Top 10 Worst Parts of the Great Potato Famine of Ireland

Okay, given most of my lists in 2022, thus far, have taken on a history theme, and given I am of Irish descent, I was kind of wondering how well I would fare in making a list about a nation other than the United States. I will admit that it was a struggle, in contrast with my lists about the United States, but here is my first list that focuses on a nation other than the United States of America.
The Top Ten
1 The Famine destroyed Ireland's population

When the famine ended in 1852, about one million people in Ireland had died of starvation, disease, or in many cases, both. That was roughly one-eighth of the population of Ireland. By 1855, about two million people had left Ireland. The ships they fled the Emerald Isle in were very crowded and kept in poor condition. These ships were dubbed "coffin ships" as they caused even more deaths among the Irish people trying to leave their country.

In the present day, 150 years after the famine, Ireland's population still has not completely recovered from the damage done by the Great Potato Famine.

2 It was caused by diseased potatoes

Once the 19th century rolled around, potatoes were probably the most important crop in Ireland, keeping the poor healthy. Most of the working class had rather small areas of tenant farms, and the potato was the only crop that could provide enough nutrients and quantity when grown in such a small space.

In 1844, reports were released that a disease was essentially poisoning potatoes on the east coast of America. The year after, the same disease surfaced in Ireland, hitting the Emerald Isle with devastating harm. The first year Ireland had this disease in their potatoes, between one third and one half of the crop was lost, and by 1846, the amount of diseased potatoes amounted to three out of four.

3 Great Britain thought the famine was an act of God

Those in the British government viewed the Great Potato Famine as an act of God, much like those in the Old Testament, and they figured it was meant to punish Ireland and decimate Irish agriculture, which was heavily dependent on potatoes.

The man responsible for trying to help Ireland rebound from their famine believed that it was God's way of punishing the Irish people. As a result, many Irish people believed that they were simply left to die in Ireland and that the British wanted it that way. They concluded that the situation should be treated like a massacre rather than a period of starvation.

4 Great Britain extended the length of the famine

Great Britain's Prime Minister at the time, Sir Robert Peel, did attempt to provide relief to the Irish during the Great Potato Famine, and at first, things seemed to get better. But when Lord John Russell rose to power in Great Britain in June of 1846, the focus shifted from helping Ireland to making Great Britain more dependent on Irish resources and the Irish market.

Britain was then what the USA is to the world today: the world's richest nation and the nation you'd ask for help in a tough situation. After 1847, there was enough food to prevent starvation, but unproductive governance and faulty handling by Britain made things worse than they already were, and the famine continued in Ireland until 1852.

5 Landlord greed made things worse

The 1800s were not a century worth bragging about in terms of real estate. Tenants were not what they are today. They followed the guidelines set by landlords, and the landlords used laws that were unfair to those tending the land to their advantage.

The balance between Great Britain's enabling, landlords, and tenants was weak, if you could even call it balance. This made tenants living in poverty incapable of affording the cost of living, better known as rent. While families lived poor lives beyond anything I can understand, Ireland's population was at its all-time high at the start of the famine, which meant there were very few options for those trying to get out of the rut and make a living for their families and themselves. With landlords requiring more from tenants, the cycle was inhumane and hard to escape.

6 The Laissez-faire economics

In the 1800s, Ireland was still under the influence of Britain. Thus, when the famine struck, the Irish sought help from the British government. The Whig government of Great Britain adhered to laissez-faire economics, claiming that the market would provide the food that Ireland needed. Food and works programs started by the Tory government were stopped, but food exports to Great Britain never ceased, and the Corn Laws were kept in place.

As expected, the famine in Ireland worsened. Thousands of Irish people no longer had ways to work, feed their families, or make money.

7 People had to eat grass

With potato crops devastated by blight, many Irish found themselves lacking the resources needed to feed themselves and their families. Potatoes, usually a bountiful crop, were a food staple for the Irish in poverty, and exporting potatoes to England provided farmers with a primary source of income. Unable to support themselves during the famine, many Irish people found that they couldn't buy any food whatsoever and were often pushed to depend on their surroundings for survival.

Many have claimed that the Irish did indeed eat grass during the famine, and they died with green stains around their mouths that suggested they were desperate enough to start eating grass. However, historians have also argued that this is why many Americans eat green foods on Saint Patrick's Day. Some historians claim that eating grass during the famine is simply a misconception. Whether you believe this or not, it makes sense that given the dire circumstances, the Irish ate things like leaves, bark, and grass to survive.

8 The mass emigration

I was actually kind of reluctant to add this one to the list at first. As someone who lives in the United States, I viewed this as a good thing, but towards the end of my research, I started to view this from the perspective of the Irish.

Hordes of Irishmen left the Emerald Isle during the famine to escape it. About 90% moved to the United States or Canada, with roughly 70% moving to states in the northeastern part of the United States. Specifically, they moved to New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, or Massachusetts.

Getting into the United States or Canada was still a struggle and a dangerous endeavor, but for those leaving Ireland, there wasn't a better alternative. It was die in the famine or leave Ireland. Sometimes, landlords would pay for their tenants' passage, which was viewed similarly to paying for their funerals.

9 The effect of Phytophthora infestans on the Irish people

Very few, if any, cases of crop infections come close to matching the devastation that late blight in potatoes caused in the 1840s. Late blight is a crop disease caused by Phytophthora infestans, which traveled from Mexico and the United States to Europe in the 1800s. This led to the Great Potato Famine in Ireland.

Phytophthora, late blight, or whatever you refer to it as, is very potent. If someone smelled an infected potato, that alone could make them vomit. If someone were to eat that potato, they would become extremely ill. Unfortunately, both happened during the potato famine, especially in the early parts when the Irish didn't know better.

10 People had to choose between paying for a proper funeral for the dead or feeding the living

Given the huge economic impact of the Great Potato Famine, the Irish had little money to spare. With the limited amount of money they had, there was a big question: should they pay their respects to the deceased or ensure the living stayed alive?

Most Irish chose to keep their families healthy and alive over holding a proper funeral. However, I'm sure there were a few who chose to have funerals. Not saying much, though.

The Contenders
11 People were sent to North America in coffin ships

Okay, this needs some clarification. Many people jump to the conclusion that all Irish emigrants traveled in coffin ships from their homeland to Canada and the United States. The term coffin ship was reserved for vessels that were not very seaworthy and were disease-ridden.

The coffin ships were disease-infected, making living on the vessel difficult, and people would often contract these diseases and die on the way to North America. If it wasn't disease, it was malnourishment, dehydration, shipwrecks, or food poisoning. The coffin ships symbolized how far the Irish people would go, and how much they would endure, to escape the famine and seek a better life.

Whether driven by survival, economics, or desperation, the Irish would do whatever they had to if it meant even a chance at better lives and better food.

12 Despite the famine, Ireland continued to export food

Some have said that Ireland was exporting enough to feed all of its citizens, while others claim it was exporting less than 10% of pre-famine quantities. Imports of grain greatly outnumbered exports.

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