A disease attacked the
potato crop in 1845; half of the crop was destroyed. The potato
was the basic staple of the Irish diet. When the potatoes were
dug from the ground, they turned a slimy, decaying, blackish mass
of rottenness, thus, beginning the Irish potato famine. Some experts
believed it was caused by smoke from railroads or vapors rising
from underground volcanoes. But, in fact, the cause of the Irish
potato famine was a fungus that had traveled from Mexico to Ireland.
The winter of 1846 was very severe, causing the Irish to suffer
even more. In 1847 the potato crop failed again, and the Irish
were faced with starvation. The potato famine forever changed
But there was plenty of food in Ireland: mutton, poultry, wheat,
and oats. These were all in excellent supply, but the Irish-English
landlords shipped these to the European continent for profit.
Ships left Ireland loaded with food while the Irish lived on grass
from the fields. The Irish potato famine wiped out whole families
and brought disease to villages and cities.
England was unwilling to give money to help the Irish because
they were afraid the Irish would buy guns to revolt against them
and free food would surely not help to make them self-sufficient.
It would seem that the Irish potato famine became the convenient
event for Irish extermination.
Famine fever soon spread through the Irish countryside. Children
cried out in pain looking like skeletons, their features sharpened
with hunger and their limbs wasted, so that there was little left
but bones. Masses of bodies were buried without coffins, a few
inches below the soil. The Irish potato famine was responsible
for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Irish.
Over the next ten years, more than 750,000 Irish died and another
2 million left their homeland. Within five years, the Irish population
was reduced by a quarter, all because of the Irish potato famine.
It was said of this immigrant generation that few found success
and prosperity in America...this had to wait for their children's
and grandchildren's generation. Those who stayed true to their
homeland faced a war of life that shattered many dreams and put
fear into the hearts of the Irish people. My great-grandparents
survived those devastating times, and although grateful for that
blessing, I wonder at what price? Hatred and suspicion, fear and
mistrust replaced the feelings of contentment and security. The
survivors of the Irish potato famine survived the blight but lived
with the anger buried in their souls only to re-surface in their
The Irish potato famine left as its legacy deep and lasting feelings
of bitterness and distrust towards the British. Many Irish were
convinced, and with good reason, that the Irish potato famine
was a direct outgrowth of British colonial policies.