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Was the Irish Famine planned or product of bad decisions?

In my university (Universidad Central de Venezuela) we studied the Irish Famine and it was always considered the consequence of the negligence of the English. They passed laws that led to the Famine, they ignored the necessities of the farmers. In general, everything they did seemed to lead in that general direction. But I was left with a feeling that this wasn't all a big set of coincidences, but I don't have any arguments to prove it except that years passed, England saw the consequences of their actions taking place and they still did nothing to stop the disaster. Did they want that to happen? I don't think it would have favored anyone (not the English because they depended on Irish crops, and not the Irish because, well, millions of them starved to death). What do you think in this respect?
It was the Fog. Long cold and damp winters. Blame it on the bad weather.

A friend of mine has just been to Ireland for a wedding, and was delayed because of the fog. Ireland has to be one of the wettest places in the world. And for the most days in the year. At the time of the famine rot must have set in.

OK where the English get the blame is probably that some of the Irish made suggestions of how to stockpile vegetables and didn't get the support to do so. I'm just taking a guess here. But yes, blame it on those limeys. We hold them responsible in South Africa as well for everything that went wrong there. Particularly the divide and rule way of running the colonies.
deanhills wrote:
OK where the English get the blame is probably that some of the Irish made suggestions of how to stockpile vegetables and didn't get the support to do so.

What do you mean by this? I didn't see anything related to this in the texts I read.
I have seen no evidence to suggest that the damaging organism Phytophthora infestans was deliberately introduced into the Irish potato industry, so a 'planned' crop failure and famine appears unlikely.
The actions of the various political players of the time of course contributed to the suffering and death of the Irish people though. This would include the refusal or lack of tangiable help from Britain, and the continuing export of food traded by the Irish off their island while their own people were starving.

Terrible dark times in history for sure, but being history, it will always depend on the perspective of the individual when comparing 'official' accounts of what actually happened and when.
One thing is for sure though, the potato crops failed as a result of Phytophthora infestans reaching the island. The management of this failure is the question though, and Irish business people still made money exporting food while their people were starving. Nothing is clear cut however, and there is certainly blood on the hands of leaders of both countries of the time.
Well, I don't think that the English introduced that organism either. However, when only one crop gets damaged by the blight, the Irish still had many more crops. It was an agricultural society that starved to death when one crop out of dozens started to fail.
ratanegra wrote:
Well, I don't think that the English introduced that organism either. However, when only one crop gets damaged by the blight, the Irish still had many more crops. It was an agricultural society that starved to death when one crop out of dozens started to fail.

This link may be useful for a brief UK perspective of the situation:
An artificial famine?

This was not an artificial famine as the traditional Irish nationalist interpretation has long maintained - not at any rate at the start. The original gross deficiency of food was real. In 1846 and successive years blight destroyed the crop that had previously provided approximately 60 per cent of the nation's food needs. The food gap created by the loss of the potato in the late 1840s was so enormous that it could not have been filled, even if all the Irish grain exported in those years had been retained in the country. In fact, far more grain entered Ireland from abroad in the late 1840s than was exported-probably almost three times as much grain and meal came in as went out.

And here's a link to an interesting piece from the Irish Government department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht wbsite: THE IMPACT OF THE GREAT FAMINE of 1845 ‐ 51 with special reference to ULSTER By Éamon Phoenix

A terrible time in history for sure but even more tragic to me that 160 years later people are still starving to death in the world while there is abundance in the UK, the Republic of Ireland and other developed countries - Perhaps we should put more effort into looking at current international problems and not the long gone past Wink
watersoul, the second link led to a blank document, but the first was informative, but the first was informative. In particular, I was not aware of the specific extent of dependence on potatoes (60% of food intake). I did know there had been several episodes of blight, although I had not known the Famine lasted several years.

Based on what I know, the "fault" lies with a lack of agricultural knowledge. While that could have been on purpose, I know of nothing indicating purposeful lack of education in this area. (Today, we might call it "spin".) According to the article, the British authorities did limit the long-term food relief. Although some would attribute it to witchcraft or introducing the pathogen by other means, I know of none. (According to some historical fiction I have, the Saxons and most people in that region just a few centuries before believed in "shadow people" who walked around homes in the middle of the night.)

Today, we would do things very differently. First, self-sufficient farmers today do not rely on a single crop. There is always a possibility that a given crop will not do well in a given year, while others will do well. Apparently, crops other than potatoes did not do well in Ireland's rocky soil, but today we would add organic materials such as rotted manure on a regular basis. (I know of an Irish homesteader who is self-sufficient on 6 acres--on an organic farm, no less. He writes books on homesteading for his monetary needs such as taxes.)

Most farmers today use fertilizers, herbicides, and the like. These were unavailable at the time and thus not relevant to this discussion.

We make an effort to rotate crops, a practice practiced even in medieval times in the form of leaving fields fallow most years and only using them every two or three years. I do not know if Irish farmers did so in the early 1800's, but I am surprised I have never seen a reference to doing so in Ireland.

We use seeds or propagation sources known to be disease-free. For potatoes, this means using seed potatoes which are certified disease free. This means the potatoes they are cut from were grown above 800 feet in elevation or on windswept ocean islands, where aphids apparently do not go. It seems that is aphids which propagate the pathogens responsible for potato blight. If seed potatoes from plants grown in the same field are used to propagate the next year's crop (the equivalent of saving seeds from the plant), the pathogen(s) can more easily accumulate.

Potatoes were first grown in the Inca empire, which may well have depended on them as much as Ireland did until the Great Famine, as it was well above 800 feet in elevation. The Spanish then brought them to Europe, where it spread to Italy. Until the 17th century, it was primarily peasants who planted it, as marauding armies ignored it but took any grain stores they found, and large landowners did not want it.

According to,

Throughout Europe, the most important new food in the 19th century was the potato, which had three major advantages over other foods for the consumer: its lower rate of spoilage, its bulk (which easily satisfied hunger), and its cheapness. The crop slowly spread across Europe, such that, for example, by 1845 it occupied one-third of Irish arable land.


In Ireland, the expansion of potato cultivation was due entirely to the landless laborers, renting tiny plots from landowners who were interested only in raising cattle or in producing grain for market. A single acre of potatoes and the milk of a single cow was enough to feed a whole Irish family a monotonous but nutritionally adequate diet for a healthy, vigorous (and desperately poor) rural population. Often even poor families grew enough extra potatoes to feed a pig that they could sell for cash.

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