The Irish Famine

The Irish Famine


A million people died of hunger in Ireland in the late 1840s, on the doorstep of the world's richest nation.


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The Great Famine in Ireland began as a natural catastrophe of extraordinary magnitude, but its effects were severely worsened by the actions and inactions of the Whig government, headed by Lord John Russell in the crucial years from 1846 to 1852.

Altogether, about a million people in Ireland are reliably estimated to have died of starvation and epidemic disease between 1846 and 1851, and some two million emigrated in a period of a little more than a decade (1845-55). Comparison with other modern and contemporary famines establishes beyond any doubt that the Irish famine of the late 1840s, which killed nearly one-eighth of the entire population, was proportionally much more destructive of human life than the vast majority of famines in modern times.

In most famines in the contemporary world, only a small fraction of the population of a given country or region is exposed to the dangers of death from starvation or infectious diseases, and then typically for only one or two seasons. But in the Irish famine of the late 1840s, successive blasts of potato blight - or to give it its proper name, the fungus Phytophthora infestans - robbed more than one-third of the population of their usual means of subsistence for four or five years in a row.


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