Irish Potato Famine

Louisburgh Travel Blog

 › entry 14 of 25 › view all entries
John Molloy. His family remained in Ireland during the famine.
When I travel to a new, unfamiliar place, every day is a grand adventure.  However, there is always that one village, that one piece of ground, that one craggy mountain that stays with me long after I return to my home.  On this trip, it was the famine houses and the furrowed potato fields.  Left behind long ago to decay and crumble into the ranks of the nameless and forgotten.  Now they are forever seared into my mind.

Ireland ~~  A land of unforgettable beauty and charm.   But in the mid-1800s, the Irish were starving to death by the tens of thousands and no one cared.  Within a six-year period, over one million Irish died of starvation and another million fled the country.  How could this be possible?   A potato blight, or fungus, invaded the countryside and destroyed the potato crop for three out of four years.
Atlantic Ocean. Full of fish but the peasants had no boat or fishing nets.
   But surely, you think, they had something to eat besides POTATOES.  No, they did not.

You see, these were the poorest of the poor.   Rural families were always large and lived in single-room, windowless stone or mud cabins with no chimney.  Their bed was straw on bare ground.   The wealthy Protestant English ruling class owned all the farmland because English conquerors like Oliver Cromwell had seized the land by force years before.   In the mid-1800s, the previously well-to-do Irish, many of whom were descendants of Irish kings, were now reduced to poverty and forced to pay rent for a tiny tract of farmland.   Their landlords lived in England and rarely, if ever, set foot on their property, choosing to hire local agents to manage their affairs.
Unnamed gentleman helping us with directions
  These Irish tenant farmers could be evicted at any time for no reason.  They did not own the house they lived in or the land they farmed. 

The potato is not native to Ireland but was brought to England from South America by the Spanish.  Soon the spud made its way to Ireland and the farmers were overjoyed.  This new-found source of food flourished in the cool moist soil with very little labor.  One acre of fertilized potato field could yield 12 tons of pototoes ~ enough to feed a family of six for one year.  By the 1800s, the poorest peasants in Ireland subsisted solely on the vegetable and could stay perfectly healthy on a diet of potatoes alone, providing them with necessary protein, carbs, minerals and essential vitamins.   Now you can understand how these poor Irish farmers were unable to survive without the potato.

As we rode through the countryside, the small roofless stone houses were too many to count.  The lovely thatched roofs had succumbed to 150 years of wind and rain.  Rocky hillsides and fields still showed signs of the farmer's toil.   Mounds of dirt lay in rows, not touched by human hand since being abandoned by death.   I wanted to know where all these forgotten were buried.  There were no cemeteries or churchyards.   Entire families were put into shallow, unmarked mass graves by neighbors waiting to die.  

Yes, there were fish in the ocean.  But all boats had to be sold in order to buy food.  And that was during the first year of famine.  All livestock, clothing, furniture, everything of any value was gone.  Sold for temporary survival.  Now they had no fishing nets to catch fish.   Imagine how these people felt when they realized that the next year's crop was a failure, too.  Starvation.  Three out of four years without harvesting one potato.  One million Irish fled the country to America and England.   Another 1.5 million died alongside the road.   Too weak to go any further, they would simply lay down and die.  

We were now driving through the rows of famine houses and deserted potato fields.   It was as though the spirits of the dead were with us.  This was their burial ground.  Where they lived and loved and labored.   We were the intruders here.  A family with children were playing on the sandy beach among the ruins.  Running and laughing among the unmarked graves with no regard to what took place here so many years ago.  Life goes on, doesn't it.
richardAmsterdam says:
excellent write up of my own country ..
Posted on: Dec 24, 2007
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
John Molloy.  His family remained …
John Molloy. His family remained…
Atlantic Ocean.  Full of fish but …
Atlantic Ocean. Full of fish but…
Unnamed gentleman helping us with …
Unnamed gentleman helping us with…
photo by: kingelvis14