Irish Potato Famine - The Great Hunger - A NATIONAL CATASTROPHE

A NATIONAL CATASTROPHE (Illustration) Famous Historical Events Geography Social Studies STEM Tragedies and Triumphs World History Disasters

Daniel MacDonald, an Irish-School artist, created this painting entitled “Irish Peasant Family Discovering the Blight of their Store,” circa 1847.  The work is now part of the National Folklore Collection at University College Dublin (UCD). Click on the image for a better view.


When the potato crop failed in 1845, people did not expect widespread famine would result. It’s not like Ireland had no rain that year. The blight had infected some plants, not all plants.

The news of the crop failure was first reported on September 9, 1845. No one could have predicted that the report was just the first episode in a years-long tale of national misery.

Winter was particularly harsh the year after the blight. Families who had no money to buy food certainly had no money to buy clothes. The Times (on December 16, 1846) reported people were dying as a direct result.

It wasn't just a lack of proper clothes, however. Many had no houses in which to live. When they could not pay rent to their landlords, family after family were evicted from their homes. It did a family little good to defend their home. To make sure the evicted would not return as squatters, landlords tore off the thatched roofs and burned them.

The London Illustrated News, in its 16 December 1848 issue, depicts such an event.  Called “The Ejectment,” the drawing shows two men destroying the thatched roof of a tenant-farmer’s home. The image has this description:

The fearful system of wholesale ejectment, of which we daily hear, and which we daily behold, is a mockery of the eternal laws of God—a flagrant outrage on the principles of nature. Whole districts are cleared. Not a roof-tree is to be seen where the happy cottage of the labourer or the snug homestead of the farmer at no distant day cheered the landscape.

Turned away from their former homes, some of the homeless tried to build a lean-to or dig a hovel in the bog. But such efforts were fruitless. Sickness and death touched nearly every family.

Was there no one to help? What did the government in London know about the plight of the Irish? Did the landowners try to convince the British Parliament to do something?

Contemporary accounts from newspapers and eyewitnesses paint an increasingly desperate picture for the Irish people. But very little was done to help at a time when help could have done the most good.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jan 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: May 13, 2015

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"A NATIONAL CATASTROPHE" AwesomeStories.com. Jan 01, 2002. May 26, 2020.
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