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How The Great Famine Changed Ireland

On this page I will give you facts on how the Great famine changed Ireland. In a box further down on this page you will find links to other articles that cover other aspects of the famine in more detail.

Facts On How The Great Famine Changed Ireland

  • During the Great Famine, in the region of 2 million died, one million emigrated. Irish emigration continued and has done so, with only brief breaks, until this present day.
Memorial stone for the Irish Potato Famine at Annaghdown graveyard,  County Galway.

Famine Memorial (An Gorta Mór) in Annaghdown, County Galway. County Galway was one of the counties that were hardest hit by the famine.

  • Irish emigration started Irish communities abroad in the U.S. and in Britain which, in turn, later influenced Irish affairs. Irish Americans for example supported Irish independence.
  • Traces of an era of monoculture that led to the Irish Potato Famine are left in the Irish landscape to this present day. All over the country, but especially in places with shallow and infertile soil such as in the westernmost counties, you will find traces of old lazy beds that were used to grow potatoes, such as those in the photo further down the page.
  • The use of the Irish language plummeted during the famine years. Before the Famine, the Irish language was still wide spread especially in rural and Western areas. After the famine, only about 5 percent of the population continued to speak Irish.
  • With the people that died and those that emigrated a lot of local traditions were lost and forgotten.
  • The Land League movement started after the Great famine and continued for the remainder of the century led by Charles Stuart Parnell. It ultimately succeeded in achieving legislation that brought about some land ownership in the peasant class.
  • The surviving population of Ireland was traumatised, having witnessed deaths and emigration all around with no government intervention. Tim Pat Coogan believes that this helplessness has imprinted itself on the Irish consciousness to this day. How does it manifest? For example, Irish people are likely to accept decisions made by a draconian government often without attempting to achieve change.
  • There is a persistent attitude in Irish mentality to ‘say nothing’ when confronted with a difficult situation or a conflict scenario. ‘Whatever you say, say nothing.’ is the motto. Tim Pat Coogan believes this to be an imprint from the times of the Great Famine, when speaking out about what the government in London had done would have you sent to jail or even executed.

Read More About The Irish Famine

Read here about the causes of the Irish Potato Famine, about poverty in the period leading up the the Irish Famine, facts about the reality of the Potato Famine, and about how the government mismanaged the Great Famine worsening the crisis, about how the famine changed Ireland, and finally about how it triggered the murder of landlords.

Read about Strokestown Park House and the famine.

Traces left in the landscape of potato ridges dating back to the Irish Famine.
  • In terms of religion Catholicism in Ireland became even stronger after the Famine and, in a reaction to ‘souperism’ and years of oppression at the hands of the Protestant English,  it became tied up with the sense of national identity.
  • Another Irish trait became more ingrained during the Irish Famine- black humour. One work house joke is quoted by Coogan: The death cart comes around to the work house every morning, and the operator is directed to the beds where dead bodies are to be collected. One such dead body stirs and declares they are not dead. “You know better than the doctor then, do you?” comes the reply.
  • If you would like to find out more about the famine, here is a brilliant read that brings this period in history to life- Tim Pat Coogan: The Famine Plot.

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