Did you know that a lack of food wasn’t the real reason for most of the past historical famines? In most cases, bad government policies (sometimes deliberate) contributed to the people’s suffering. A perfect example is the Great Irish Famine, which saw millions of people displaced and an unknown number dead. Here are some heart-wrenching Great Irish Famine Facts highlighting how far we’ve come.

1. Livestock Was Valued Better Than the Impoverished People During the Great Irish Famine

At the height of the Great Irish Famine, the Irish government imported maize and wheat into the country. Ironically, rather than help feed the people dying of starvation, priority was put on feeding livestock with the imports.

2. The Doolough Tragedy Was A Sad Highlight of the Great Irish Famine

During the Great Irish Famine, the authorities tried different methods of mitigating the calamity. Among them was the Outdoor Relief Program the Poor Law Union officials established. The social welfare and poor relief initiative aimed to assist the impoverished with food, money, and clothing.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy to access the much-needed help. In 1849, hundreds of people were asked to present themselves before the Poor Law Union Officials to ascertain that they really needed help. Their journey included trekking about 19 kilometers (12 miles). More than 20 people, including women and children, died of thirst and starvation near and around the shores of Doolough Lake.

3. The Impoverished Were Given Pointless Construction Duties During the Great Famine

To keep the peasants busy and ensure the privileged maintained their jobs, the authorities in Ireland developed pointless construction projects known as “famine follies.” They hired people experiencing poverty to build useless infrastructure, including roads that led nowhere and undefined standing structures.

4. The Number of People Who Died in the Great Famine Is Unknown

Many people lost their lives in Ireland because of starvation and diseases during the Great Famine. However, the exact number is unknown, largely because the records the Catholic Church kept were inconclusive. At the beginning of 1841, Ireland’s population was slightly over 8 million. 10 years later, in 1851, the number had reduced to about 6.5 million. By projection, were it not for the famine, the population should have risen to over 9 million people. The country’s population has never recovered to date.

5. Scottish Soccer Club Glasgow Celtic Was Formed By Irish Immigrants

Now a heavyweight soccer club in Scotland, Glasgow Celtic FC was formed by Irish immigrants who came to the country to escape the effects of the Great Irish Famine. In 2017, the club’s staff and players wore commemorative patches to honor the Great Hunger victims.

6. Western and Southern Parts of Ireland Were the Most Affected

Even though the whole of Ireland and Europe felt the effects of the Great Famine, the country’s western and southern parts were the hardest hit. Most of the people here spoke the Irish language. This explains why the Great Irish Famine period is sometimes called an Drochshaol, which directly translates to “the bad life” and loosely translates to “the hard times.”

7. 1847 Marked the Worst Phase of the Great Irish Famine

The Great Irish Famine started in 1845 and extended to 1852, with its severity varying throughout the years. 1847 is considered the worst phase of the calamity, considering relief food was scarce, rent prices skyrocketed, and unemployment thrived.

8. The Great Famine Didn’t Affect Ireland Alone

While Ireland was, by far, the worst affected, other European countries were affected too. Reports show that blight infection, which is thought to have been the primary cause of the catastrophe, killed over 100,000 people outside Ireland. There was also a culmination of social unrest that resulted in revolutions in various parts of Europe in 1948 because of the famine.

9. Experts Saw the Great Irish Famine Coming Long Before It Did

In 1801, Ireland became a part of the United Kingdom after the Acts of Union was passed. As a result, the country sent 105 members of parliament to the UK’s House of Commons, with 28 elected to sit for life in the House of Lords. On the other hand, Ireland was left without active leaders capable of making decisions that would push the country forward.

Between 1801 and when the famine started in 1845, about 114 commissions and 61 special committees were tasked with looking into the state of Ireland. All of them arrived at the same conclusion: the country was at risk of starvation, unemployment, and extremely low living standards. This is precisely what happened.

10. The Great Famine Stretched The Relationship between Ireland and England

During the Great Famine, massive amounts of foodstuffs were still being exported to England from Ireland even as people struggled with starvation. This resulted in anger, bitterness, and stretched relationships between the two countries.

11. The Irish Were Hugely Dependent on Potatoes

When potatoes were first introduced in Ireland, they were specifically for the high social class, otherwise known as the “Gentry.” However, by the 17th century, the crop had spread throughout the country, even though it was still a supplementary food. The locals preferred milk, grain products, and butter. By the 1800s, potatoes had become the country’s staple food. At some point, laborers were paid “potato wages.” This explains why the potato blight caused insurmountable losses.

12. The Potato Blight Probably Originated in the United States

Before the arrival of Phytophthora infestans, popularly called “blight,” Ireland had only seen two potato diseases: curl and taint/dry rot. While experts are unsure how the disease got to Europe, they are certain that it didn’t exist there before 1842. Some speculate that ships from New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore could have carried the blight to the European ports.

13. Charles Trevelyan Claimed the Famine Was A Lesson from God

Charles Trevelyan was the officer in charge of the administration of government relief during the Great Famine. When he took over, he immediately slashed aide programs, stating that only those with money could access imported food. Trevelyan further claimed that the famine was a judgment from God that was sent to teach the Irish a lesson. He wasn’t about to stand in God’s way.

14. About One Million People Emigrated from Ireland During the Great Famine

Estimates show about one million long-distance emigrants moved from Ireland between 1846 and 1851. Most went to Scotland, North America, England, Canada, South Wales, and Australia. Liverpool, a city in England, probably received the most Irish emigrants.

15. Whether or Not The Great Famine Was a Genocide Has Often Been Debated

In hindsight, some people look at the Great Irish Famine as a possible genocide. British government’s response to the famine has always been criticized, with some arguing that the only reason it doesn’t qualify as genocide is the lack of clear intent to destroy people. In 1996, a group of Irish Americans demanded that the Great Hunger be included in New Jersey’s secondary schools curriculum, alongside the Holocaust.

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Last Update: January 4, 2024