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landmark
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This St. Patrick Day we might ask: why did the Irish starve in 1846, if only the potato crop failed, while grain, cattle, pigs, flour, eggs, and poultry flourished?

Some answers here:

http://zinnedproject.org/2012/03/the-rea......schools/
magicfish
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Darn Phytophthora Infestans.
Destiny
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Landmark, I had to undertake a lot of research on the famine last year - this was my summary - not written as I normally write, but what was required for the project. It was truly an appalling event - some have said genocide - and there is certainly an argument to be made for that. I was surprised to discover how ignorant Victoria was of her realm, and how rabidly self interested most of the politicians - nothing ever changes.



The English conquered Ireland in 1172 with the blessing of Pope Alexander III who hoped the barbarous Irish could be taught good manners and cured of filthy habits.
The English cut ties with the papacy in 1534 but the Irish remained predominantly Catholic. Annoyed English monarchs assumed dominion over Catholic land and gifted it to protestant English nobles. The Irish Catholics became serfs in their own country.
By the 1800's, Catholics worked long, hard hours for English landlords in return for use of a little land where they could live and grow food. Potato flourished in the boggy plots where little else grew so they ate that one boiled, salted vegetable every meal. The humble but nutritious spud filled bellies, and kept bodies healthy and strong.
Some years disease struck and the crop failed, so to protect against famine the Irish stored some of each harvest. They suffered in years the crop failed, but they survived, and a bad season usually augured well for the next.
Disease ruined a third of the crop in 1845. The peasants carefully rationed their stores, and expected 1846 would see a better crop; the usual pattern. Strong healthy shoots burst up from the soil that year and by the end of July potato blossom scented the air. The peasants looked from the white blooms to the blue sky and gave thanks to God for the coming harvest. Relieved families anticipated full bellies. Then, in the first days of August, the blooms wilted, the leaves browned, and beneath the soil, the tubers withered and died. The stench of rotting potato filled the air, a smell so foul it caused violent vomiting. Blight first killed the potatoes in the ground and then spread to those in storage. Soon there was no crop, no stores, and nothing to plant next year. Men and women sank to their knees in the stinking mud and wept.
There was food in the Emerald Isle. English lords made fat profits from exports of meat, vegetables and grain. Hungry Irish worked the fields to produce fine foods that other people ate. If they stole any of that food they paid a high price. Judges punished the theft of a even one chook with a term of seven years transportation to Australia.
The English showed little sympathy for the hungry. They had never thought much of the Irish. Pope Alexander's slur echoed through the ages. Members of the British Parliament spoke of Irish apes, white *****s, and the Aboriginal Irish. Many blamed the starving themselves for the famine, for relying on just one crop and for breeding like rabbits. Upstanding, god-fearing Englishmen declared the famine God's remedy for over-population. The government hesitated to offer charity for fear of giving too generously. They gave too little, too late, and too grudgingly.
The English allowed the Irish to starve.
They allowed the Irish to starve, but not to starve in peace. The Catholics had no legal right to the land where they lived, and could be evicted without warning. Evictions began. In County Mayo, Lord Lucan declared he "would not breed paupers to pay priests" and hired thugs to throw out 2,000 people, smash their homes to the ground, and put cows to graze on the land.
An Englishwoman who saw the evictions wrote, "Sick and aged, little children, and women with child were alike thrust forth into the cold snows of winter, for the winters of 1846 and 1847 were exceptionally severe and to prevent their return their cabins were leveled to the ground ... the few remaining tenants were forbidden to receive the outcasts ... The majority rendered penniless by the years of famine, wandered aimlessly about the roads and bogs till they found refuge in the workhouse or the grave."
The Bishop of Meath came across a household dying of cholera, and as their life ebbed away, the demolition of their home continued around them. He knelt in the pouring rain and as their walls came tumbling down, he delivered the last sacrament for the dying.
In 1848 the Irish continued to starve though the small crop of potato planted that year was free from blight. In 1849 the English declared the famine over, and arranged a royal visit to celebrate. Queen Victoria landed in the middle of a cholera outbreak which killed many in the weak and hungry population. Though the blight had run its course, the deaths would continue for years. A total of one million died as a result of the Famine, most after it officially ended. Ireland hailed Victoria the Famine Queen.
Her Majesty landed in County Cork and made a triumphal progress under flower garlanded arches through towns where those ragged starving people still well enough to stay upright came out to forget their misery and wave at the passing celebrity. The Queen wrote in her diary, "The enthusiasm and excitement shown by the Irish people was extreme. ....  We feel so deeply touched by the affectionate loyalty of the poor Irish." Over the next decade one million of her Irish subjects would prove that 'affectionate loyalty' by climbing aboard ships and sailing away forever.
landmark
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Thanks for that, Destiny. I never learned any of that in any of the colleges or universities I attended.
Destiny
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Old newspapers Smile The Times and some Irish papers are available online through various library subscriptions. The owner of The Times said in Parliament that if the 'N****** weren't n****** then the Irish would be n******'
and Trevalyn, the senior public servant tasked with managing the famine wrote to a friend that it was God's way of dealing with what man could not - the Irish habit of breeding like rabbits.
magicfish
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Destiny
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Good article Magicfish - I do have a couple of arguments with it - One - calling it a natural catastrophe which it is if you consider only the facts that a) the Irish Catholics ate only the Lumper potato PLUS b) the blight arrived as a new disease and devastated the crop, but that doesn't consider that c) the Irish Catholics had been forced into a position where they subsisted off the Lumper. Only a generation earlier they'd had a much more varied diet of meat, dairy, grain and vegetable.

And while the BBC article says more grain was imported into Ireland than exported during those years, in fact food exports in general rose during the famine - fatted lambs, beef, pigs, grain, poultry, vegetables etc.

The other main point of contention for me is about the grain imported and distributed to feed the Irish - it wasn't a variety of grain - it was all maize and it was hard to cook, difficult to digest and gave the people diarrhea - in their vulnerable state, cholera and the like killed more of them than starvation. And Sir Robert Peel got booted out as PM for even rendering that inadequate assistance.

There was actually a bit of a crisis in farming all across Europe at the time - and especially in the UK - small croppers were being forced out by large landholders and peasant farmers were having a rough time all over. My grandmother's English farming ancestors migrated to Australia in 1842 when they gave up on farming there. In Ireland the crisis was made worse by the blight.
magicfish
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Wow. Thanks, Destiny, very informative.
Destiny
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I know far more about the famine than a non-Irish non-Catholic should but I had to research it as part of a much bigger project and then was surprised when an economist from Canberra brought it up on a political forum I frequent as an example of what happens when a government involves itself in trade laws etc - something that he'd been taught at University and which suited his beliefs as a Libertarian - but while I'm no professor, it's not difficult to work out that the famine had SFA to do with trade laws. Smile
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Now I want some potatoes.
"The fool is one who doesn't know what you have just found out."
~Will Rogers
TonyB2009
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Destiny, you have misrepresented the story on many levels. The British did not conquor Ireland in 1172. They arrived a few years earlier than that as part of a local land dispute, and the conquest took several centuries. By 1200 they were established in Dublin and the surrounding area, with the odd castle elsewhere. They were not in control of Ireland until the 1600s, and the Act of Union, formally making Ireland a part of Britain, did not come until 1800.

Catholic Emancipation was well established by the time the famine began, and Catholics were allowed own land, vote, and do just about everything else. They served in the army and were involved in the administration of the country. The famine had nothing to do with mistreatment of Catholics. Those who starved were the poor, not the catholics. In some parts of the country - midlands, west Cork, north west, etc - poor protestant tenants suffered as much as their catholic counterparts, and starved in droves.

The Great Famine was one of four famines Ireland suffered since the 1600s - but by far the most devastating. In the same period England suffered a number of famines, including one in Cornwall, one in the Highlands, and one in the midlands.

The cause of the famine was the failure of successive years of the potato crop, due to blight. And your harrowing accounts of the suffering are accurate. But the English did not allow the Irish to starve. That is a ludicrous misrepresentation of what actually happened. The British government had a policy of not interfering with economic matters, and they did not order landowners to switch to food crops that might have helped the situation. But they didn't just sit back and ignore the situation. They organised a lot of local relief work. The country to this day is full of famine walls and other projects done during that period, at the instigation of the government, as a way of ensuring the populace had a few shillings to pay for alternative food. Food kitchens were established, and workhouses built to take the poor and starving.

Individual landlords made use of the situation to clear their land of poor tenants. But the tenants were not evicted because they were Catholic and had no right to the land. They were evicted because they were poor and did not own the land. Protestant tenants were evicted as readily as Catholic tenants. And some of the rogue landlords who carried out evictions were themselves Catholic. It should be noted that many landlords went the other way, pushing themselves to the brink of bancrupcy to help their tenants. That was as typical as the other response.

Had the British government intervened to force landowners to switch to other food crops, here is how it would have worked out. The crop failed in 1845. No panic - that happened regularly. The crop failed in 1846 - panic and widespread starvation. The government then would have ordered the switch, which would have resulted in a different crop in 1847 - the third year of the famine. The potato crop of 1848 was healthy. So if the British government had abandoned their policy of not interfering with economic matters, it would only have affected the final year of the potato failure. Too little too late.

Two persistent myths about the famine are proving hard to eradicate. So please, folks, remember these two points. It was not the Catholics who starved, but the poor. The British did not sit back and wash their hands of it. Their response could come in for criticism, but they did respond.

Finally, a big thank you to the Choctaw Indians, who were not having things so good themselves, but who managed to send food for famine relief in 1847. Never forgotten.
landmark
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Choctaw relief! Fascinating --off to do some reading on that !
Destiny
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Tony,

First to the two persistent myths.

I'm sure some Protestants starved but as 80% of the Irish were Catholic, I'd imagine the starving protestants were a minority.

In 1788 Protestants owned 95% of Irish land, because Catholics were forbidden by English law from owning land and that directly caused the Irish reliance on the Lumper potato for their subsistence.

And yes the English responded - but the only response I can think of with any similarity is Rwanda. How else do you explain the million who died and the one or two million who emigrated?

Emancipation started in little ways in the 1770's but it wasn't until 1829, less than twenty years before the famine that the Roman Catholic Relief Act was passed.

I would take your arguments more seriously if not for the words of the English themselves who consistently expressed their disregard for the Irish, and that disregard was based largely on the Catholicism of the bulk of the Irish. To say that the English prejudice and legislative discrimination against the Irish was not a major part of the famine is like saying Osama Bin Laden was not responsible for 911 because he didn't fly the planes.

The fact is absentee English landlords, quite a few of whom had seats in parliament, made fat profits from food exports from their Irish landholdings during the famine - landholdings which were seized from the Irish and gifted to many of them by monarchs grateful for their allegiance to the Church of England.

The blight affected one crop - the Lumper - and the dependence on that crop was a direct result of English policy.
stoneunhinged
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What are "famine walls"?
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I thoroughly recommend reading 'The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845 - 1849', by Cecil Woodham-Smith.

As I recall, the best help from Britain came not from HMG, but from the Quakers.
Destiny
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Walls generally about the height of a man built by Irish labourers as part of the British relief scheme during the famine - some say they are unnecessary structures built because the Irish were too proud to accept charity but that's a bit harsh - at the very least it meant the rocks were collected out of fields making for more arable land. The men who built them were usually paid in food.
TonyB2009
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Destiny, you are completely misrepresenting our famine. The reason Catholics died more than Protestants is that we were a predominantly Catholic country. nothing to do with a British bias. The real truth is that the poor died, the slightly better off emigrated, and the rich thrived. Except for the landlords who bankrupted themselves to help their starving tenants.

And even though Catholic emancipation was/relatively new there were plenty of wealthy and land owning Catholics.

The British establishment treated the Irish the same way they treated their own subjects. They took a hands off approach to their own famines and to ours. No difference except that ours was so much worse than the previous ones. British convicts were deported the same way as Irish ones. The biasness you see in the British treatment of the Irish is a later distortion of the reality. A dangerous distortion, considering our recent history.

Those who worked on famine walls were normally paid a penny a day. They were rarely paid in food.
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A few years ago here in Queensland a disease called canker attacked out citrus industry. Orchardists had to pull up all their trees. Meanwhile we continued to grow other crops, and in general food exports increased.

But no one starved here, because we had never been forced into a situation by government policy where we ate oranges and nothing else three times a day.
tommy
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Is Britain's cover-up of its 1845-1850 holocaust in Ireland the most successful Big Lie in all of history?

http://www.irishholocaust.org/britain%27scoverup
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

Tommy
TonyB2009
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True. British policy contributed to the over dependence on the potato. But it was neither an anti Irish nor an anti Catholic policy. It was simply economic thinking at that time.

Many cultures were dependent on one food. Some still are. That does not make the British responsible for the famine.
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