The great famine


In 1840 there lived nine million people in Ireland. 15 years later the population had decreased with 33%. The reason? The great famine.

The great famine started in 1845 when 33 to 50% of Ireland's potato crops were destroyed by a disease. Potatoes were a big part of the Irish food. The disease, called potato blight, was very dangerous for humans. You got the disease from the potatoes by eating them. In 1846 the potato blight spread over the country, and more people died. Some people starved to death, others died because of the potato blight. Scientists tried to figure out what the disease was caused by and how to stop it. They only succeeded to figure out the reason, not any cure. In 1848 and 1849 the country was also stroked by Cholera, and it killed even more people than the famine and the potato blight did. You cannot be sure about how many people that died because of the great famine, but at least one million people.

Many people emigrated to escape from the great famine. 70% emigrated to USA, 28% to Canada and 2% to Australia. Some people moved to England, but because Ireland and England both were part of the United Kingdom it was not counted as emigration. On the ships to America a big amount of people was very sick and died before they reached their destination. Therefor the boats were called “coffin ships”. When the people who survived came to America the Americans realized that they were very sick, so they put them in quarantine centres until they were healthy again. The emigration to America continued for almost a century. Because of that there is many people in USA and Canada with Irish roots.

During the great famine more and more people went to the churches, mostly Catholic churches. Many churches were built during this time. Still, a big part of the population are Catholics. Probably people searched for help from God during such a hard period. That is normal during such circumstances.

This years of sickness, starvation and emigration affected Ireland in a lot of ways. For example it affected the Irish. Fewer and fewer people were speaking Irish, and it was almost extinct, but now the knowledge about Irish is slowly starting to grow. It also affected Ireland's demography when so many people moved or died. As it always is with diseases, the eldest and the youngest are most affected. Mostly very old people and small children died of the potato blight. When almost a total generation could die of the potato blight, it was not as many as usual left who could grow up and get children of their own. The population decreased very much and it took a long time before it started to grow again.

Not only Ireland was affected by the great famine. Of course it also affected USA and Canada a lot. Today, many Americans have Irish roots, but that is not strange at all. America is a country, whose population exists of almost only immigrants. For example a lot of Americans have their origin in Sweden or Great Britain.

We can draw the conclusion that a huge disaster always affects the world history.


By: Robin Gustafsson and Elisabeth Wagersten.



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