Top 10 horrifying facts about the Irish Potato Famine everyone should understand

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.

Extra facts about the Irish Famine from Ireland Before You Die

Before delving into the article, here are some quickfire and extra facts about the Irish Famine:

  • The Irish Famine, which is also known as the ‘Great Famine’ or ‘An Gortá Mór’ in Irish, took place between 1845 and 1852, was caused mainly by a potato blight which destroyed Ireland’s food staple.
  • This caused widespread devastation across Ireland. In total, around one million people died as a result of the starvation, and a further one million people emigrated from their home to escape it.
  • Not only did people die or emigrate; the Irish famine also led to decreased birth rates and a serious decline in the Irish-speaking population, the effects of which are still felt to this day. Irish famine permeates Irish culture, literature and music, which has led to some of the saddest Irish songs ever written.
  • Famine ships were often used to bring people to other countries, but these were overcrowded and unsanitary. There were also workhouses at home, but these were often very harsh conditions.
  • The response of the British government has been harshly criticised and has been credited with making the impacts of the famine significantly worse for the Irish population.

10. Drastic figures – worst of its kind

It was the worst of its kind of any famine in Europe.
Murrisk Famine Memorial.

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%.

READ MORE: See how the Irish population in the South has reached over 5 million for the first time since the Famine

9. Punishment by God? – some in the British Government believed the famine God’s plan to punish the Irish

It was believed that the famine was part of God's plan.

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.

READ MORE: If you want to learn more about this tragic time in Irish history, check out our article on the top 10 amazing books about the Irish Famine everyone should read

8. The Famine spiralled an even bigger drive for independence – the rebellions stood even stronger

The Famine caused greater unrest amongst the British Empire.

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. Some of this is depicted well in the best movies about Irish history.

7. A series of unfortunate events caused the blight – an unlucky year

A bad case of blight caused the chaos.

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

Another of the top facts about the Irish famine is the insane amount of refugees and deaths caused by it.

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

Another of the top facts about the Irish famine is that there were many evictions throughout it.
Credit: @DoaghFamineVillage / Facebook

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.

RELATED: For a visual learning experience, check out Ireland Before You Die’s piece on the top 5 movies about the Irish Famine everyone should watch

4. The Irish population – a drastic decline

The Irish population was decimated, another of the top facts about the Irish famine.
The Famine Memorial in Dublin.

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

Another of the top facts about the Irish famine is that they closed the ports of Ireland.
Dunbrody Famine Ship in Dublin.

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.

READ: For a better news story, see IB4UD’s article on the top 5 countries that helped Ireland during the Famine

2. The Doolough Tragedy, Co. Mayo – a tragedy within a tragedy

Another of the facts about the Irish famine you need to know is a about the Doolough Tragedy.
Credit: @asamaria73 / Instagram

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

One of the top facts about the Irish famine is that the Poor Law was brought in 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.

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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.

Your questions answered about horrifying facts about the Irish potato famine

You may have read our article on the most horrifying facts about the Irish potato famine and still have some questions. Here, we have outlined the most frequently asked questions about this topic.

Why was the Irish potato famine so severe?

The Irish potato famine was so severe as it destroyed the staple Irish food of potatoes. This caused widespread devastation and starvation within Ireland.

What is the real story of the Irish potato famine?

This is that there was a potato blight in Ireland which affected potatoes, Ireland’s main crop and staple food. However, the issue was exacerbated by British inaction during their rule of the country.

Did the British cause the Irish famine?

No. This was caused by a potato blight. However, the British contributed to its severity through its actions and inactions.

Who helped Ireland during the Famine?

Several international organisations and philanthropists helped. One notable line of assistance was from the Choctaw Nation tribe of Native Americans.

NEXT: For more reading on facts about the Irish famine, why not have a look at our article on the Jeanie Johnston: the INCREDIBLE history of Dublin’s Famine ship

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