Irish Potato Famine - The Great Hunger - THE BACKDROP

THE BACKDROP (Illustration) Famous Historical Events Geography Social Studies STEM World History Disasters

The backdrop to the Irish potato famine—which the Irish people call “The Great Hunger”—is the Irish land itself.  Before the time of the Tudor dynasty, in England, the Irish people owned their own land.  But the Tudors (starting with Henry VIII and increasing under the rule of his daughter, Elizabeth I) changed ownership of Irish land (and the commensurate well-being of the Irish people) when they allowed British-owned-and-controlled plantations to dominate the farmland of Ireland. This photo depicts Irish pasture land near the town of Bantry (in Southwestern Ireland). Photo by Pam Brophy; online via Geograph Ireland. License: CC BY-SA 2.0


A contemporary comment by John Mitchel polarizes how many people felt then and now:

The Almighty Indeed sent the Potato Blight but the English Created the Famine.  (See Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps), by John Mitchel, page 324.)

In 1997, Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged the British government failed to effectively help. On the 150th anniversary of what the Irish call An Gorta Mor (The Great Hunger), Blair said:

Those who governed in London at the time failed their people through standing by while a crop failure turned into a massive human tragedy. We must not forget such a dreadful event.

The Irish aren’t likely to forget.

At the time, in 1845, people in Ireland no longer owned most of their land. Hundreds of years before, Queen Elizabeth I finished what her father, Henry VIII, had started. The Irish countryside, with its green pastures and wonderful farmland, had been turned into English plantations.

Land-owning Irishmen who worked for themselves became English tenants overnight. The only money that changed hands, of course, was the rent that was now paid to the new landlords.

Worse, "Penal Laws" governing the conduct of Irish Catholics were enacted. Over the years, those restrictive laws diminished the ability of the Irish people to flexibly manage their own affairs.

Perhaps the laws were not enacted to render an entire population "ignorant." But the list of what was forbidden makes one wonder how the English expected the Irish to function as a cohesive nation.

  • The Irish Catholic was forbidden the exercise of his religion

  • He was forbidden to receive an education

  • He was forbidden to enter a profession

  • He was forbidden to hold public office

  • He was forbidden to engage in trade or commerce

  • He was forbidden to live in a corporate town or within five miles thereof

  • He was forbidden to own a horse of greater value than five pounds

  • He was forbidden to purchase land

  • He was forbidden to vote

  • He was forbidden to keep any arms for his protection

  • He was forbidden to hold a life annuity

  • He could not be a guardian to a child

  • He could not attend Catholic worship

  • He could not himself educate his child

Laws like that set in motion a disaster-in-the-making.

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

Original Release: Jan 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: Oct 18, 2015

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"THE BACKDROP" AwesomeStories.com. Jan 01, 2002. May 31, 2020.
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