Africa, America, Europe

the Irish potato famine 1845 through 1852

During the period of 1845 in Ireland, potatos crops were going down, and potato plants were getting a black color and rotten. the cause was potato blight, but more specifically the fungus Phytophthora infestans caused by the wind, rain, and insects.

 it spread throughout Europe, but hit Ireland the hardest. this would be known as the great famine or the great hunger.

 by 1845 the potato which was originally brought into Ireland by the landed gentry was Ireland’s most important crop, almost half of Ireland’s population mainly the rural poor were dependent on potatoes to live.

 the average Irishmen ate 14 pounds of potatoes a day, that grew well in Ireland’s climate and even in poor soil and in wet and cold conditions.

 potatoes were nutritious a great source of vitamin C and their harvest was plentiful, so there was enough to feed families, and farmers had enough surplus to feed their livestock.

 the Irish were overly reliant on one variety of potato called the Irish lumper, this lack of variation put Ireland at high risk of mass famine, when blight hit the potato plant it may look edible from the outside but it was a slimy pulp inside, it would soon appear rotten and shriveled once the fungal spores settled on the plant which spread to healthy potato plants around it quickly through the breeze.

 the smell was so revolting that it could make a person vomit, and eating an infected potato would leave them in agony. one of the sources for the blight may have been the United States arriving through ships coming to Europe, a strain of blight was seen in 1843 on America’s eastern seaboard but going further back the pathogen could be traced to Mexico.

 Great Britain had the richest empire in the world at this time, and had an oppressive rule over Ireland for the first year of the famine there was little death from hunger. British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, imported corn or maize from the United States. However, there weren’t enough mills to ground it and the poor couldn’t afford it, as well as this the Irish peasants diet of potatoes made the corn unsatisfactory.

 unlike potatoes at lacked vitamin C, so dependence on corn doulton scurvy while some Irish got used to the cornmeal there was not enough to go around.

 surprisingly even as things got worse, brain and other foods were still being exported to Great Britain during the famine, Lord John Russell took power as Prime Minister in June 1846, and formed a Whig government. it took a Lay’s a fair approach, which meant minimal government involvement in the economics of Ireland.

 the British government looked down upon the Irish as less than human, and their potato crops as lazy suggesting that they needed to unlearn dependency on the government.

 the protestant evangelical belief that the famine was an act of Providence, a divine judgment also justified in action.

 Charles Trevelyan, a civil servant with direct responsibility for the government’s handling of the famine, was a big supporter of this idea. the British government opened soup kitchens in 1847 which fed over three million starving Irish peasants but they closed them down after six months.

 they also continued to export food that could have fed the starving Irish population, as they did not want to interfere in the business of the English landowners.

 Public Works aims were also introduced to provide employment, but mal nourishment made hard labour extremely difficult for workers. most of the Irish were Catholics, and half did not own the land they worked on, instead they were renting and working on tiny plots of land for English landowners.

many who were absentee landlords who lived in Britain, not Ireland. because of the famine Irish peasants fell behind on their rents, and were evicted.

 their houses were often demolished to prevent them coming back, many went to the overcrowded work houses where disease like typhoid was rampant. as well as, death from starvation, famine related diseases killed many of those suffering a cause of a weakened immunity from malnutrition.

 those that were evicted from the lands and had nothing to eat, could be seen dying or dead in ditches along roads.

 many committed crimes stealing food are trying to get caught on purpose, in an attempt to be sent to jail or a penal calling like Australia where they might be fed. by the time the potato crops recovered in 1852, 1 to 2 million Irish left the homeland and emigrated some to Britain, and many to North America where many died on the coffin ships during the journey from hunger and disease.

 the Irish refugees, that reach the east coast of the United States established themselves in cities like Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.

 the Great Famine was one of the worst times in Irish history and left 1 million dead. the Irish population had dramatically declined with 1/4 dead or emigrated spurring a century-long population decline.