When the irish potato famine happened, it changed Irish history. Millions of people died in a period of starvation, disease and forced emigration.
During the 1840s, Ireland was over dependent on the potato crop. This disproportionate dependency created an environment where one bad growing season could spell disaster for millions of people.
While the potato blight was a primary cause of when irish potato famine, there were other factors that made the famine worse. One major factor was the structure of Ireland’s economy. It was dominated by a system of absentee landlords and middlemen that sucked the country dry.
The landowners, many of whom were Protestant or Anglo-Irish, did not live in Ireland but had stewards manage their holdings and rent smaller plots to the local population. This sucked the money out of the economy and caused great financial distress for the Irish.
The potato crop failed due to late blight, a disease caused by water mold Phytophthora infestans. This fungus destroys both leaves and edible roots, or tubers, of the potato plant.
When the irish potato famine occurred between 1845 and 1849, many people died of starvation. Others died of a variety of diseases that were contagious and preyed on people who had weakened from lack of food.
The cause of the famine was the blight that struck the potato crop in Ireland. The fungus phytophthora infestans infected the plants’ leaves and spread throughout the fields through cool breezes, infecting thousands of tubers in a single day.
A high percentage of the population depended on potatoes for their main source of sustenance. The potato was a staple of the diet of tenant farmers and their dependents, and most families had small holdings that were not large enough to grow other crops.
The blight hit hard, infecting potato crops in the fall of 1845 and destroying one-third of the harvest. The fungus recurred in 1846 and again in 1848, resulting in much lower than normal yields.
When irish potato famine started, many Irish farmers had a very difficult time making ends meet. Their farms were owned by absentee landlords who collected rents but rarely visited the property.
The famine began when an airborne fungus (Phytophthora infestans) landed on potato leaves. It grew rapidly and spread infecting the whole crop.
Eventually the disease completely destroyed the potato crop in Ireland and other parts of Europe. The blight was so severe that no other crops could replace potatoes, which were the main source of food for many Irish families.
In response to the blight, the British government launched a program of relief to feed the starving population through soup kitchens. People received small amounts of a porridge known as stirabout that was made from two-thirds Indian corn meal and one-third rice cooked in water.
The famine killed about 1 million people, or about an eighth of the country’s population. That number is still staggering. It’s hard to imagine that a major world-historical event should have resulted in such a large death toll, but it did.
Ireland was one of the world’s great potato-growing countries, and for generations its people had been dependent on the single crop. The potato’s nutrient-rich, high caloric value made it an essential part of many diets.
But in 1845, a disease infected the Irish potato crops, killing half of that year’s harvest and causing widespread starvation among the poor. The blight, caused by an oomycete called Phytophthora infestans, spread quickly and decimated the entire potato crop.
The disease was a direct result of England’s long-running political hegemony over Ireland, which required that large chunks of the country’s land be owned by Englishmen and rented out to local farmers. These absentee landlords often employed a class of agricultural labourers known as cottiers.
As a consequence, the potato became so reliant on only a few varieties of potatoes that the crop became vulnerable to blight and disease. The resulting famine killed a million people in Ireland and forced another million to flee for safety.