Today, Ireland is known as a land full of culture and pride. It is a beautiful land with rich music, art, religion, and tradition. Like any nation, however, Ireland has had its fair share of hardship. The most devastating of which was known as the Great Famine. The nation was deeply devastated by this event both economically and socially. The Great Famine claimed over a million lives due to hunger and disease and resulted in the exodus of another million all in the span of six years. It is uncertain whether or not the famine could have been avoided, but the severity of the famine could have definitely been reduced. There were certain policies and procedures implemented by the British that set the Irish economy up for inevitable failure.
Ireland had over eight million people during the mid-19th century. They were heavily reliant on agriculture and many of the Irish people were impoverished and living in poor conditions. The Irish were considered some of the poorest people of the west. They had a low literacy rate, low life expectancy rates, and although Ireland was an agricultural nation, they were generally low income. Because they could not afford anything else, the Irish were very dependent on potatoes. The potato was a cheap source of protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins that were suitable for survival. The substantial reliance on potatoes was one of the main reasons the famine was as destructive as it was. It started in the summer of 1845, when the blight was first discovered. It sickened all of Ireland’s potato crop and the vast majority of the Irish people depended solely on potatoes. Hayden describes it as “simply the most violent episode in a history characterised by violence of every conceivable kind, the inevitable consequence of the destruction of Ireland’s cultural, political and economic diversity.”
To understand the famine and why is was so destructive, it is important to understand the mechanics behind it. Irish farmers generally used a planting technique called ‘lazy bed.’ It allowed for the planting area to be raised off the ground with trenches dug out for drainage. Planting was done in the spring and did not mature until September. This variety of potato was known as Lumpers. Although they produced and a lot of these lumpers, they were also less nutritious and took a longer time to mature. During the summer, when last year’s crop ran out, the poorest families would beg for food and work in order to feed themselves. This lasted until the fall when the new crop would mature. With this system of consumption and production people were only going to survive as long as the crop did not fail.
The inefficiencies of the potato crop system are apparent. Families would be struggle with hunger for four to six months until the crop matured and if and when it did not mature they would be in big trouble. This is why the famine claimed so many lives. During the summer months, known as the ‘summer hunger,’ people were already...