Subject: Irish potato famine
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2001 11:39:38 -0800
Watched a two hour program yesterday about the potato famine in Ireland
in the first part of the last century. The potato crop failed so many
people starved to death. My question is how could they have ignored the
abundance in the seas around them? While they were starving there were
probably ten million edible fish and other sea creatures just swimming
around and waiting for the frying pan.
From: dmtwg[at]webtv.net (Regina Holt)
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2001 17:28:53 -0500 (EST)
It is my understandng that it was illegal for the Irish to be in
possession of boats and misc. fishing stuff. This was oral history
through my paternal grandmother, whose grandparents survived the Hunger.
There were also other repressive anti-Irish laws courtesy of the British
monarch. I, too, do not understand the why they just did not go ahead
and fish. At the same time I am a well-fed American and not someone in
the middle of a famine nor am I a victim of an oppressive army of
occupation. ob food: My brother, the chef, is visiting beginning
Sat. He has promised me salmon... Gina,
granddaughter of Miriam Holt nee Leahy of Killarney
From: tackneyny[at]aol.combatBoots (TackneyNY)
Date: 20 Mar 2001 02:28:51 GMT
>It is my understandng that it was illegal for the Irish to be in
>possession of boats and misc. fishing stuff.
That's true, and the fishing that was done at all had to be imported to England
for the English to eat and to be imported to wherever they could get good
prices. If you were caught stealing any of the fish you were punished.
From: Roxan-NO Spam
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2001 00:13:58 -0500
Most of these people who starved were too poor, to start with, to own a
boat. A lot of the coast line is rocky and hard to fish from. I am of Irish
descent and it sicken me to see how these poor people where treated.
From: dmtwg[at]webtv.net (Regina Holt)
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2001 04:43:15 -0500 (EST)
It has to be kept in mind that the Penal Laws made it illegal for the
Irish to get an education, to b a merchant, to vote, to name only three
things. They were at that time and had been for quite a bit of time, an
occupied people. Sufficient quantities of grain were produced in Ireland
and were sent to England as was any fish. I like to think I would have
responded with lighting rags stuffed into jugs of potcheen and
liberating foodstuffs from the manor house kitchen. And then it comes
back to the fact I am well- educated, fed, and not oppressed.
ob food: Charlieliam's recent recipe for Irish stew is cooking as I
write this. Just like my grandmother used to make...My only change was
to add a stalk of celery as she did and to alter the portion of spuds to
make it more diabetically correct. Gina, 95+%
celtic and proud of it
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2001 05:30:04 -0500
Although I find it hard to believe, I heard over the weekend that the potato
was such a core item in their diet that a family of 6(?) would consume
250lbs of potato a week. You can't take something that is that important to
one's diet and be able to replace it instantly.
From: RON-59[at]webtv.net (RON)
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2001 09:28:41 -0500 (EST)
In my reading of Irish history it was potato blight and not a famine.
The Irish farmers were tenants and their staple food was potato. The
vegetables and livestock were in abundance but were owned by the
Many starving Irish sailed to Britain on their way to
America on the same ships carrying the foodstuffs they had grown to the
landowners in Britain.
From: Bison[at]dot.com (Bison)
Date: Thu, 22 Mar 2001 13:53:23 GMT
> Many starving Irish sailed to Britain on their way to
>America on the same ships carrying the foodstuffs they had grown to the
>landowners in Britain.
The British Government at that time was a big exponent of the free trade
theory, which basically meant the government did not interfere with trade. The
idea was that market forces would automatically cause food to be shipped to
where it was most needed, as if there was a shortage, prices would go up, and
traders would ship to where they got the best prices.
Unfortunately, this theory did not work in the case of the Irish potato
famine, as the rural poor did not have the money to pay the higher prices.
It was the failure of this free trade theory which caused the obscene practice
of food being shipped out of famine areas.
The British Government did nothing, but they thought nothing was the right
thing to do. They were wrong.
From: Michael Edelman
Date: Thu, 22 Mar 2001 14:07:18 -0500
> The British Government at that time was a big exponent of the free trade
> theory, which basically meant the government did not interfere with trade. The
> idea was that market forces would automatically cause food to be shipped to
> where it was most needed, as if there was a shortage, prices would go up, and
> traders would ship to where they got the best prices.
That's an oversimplification, and also wrong.
There are a number of myths surrounding the potato famine, the first of
which is that it was a sudden and unexpected blight that triggered it.
In fact, there were at least 24 crop failures of varying degrees of
severity between 1739 and 1846. It was well known that potatoes suffered
from regular blights of this nature, but the way the British ruled
Ireland prevented the Irish from doing much about it.
The second myth is that laissez-faire policies led to the export of
grain and hence the starvation of the Irish.
What hurt the Irish peasantry was not free trade. In fact, the only
thing approaching free trade was instituted by the Peel government in
the form of the repeal of the Corn Laws, which prohibited the import of
grain to England. The myth is that this led to the export of grain that
could have fed the Irish. In fact, something quite opposite was the
The repeal of the Corn Laws had the effect both of creating a demand in
England for Irish grain, thereby generating employment for the Irish,
and allowing the import of subsidized American grain to be sold to the
Irish to relieve starvation. This was unpopular with the English
Aristocracy, who didn't care for the competition from overseas, which
hurt the price of English grain, and helped bring down the Peel
government. The Peel government supplied famine relief aid in the amount
of $8,000,000 pounds in the first year of the 1846 famine.
The successive government decided to leave the food supply in private
hands, but it was a far thing from laissez-faire, since the life of
farmers and market were very tightly controlled by the British
government. Irish tenant farmers were restricted to very poor plots on
which little would grow *but* potatoes. There was no market in capital
that would allow them to finance the purchase of better land or acquire
the tools needed to take up other trades.
What led to the eventual relief was the intervention of numerous
charitable institutions, notably the Quakers, who set up schools in
various trades (particularly lace making) and financed the construction
of the Irish fishing fleet through small loans to individuals. This led
to a more diversified economy that was not as dependant upon the English
masters for food and shelter. Freed of this heavy-handed regulation, a
real free market flourished in hand made goods and fish, and saved the
From: patscga[at]aol.com (Patscga)
Date: 22 Mar 2001 23:05:23 GMT
Gee, you must have learned history in England. You're wrong. If you would
like me to recommend books available in this country, I would be happy to
provide you with a list.
Pat in Atlanta
Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2001 08:33:39 GMT
For anyone interested in this subject, possibly the best book available is
'The Great Hunger' by Cecil Woodham-Smith, ISBN 0-14-014515-X
From: Michael Edelman
Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2001 08:52:33 -0500
> Gee, you must have learned history in England. You're wrong. If you would
> like me to recommend books available in this country, I would be happy to
> provide you with a list.
Sorry to confuse the discussion by introducing documented facts, but
hey, I'm sure you'll get over it ;-)
From: Christine Ashby
Date: Sat, 24 Mar 2001 15:42:21 +1100
> Gee, you must have learned history in England. You're wrong.
In what regard is he wrong? About the effect of the repeal of the Corn Laws?
Or the initiatives taken by the Quakers? Or what?
He isn't wrong about the Peel government's famine relief, that's documented
Just out of interest, which country do you live in, that there are any books
which are unavailable? In this country - Australia - there are no
restrictions on the importation of books, and you can get hold of pretty
well anything ever published through inter-library loans, though you might
have to wait a while.
(who loves watching historians squabble...)
From: Bison[at]dot.com (Bison)
Date: Mon, 26 Mar 2001 17:23:00 GMT
>Gee, you must have learned history in England. You're wrong.
The story he (Michael Edelman) tells doesn't reflect very well on the English.
He says the British Government (after the Peel Government) did nothing about
the famine and it was up to private individuals and instituitions to help.
Or are you taking the line that it was deliberate genocide?
Date: Tue, 27 Mar 2001 19:42:08 +1200
I missed the start of this thread, but I did some study on the Irish Potato
Famine a while back.
Even at the height of the potato infestation, more than enough was produced
to feed the whole population. What turned it into a disaster was the fact
that the (absentee English) landlords still insisted on taking their full
cut of the harvest - not a percentage, but an absolute quantity. So if a
smallholder produced 400 bushels before the famine struck, of which the
landlord took 150, but only 180 bushels during it, the landlord still wanted
150. In fact, if the harvest was only 120 bushels, the tenant was evicted
for non-payment of rent. This was practically universal. Some private
individuals and institutions may have helped, but most counted their rent as
more important than the livelihoods, and even lives, of their tenants.
It may not have been "deliberate" genocide, but the effect was similar.
From: kwjim[at]nospam.net (James)
Date: 22 Mar 2001 01:57:02 GMT
Ireland is approximately 300 miles long and 170 miles wide at its widest
point. At the time of the famine there were no automobiles. Most of the
population was rural. So the number of people living near enough to the ocean
to catch fish was small. And those having the equipment and expertise to do
so was even smaller. And fish are perishable and need to be eaten quickly (no