What happened as a result of the Irish potato famine?

A million died, at least a million emigrated. The population never recovered.

The potato blight did affect other countries, but those other countries had their own government, situated in their own country, and those governments were willing to help those affected. Ireland had none of that.

I have always tried to be balanced about the Famine, in which many of my ancestors died. I have always pointed out that the British government operated a policy of laissez-faire, assuming the market would correct itself; and did not realise that the political and social exigencies present in Ireland meant that there was no such “market” in Ireland – in short, that the British parliament was mostly just ignorant and ill-informed, with only a few deliberately genocidal elements like Charles Trevelyan.

Could someone explain in brief, why Ireland wanted independence from the British Empire?

Obviously, Ireland is mainly Catholic and I think the people also felt like they had no real business being part of the U.K, but could I get a little more detail? Been living in Scotland for about a year and still am confused, haha.


Almost any country, finding itself subject to another, would want its freedom and independence. Living in Scotland, you’ve doubtless heard plenty about Scotland’s desire to leave the UK, and Scotland wasn’t treated nearly as badly as Ireland under British rule. They didn’t get off Scot-free (sic), but they had it a lot better than Ireland.

tl;dr – Cromwell, the Penal Laws, the Great Famine, and Northern Ireland: the Four Horsemen of the Irish Apocalypse.

The issues in Ireland didn’t really have much to do with religion, although religion came to be used as a shorthand for the two sides. I’ve written an answer elsewhere on the role of religion in the Anglo-Irish conflict which would be of interest: Ireland wasn’t truly Catholic until the first influx of British (the Normans) made it so. It was the Plantation of Ulster when Protestantism vs. Catholicism became the front-line of the conflict. Even then, it might have been avoided, but for two things:

  1. Cromwell’s war in Ireland. This was a truly vicious burnt-earth campaign, including the horrific massacre of Drogheda, the banishment of the entire Irish population to Connaught in the west, and the selling of Irish people as slaves in the Carribbean.
  2. The Penal Laws. These were instituted by Parliament, in defiance of the relatively generous Declaration of Finglas and Treaty of Limerick that ended the Williamite War in Ireland, and imposed significant restrictions on Catholics and Dissenters (non-Anglican Protestants, such as Presbyterians).

Now, even this might have been overcome, especially given the fact that many of Ireland’s rebel leaders were of Dissenter stock, but for the Great Famine, when approximately 1/8 of the population died of starvation over the course of a few years, while Ireland as a whole exported millions of pounds-worth of food to Britain. Britain, for the most part, ignored the famine – there were some exceptions, but not nearly enough was done. There’s a church near me with an odd lumpy patch of ground near the gate: it’s where the dozens of poles, used to carry famine victims from around the area to a mass grave in the graveyard, were left, and decayed. In many ways, that innocent-looking lump is more visceral than the big trench at the end of the graveyard, where uncounted hundreds lie.

The final piece of the jigsaw was partition and its aftermath. Home Rule had been a bipartisan movement from its founding in 1870, attracting Catholics and Protestants*, but when Ireland got its home rule in 1922, an exceptional clause in the treaty permitted the Protestant statelet of Northern Ireland to be formed for those Protestants that did not want to be a minority in the Irish Free State. Subsequently, the authorities in Northern Ireland became highly discriminatory to Catholics, limiting their political representation and access to jobs and housing. This led to the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland, which was unfortunately hijacked by more violent elements within nationalism. The ensuing violence, which included loyalist paramilitary action as well as nationalist, became the Troubles. However, there were Protestants involved in nationalist paramilitary organisations, and at least one Catholic attempted to join a loyalist gang: it was simply easier to label one side Catholic and the other Protestant, than to get into republican socialist, nationalist liberationist, loyalist freedom fighters, volunteer forces, etc., etc.


* – Even Anglican Protestants didn’t get a good deal off Britain: the British government instituted tariffs and protectionist policies that effectively prevented Ireland having an industrial revolution, and made such industry as existed less profitable – and those industries were mostly in the hands of Anglicans.

Did the Irish only eat potatoes during the 19th century? (the Irish Potato Famine era)

I’m asking this because of the Irish Potato Famine.


Potatoes and milk (or buttermilk) formed the main diet of the peasantry, certainly in the first half of the 19th century, which is what made the Famine so devastating.

As a diet, it’s actually pretty healthful, if a little dull – although I’m sure it was enlivened with butter, onions, wild garlic, field mushrooms, young nettles, seaweeds such as dulse, and so forth whenever possible. Contemporary visitors to Ireland often remarked on Irish people’s healthiness, height, muscularity, and freedom from many markers of poverty such as skin eruptions, compared with the peasants of other countries.

Potatoes are comparatively easy to grow and prepare (no winnowing, threshing, grinding, baking, etc., required), and have a high calorific content. Note that, in The Martian, the hero decides to grow potatoes to survive (and waffles on about them for most of the book…) – not wheat, not quinoa, not sprouted alfalfa: the humble potato. You don’t even need much land, or decent soil. Stick a hairy spud from the back of the cupboard in some straw, and in 90 days or so you’ll have enough potatoes for a family Sunday roast. Keep covering up the leaves as they appear and you could potentially have spuds for dinner till the end of time.

So, when the zombie apocalypse starts, get your shovels out – one blow to the brain, ready-made growbags…