The Great Irish Potato Famine was a time in history that had huge consequences. Here are ten horrifying facts about the Irish Famine everyone should understand.
There are many facts about Ireland’s Great Hunger you need to know.
Between the years of 1845 and 1849, Ireland, then part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, went through an ordeal of hunger, disease, and emigration that shaped the Ireland we have today.
This was an era that nobody has forgotten, and something that is consistently talked about in Irish culture, in museums, or in schools.
Ireland relied almost exclusively on the potato crop to provide nourishment for the population because it was affordable and relatively easy to grow in Irish soil.
But little did they know that this act of vulnerability would have devastating consequences when a potato blight would hit.
There are many elements of the Great Hunger not everyone may be familiar with, so here are ten horrifying facts about the Irish Famine everyone should understand.
10. Drastic figures – worst of its kind
The Irish potato famine was the worst of its kind to happen in Europe during the 19th century, and had devastating effects, with the population dropping by 20-25%.
9. Punishment by God? – Some in the British Government believed the famine God’s plan to punish the Irish
Some members of the British government saw the Great Irish Famine as an act of God, meant to punish the Irish people and destroy Irish agriculture.
For example, Charles Trevelyan, the man responsible for organising famine relief in Ireland, believed that the famine was God’s way of punishing the Irish population. He said: “The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.”
As a result, many Irish people believe that the Irish people were left to perish by the British and that it should be considered genocide rather than famine.
8. The Famine spiralled an even bigger drive for independence – the rebellions stood even stronger
Because of the way the British government handled The Great Famine, by providing ineffective measures and continuing to export other Irish food during a time of starvation, lead to people who were already against British Rule, becoming even more resentful.
7. A series of unfortunate events caused the blight – an unlucky year
In 1845, a strain of the potato blight, also known as phytophthora, arrived from North America accidentally.
Due to the rare weather that same year, the blight spread, and in the years following, continued to spread.
6. Death and refugees – the numbers were staggering
Between 1846 and 1849, one million people died, a further million became refugees because of the potato blight, and subsequently were forced to emigrate to places like Canada, America, Australia, and Britain.
5. There were many evictions during the Famine – homeless and hungry
Hundreds of thousands of farmers and labourers were evicted during these challenging times because the financial burden was put on them to help provide food for the starving people.
Eventually, they couldn’t pay their rents.
4. The Irish population – a drastic decline
By the time Ireland finally became the Irish Free State in 1921, half of its population was already abroad or had died of disease or starvation, leading to a century-long population decline.
3. Matters could have been handled differently – closing the ports
Between 1782 and 1783, Ireland was experiencing food shortages, so in turn, they closed all ports to keep all Irish produce to feed their own.
During the Great Irish Famine in 1845, this never happened. Still, food exportation was encouraged, so the British could make more money.
2. The Doolough Tragedy, Co. Mayo – a tragedy within a tragedy
The Doolough tragedy was an event that took place during the Great Irish Famine, in Co. Mayo.
Two officials arrived to inspect the locals who were getting a payment known as outdoor relief, during these challenging times. They were told to meet at a certain place at a certain time to keep their payment.
When the place was changed to another location 19 km away, people perished as they walked the journey in harsh weather conditions.
There’s a cross and a monument in the area to commemorate this tragedy.
1. The Poor Law – a ploy to seize Irish land
If times weren’t already tough, a law was passed saying in essence that Irish property must support Irish poverty.
Anyone who owned even a quarter of an acre of land was not entitled to any relief, which in turn drove people off their land.
Tenant farmers began renting from British owners, and when the rents rose, they were evicted.
Between 1849 and 1854, 50,000 families were evicted.
That concludes our ten horrifying facts about the Irish Famine everyone should understand, a brief lesson in this great tragedy of Irish history, something we all must be aware of, as it shaped the Ireland we live in today.