On this page I will give you basic facts about the Potato Famine in Ireland. In a box further down the page you will find links to other articles covering the famine in more detail.
The Potato Famine in Ireland started in 1845 and continued until 1852.
This was not the first Irish Famine by any means. Famines due to the failure of the potato crop had occurred before in Irish history, such as a large scale famine in 1741. The last one preceding the Great Famine occurred in 1839.
The counties hardest hit by the famine were the westernmost counties of Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, Galway, Kerry, and Cork.
A boggy patch of land in County Roscommon. Note the parallel lines- the so called 'famine ridges'. Starting in the 17th century and continuing until well beyond the Famine, potatoes were the main staple for the poorest peasants. They were often grown in so called 'lazy beds' which worked well in poor or shallow soil. The farmer did not have to turn the sod, but dropped the seed potato in behind the blade of the spade.
All over the country you can still see abandoned cottages without a roof returned to bare stone walls. Some are used as sheds as the one above. Many abandoned cottages date back to the potato famine when evictions and emigration cleared large stretches of land, and there are many more from a hundred years of continued emigration.
About the real extent of the poverty in Ireland in the period leading up the the Irish Famine.
How the government mismanaged the Great Famine worsening the crisis,
Read here about the causes of this tragedy
Read here about the impact of the famine on Irish culture
A couple of centuries of potato monoculture have left traces in the landscape like here on a steep Connemara hillside in County Mayo. Potatoes were the only food for about a third of the population. High population density meant they had to be grown even in the most shallow and infertile patches of soil.
“The awful scenes I have this day to communicate are heart rending. Two persons have died this day from starvation. One of them, declared a few hours before his death that he had not eaten a full meal for 12 days previously. I had over 200 persons at my house today crying out for work or food. Their patience is great considering their wants. ...Their appearance is frightful.”
(As quoted in The Famine Plot by Tim Pat Coogan)
If you would like to find out more about the famine, here is a brilliant read that brings this period in Irish history to life- Tim Pat Coogan: The Famine Plot.
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