The Potato Famine
Ireland became part of the expanding British empire at the beginning of the 19th century. In the meantime , between 1800 and 1841 , the Irish population increased rapidly , from a little over four million to around eight million. This was made possible by the introduction of a cheap new food crop – the potato. It thrived in poor soil, allowing people to subsist on land hitherto nowhere near productive enough to allow such growth in to prove disastrous. When the first bout of blight struck in 1845, three-quarters of the population was unemployed. Calamity had been widely predicted, but the warnings had been ignored by the London government – despite localised incidents of potato crop failure in the preceding years. Had the Irish rural population been less dependant on the single food source, as in other areas where the blight took hold, including England, things might not have been so bad. As it was, the situation in Ireland was exacerbated by inaction on the part of the government, and evictions by local landlords fearing loss of rents due to the failed crops.
Upwards of a million died in the four years of famine that followed, and half as many emigrated, most of them to North America.
By 1914, it is estimated that five and a half million people had followed the path of emigration from Ireland, a factor from which the country is only just beginning to recover – although many still leave their native land in search of work.
On a tour of Ireland you can still see the dry stone walls and abandoned houses that typify this period. In fact our tour experts can actually create a tour of Ireland around the subject of the potato famine !!!