IrishWishes.com has acquired the domain IrishFamineProject.com as we want to continue building on the work of this site in highlighting the Irish Potato Famine and the consequences of it. IrishWishes.com is focused on exploring all topics related to Irish and Celtic culture. We have previously focused on the Irish language and Celtic-Irish names but we are branching out into culturally relevant topics.
IRISH POTATO FAMINE
The Irish Potato Famine was a mass starvation event, that caused disease, emigration, and death in Ireland. It is also known as the Great Famine or an Gorta Mór in Irish. The consequences of the Irish Potato Famine were terrible for the Irish people. One million people died and another million were forced to emigrate from the country. Shockingly, to this day Ireland’s population has not recovered as the island of Ireland currently has 5 million inhabitants, whereas the population pre-1845 was 8 million.
The Importance Of Potatoes In Irealnd
Before the famine, the potato was a crucial staple food in Ireland especially for the poor. A single acre of potatoes could feed a family for a year, and the crop was easy to cultivate in the Irish climate. The potato was so central to the Irish diet that many people consumed little else, making them highly dependent on this single crop.
When Was The Irish Potato Famine?
The Irish Potato Famine occurred between the years of 1845 and 1852. However, as stated earlier, the effects of the famine are felt even to this day. For example, the genetic disorder haeomochromatosis may have developed in the Irish population after the Irish Potato Famine as a gene mutation, in order for the body to absorb extra iron.
What Caused The Irish Potato Famine?
A fungal disease called late blight arrived in Europe from the Americas and quickly spread to Ireland. The disease caused the potato plants to rot in the ground, and the resulting harvest was meager at best. With each passing year, the blight continued to destroy potato crops across the country, leading to widespread food shortages.
British Government Response
As Ireland was owned by the British Empire at the time of the Irish Potato Famine, it did not have its own parliament and was ruled directly from Westminster in London, with Irish MP’s sitting in the UK parliament. As a result, the British government was responsible for the solutions to the famine. Their response was slow and hugely inadequate. Initially, they implemented measures like importing corn from America, setting up public works programs for the unemployed, the creation of workhouses, and providing financial assistance to landlords. However, these measures failed to address the scale of the disaster.
The British government’s adherence to laissez-faire economics and their reluctance to interfere with market forces further worsened the situation. Food continued to be exported from Ireland to Britain during the Irish Potato Famine (especially cattle), and many Irish people could not afford the imported grain. This lack of adequate intervention contributed significantly to the suffering of the Irish population.
Irish Potato Famine Workhouses
Workhouses as they are commonly known in Ireland, were set up to house those who could not house and feed themselves. They were segregated by gender which meant the splitting up of families. Housed poor were forced to work for their board and keep, often performing pointless tasks like building roads and walls in the middle of nowhere. This was hard calorie intensive work which these people could ill afford and only worsened their situation. To this day, one can still see stone walls all across Ireland’s countryside that were built by the occupants of these workhouses.
The Consequences of the Irish Potato Famine
The Irish Potato Famine had severe and far-reaching consequences for the people of Ireland. Around one million people died due to starvation and disease. Another one million emigrated, mostly to the United States. The Irish truly were the first refugee population to arrive on American shores.
The Irish population declined by approximately 25%, and the social and economic effects of this loss are still felt today.
The famine also caused political unrest, as the British government’s failure to adequately address the crisis fueled Irish nationalism. This eventually led to the formation of anti-British and pro-independence groups such as the Irish Republican.
Impact On Irish Society
The Irish Potato Famine has had a lasting impact on Ireland and its citizens. Besides the dramatic drop in population, it caused the destruction of the rural population and rural life.
The rural population far exceeded the urban population at the time of the famine, but this was heavily reversed in the following years. Ireland’s countryside to this day is dotted with abandoned homes and farms where once there was thriving communities. The economic hardship of the famine caused a consolidation of land ownership in Ireland as many small farmers were forced to sell their land to larger landowners to survive.
The loss of life and the mass emigration of the Irish population also led to a decline in the Irish language and traditional Irish culture as those most affected were the poorest, who tended to be the least integrated into the more culturally British civil society that existed in the larger urban areas.
Irish Famine Memorial NYC
The Irish Potato Famine is commemorated in Ireland and around the world through monuments, museums, and educational programs. These efforts aim to ensure that the suffering and loss experienced by the Irish people during this dark period in history are not forgotten. A great example of a memorial is the Irish Famine Memorial NYC.
The memorial is a rebuilt 19th Century cottage from County Mayo and is a real-life example of the housing that the rural Irish poor had at the time of the famine.
Irish Famine Memorial Boston
The Irish Famine Memorial, located in downtown Boston, Massachusetts, is a poignant and striking tribute to the victims and survivors of the Irish Potato Famine Boston, being one of the main destinations for Irish immigrants during this period, is an apt location for the memorial.
Designed by sculptor Robert Shure, the memorial consists of two bronze sculptures depicting contrasting scenes: one portrays a starving Irish family, huddled together in despair, while the other shows an immigrant family arriving in America, full of hope and determination. The sculptures are placed on a granite plaza adorned with eight narrative plaques that provide historical context and tell the story of the famine, its causes, and its impact on Ireland and the United States.
In Boston, the Irish immigrants became an integral part of the city’s fabric, contributing to its growth and development. Today, the city boasts a thriving Irish-American community, which takes great pride in its heritage and continues to celebrate its cultural traditions.
Was The Irish Famine Genocide
It is not fair to say that the Irish famine was genocide based upon the definition of the word genocide but that is the most charitable one can be to the British government of the time. They displayed willful ignorance and sometimes downright cruelty to an extraordinary degree. The free-market above all mentality that dominated British politics at the time led to a late and inadequate intervention.
Additionally, the attempt to save face caused untold suffering amongst the Irish population. The British Government refused a large donation by the Sultan of the Ottoman empire, as his donation was larger than the Queen of England’s. The reality is that they simply did not care about the Irish population one way or another.
It is a reasonable argument that the British government has attempted to genocide the Irish population on multiple occasions before this with the introduction of penal laws, the outlawing of Irish and Irish customs, the harsh rules on Catholics in public office and as landowners.
Irish Famine Map
As can be seen in the image below, some areas where completely devastated by the famine and large percentages of the local population either died or emigrated.
The Truth Behind The Irish Famine
Whether the British government purposefully caused the deaths of the Irish population can not be proved based on official documents which is why it cannot be claimed irrefutably as genocide, but it was a horrific event that was allowed to occur and exacerbated by an uncaring British government.