The Irish Potato Famine - Ireland's great 19th century disaster
The Irish Potato Famine is one of the great sad events of the 19th century. It lasted from 1845-48 though its effects were felt for much longer. During that time of the potato famine Ireland lost more than a quarter of its population. Out of about 8 million inhabitants one million died and another emigrated. Here we will tell you the story briefly and pay tribute to those who died.
Before the Famine
Before the Famine Ireland had a population of about 8 million. This was the population of the whole island since back then there was no Northern Ireland and southern Ireland. The majority of the arable land belonged to English or Anglo-Irish landlords, many of whom lived in England. They in turn parceled out their land to Irish tenants. Most Irish tenants held small plots of land for which they paid rent. Some landless laborers would seek work among the tenants. In return they would get a small garden to plant potatoes for their own needs and a small place to live. These living spaces were often nothing more than a one room mud hovels where the family lived together with whatever livestock it may have had.
Potatoes for Every Meal
The potato was the main food of the poor. The potato was introduced for cultivation in Europe from America in the 16th century. It made its way into Ireland and became the principal food of the poor. Other crops were also grown but were usually too expensive for the landless laborers of the small farmers. Expensive crops were usually exported.
Before the coming of the Famine Ireland was among the poorest countries in Europe. Yet the people enjoyed fairly good health. The potato is a very nutritious vegetable that provides many of the essential nutrients and in some way the small Irish farmer, though very poor, often had a better health and nutrition that many of his counterparts in other countries in Europe.
Regional Crop Failures
Ireland had experienced potato crop failures on a number of occasions before 1845. But they were regional and limited to one season. A good harvest in one county meant that even if there was a crop failure in another there were still enough potatoes to go around and famines were avoided. All this changed beginning in 1845.
Click here to read what happened.
Return from Irish Potato Famine to the main History page
Return from Irish Potato Famine to Northern Ireland Travel Homepage