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What is the Irish Potato Famine

What is the Irish potato famine history? Around the year 1840 Ireland suffered a terrible period of famine. It happened due to the destruction of the potato crop for successive years from late blight which is a potato crop disease that destroys both the edible root and the leaves.

The whole Europe had been affected in 1840 by potato blight. But nowhere was the effect more prevailing than in Ireland. This was because a third of the population was entirely dependent on the crop for food and the rest of the population also ate large quantities of potato. And people depended only on one or two major varieties, reducing the genetic variety.

Ireland anyway was one of the poorest European nations at that time and almost entirely dependent on cultivation.

The famine as a result had devastating effects. It ended the life of more than a million people and resulted in the biggest exodus of modern times with over two million people immigrating to mostly North America. In 1845 water mold or Phytophthora infestans, which is the reason for the disease was accidentally transported to Ireland. The same year Ireland had an exceptionally cool and moist weather which helped the disease thrive. Most of the crop rotted in the fields.

Taking some Yukon gold potatoes

Harvesting potatoesThis was followed by successive years of more devastating crop failures from 1846 to 1849. The disease rotted the leaves in no time providing the fungus with food. Even the potatoes rotted in a few days. The fungus that originally came in the holds of ship coming from North America spread with the breeze very rapidly with each infected plant infecting up to a thousand nearby plants in a day.

The British government tried to alleviate the famine but their actions weren’t enough.

Between 1845 and 1846 the Prime Minister of England abolished the Corn Laws to help solve what is the Irish potato famine. But the reaction from the English elite was furious and the effect was not achieved. Subsequent measures provided little relief and the famine grew into a nationwide disaster. 

There were many kitchens set up that provided free soups but these were hardly enough. Besides that the British set up special programs where the Irish were provided jobs in road building and other public sectors. Cornmeal imported from America averted the situation a bit. But it was strongly disliked and led to nutritional deficiencies, particularly scurvy as the cornmeal was poor in vitamin C.

During this period Irish farms were forced to export a lot of their products as the Irish had no money to purchase.

During the famine, the British adopted the laissez-faire or let it be policy which assumes at its basis that all problems are solved naturally with time. But in reality it was done to avoid harming the interest of the rich English and to prevent the increase of prices in England. Also as most of the landowners in Ireland were English nothing was done that hampered their interests and the landowners did little or nothing for the relief of the peasants.

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