Why Had The Potato Become The Staple Diet In Ireland In The 1840s?

3120 words - 12 pages

Why had the potato become the staple diet in Ireland in the 1840'sThe introduction of the potato in the sixteenth century heavily influenced Irish culture, including its agriculture and the fluctuation of its population. The reason the Irish became so dependant on the potato was due to the colonial system. When Britain was experiencing an industrial revolution, Ireland failed to do so due to a lack of natural resources such as iron ore and coal. Even though Ireland was mainly an agricultural economy and had vast supplies of cattle, her economy was deeply affected by the land owning structure, which the British had created. This encouraged a subdivision system, helping to increase the population and forcing the Irish to rely heavily on one food source.The potato originated in Cuzco, located in the Andes of Peru. It was brought to Spain in 1565 by Spanish explorers to the New World. When the potato first reached Ireland in the sixteenth century, the potato was not eaten by the Irish people but used to feed livestock. The Irish diet was based on cattle, which Ireland traditionally produced in vast numbers. The potato thrived in the damp climate and the importance of the potato in the Irish diet grew gradually in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds. In the late 1700's the population began to increase, particularly at the bottom of the social ladder, this was mainly due to early marriages, followed by large families. Unlike Britain, Ireland lacked major industrial centres. Jobs were scarce and there was little point in trying to save up by waiting to get married. A small plot on the farm on which to grow food and a house built with stones and 'mud kneaded with straw' was the most any married couple could hope for. Parents saw children as insurance against starvation in their old age. The potato soon became a basic food of the poor, as it was an abundant and healthful food. In the 1770's Arthur Young expressed the opinion that, 1)' so far as mere quantity of food was concerned, the Irish labourer was better off than the English. I will not assert that potatoes are a better food than bread and cheese; but I have no doubt of a bellyful of the one being much better than half a bellyful of the other'. It was left for the nineteenth century to show how dangerous this dependence on the potato could be.The potato was rich in carbohydrates and vitamins. According to recent research.2)'The potato was the only single crop that can support life as a sole diet.' Although the potato was deficient in vitamin A, this could be supplemented with buttermilk. A family of six could sustain themselves on an acre and a half of land for twelve months, while growing grain took six times the amount of acreage. The daily diet for an adult would be twelve to fourteen pounds of potatoes daily. Due to population increase there was an increased demand for land. The potato could be grown in very poor soil and could be grown on hilly landscapes, which were previously unused because...

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