The famine which took place in Ireland in the years between 1845 and 1852 was an extraordinarily outrageous one and today it is well-known as the great potato famine. That was not only a poignant moment in the Irish history, but also a time for the people to push themselves to their limits and that requires bravery and courageous nature.
The famine attributed to the significant decrease in the population, for instance the nation’s population dropped to around 20-25%. In addition, it was estimated that roughly around one million people immigrated to America as a form of desperation due to the massive starvation and poverty. The fact that in such a place with a lot of seasonal changes and inclement weather, the potato made the population largely dependable on it (around 60% of the food’s needs). Due to its nutritious and eatable qualities , it was the perfect way of nutrition amoung the poor people.
However, the crisis did not emerge with a start, but little by little with slow steps, the first sense of apprehension occurred in 1845 when there was a considerable difference between the tons of potato (around 10 millions) and those in the previous year (around 15 millions). It was still earlier for rising concerns, but the following year stroke to the bone the expectations of the Irish people as the amount of the production was only 3 million tons. Despite the fact that some Irish historians rose their speculation regarding the origin of the famine , they call it ‘artificial famine’ , the vast majority whole –heartedly embraced the idea that that phenomenon was real and it appeared in the first place thanks to the fungus Phytophthora infestans or better known as the potato blight ,which mercilessly attacked the potato.
The food gap was with so immense dimensions that the whole grain exported from the country at that time, even returned back couldn’t have been sufficient substitute. If that is not enough, the government was reluctant to do anything in particular in helping the suffering of many. As a matter of fact, while around million people were dying from deceases or hunger, the so called ‘soup kitchens’ , which provided emergency rations to three millions people, were closed down by the government leaving them in the laps of the gods. That happened in 1847, in the year when the crisis was in its peak.
Many people argue why the government did not act in more successful ways and what impact it would have been if it was done so. Indeed, the government took measures,but not the right ones. For instance, The Treasury of London was in charge of the Great Irish Famine and the assistant Secretary at the treasury was Charles Trevelyan , a devoted Christian with too much prejudices in his mind. He was granted with immense confidence of his righteousness, which made any other’s opinion untrue or irrelevant. He visited Dublin only once during the famine and he had extremely limited opinion of how should the british government to interfere in that question. In addition, he was extremely serious in his approach regarding the public spending and if it was entirely up to him, not superfluous funding should be making. In other words, let the Irish people starving, it’s not our business.
The situation was almost paradoxical as in 1846 there was firm hold of the potato blight, but Trevelyan refused point blank to believe it. He was on the opinion, that the ‘cunning’ Irish farmers were trying to get hold of the precious government’s supplies without ample excuse for it. In fact, on the west part of the country landowner and farmers were abandoned their lands due to the fact that they were unable to feed their families, while on the east large quantities of bacon, grain and butter were exporting to England. As if the country was blocked into two parts, the one which exports its goods and the other having nothing to offer, I don’t know which one is worse. And the non-interfering policy was making its way around the sea.
The following is a fragment of letters from Alexander Somerville (1811-1885), a British journalist of Scottish parentage, who depicted vividly the brutal reality of those events.
“‘It is the hunger, your honour; nothing but the hunger,’ he said in a feeble voice: ‘I stayed at the work til I could stay no longer. I am fainting now with the hunger. I must go home and lie down. There is six chidren and my wife and myself. We had nothing all yesterday, ) which was Sunday,) and this morning we had only a handful of yellow meal among us all, made into a stir about, before I came out to work– nothing more and nothing since. Sure this hunger will be the death of all of us. God have mercy upon me and my poor family.
I saw the poor man and his poor family, and truly might he say, ‘God have mercy!’ They were skeletons all of them, with skin on the bones and life within the skin. A mother skeleton and baby skeleton; a tall boy skeleton, who had no work to do; who could do nothing but eat, and had nothing to eat. Four female children skeletons, and the tall father skeleton, not able to work to get food for them, and not able to get enough of food when he did work for them. Their only food was what his wages of 10 d. per day would procure of ‘yellow meal’ — the meal of the Indian corn. The price of that was 3s. per stone of 16 lb. This gave for the eight persons 26 lb. 10 oz. of meal for seven days; being about seven ounces and a half per day for each person. No self-control could make such persons distribute such a starvation of food over seven days equally. Their natural cravings made them eat it up at once, or in one, or three days at most, leaving the other days blank, making the pangs of hunger still worse.”