“The Great Famine” began because of a policy failure as well as potato blight, and because the British refused to close ports. It started in 1945 and went on to 1952. Potato blight had already swept through Europe, but it had the largest effect on Ireland.
The Potato was -and is, in most cases- a staple food, more than one third of the the Irish population was dependent on it to survive. The potato had become a staple food back in the 18th century, especially during the winter seasons. More that one million people died, and at least another million more emigrated out of the country which, in turn, cause the population to fall by 25%
Some people believe that the Great Famine was a Genocide run by England. They call it Ireland’s Holocaust. I don’t believe this, but I do believe that England made some very wrong moves. During the previous famine in the late 1700’s, ports were closed so that Irish-grown food would stay in Ireland to feed the Irish. This upset merchants, but it solved the problem. During the Great Famine, on the other hand, England did not allow the ports to close. This action provoked a lot of hatred between Ireland and England. What’s worse if that the price of foods being exported from Ireland (such as calves, livestock, bacon, ham…) actually increased during the Famine years, which made the cost of living higher and more difficult to contend with. The poor were generally unable to feed their families.
Cecil Woodham-Smith wrote in his book -which is about the Famine- about this, saying “The indisputable fact is that huge quantities of food were exported from Ireland to England throughout the period when the people of Ireland were dying of starvation.” England’s behavior disgusted a great many amount of people.
The Great Famine largely effected the culture and history of Ireland as a whole. So much that some historians even referr to the years before 1845 (between 1600 and 1845, to be exact) as “pre-famine”. Here are some examples:
-The English believed that “anything that happened was their own fault” when it came to the starving people in Ireland, speaking generally of the families who could not afford food. Some, including myself, believe that what the English did was a giant spark on the already open flame that became the acts of Irish Independence.
-Ireland continued to suffer de-population even after the famine ended. Many saw their futures in America, or anywhere other than Ireland. So basically the most active/productive and free-thinking people left the country, leaving the others behind.
-Hundreds of evictions happened after the Famine due to the money raise in crops.
– “The sharp decline in the speaking of Gaelic has been specifically linked to the late 1840’s.” (article quote) Why? The areas in the west of Ireland where Gaelic was the most spoken were the areas that were hit hardest by the famine, both by death and emigration. Also there was little to no reason for speaking Gaelic in England, Scotland and America -where the Irish typically relocated- In America the Irish were hated well enough as it was, so speaking Gaelic was not a very smart thing to do over here. This is also why a lot of names have been changed; because America is a giant bully when it comes to foreigners. My family’s surname was once O’Ryan. Now it’s just Ryan.
– Ireland’s government changed a lot as well. Instead of entirely being run by England, they focused inward and focused on Ireland itself.
-Many members of the Easter Rising in 1916 were from families that had suffered through the Famine.
-Members of the Catholic Church in Ireland thought that the famine was brought as a wrath from God. The church encouraged this. Sunday Sermons increased in number during the famine and afterward, and confession as well as communion became a more frequently done thing. Many families converted to the Catholic religion during this time. There were around 160 nuns in Ireland at the beginning of the century, and by 1860 there were more than 3,700.
*more may possibly be added on this subject later