Irish Potato Famine

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 their lives.

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 children's hearts.

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.

Additional Sources
    Table of Contents
  Irish Genealogy
  Immigrant Experience
  - Castle Gardens, New York
  - Ellis Island, New York
  Cahersiveen, County Kerry, Ireland
  Valentia, County Kerry, Ireland
  Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland
  Irish Potato Famine
  Murphy Family
  Shea Family
  Healy Family
  Beirne Family
  Irish Family Research - Supplement
  Emigration - Queenstown, County Cork, Ireland
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