The Potato Famine of 1845

Starting in 1845 the farmers of Ireland no longer owned their land, it was taken over by the British and all the farmland had been turned into English plantations. The farmers who had been used to working for themselves had now become tenants on their own land.

At this time in Ireland the potato was the most important crop throughout the whole county and Ireland had very little crop diversity. The potato farmers were very reliant on getting good crops from their land; some of this crop was sold to pay the rent and the rest was used to feed their own families.

A disease called “Late Potato Blight” was commonly found in parts of Ireland throughout the years. This disease would ruin potato crops but had never been widespread throughout Ireland. In 1845 this changed, the disease “light potato blight” severely impacted potato crops all over Ireland. Even though this only affected potatoes the heavy reliance on the crop meant famine became widespread throughout Ireland.

The earliest reports of the crop failure were reported in 1845. From these reports we can see that even though it was evident there was famine in the country nobody could predict the total devastation that was to follow.

When the crops failed many farmers were faced with a difficult decision feed their families or sell the few potatoes to make money for land payments. Most farmers choose to feed their families leaving them eventually being evicted from their land by the English landlords.

Some of the Irish families that were evicted had nowhere to go and had no food or money. These families left Ireland immediately or set up inside old abandoned houses many of which had no roofs. Other families that were evicted had relatives they could stay with and this led to already poor houses becoming overcrowded.

In the years to follow years between 1845 and 1850 over one million Irish people starved to death. While these people were starving to death there were large amounts of food being exported from the country by English landlords. Also in these years over 1.5 million Irish people emigrated to America, Britain and Australia. Many other people that tried to emigrate never made it due to ships being overcrowded and disease being spread easily between people with low immune systems. These ships were often referred to as coffin ships.

This is a brief summary of the tragic famine that happened in Ireland. In no way by reading this can you understand the scale of what really happened and I would advise everybody to study the famine in greater detail for a better understanding.

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