The Great Potato Famine

The Great Potato Famine

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The Great Potato Famine

The Great Potato Famine was a huge disaster that would change Ireland forever. The people in Ireland were extremely dependent on potatoes and when the blight came the economy went down. When the fungus attacked the potato crops slowly crop by crop throughout Ireland, people began to lose their main source of food. With the people in Ireland’s huge dependency on the potato, people began to starve or get sick from the potatoes. No one had any food to eat. The potatoes were black inside with molds through out it that came from the fungus from something in nature. The weather that brought the blight also was one of the causes because they could not control how the weather was bringing the fungus. Ireland was under the British government and did not help Ireland when they needed Britain. The aftermath of the Great Famine was not only a huge drop in population, but emigration, and much more.

The potato famine killed many people. “The famine brought starvation and disease which claimed 1 million lives” (Jackson 69). The death toll from the Great Famine took a good portion of the Irish population and left a landmark as being one of the most costly disasters of modern times. “Additionally, over 50,000 people died of diseases: typhus, scurvy, dysentery […] Within a decade, the population of Ireland plummeted from over eight million to less than six million” (Irish Potato). Either the people that died during the famine were forgotten about from the surviving relatives, or there were no remaining survivors in a household there for, no was there to report it (Mokyr and O Grada 343). Sadly, death was one only of the effects of the Great Potato Famine.

Another thing that was an effect of the Great Famine was emigration. Many people moved to different countries, mostly America, to find new land and get away from the horrible famine. Soon the government passed the Poor Law Extension Act of 1847, which was approved to refuse any farmer help with over a quarter acre of land. This Act influenced emigration, increased land clearance, and the structure of rural society slowly decreased.

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Now for the British landowners, they were making a good profit of power over the people of Irelands land. The British wanted more land and this was the way they were benefiting from it (Irish Potato). So many people and farmers could not afford to live in Ireland because the farmers did not have a crop to produce and the people were not working or making money to pay their tenants. The people had no choice but to pack up and go somewhere else.

This massive emigration rate not only permanently changed Ireland's population structure but also helped develop an Irish nationalist feeling against English government. On board the emigrant ships, conditions were sometimes shocking. These ships came to be known as Coffin Ships because of the conditions the emigrants are forced to live in. There was little air in these over crowded below decks, which carried the poorest class. There were extreme cases of fevers, little water, low abundance of food, few cooking and sanitary facilities. By August 1847 half the passengers from 10 ships had died while the others were sick with fevers. On the shores of Quebec eyewitnesses saw hundreds literally flung on the beach, left in the mud, dying like fish out of water. (qtd. in Wright, Olsen, and Larsen)

A lot of the poor people that were sick never made it past England because of their conditions. Come the middle of 1847 there were over one thousand Irish wondering, begging and domination the many streets of Liverpool and other towns north of England. It was not just the poor classes that were migrating (Wright, Olsen, and Larsen).It was anyone that was sick or wanted to get away to live a better or a healthier life. So many people had to pack up their life just to survive from the famine and in the process led just as a bad life.

Also another effect of the Potato Famine was agriculture. During and after the famine over 500,000 people were evicted from their land. When the crops failed the land in Ireland was useless. No one could plant anymore potatoes or any type of food for that matter. Although the farmers tried to do their best to make money but it was not good enough for Britain. “Despite the famine conditions, taxes, rents, and food exports were collected in excess of £6 million and sent to British landlords” (Irish Potato).With all the land and crop destroyed no one could do any farming, and then even worse they were beginning to run out of ways to survive working.

The people that were the laborers would sometimes not received their wage payments on time so that prevented them from getting food, unless they got and extortionate loan, which in that case they were most often weak from either being fatigued or being malnourished. When their condition got that bad they were not able to work. The Labor was getting paid a ridiculous amount of money considering the state that they were in especially for those who were most in need of a wage. In addition, given the context of high food prices, these miserly wages offered little hope except to the desperate (Jackson 73).

All the farmers wanted to do was work their hardest and get paid a fair amount so that they could live a somewhat decent life. The government was not helping the people that were working their hardest to make the best what was left of Ireland after the potato famine

There were some jobs in agriculture but many of these were seasonal and poorly paid, and given to men in preference to women workers (Jackson 81). Since the land was so bad no one wanted to live there and the people that rented were not making any money either thanks to the famine. Without good land Ireland’s population after the famine would only decrease till they could farm and get better land. The only positive thing about it was that since so many people had left to go somewhere else the demands for crops were smaller than usual. After the famine it was starting to get strict and pressure for the farmers which resorted into them getting ruthless. “Tenant farmers held short-term leases that were payable each six months in arrears. If the tenants failed to pay their rent, they were jailed or evicted and their homes burned” (Irish Potato). When they lost their crops they lost a good amount of their money.

Another effect of the famine was an increase in the Catholic religion in Ireland. Since there were not too many people still left the ones that were still their turned to God to help them through it. One of the Irish priests said that the people have a strong and enthusiasm for the religion and there are very few people who do not addend. (Miller 83) There was an increase in church-building after the famine, but it is not clear whether the rise in devotion to Catholicism was due to this increased church building or the other way around (The). In comparison before the famine not too many people took an interest in the church or religion, so after the famine when it became of interest, “The famine caused a much closer adherence to the more dogmatic continental aspects of Catholicism” (THE). In a way, thanks to the famine, the people of Ireland got their faith and religion back.

The last significant thing that changed after the potato famine was the Irish language. It slowly started to die after the famine because many people went to the United States or Canada and adopted the English language. Something that is important to note is that the Irish language was already in decline at the start of the famine, but the famine increased the process. For example

In the early part of the 1800s, around 40% of the population spoke Irish, compared to around 30% in 1845, the eve of the famine. Those who died or emigrated in the famine were disproportionately Irish speakers, mainly because the famine hit rural areas hardest and that is where Irish had survived the longest. In 1861, the number of Irish speakers had fallen to 24%. This decline continued for some years, reaching a low of 18% (Irelands Famine).

After the decline in the language it would be assumed that Ireland had lost it all from the potato famine, but with enough hope the people could get Ireland back to being good again. They tried to bring back the language but it would never be the same as it was before the famine.

The citizens of Ireland had a lot of cleaning up to do after the famine. The people that stayed throughout the famine had to start over. The language had faded and the land was of no use. They had to rebuild and plant the land and get the good Irish spirit back. The Irish lost everything when the famine occurred. The emigrants that moved to the United States and Canada still tried to keep the Irish sprit alive when they were in another country, but the people actually in Ireland were the ones that wanted their pride back the most. From the famine came the Gaelic league and the Fenian movement. After the famine the Irish wanted their pride to shine by having sporting events for the Irish and language classes to get back the language. Also, in the long run, the Fenian movement fought to get Irish independence back that England took from them during the famine. While the Great Potato Famine was a terrible disaster to the Irish, they were able to overcome it. It is a colossal part of their history, which gives the current Irish people their pride.
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