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Ireland and the Great Potato Famine

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Ireland and the Great Potato Famine

Ireland has a long, and very interesting history. A very interesting and important part

of this history is the great potato famine. This famine was a turning point in Irish history. It

was the cause of the great flloods of immigrants into the United States and into England, and

was the origin of the stereotype of Irish people being poverty ridden.

The history of Ireland is important in understanding the famine. The conditions which

turned the failure of a single crop into a national disaster were a product of a turbulent

relationship between the Irish people and their English rulers (Percival 15).

The English took Ireland over slowly, through a series of invasions. Then English

Barons were granted lands in Ireland. Occasionally, Irish lords would rebel. In many cases,

the descendants of the earliest settlers became so assimilated into Irish life that they joined the

rebels(15). They were rebeling because the English lords had the richest and best farm

lands(16).

In the sixteenth century, England went through a Reformation, and became a

Protestant country. The Irish people however, remained true to their Roman Catholic faith

(16). Later, around the seventeenth century, land became limited in availability (27). The rich

farmland was kept for the English settlers, and the poorest lands were leftover for the Irish

people (28).

During the nineteenth century, the price of grain and other crops was high, and so were

the rents. When the prices of grain and other crops fell, so did rents, but not enough to help

the very poor (33).

The poorest members of the community, about one third of the population, could only

afford very small land plots, not large enough to grow grain, so they had to give up growing

grain, and start growing potatoes. Potatoes were the only crop that ould support a large

family on a very small acreage. This dependancy on one crop, for prosperity as well as

survival, would have fearful implications for the poor people of Ireland at the time of the

famine (33).

One morning in early September 1845, the director of Botanic Gardens in Dublin

noticed the leaves of some potato plants turning black at the edges. The fungal infection, now

known as Blight, was cause for alarm because most or Ireland was dependant upon the potato

crop for income as well as food (55).

This famine, which lasted for six years cuased hundreds of Irish people to die of

starvation, and hundreds of thousands to immigrate to other countries (119).
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