The Blight Begins The Famine began quite mysteriously in September as leaves on potato plants suddenly turned black and curled, then rotted, seemingly the result of a fog that had wafted across the fields of Ireland.
How crop overdependence and poverty created the perfect conditions for disaster. Many farmers had long existed at virtually the subsistence level, given the small size of their allotments and the various hardships that the land presented for farming in some regions. The potato, which had become a staple crop in Ireland by the 18th century, was appealing in that it was a hardy, nutritious, and calorie-dense crop and relatively easy to grow in the Irish soil.
By the early s almost half the Irish population—but primarily the rural poor—had come to depend almost exclusively on the potato for their diet. The rest of the population also consumed it in large quantities.
A heavy reliance on just one or two high-yielding types of potato greatly reduced the genetic variety that ordinarily prevents the decimation of an entire crop by disease, and thus the Irish became vulnerable to famine.
In a strain of Phytophthora arrived accidentally from North Americaand that same year Ireland had unusually cool moist weather, in which the blight thrived.
Although Conservative Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel continued to allow the export of grain from Ireland to Great Britainhe did what he could to provide relief in and early He authorized the import of corn maize from the United Stateswhich helped avert some starvation.
Much of the financial burden of providing for the starving Irish peasantry was thrown upon the Irish landowners themselves through local poor relief and British absentee landowners. Because the peasantry was unable to pay its rents, however, the landlords soon ran out of funds with which to support them, and the result was that hundreds of thousands of Irish tenant farmers and labourers were evicted during the years of the crisis.
British assistance was limited to loans, helping to fund soup kitchens, and providing employment on road building and other public works.
The Irish disliked the imported cornmeal, and reliance on it led to nutritional deficiencies. Despite those shortcomings, by August as many as three million people were receiving rations at soup kitchens. The impoverished Irish peasantry, lacking the money to purchase the foods their farms produced, continued throughout the famine to export grain, meat, and other high-quality foods to Britain.
Similarly damaging was the attitude among many British intellectuals that the crisis was a predictable and not-unwelcome corrective to high birth rates in the preceding decades and perceived flaws, in their opinion, in the Irish national character.
The famine proved to be a watershed in the demographic history of Ireland. The number of agricultural labourers and smallholders in the western and southwestern counties underwent an especially drastic decline.
A further aftereffect of the famine was thus the clearing of many smallholders from the land and the concentration of landownership in fewer hands. Thereafter, more land than before was used for grazing sheep and cattle, providing animal foods for export to Britain.
The number of Irish who emigrated during the famine may have reached two million. By the time Ireland achieved independence inits population was barely half of what it had been in the early s.Beginning in and lasting for six years, the potato famine killed over a million men, women and children in Ireland and caused another million to flee the country.
Ireland in the mids was an agricultural nation, populated by eight million persons who were among the poorest people in the Western World. Between the years of and famines struck Ireland along with disease that would leave nearly a million Irish people dead. In late a fungal disease was found in potatoes and because potatoes was the main source of food in Ireland the fungal would prove to a major problem for the natives.
Ireland’s Great Famine of is seen by some historians as a turning point in Ireland’s history. Famine had been common in Nineteenth Century Ireland and almost an occupational hazard of rural life in Ireland. But the Great Famine of eclipsed all others.
Ireland’s Great Famine of is seen by some historians as a turning point in Ireland’s history. Famine had been common in Nineteenth Century Ireland and almost an occupational hazard of rural life in Ireland. But the Great Famine of . May 21, · Within a year, potato crops across France, Belgium and Holland had been affected and by late between one-third and one-half of Ireland.
Aug 21, · Watch video · The Irish Potato Famine, also known as the Great Hunger, began in when a fungus-like organism called Phytophthora infestans (or P. infestans) spread rapidly throughout Ireland.