Timeline of the Irish Potato Famine 1845-1851

by JoHarrington

It was one of the darkest periods of the Victorian era. Even in the modern day, the population of Ireland has not yet recovered.

Aware of the history, I cringe at using the term 'Irish Potato Famine'. It was much more than that. I personally prefer 'Genocide of the Irish', but that is a subject for another article.

I've labelled it by the better known name for this period, on the basis that this is what most readers will be searching for.

My intent here is merely to lay out what actually happened as a timeline. It was originally part of my notes, while I was studying for my Master's Degree in History. I used it while writing my essays and preparing my presentations. As such, the notations are there and I've left them in, in the hope that future students will be assisted too.

I am happy to answer any questions raised by this timeline in the comments at the bottom of the page.

Image: Irish family during the famine.
Image: Irish family during the famine.

The Irish Potato Famine in 1845

This was the year that crops failed, but only in some parts of the country.

1845:                     Devon Report recommended that a landlord must compensate an outgoing tenant for any improvements done to the property.  However, this never made it to the statute books.[1]

Sept 9th 1845:       Potato Blight was first noted[2] (variously dated at late-August[3]).  A sixth of the year’s crop was harvested in a healthy state and some areas of Ireland were unaffected.[4]  Another source says that half of that year’s crop was saved.[5]

Nov 1st 1845:       British prime minister Robert Peel ordered the importation of Indian corn into Ireland.[6]  He sent scientists into Ireland, but they incorrectly diagnosed the potato blight.[7]  He also proposed the creation of a special relief commission.[8]

Dec 1845:             Daniel O’Connell, Republican politician, said, in a speech to the Mansion House Committee, ‘let it not be pretended that we seek alms at the hands of England.  We are doing no such thing.’[9]

[1] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[2] http://www.people.virginia.edu/~dnp5c/Victorian/history.html

[3] K Theodore Hoppen ‘Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity’

[4] K Theodore Hoppen ‘Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity’

[5] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[6] http://www.people.virginia.edu/~dnp5c/Victorian/history.html

[7] http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish/irish_pf.html

[8] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[9] Mary Daly ‘Revision and Irish History:  The Great Famine’

Books About Irish Famine

Ireland 1798-1998: War, Peace and Beyond

Receiving widespread critical acclaim when first published, Ireland 1798-1998 has been revised to include coverage of the most recent developments. Jackson’s stylish and imparti...

View on Amazon

Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity (2nd Edition)

The second edition of this bestselling survey of modern Irish history covers social, religious as well as political history and offers a distinctive combination of chronological...

View on Amazon

Irish Famine 1845-1850

This YouTube video gives a great overview, the detail of which is provided on this page.

The Irish Potato Famine in 1846

This was the year when the crop blight became total; and the British government started to turn its back.

Jan-Mar 1846:      Series of governmental acts and laws were passed to help deal with the famine.  These introduced state-aided funds, works and health measures.[1]

Jan 1846:              £100,000 worth of maize and meal arrived in Ireland from the USA, paid for by Peel’s government.[2]

June 26th 1846:     The Repeal of the Corn Laws entered the legislature.  This was despite opposition in Britain, as the landowners and grain exporters would lose large profits.  However, as Ireland had been part of Great Britain since 1800,  grain could be exported from Ireland into Britain without taxation, though the reverse process incurred taxes.[3] 

June 1846:            Prime Minister Robert Peel was forced to resign. His closing speech condemned those more concerned with profit than starving people: ‘"Good God, are you to sit in cabinet and consider and calculate how much diarrhea, and bloody flux, and dysentery a people can bear before it becomes necessary for you to provide them with food?"[4]

June 30th 1846:     Lord John Russell became British Prime Minister, as the head of a Whig administration.[5]  He pledged to use ‘the whole credit of the Treasury and the means of the country… as is our bounden duty to use them… to avert famine, and to maintain the people of Ireland.’[6]

1846-1847:           Cattle-raids and food riots raged in Cork.[7]

Aug 17th 1846:      The Russell administration announced that it would no longer interfere with the grain market.[8]

Aug 24th 1846:      Emergency legislation gave the Board of Health the right to provide temporary fever hospitals or dispensaries when and where required.  However, they had to send back weekly hospital returns in order to remain open.[9] This meant that they were quickly bogged down in paperwork and bureaucracy.

Sept 1846:             Anglo-Irish landowner, Elizabeth Smith, wrote in her diary: ‘I wish there was not a tenant in Baltiboys, there will not be many by and by, no small holders at any rate.  When potatoes are gone a few acres won’t be worth a man’s time to manage.  What a revolution of good will this failure of cheap food cause.’[10]

Autumn 1846:       There was total potato crop failure in Ireland.[11]

1846:                     Contemporary observer, Lord Monteagle, commented that this year had changed the Irish attitude to emigration.  Whereas before it was exile, now it was escape.[12]

Oct 1846:              Lord John Russell announced that the British government could not be expected to feed the Irish and instead proposed relief employment, paid for by the Irish landowners.  Robert Peel’s Relief Commission was dismantled and a Board of Works was established instead.  They found work for only 750,000 people, who were paid starvation wages.[13]  British Secretary of the Treasury, Charles Edward Trevelyan, wrote that Ireland was over-populated 'beyond the power of man, but the cure has been applied by the direct stroke of an all-wise Providence in a manner as unexpected and as unthought of as it is likely to be effectual.'

Scene at an Irish Workhouse Gate Circa 1846

Oct 1846:              The population of Ireland was estimated at 8,200,000.[14]  (By comparison, the modern day population of Eire and Northern Ireland combined is still only around 6.4 million; and that includes a wave of immigration into the Republic of Ireland over the past decade.)

1846:                     A discourse in Gaelic from Cork expressed anxiety about ‘the proper estimation and equitable distribution of relief supplies’.[15]

Nov 1846:             The Quakers became involved, setting up soup kitchens throughout Ireland.  Much of the food, clothing, bedding and funds were donated by American and Quaker families.  The Quakers alone donated £200,000 for famine relief and thus became the main source for keeping the Irish alive. They also established funds for local employment. [16]  The Dublin Quakers (aka Society of Friends) formed a Central Relief Committee to coordinate the efforts in Ireland.[17]

Dec 1846:             Dr Henry J Smith, Mountrath, informed the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Claredon, that the poor were already showing the signs of bad and insufficient food in their gaunt features and emaciated frames.[18]

Dec 1846:             A magistrate visited Skibereen, in West Cork, and reported: ‘I was surprised to find the wretched hamlet apparently deserted.  I entered some of the hovels to ascertain the cause, and the scenes which presented themselves were such as no tongue or pen can convey the slightest idea of.  In the first, six famished and ghastly skeletons, to all appearances dead, were huddled in a corner on some filthy straw… their wretched legs hanging about, naked above the knees.  I approached with horror, and found by a low moaning they were alive… in a few minutes I was surrounded by at least 200 such phantoms, such frightful spectres as no words can describe, either from famine or from fever.  Their demoniac yells are still ringing in my ears, and their horrible images are fixed upon my brain.’[19]

Winter 1846-1847:    Maize prices ‘virtually tripled’ in the export markets.[20]

[1] http://www.people.virginia.edu/~dnp5c/Victorian/history.html

[2] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[3] http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish/irish_pf.html

[4] http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish/irish_pf.html

[5] http://www.people.virginia.edu/~dnp5c/Victorian/history.html

[6] Peter Gray ‘The Triumph of Dogma:  Ideology and Famine Relief’

[7] RF Foster ‘Modern Ireland 1600-1972’

[8] http://www.people.virginia.edu/~dnp5c/Victorian/history.html

[9] Laurence M Geary ‘The Late Disastrous Epidemic’

[10] Matthew Stout ‘The Geography and Implications of Post-Famine Population Decline in Baltyboys, County Wicklow’

[11] K Theodore Hoppen ‘Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity’

[12] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[13] http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish/irish_pf.html

[14] RF Foster ‘Modern Ireland 1600-1972’

[15] Neil Buttimer ‘A Stone in the Cairn’

[16] http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish/irish_pf.html

[17] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[18] Laurence M Geary ‘The Late Disastrous Epidemic’

[19] K Theodore Hoppen ‘Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity’

[20] Mary Daly ‘Revision and Irish History:  The Great Famine’

Buy Histories of the Irish Potato Famine

The Irish Potato Famine in 1847

This year would be forever remembered as Black '47. More Irish people died or emigrated this year than at any other in the country's history.

Winter 1846-May 1847:        The British government spent over £45 million on public works schemes, ‘which coincided with the period of highest famine mortality, as a result of weak and hungry people being forced to undertake hard, physical labour as a ‘test’ of destitution.’  The money was a loan to the Irish administration and was subject to both interest and principal bearing, with repayment taken with immediate effect.[1]  The idea was that the poor in Ireland would earn enough money to buy their own food, however, food prices rose generally out of the reach of those on the schemes.[2]

January 1847:       There was a protest to demand more money held by Irish peers, MPs and landlords, at the Rotunda, in Dublin.[3]

Mid-Jan 1847:       Fever and dysentery ‘of an alarming and malignant character’ were reported in Carlingford, County Louth.  Also thousands of people fleeing from famine and pestilence overwhelmed the fever hospital and workhouse hospital in Galway.[4]

Jan 1847:               A landlord reported from Derry, where the famine was less desperate: ‘the moment I open my hall door in the morning until dark, I have a crowd of women and children crying out for something to save them from starving… We are also visited by hordes of wandering poor who come from the mountains, or other districts less favoured by a resident gentry, and worst of all, Death is dealing severely and consigning many to an untimely tomb.’[5]

Jan 1847:              ‘The records of the Killaloe Committee show a constant struggle with a niggardly and dilatory central administration, eventually forced to acquiesce in gratuitous food distribution by January 1847.  There were no deaths from starvation in the parish.’[6]

Jan 1847:              Professional administrators of the Board of Works argued that labor and relief should be kept conceptually apart.  The British government agreed.[7]

Feb 26th-June 8th 1847:    An act of parliament set up soup kitchens and outdoor famine relief.[8]  The Land Improvements Act advanced funds to Irish landowners totaling £3,000,000 from the British Treasury.[9]

Feb 1847:              The Destitute Poor (Ireland) Act provided free food through government soup kitchens, paid for by the rates, private charity and central funds.[10]  The Central Board of Health, previously disbanded in August 1846, was re-established.[11]  The Mitchelstown workhouse, intended for 900 inmates, now held 1533 people.  Meanwhile, 95 of the 800 inmates of Lurgan workhouse died in one week.[12]

March 1847:         Lord George Bentinck, leader of the Tory opposition party, questioned the government about the Irish famine, asking for mortality statistics.  There were no official figures, though he suspected ‘... tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of deaths - they could not learn from the government how many, for there was one point about which the government were totally ignorant or which they concealed, which was the mortality which had occurred during their administration of Irish affairs.’ He blamed the economic philosophy of the government: ‘They know the people have been dying by their thousands and I dare them to inquire what has been the number of those who have died through their mismanagement, by their principles of free trade. Yes, free trade in the lives of the Irish people.’[13]

Spring 1847:         720,000 Irish people were employed in relief projects.[14] 

March 1847:         In this month alone, 50,000 Irish disembarked from boats onto the docks of Liverpool, England. The Irish landlords - who had often paid for the trip - knew they would be cared for under the British Poor Law Act.[15]

March 24th 1847:  British people, led by Queen Victoria, held a National Day of Atonement, fasting and doing penance, for the Irish famine.[16]

April 1847:           A report, to the Central Board of Health from Killarney, showed that people were literally dropping dead in the street.  130 people were crammed into the local hospital, which had been designed to accommodate 54 patients, and the workhouse was full.[17]

April 3rd 1847:      The London Times complained that ‘Pauperism in Ireland is now draining ten million (pounds) a year from the English exchequer, to that the Irish legislators make no objection;  it is quite according to ‘sound principles’.  Englishmen think the drain can be stopped, and (want to) fix Irish property with a rate, as they themselves were saddled with one between two and three centuries ago.'[18]

1847:                     William Gregory, Galway landowner and MP for Dublin, argued in Parliament against proposed legislation which would place the emphasis for relief from the British government onto the Irish landlords.  He said that ‘the whole rental of Ireland would not suffice for the relief which must be required under this bill’.   He claimed that it would demoralize the rural population, whilst absorbing the capital of the country, diminishing wages and reducing the laborers to paupers. In short, it would be ‘more prejudicial to the poor than the rich’.[19]

May 15th 1847:            Daniel O’Connell, the famous Irish Republican politician, died.[20]  He had fought long and hard for Irish freedom from Britain.  But he had failed in both that and in persuading the British Parliament to take early action to stave off Irish starvation in 1845. With his health failing, he'd undertaken a pilgrimage to Rome, but only got as far as Genoa before dying.

May 1847:            Public works stopped.[21]  Food prices started falling just when public relief works are being stopped.[22]

June 1847:          The Poor Law Amendment Act, including the Gregory Clause, was passed.  This shifted the responsibility for the relief of the Irish onto the Irish landowners (usually absentee owners living in Britain) from the British Treasury.  It authorized relief outside workhouses in a broad spectrum of areas.  However the Gregory Clause stated that those who owned a quarter of an acre of land need not be helped.  The landowners reacted by mass clearances of tenants on their lands, so the acres could be used for the more profitable cattle grazing.  Those with an acre of land quickly lost it. They couldn’t use it to stop their families starving, thus it helped to consolidate land for the larger land-owners.   Public opinion in Britain saw this act as benevolent.[23]

1847:                   There were 17,465 documented deaths in this year on the emigration ‘coffin ships’.[24]  Of these, 4,572 occurred within a two-month period.[25]

June 1847:           The MP for Rochdale, William Sharman Crawford, proposed a bill based on the Devon Commission, which recommended that landlords compensate outgoing tenants for any improvements done to their property.  It failed by 112 votes to 25.[26]

1847:                    40 Protestant clergymen died of typhus or relapsing fever, while the number of dead Catholic clergymen was double that of the year before.[27] (NB Source doesn’t give figure for the previous year.)

June 1847:           William Kingsley, physician to the Roscrea fever hospital, in County Tipperary, wrote to the Board of Health complaining that the cabins of the poor were ‘a constant, fertile and permanent source of typhus fever, in consequence of the putrid effluvia exhaled from (the cess-pools) and blown by the wind into the interior of those filthy habitations’.[28]

July 1847:             Lord Clarendon became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.[29]

1847:                    The Quakers set up the British Relief Association appealing to the populations of America, England and Australia to help save the Irish.  The charity benefited from two letters penned by Queen Victoria, at the beginning and later on in the year, supporting aid.  The Quakers raised £470,000.  Donors included £16,500 from Calcutta, £3,000 from Bombay, other  amounts from Florence, Italy, Antigua, France, Jamaica and Barbados.  A Native American tribe, the Choctaw, sent $710; while Jewish synagogues in Britain and America contributed generously.   The British Secretary for the Treasury reacted with horror. He warned against ‘lavish charity’.[30]

1847:                    The Tenants’ Organization was set up in Holycross, Tipperary, by Fintan Lalor, but it remained a local affair.[31]

Aug 4th 1847:       The Toronto Globe reported that, on the latest emigration ship to arrive, 158 passengers were already dead and 180 were sick. The newspaper predicted that half of the original passengers would never ‘see their home in the New World.’[32]

August 1847:       Three million Irish people were being fed daily in government run soup kitchens.[33]  However, the British government lost several seats in Parliament to a ‘small majority of Whig-Liberals’ opposing these soup kitchens.[34]

Aug 30th 1847:     The London Times wrote: "In no other country have men talked treason until they are hoarse, and then gone about begging for sympathy from their oppressors. In no other country have the people been so liberally and unthriftily helped by the nation they denounced and defied."[35]

Autumn 1847:      The crop blight was less severe, but little had been planted the previous year, as the seed potatoes had been eaten as food.[36]  Lord Trevelyan declared that famine was over and ‘no further extraordinary measures could be justified’. [37]  Government run soup kitchens, seen only as a short-term measure, closed and mortality rates rose.[38]  Lord Russell commented ‘we have in the opinion of Great Britain done too much for Ireland and have lost elections for doing so.’[39]

Oct 1847:             There was a British banking crisis and financial crash. Popular opinion in Britain targeted Irish relief as the cause.[40]

Late 1847:            There was an upsurge in agrarian violence in Ireland.[41]

Nov 2nd 1847:      John Ross Mahon, an Irish landowner, was fatally shot by the lover of a young woman whom he had forcefully evicted.  The woman was now suspected drowned after leaving on one of the coffin ships, which Mahon had commissioned for his ex-tenants.[42]

Nov 1847:            A Coercion Act was passed to protect landlords against the ‘murderous revenge’ of their tenants.[43]

Nov 1847:            Seán Ó Dálaigh, a schoolteacher, warned in a lecture to the Dublin Confederate Club, that the Famine could see the survival of the Gaelic language brought into doubt.[44] Too many Gaelic speakers were either dying or emigrating to countries where Gaelic was not the first language.

End of 1847:        Republican John Mitchel urged the Irish to arm themselves, for which he was expelled from the Young Ireland group. Mitchel then established his own republican newspaper, the ‘United Irishman’.  His slogan was for ‘Ireland her own, and all therein, from the sod to the sky.  The soil of Ireland for the people of Ireland, to have and to hold from God alone.’[45]

[1] Christine Kinealy ‘Beyond Revisionism: Reassessing the Great Irish Famine’

[2] Mary Daly ‘Revision and Irish History:  The Great Famine’

[3] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[4] Laurence M Geary ‘The Late Disastrous Epidemic’

[5] K Theodore Hoppen ‘Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity’

[6] RF Foster ‘Modern Ireland 1600-1972’

[7] Peter Gray ‘The Triumph of Dogma:  Ideology and Famine Relief’

[8] http://www.people.virginia.edu/~dnp5c/Victorian/history.html

[9] R F Foster ‘Modern Ireland 1600-1972’

[10] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[11] Laurence M Geary ‘The Late Disastrous Epidemic’

[12] Laurence M Geary ‘The Late Disastrous Epidemic’

[13] http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish/irish_pf.html

[14] K Theodore Hoppen ‘Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity’

[15] James S Donnelly ‘Irish Property Must Pay for Irish Poverty’.

[16] Mary Daly ‘Revision and Irish History:  The Great Famine’

[17] Laurence M Geary ‘The Late Disastrous Epidemic’

[18] James S Donnelly ‘Irish Property Must Pay for Irish Poverty’.

[19] James S Donnelly ‘Irish Property Must Pay for Irish Poverty’.

[20] K Theodore Hoppen ‘Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity’

[21] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[22] Mary Daly ‘Revision and Irish History:  The Great Famine’

[23] James S Donnelly ‘Irish Property Must Pay for Irish Poverty’.

[24] http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish/irish_pf.html

[25] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[26] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[27] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[28] Laurence M Geary ‘The Late Disastrous Epidemic’

[29] Peter Gray ‘The Triumph of Dogma:  Ideology and Famine Relief’

[30] http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish/irish_pf.html

[31] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[32] http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish/irish_pf.html

[33] K Theodore Hoppen ‘Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity’

[34] Peter Gray ‘The Triumph of Dogma:  Ideology and Famine Relief’

[35] http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish/irish_pf.html

[36] K Theodore Hoppen ‘Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity’

[37] Peter Gray ‘The Triumph of Dogma:  Ideology and Famine Relief’

[38] Christine Kinealy ‘Beyond Revisionism: Reassessing the Great Irish Famine’

[39] Peter Gray ‘The Triumph of Dogma:  Ideology and Famine Relief’

[40] Peter Gray ‘The Triumph of Dogma:  Ideology and Famine Relief’

[41] Peter Gray ‘The Triumph of Dogma:  Ideology and Famine Relief’

[42] Charles E Orser Jr ‘An Archaeology of the Great Famine’

[43] James S Donnelly ‘Irish Property Must Pay for Irish Poverty’.

[44] Neil Buttimer ‘A Stone in the Cairn’

[45] K Theodore Hoppen ‘Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity’

The Irish Potato Famine in 1848

The meagre potato crop failed again, but now there was a widespread secondary problem with viruses and disease.

1848-1849:          Asiatic flu became a pandemic in Ireland.[1] Commissioners in Dublin remained critical about British governmental policy in Ireland.[2]

1848:                    Charles Edward Trevelyan, Secretary of the Treasury for Britain wrote:  "The matter is awfully serious, but we are in the hands of Providence, without a possibility of averting the catastrophe if it is to happen. We can only wait the result."  Later that year Trevelyan declared: "The great evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people."   Also in 1848, he was knighted for his services to Ireland.[3]

1848:                    Sir Charles Wood, the English Chancellor of the Exchequer, wrote to an Irish landlord: "I am not at all appalled by your tenantry going. That seems to be a necessary part of the process...We must not complain of what we really want to obtain."[4]  His budget of this year was defeated – it had included ‘a substantial increase in British income tax to meet the weight of Irish and defense expenditure, and which had been introduced by Russell.’  Sir Charles rejected Lord Clarendon’s appeals for more aid with the words ‘the British people have made up their minds to pay no more for Irish landlords.’[5]  Proposals for the reinstatement of Peel’s Public Works Scheme was also rejected by Lord Trevelyan.[6]

Feb 1848:           The Irish poor-houses held 135,000 inmates.[7]

March 1848:       The London Illustrated News called for an ‘immediate revision’ of the Poor Law Amendment Act, after realizing what the consequences of it were in practical terms.[8]

April 1848:          Anglo-Irish landowner, Elizabeth Smith, wrote in her diary: ‘there have been two clauses inserted by the Member for Dublin, Mr Gregory, one of which precludes the holder of more than a rood of land from being in any way assisted… The beggars are the small holders, entitled to no relief, and so we shall gradually get rid of them;  they must give up their patches and take to labour.’[9]

July 1848:            William Smith O’Brien led the ‘Tipperary Uprising’ of ‘some one hundred men’, but it was quickly suppressed.[10]  This was part of the Young Irelander movement.

Mid-1848:            800,000 persons were receiving food outside workhouses through government run soup kitchens.[11]

Autumn 1848:      Potato crop was a ‘complete disaster’.[12]

Nov 1848:            Anglo-Irish landowner, Elizabeth Smith, wrote in her diary: ‘Driving about, the many unroofed cabins give additional desolation to the wet and dirty lanes.  The moment the Poor House receives the inmates the wretched dwelling is destroyed so that a return is impossible;  quantities are still even at this season going off to America, many of them with plenty of money in their pockets!  And we miss them not.  This winter will surely make some room.’[13]

Nov 1848:            Carnacregg Hospital reported that, for the proceeding six months, its mortality rate had been 30%.[14]

Nov 25th 1848:     The London News was now firmly backing the Irish landowners against the Poor Law Amendment Act.[15]

Dec 1848:            Cholera spread through the workhouses, jails and pauper hospitals.[16]

End of 1848:        William Smith O’Brien and the leaders of the ‘Tipperary Uprising’ were tried and transported to Australia.[17]  They had originally been sentenced to death.

[1] Laurence M Geary ‘The Late Disastrous Epidemic’

[2] Mary Daly ‘Revision and Irish History:  The Great Famine’

[3] http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish/irish_pf.html

[4] http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish/irish_pf.html

[5] Peter Gray ‘The Triumph of Dogma:  Ideology and Famine Relief’

[6] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[7] RF Foster ‘Modern Ireland 1600-1972’

[8] James S Donnelly ‘Irish Property Must Pay for Irish Poverty’

[9] Matthew Stout ‘The Geography and Implications of Post-Famine Population Decline in Baltyboys, County Wicklow’

[10] K Theodore Hoppen ‘Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity’

[11] K Theodore Hoppen ‘Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity’

[12] K Theodore Hoppen ‘Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity’

[13]  Matthew Stout ‘The Geography and Implications of Post-Famine Population Decline in Baltyboys, County Wicklow’

[14] Laurence M Geary ‘The Late Disastrous Epidemic’

[15] James S Donnelly ‘Irish Property Must Pay for Irish Poverty’

[16] http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish/irish_pf.html

[17] K Theodore Hoppen ‘Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity’

More Books about the Irish Potato Famine

My personal recommendation is 'The Great Hunger'.

The Irish Potato Famine in 1849

While all of Ireland was suffering, the west was utterly devastated. Those witnessing it accused Britain of genocide, but the government could not be moved.

1849:                    Edward Twisleton, the Irish poor Law Commissioner, resigned to protest lack of aid from Britain. The Earl of Clarendon, acting as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, told British Prime Minister Lord John Russell the same day, that "He (Twisleton) thinks that the destitution here [in Ireland] is so horrible, and the indifference of the House of Commons is so manifest, that he is an unfit agent for a policy that must be one of extermination."[1]

1849:                    It was noted that Irish emigrants had a ‘socially ‘superior’ nature’.[2]

1849:                    The citizens of East Ulster (who largely escaped the famine because of local industry rather than agriculture being the norm) violently opposed a special rate-in-aid levy raised to alleviate the suffering in the rest of Ireland.[3]

1849:                    The Encumbered Estates Act passed to free landed property from legal encumbrances that prevented its sale, in response to the Irish landowners who became bankrupt.  Estates worth £20,000,000 changed hands in the 1850s.[4] This involved 3,000 sales of Irish properties between 1849 and 1857.[5]

March 1849:        The London News blamed the Irish landlords for the famine, stating that it was all for financial gain.  The editorial read: ‘Great Britain cannot continue to throw her hard-won millions into the bottomless pit of Celtic pauperism.’  At this point, the British government had not paid anything towards relief in Ireland for 18 months.[6]

Apr 14th 1849:     The Illustrated London News reported on the clearance of ‘nearly the entire village’ of Toomyvara, in North Tipperary, with 731 people displaced.  When, in June the same year, the landowner evicted the remaining 500 people, he gave the excuse that he had got ‘no rent recently’ and that all the evicted tenancy of the neighboring villages had settled in Toomyvara.  He then leveled the entire village.[7]  90,000 people were evicted, during 1849, from their homes in Ireland.[8]

Apr 26th 1849:     Lord Clarendon, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland wrote to Prime Minister Russell: "...it is enough to drive one mad, day after day, to read the appeals that are made and meet them all with a negative... At Westport, and other places in Mayo, they have not a shilling to make preparations for the cholera, but no assistance can be given, and there is no credit for anything, as all our contractors are ruined. Surely this is a state of things to justify you asking the House of Commons for an advance, for I don't think there is another legislature in Europe that would disregard such suffering as now exists in the west of Ireland, or coldly persist in a policy of extermination." No advance was granted.[9]

May 1849:           A measure was passed to allow the Poor Law Commission to levy the more prosperous east of Ireland to transfer funds into the devastated west of Ireland.[10]

June 1849:          The Irish poorhouses now had 215,000 inmates.[11]

October 1849:      The Tenant Protection Society was set up in Callan, County Kilkenny, by two Catholic curates.  It was the first of many permanent societies set up throughout Ireland and was regarded by JH Whyte to become, by the summer of  1850, the dominant political force in Ireland.[12]

[1] http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish/irish_pf.html

[2] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[3] RF Foster ‘Modern Ireland 1600-1972’

[4] RF Foster ‘Modern Ireland 1600-1972’

[5] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[6] James S Donnelly ‘Irish Property Must Pay for Irish Poverty’

[7] James S Donnelly ‘Irish Property Must Pay for Irish Poverty’.

[8] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[9] http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish/irish_pf.html

[10] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[11] RF Foster ‘Modern Ireland 1600-1972’

[12] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

Film about the Irish Famine

The Irish Potato Famine in 1850

So many were now dead or gone on 'coffin ships' that there were fewer stories of suffering. Those who survived made plans to fight.

1850:                    British government imposed a rate-in-aid in Ireland, but not in England, levying funds for relief in Ireland.[1]  The administration also loaned £300,000 to ‘bail out indebted unions’ in Ireland.[2]

August 1850:       There was a meeting of Tenant Societies, organized by Charles Gavan Duffy, Frederick Lucas and SM Greer.  They declared themselves in favor of a fair evaluation of rent, security of tenure and free sale of the tenant interest.  One result was the formation of the Irish Tenant League. This sowed the seeds of political agitation, which would be reaped in the 1880s.[3]

1850:                    104,000 Irish people were evicted in this year.[4]

Autumn 1850:      The worst of potato blight was finally regarded as over.[5]

[1] RF Foster ‘Modern Ireland 1600-1972’

[2] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[3] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[4] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

[5] K Theodore Hoppen ‘Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity’

The Population Changes in Ireland During the Famine Period 1841-1851

The green sections basically represent Irish people fleeing to Dublin, Belfast and Cork in the hope of aid.
Ireland Population During Great Irish Potato Famine Mouse Pad

The Irish Potato Famine in 1851

With the famine finally over, officialdom started to count the cost. It made chilling reading.

1851:                    Census commissioners wrote in their report:  "In conclusion, we feel it will be gratifying to your Excellency to find that although the population has been diminished in so remarkable a manner by famine, disease and emigration between 1841 and 1851, and has been since decreasing, the results of the Irish census of 1851 are, on the whole, satisfactory, demonstrating as they do the general advancement of the country."[1]

1851:                    ‘In 1841 the population of Ireland was given as 8,175,124; in 1851, after the famine, it had dropped to 6,552,385, and the Census Commissioners calculated that, at the normal rate of increase, the total should have been 9,018,799, so that a loss of at least 2.5 million persons had taken place. The figures available, however, must be regarded as giving only a rough indication; vital statistics are unobtainable, no record was kept of deaths, and very many persons must have died and been buried unknown, as the fever victims died and were buried in west Cork, as bodies, found lying dead on the road, were buried in ditches, and as the timid people of Erris perished unrecorded.’[2]

1851:                    The Medical Charities Act passed – similar to the NHS – in Ireland.

1851:                    Only 23% of the survivors in Ireland spoke Irish; only 5% of the survivors were monoglot Gaelic speakers.[3]

[1] http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish/irish_pf.html

[2] ‘The Great Hunger’ Cecil Woodham-Smith

[3] Alvin Jackson ‘Ireland 1798-1998’

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Updated: 12/21/2013, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 09/05/2012

The truth is that we'll never know precisely how many people were lost during that time. Though they can certainly be numbered in their millions.

Babies were born and died without ever being registered. Hungry people fell down in the lanes and were buried in the banks. There was a large amount of displacement going on, as people headed from the country to the larger towns and cities.

The usual figures given are over 1.5m dead and 2m emigrated, though that should be considered a minimum.

When I get chance, I'll see what I can uncover about your Mary Harrington. I'm currently writing another Wizzle about the Irish genocide, which should be published later today.

And yes, the story about what happened to the Irish, when they arrived in the new world, is a whole new testimony of horrors.

Rosemary on 09/04/2012

I was wrong about the 4 million said to survive. It was said to be 6 million. That doesn't account for any births during that time. I was checking out my tree and I realize a lot of my ancestors were born during those horrific 5 years and managed to live through it.

My Harrington was Mary Harrington born in or near West Meath in 1825 ish. I cannot find out what happened to her. For those who stayed, they probably could keep their feudal positions with the landlord since they really needed the farmers.

I think my tenement reading is now finished. That was a wee bit too much for me. I started with Jacob Riis' book and also read quite a bit on the net, and said....that's enough of that.

JoHarrington on 09/04/2012

'The Great Irish Potato Famine'? If I recall rightly, that one was just as shocking in the detail, but it was a little more layered under statistics than Woodham-Smith.

I do recall looking at lists of figures and not quite seeing the picture. Then I let my mind wonder onto what these figures actually represented. In some ways, that was worse than Woodham-Smith spelling it out.

Simple maths does tell most of a picture there, but we still have to be careful not to assign it all to starvation. Just because there's a huge genocide going on, it doesn't mean that people aren't also dying in unrelated ways. Much smaller numbers, obviously, but nevertheless there.

Plus there were the devastating pandemics that accompanied the potato blight. Those in, say Antrim, were more likely to have died of typhus or cholera during this time.

There are also those dying on the coffin ships. The emigration figures tend to look at those who arrived, not those who left. The latter was a much bigger number!

No-one can ever say that the Irish population wasn't horrifically hit though. Even today, their numbers haven't quite recovered; and the demographics were utterly changed.

I'm familiar with the situation in the New York tenements too. May I recommend 'Five Points' by Tyler Anbinder for more information about that?

Harrington was/is a big surname in Ireland, but comes from two roots. One is an English plantation family, who were landowners and probably not people that either of us hope to be related to. The other comes from Anglocizing a Gaelic surname that was prevalent in the Cork area. They actually were Irish. :)

Rosemary Leahy on 09/04/2012

I'm reading Donnelly's book now. I'm a tad over the shock I experienced when reading Woodham-Smith. I get frustrated when I read low stats of how many perished. 9 million were alive in 1841, 4 million remained, and 1 1/2 million emigrated. Simple math that nobody can seem to do. Nor will we ever know the real numbers.

BTW, I have a Harrington in my tree. Have you read about the tenements in New York? It's the stuff they make movies out of. Doing family research can be an eye-opener.

The Irish coming from the worst conditions in the world wound up in the next to worst conditions in the world upon arrival here. It's been some journey for me, especially when I can put names to the people who suffered so much. Not all them though. Just one limb of the tree, the others landed softer.

JoHarrington on 09/04/2012

Cecil Woodham-Smith's 'The Great Hunger' owned my world, when I first started researching this period in history. My history lecturer had to step in and remind me that you did need to refer to several texts, not just rely on one source. LOL

I agree that it's not for the faint of heart. It's a downright devastating testimony to what happened then.

It's horrific that any country should know the meaning of marasmus, except in an historical context. Unfortunately, way too many still do.

As your family were Catholic, I'm going to assume that they didn't buy their way out of the genocide. Their story is certainly one worth uncovering.

Rosemary Leahy on 09/02/2012

They were all Irish Catholics, so no help there for them. The book that I read, authored by Cecil Woodham-Smith, was a real eye opener. It's not for the faint of heart. She spent 10 years researching and found quite a bit of correspondence between all the parties involved.

After reading her book, I came away feeling and knowing more could have been done to save them. I learned a new word from all this reading...marasmus. It's an almost forgotten word now in our part of the world. Not in others.

JoHarrington on 09/02/2012

The first thing that I'd say is that it could have been geographical. The famine was very widespread, but not completely so. It may have been that your ancestors lived in one of the lucky pockets of Ireland which largely escaped the famine.

They may also have been rich. Only the potato crops were blighted, there was other food in Eire at the time. The majority of it was being sent to England, under a military escort; but the wealthy Irish (usually Protestant Anglo-Irish) could afford to eat.

Otherwise, you are looking at a massive struggle. Your people could have been kept barely alive under the work programs, or through charitable organizations. They might have managed to keep hold of their fishing equipment and eaten fish. They could have used wild, edible plants. There are a myriad of individual stories of survival here, but none are pleasant to explore.

It is a very dark time in Ireland's history.

Rosemary Leahy on 09/02/2012

There must be two stories of the famine going on at the same time. The survivors who stayed after 1850. How did they survive? I have Ggrandparents who left in 1850, and another set who were born in 1850 and the family didn't emigrate till the mid 1860's. Why would one survive and thrive, and the other lose everything including three kids?

It's hard to read the books on the famine. Especially since I know now it was the story of my family who had to manage each day to find something to eat.

JoHarrington on 06/24/2012

That's very true and a poignant quotation there from Rabbie Burns.

JoHarrington on 06/23/2012

I'm glad that you found it informative. This was not a shining moment on the part of the British; and the Irish are still recovering from this devastation, especially in terms of population and language.

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