration scheme were usually well planned and organized by the State, philanthropists and estate owners.[44] Female migration was on the increase and may have affected marriage rates, which had decreased significantly in the post-famine years. This mass movement was to have dramatic consequences for the populations of many countries. Soon there were substantial Irish communities all over the world. These Irish emigrants helped to develop the economics of their new homes. However, as many of the Irish were Catholics this led to sectarian tensions with existing Protestant communities in countries such as America and Canada. Emigration remained a fact of life for many decades after the Famine. It became a tradition for younger family members to emigrate elsewhere to make a life for themselves. The vast majority of them were never to return. Emigration continued even after Irish independence. This led to a continued fall in the population of Ireland. In 1960, there were only 4.5 million people in Ireland (The Republic and Northern Ireland), even with a high birth rate, even though in 1840 the Irish population was over 8 million. It was only in the 1960’s that the population of the island stabilized and recovered after over a century of decline in the aftermath of Great Hunger.

Political Consequences of the Famine

On the face of it- the Famine led to no real dramatic changes in the political landscape. By 1860 the landlords still controlled the land and much of the wealth of the country and the British administration in Dublin Castle was entrenched as ever. However, there was a real change in Irish public opinion. Prior to the Famine, the Irish Catholic majority had been happy to merely seek freedom for their religion and to improve their political and social status. However, the Famine caused much bitterness among the survivors and in the Irish communities abroad. This fostered the crowd of nationalism. In 1848 the Young Irelanders had failed to mobilize the Irish population to end British rule. However, in the decades after the Great Hunger, a significant proportion of the population became increasingly nationalistic and began to embrace even extremist ideas. For many Irish people, the Famine had poisoned relations with Britain forever and they wanted complete independence. By the 1860’s, there was another attempted nationalist revolution, this time by the Finnian movement who were inspired by the Young Irelanders. This revolt was also largely unsuccessful. However, soon after its failure the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood was born and this, in turn, led to the formation of the Irish Republican Army. The impact of the Famine was that it left a residue of bitterness against Britain and this led to extreme nationalism to become entrenched in Irish political life. To this day, there are still violent nationalist groups active in Ireland.

Decline of the Irish Language and Culture

As noted above the impact of the Famine varied from region to region. The famine hit the west and the south of the island hardest. These areas were largely Gaelic or Irish speaking. In the west, in particular, the majority of people, spoke Irish, as their forefathers had done. They also had a distinctive Irish culture that was markedly different from other areas of the country. However, Irish had been in decline since the eighteenth century and increasingly many people were adopting English as their first language and also modern customs. However, the Famine was to have a devastating impact on the Irish language and culture. The strongholds of Gaelic culture and language were disproportionately impacted upon by the Great Hunger and the subsequent high levels of emigration. Many Gaelic speakers died as a result of the Famine or emigrated abroad. The Great Hunger resulted in the decline of the Irish language and native culture. The numbers of Irish speakers were much reduced and as a result by 1900, there were only a few Gaelic enclaves in the west and south and on remote islands. The Irish government has tried to revive the language but it is on the brink of extinction and the Gaelic language has arguably been another victim of the Famine.

Was it a genocide?

The Famine and the British government’s handling of the crisis left much bitterness in Ireland and radicalized many. Some have argued that the British government, allied with the Anglo-Irish landowners sought to deliberate starve the Irish Catholic population, in order to make sure that they did not challenge British rule and to allow the landlords to clear the land of tenants so that they could pursue the more lucrative pastoral farming. Many have argued that this amounted to genocide, that is a deliberate policy of exterminating a nation or group, in this case, the Irish Catholics. In 1996 an American historical study argued that the Irish Famine, had indeed amounted to a genocide. The British government deliberately failed to respond in an adept way to the Famine and to provide proper relief as part of a policy of extermination. In this regard, the Irish famine (1945-1850) can be seen as akin to the Soviet-made Famine in the Ukraine in the 1930’s. There are precedents for his in Irish history, in the use of Famine, to secure political objectives. During the Tudor conquest of Ireland in the late sixteenth century, famine had been used to conquer the island and it had resulted in the loss of half the population. However, the majority of Irish historians are against this view and even many extreme nationalists (no lovers of the British) do not claim that the Famine was a deliberate attempt to exterminate the Irish. disagreed that the famine was genocide. Many historians argue that there was no deliberate intention to take advantage of the Famine, in order to destroy the native Irish. The British government response was not adequately certainly and that there were many in London who were not sympathetic to the Irish. However, in general, the British did a lot to help the Irish and their relief programmes did help to save many lives. There is a widespread agreement that the British relief effort was not satisfactory and that more could have been done. However, given the times and the level of technology available to the British, their relief efforts would have been limited anyway. In general, there is a widespread agreement that the British failed to manage the Famine properly and that they neglected the Irish in their hour of need, but this does not amount to a deliberate and intentional genocide.

 

Conclusion

The Famine was a tragedy for Ireland and it changed the island forever. It led to mass starvation and an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and it resulted in the deaths of approximately one million people. It decisively shaped Irish society for many decades and even to the present day, it effects are still felt. The country in the aftermath of the Great Famine became increasingly dominated by large farmers and its economy became one that was based on the rearing and breeding of cattle. The Famine resulted in increased tensions between Catholic and Protestant. The Famine and its after effects had a profound impact on the Irish psyche and resulted in the population becoming increasingly religious. The Catholic Church already powerful in the country became the dominant social and cultural institution on the island of Ireland and it remained so until the late twentieth century. So much so, that in for many decades, after Irish Independence, the Republic of Ireland was widely viewed as a Catholic Theocracy. The disaster also dealt a death blow to the Gaelic language and culture. While the Famine impacted on some areas more than others, it caused great suffering among all the people on the island of Ireland. The Famine’s most durable legacy was the continuing high levels of emigration from the country, which lasted until at least the 1960s’. This was a tragedy for Ireland and as a result of emigration, the Irish population has still not recovered to its pre-Famine level. The catastrophe also damaged Anglo-Irish relations, arguably until the present day. This led to the development of many extremist nationalist groups in Ireland, as a result of this, political violence became endemic in Irish society throughout much of the twentieth century. However, the Famine led to mass emigration from the country and this was to have significant consequences for many nations, especially in North America. Irish emigrants helped countries such as Canada and America to fulfil their potential and become great countries. The Irish Famine because of this was truly an event of global significance.

[1] The English conquest was driven by the fear that Ireland would be used as a base to attack England by Catholic Spain and to secure new lands for its population.

[2] Irish MPs sat in the Westminster Parliament and they had little or no effect on policy. Real power lay with the British administration in Dublin Castle. [2] Ó Gráda, Cormac (1993), Ireland before and after the Famine: Explorations in Economic History 1800–1925, Manchester University Press

[3] It is estimated that one in ten people died in the this famine, that was caused by unusually cold weather. Ibid.

[4] Ibid

[5] Foster, R.F (1988), Modern Ireland 1600–1972, Penguin Group

[6] ibid

[7] There were many different agrarian secret societies in Ireland, they were all seeking to improve the conditions of the Irish tenants, see Duffy, Peter (2007), The Killing of Major Denis Mahon, HarperCollins,

[8] Boyce G., ‘Nineteenth Century Ireland,’ (Gill and Macmillan 2005).

[9] The Skibbereen Famine Commemoration Committee. Sources for the history of the Great Famine in Skibbereen and surrounding area, vol II, p. 4.

[10] Mokyr, Joel (1983), Why Ireland starved, A quantitative and analytical history of the Irish economy 1800–1850. Manchester University Press: Manchester.

[11] The Times, November 28th 1845.

[12] The Times, November 28th 1845.

[13] The potato blight originated in Latin America, however, local potatoes were largely immune to the fungus. However, the variety of potatoes used in Ireland had no resistance and so they were devastated.

[14] There were increasingly reports of people taking from poorer neighbors, which prior to the Famine was unthinkable. This was perhaps an indication of social breakdown caused by Famine Conditions. The Limerick Reporter, Tuesday November 30, 1847.

[15] Royal Commission into the Condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland [35], H.C. 1836 xxx, 35.

[16] It was hard to get volunteers or even pay people to bury the dead because there was a fear of infection Royal Commission into the Condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland

[35], H.C. 1846 xxx, 35.

[17] The death rates in many southern towns and cities such as Cork was as high as some rural regions. Killen, Richard (2003), A Short History of Modern Ireland, Gill and Macmillan Ltd

[18] Mokyr, Joel (1983), Why Ireland starved, A quantitative and analytical history of the Irish economy 1800–1850

[19] Kennedy, Liam; Ell, Paul S; Crawford, E. M; Clarkson, L. A (1999), Mapping The Great Irish Famine, Four Courts Press

[20] Cork Examiner, December 10 1845. The Skibberreen Famine Commemoration Committee. Sources for the history of the Great Famine in Skibbereen and surrounding area, vol II, p. 4.

[21] The relief committee of Skibberrean to Sir R Routh, Sept 14 1846, p. 36.

[22] This is quite common in Famines and food shortages and is a significant killer Ó Gráda, Cormac (2006), Ireland’s Great Famine: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Dublin Press

[23] Donnelly, James S., Jr. (1995), Poirteir, Cathal, ed., Mass Eviction and the Irish Famine: The Clearances Revisited”, from The Great Irish Famine, Dublin, Ireland: Mercier Press

[24] The death rates in the Workhouse was very high. It was not uncommon for one in every ten inmates to die in 1847 Royal Commission into the Condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland

[25] Foster, p. 234

[26] [26] Cork Examiner, January 8th 1847.

[27] Fitzgerald and Lambkin, ‘Migration in Irish History 1607-2007’, (Palgrave Macmillan 2008)

[28] Maxwell I., ‘Everyday Life in 19th-Century Ireland,’ (The History Press Ireland 2012).

[29] Laxton, Edward (1997), The Famine Ships: The Irish Exodus to America 1846–51, Bloomsbury,

[30] The exact numbers who died in these coffin ships may never be known, but it is believed to be many thousands. Fahey, D., “A Fact Book of Irish History from the Earliest Times to 1969“, (Thorn island publishing.com 2012).

[31] Woodham-Smith, Cecil (1991) [1962], The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845–1849, Penguin

[32] O Grada, p. 111

[33] Vaughan, W.E; Fitzpatrick, A.J (1978), W. E. Vaughan; A. J. Fitzpatrick, eds., Irish Historical Statistics, Population, 1821/1971, Royal Irish Academy

[34] The conditions in rural Ireland improved somewhat, as seen in the reduction of the number of one room cabins but it remained very poor see Royal Commission into the Condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland [35], H.C. 1836 xxx, 35.

[35] Virginia Crossman, ‘Politics, pauperism and power in late nineteenth-century Ireland’, (Manchester University Press, 2006) p 146.

[36] Feely (2004), p 39.

[37] Alice Mauger, ‘Confinement of the Higher Orders’: The Social Role of Private Lunatic Asylums in Ireland, c. 1820-1860’, Journal for the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences67, no. 2 (2012): pp. 281-317

[38] Éamon Ó Cuív, An Gorta MórThe impact and legacy of the Great Irish Famine, Lecture delivered at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto, Canada, (2009).

[39] Maria Luddy, ‘Women in Ireland 1800-1918’, (Cork University Press 1995) p 5.

[40] The Banshee was a spirit who foretold the death of people. See Foster, p. 234.

[41]1885, Committal form L.D.A.

[42] Fitzgerald and Lambkin, ‘Migration in Irish History 1607-2007’, (Palgrave Macmillan 2008) p 172.

[43] Chris O’Mahoney, ‘Balancing the Sexes’, The Old Limerick Journal, Vol. 23, Spring, Australian Edition, 1988.

[44] Duffy P., (2006) pp. 22-37.

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