- These images show scenes from Ireland in the period 1847-51.
- Source 4a shows a soup kitchen run by Protestant Quakers in County
Cork in 1847. This was set up to feed the starving small farmers of
Ireland whose crops were wiped out by the failure of the potato crops.
- Source 4b shows small farmers being evicted from their land by landlords
because they could not pay the rent. This was due to the failure of
their crops. The prospects for this family were very bad indeed.
- Source 4c shows a family being blessed by the local priest before
emigrating in 1851. They were probably going to Canada and then on to
the USA. They may have been going to Liverpool first, to catch a boat
from there. Relatives who were already in America or England probably
paid for the emigration. In some areas, however, landlords provided
money to help tenants to emigrate.
- Ireland was the first English colony and proved one of the most troublesome.
The majority of the population were Catholic farmers who rented small
properties from landlords. Most of the landlords were Protestant Anglo-Irish
(descended from English or Scottish settlers).
- The landlords made their money from rent paid by the small farmers.
The landlords’ agents therefore tried to get as many rent-paying
tenants on their lands as possible.
- By about 1840 the population of Ireland was around 9 million. This
large population was able to live on small plots of land because of
the potato. It was an excellent food and it gave three crops every year.
However, in the early 1840s a terrible disease called blight destroyed
the potato crops and continued to do so until 1851.
- Ireland was devastated. The Irish Famine was the largest natural disaster
in Western Europe since the Black Death of the 1300s. Around 1 million
died from hunger and disease. At least 1.5 million more emigrated in
the famine period. Emigration continued after that. Even today, the
population of Ireland is about 5 million. It is the only country in
Western Europe whose population has fallen since the 1800s.
- The famine caused great bitterness towards British rule. Irish emigrants
in the USA supported anti-British movements. There were even accusations
that the British deliberately did nothing to stop the starvation as
they wanted to reduce the population of Ireland.
- The Irish Famine was one of the greatest failures of British rule, along with the terrible famines in India of 1876-77 and 1899-1900, which killed even more people. It is not true that the British did nothing. The government spent millions of pounds on food aid and schemes to create work. Private individuals, the churches and charities all made huge efforts to help the starving poor. However, the British government thought that private enterprise by farmers would solve the problems of food shortages. The government failed to see how great the problems were and did not take enough action in time.