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The Irish Potato Famine And The Murder Of Landlords

The Irish Potato Famine was Ireland's most traumatic event killing some 2 million Irish people and starting a wave of emigration that was to continue for more than a century.

On this page I will talk about the backlash by secret Irish organisations at the English colonists or at those who were perceived to be at fault for the famine.

Potato Famine murders Started with the landlord residing at Strokestown Park House, County Roscommon.

Strokestown House houses the Irish Famine Museum, browsing the displays and watching their audio-visual presentations is an afternoon well spent.

The Irish Potato Famine As A Trigger For Murder

Starting during the Irish Famine and into the late 1800’s, seven Irish landlords and several of their agents and middlemen were murdered. These murders shocked the country sending shock waves as far as London. The murders were a symptom of the agrarian unrest caused by the Irish famine.

Landlords were blamed for the famine. As you will find out on this page, the situation was a lot more complex than that. At the end, we will give you our opinion for where the blame lies for the famine. But let's discuss the murders first.

Examples of murdered landlords include Denis Mahon of Strokestown House who was the first to be murdered during the Great Famine on November 2nd 1847. In 1879, Canon Burke was attacked and murdered in Dublin by some of his tenants. Walter Burke, a Claremorris landlord and Ballinrobe landlord Lord Mountmorres suffered the same fate.

Landlords and their agents were targeted often by their own tenants some of whom had organised themselves into secret brotherhoods. As there were secret societies involved, much around these murders has remained shrouded in mystery.

Landlords were blamed for the incredible suffering of and carnage among the poor during the Irish potato famine.

Protestant landlords of Anglo-Irish descendancy installed by Cromwell owned 90 percent of all land in Ireland in 1860. Where landownership was a huge part of the causes of the famine, it was, at the same time, a complex situation all round.

There were two groups of landlords.

Firstly, there were resident landlords who lived in Ireland, on their estates. While owning the land, living an extravagant lifestyle and making money by renting it to poor peasants, they contributed to the local economy, providing much needed employment. They worked on improving their land. They sometimes even took a human interest in their tenants as did Humanity Dick, landlord in Connemara in County Galway.

By the mid-1800’s  near the onset of the Irish potato Famine, many of those estates were in debt. Tenants were extremely poor and many could not afford to pay their rent any longer. Many resident landlords tolerated  non-rent-paying tenants for years. In the example of Strokestown, most tenants had not paid rent since around 1840. When resident landlords evicted tenants, it was often when they were forced into a situation where having poor tenants on their land would actually cost them money rather than earn any. The 1838 Poor Law required landlords to pay taxes on every tenant who was renting land for less than 4 pounds annually. These tenants were the very poor with small parcels of land. The government did nothing to help them.

In the West of Ireland in particular there were a lot of very small parcels of land as population density was high, and divisions over the generations had broken up the land again and again. This meant that landlords in the West would be forced by the new poor law to contribute a disproportionate amount, while their estates were often indebted already.

It was in that situation, that Denis Mahon of Strokestown for example, decided, when working with an estate manager on making the estate viable once again, that it was cheaper to ship tenants off to America, rather than having to finance their stay at the poor house.

The second, much larger group of landlords was made up of about 10,000 absentee landlords who never or only rarely saw their estates in Ireland. They lived in England, typically in London, spending their rental income over there. Absentee landlords had no interest in their land other than it making them money. They engaged middle men to rent it out for them. These middle men or agents were known in Ireland for being ruthless to deal with when it came to rent arrears and evictions even after the onset of the Irish Potato Famine.

Read More About
The Great Famine

Read here about the true levels of poverty in Ireland coming up to the Irish famine.

Find out the causes of the Great Famine here.

Read about how the government mismanaged the Great Famine worsening the crisis, and find out how the famine changed Ireland.

See facts about the reality of the Irish Potato Famine.

Who Was To Blame For The Famine?

In our opinion, the biggest part of the blame for the potato blight causing a famine of such proportions in Ireland must be laid on the English government who were in charge of Irish affairs since the Act of Union of 1800. Well before the famine, the English government was aware of the high dependency of Ireland on the potato as a staple and of the level of poverty here. Yet the attitude of laissez-fair prevailed, which basically involved doing nothing about it. This mismanagement, in combination with the introduction of legislation hostile towards the poor made the situation worse.

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