Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy

28/9/2004

Interpreting The Irish Famine, 1846-1850

It began with a blight of the potato crop that left acre upon acre of Irish farmland covered with black rot.

As harvests across Europe failed, the price of food soared. Subsistence-level Irish farmers found their food stores rotting in their cellars, the crops they relied on to pay the rent to their British and Protestant landlords destroyed.

Peasants who ate the rotten produce sickened and entire villages were consumed with cholera and typhus. Parish priests desperate to provide for their congregations were forced to forsake buying coffins in order to feed starving families, with the dead going unburied or buried only in the clothes they wore when they died.

Landlords evicted hundreds of thousands of peasants, who then crowded into disease-infested workhouses.

Other landlords paid for their tenants to emigrate, sending hundreds of thousands of Irish to America and other English-speaking countries. But even emigration was no panacea — shipowners often crowded hundreds of desperate Irish onto rickety vessels labeled “coffin ships.” In many cases, these ships reached port only after losing a third of their passengers to disease, hunger and other causes. While Britian provided much relief for Ireland’s starving populace, many Irish criticized Britain’s delayed response — and further blamed centuries of British political oppression on the underlying causes of the famine.

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