The Great Starvation of Ireland

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The Great Starvation of Ireland I.The starvation in Ireland: 1845-1852 Over the years, the people of Ireland have suffered many hardships, but none compare to the devastation brought by the Irish potato famine of 1845-1857. A poorly managed nation together with ideally wicked weather conditions brought Ireland to the brink of disaster. It was a combination of social, political and economic factors that pushed it over the edge. After a long wet summer, the potato blight first appeared in Wexford and Waterford in September of 1845. The phytophora infestans were carried in on ships from Europe and America. Less than a year later, in August of 1846, virtually the entire potato crop in Ireland had been destroyed. The following winter became unbearable for the already starving nation. The westerly winds, which usually brought warmer air, failed, letting cold conditions from Scandinavia and Russia overtake the island of Ireland. The effects of malnutrition from starvation combined with the unusually cold temperatures aided in the spread of disease and ultimately death among the nation of Ireland. Starvation, respiratory disease, typhus epidemics, cholera, dysentery, scurvy, and deficiencies in vitamin A, all contributed to the loss of over a million Irishmen over a seven-year period. The practice of medicine at the onset of the blight was extremely inadequate. Ireland had only 39 infirmaries; this translated into one clinic for every 366,000 people. When looking at these numbers, one can easily understand why so many perished. Many of the deaths during the famine were never recorded, because of this the death toll may never be known. The number of deaths related to starvation is estimated to range from one to one and a half million people. According to Don Mullan, 200-300 mass graves were discovered, and in each grave over 1,000 bodies were identified. The infant mortality rate in some areas reached 50%. It was mainly the deaths of babies and children were the ones that often went unrecorded. The beginnings of the starvation are said to be a “biometeorological phenomenon,” however, the British reacted in a sociopolitical manner. Relief from the British government was slow and insignificant. The economic policies that existed were unhelpful and the British Parliament refused to make adjustments to provide for a national disaster. No free food was offered to the starving people as long as there was food for sale.

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