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Irish Potatoe Famine

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In the early 1800s, life in Ireland wasn't easy, Irish citizens got from day to day

by farming and relying on the potato. The potato was their main source of food and

money. With out the potato, the Irish would have nothing. No one was prepared for what

was about to happen in 1845, the beginning of the Great Irish Potato Famine.

In the early to mid 1800s Ireland was a very poor and difficult place to live. Most

of the land was owned by landowners that lived in England and rented their land out to

Irish citizens. The owners had almost no interest in their land and property in Ireland.

They only cared about getting their money from their renters. The rents were overpriced

and living costs in Ireland were also extremely high. The living conditions for the renters

in Ireland were horrible, with one-room houses that were expected to shelter whole

families. Another problem with the country was that over 70% of the population were

illiterate. The renters would use their land to farm potatoes because they were cheap, easy

to grow, full of vitamins, and you could grow a lot in a small area and in poor farming

conditions. The whole country relied on the crop of potatoes as their source of food and



In the mid 1800s there were many seasons that produced poor crops, and in some

cases no potatoes at all. These seasons were thought to be bad crop seasons. After these

bad seasons, farmers became upset and began to grow poorer quality potatoes known as

"Lumper potatoes" or "Horse potatoes" instead of the stronger healthier potatoes. These

new potatoes were originally grown for feed for farm animals and were more prone to

disease, but because they grew in the poorest conditions possible, humans would have to

eat them due to the loss of the healthier potatoes.

In 1845, a crop disease known as "blight" would be introduced to Ireland. It was a

disease that would cause potatoes to rot while they grew. It was from guano, which was

part of a fertilizer that was imported from South America. The contaminated fertilizer

would also scatter to other countries in Europe such as France, Germany, The

Netherlands, and England. It was responsible for thousands of deaths in these countries

but was soon eliminated, as the countries were not as dependent on the potato as the Irish

were. The Irish discovered the problem when they found that they were harvesting black

potatoes. At first they blamed the problem on poor weather, or insects. They just figured

that it was another poor farming season. The actual spreading of the disease was that its

pores were carried in the wind and land in pits where potatoes were to be planted. The

disease would not die in the extreme, cold winter and would double the problem for the

next years crop. At first, the Irish only saw it as another crop failure because it only

effected a third of the harvest. It was later that season that they realized that they were

about to face a famine. The Irish government would not give out aid to farmers because

they felt that it would make the country look bad showing other people that the citizens

could not care for themselves. The Prime Minister told landowners that lived in England

to give their renters some support. Very few did, but most didn't and about half of the

owners evicted their renters from the land.

The result in the first year was thousands of deaths. Due to such a large number

many people were not buried in coffins, instead there were mass burials where bodies

were dumped into large holes in the ground and the dead going unburied or buried only in

the clothes they wore when they died. This resulted in more unsanitary conditions.

Eventually the federal government imported Indian corn from America to be distributed

to the most desperate people. Although it was for good intentions, it didn't meet Irish

expectations for food. The corn was difficult to mill on the small number of mills in

Ireland, it was difficult to digest, and it was not very filling, leaving many Irish hungry. It

eventually became accepted and the Irish learned to deal with it.


In 1846, no effort was to get rid of the infected potatoes from the previous year

and the new season provided enough food to feed the country for only one month. This

caused people to eat what ever they could get their hands on. People ate dogs, horses,



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