In the summer of 1845 Ireland was devastated by the Irish Potato Famine also known as “The Great Famine” which annihilated the potato crops which was one of the main sources of food for the country. An acre of potatoes could also support a farmer and his family for a year. As usual the Irish farmers would harvest and dig the potatoes, but this time they were faced with rotting potatoes which quickly decayed turning black and certainly could not be eaten. The cause of this was quite unusual, turning out to be a fungus that had worked its way over from Mexico. Before this was found out there were many people speculating as to the cause of the rotting potatoes including smoke from the railways, static electricity and even vapours rising from underground volcanoes.
Disease Spread throughout the Countryside
Cholera scurvy, dysentery and typhus soon worked its way all over the Irish countryside causing devastation to anyone that was in its path. Many families were to die, people were walking around looking like skeletons and literally wasting away because of the ailments they had contracted and also the fact that there was no food!
Many bodies were buried without coffins and sat just a few centimetres below soil in a rushed effort to bury the dead. There was panic and a wide spread fear of not knowing what to do. People were dying quicker than they could be buried and there seemed no way out of the problem. Near to 800,000 Irish men, women and children lost their lives over the next 10 years, with the lucky survivors leaving for other countries in search of a better life. Up to 2 million left for Great Britain, America, Canada and Australia to start a better life for themselves and families. Over the next 5 years the Irish population had plummeted by around a quarter.
A Struggle to Control
The British Government initially thought that the free market would end the Irish Potato Famine and in 1846 they repealed the Corn Laws which protected domestic grain producers in England from foreign competitors. This did not help though as the Irish farmers did not have enough money to purchase foreign gran and were stuck with no help. Around 1847 Britain desperately tried to help again by setting up other methods of trying to deal with the Potato famine including setting up emergency work relief programs. These programs came to a quick halt due to the banking crisis that had just hit Britain. Out of desperation they sent the Irish to workhouses but they were unable to cope with such a big crisis and out of the 2.6 million Irish people that went to work in them, more than 200,000 died.
Many of the Irish at this time held a feeling of hatred towards the way the British Victorians treated them and also started to believe that maybe the whole reason the Famine came about was due to the approach Britain was taking with their Colonial policies. The Great Famine is a huge part of Irelands history and was the last famine to hit a European Country. It was a struggle which resulted in starvation, death and immigration on a mass scale!