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The Irish Famine
Transcript of The Irish Famine
What do you already know about The Irish Famine?
Penal Laws in the 1700's meant the poor Irish Catholic couldn't own land.
Although laws were repealed in the 1830's ownership of land was mostly in the hands of wealthy and absent landlords.
These landlords were referred to as the 'Protestant Ascendancy' and many lived in great houses such as Carton House in Maynooth.
95% of the population lived on landlord-owned land. These people were divided into two groups.
These farmers rented a farm, often less than ten acres, from a landlord.
Some tenant farmers were rich and had larger farms.
Some were middlemen. They rented large areas of land, divided it up into smaller areas and rented this land out at a profit.
Most tenant farmers lived in great poverty.
However, they practised subsistence farming. This meant they grew just enough food to pay their rent and feed their family.
The main crop grown was the potato.
This group worked for tenant farmers and rented a small patch of land from them on which to build a house.
A conacre was the name given to the patch of land rented by the cottier.
Renting a conacre to cottiers was widesread practice but was kept secret from the landlord.
In this way, the tenant farmer avoided paying increased rent to his landlord.
The cottier's diet relied on the potato.
Population increase led to a further reliance on the potato.
Cottiers and farm labourers were the poorest of the poor and were eventually wiped out by the famine.
Over Reliance on the Potato
Over the centuries the potato became the staple food Irish peasant relied on for survival.
This is because it was nutritious, could be grown in a small patch of land, and it suited the Irish climate.
The heavy reliance of the Irish population on the potato proved disastrous with the arrival of the potato blight in 1845.
This fungus attacked the potato as it grew in the ground.
It rotted the potato and made it inedible.
The blight spread throughout 845 and 1846 and more and more people died from starvation and diseases associated with malnutrition.
The year 1847 (Black '47) was the worst year of the famine.
Tens of thousands of cotiters, tenant farmers, their wives and children died.
What do the sources below tell you?
At the same time as those people were starving to death, plentiful supplies of food was on sale. Food was available, but to only those who could afford it.
Most tenant farmers and cottiers paid their rent in potatoes. The landlord then sold the crop for profit.
When the blight struck, these people were unable to pay their rent and were evicted.
British Government Response
The British government was responsible for Irish affairs since the Act of Union, 1801.
Its reaction to the potato blight was slow.
However it did make certain moves to alleviate the suffering during the famine years.
Work schemes were set up. Those who had no food did hard labour in order to earn money to but food.
Workhouses were also set up. These were meant to clear the road of the poor and starving.
Indian maize was imported from America to distribute to the population on the orders the British Prime Minister Robert Peel.
However, instructions on how to cook the maize were not distributed and many people were unable to eat it and as a result starved.