The Great Irish Famine

We had such a great special week about Spuds and Spurs, and it intrigued me to learn more about the food staple we all grew up on. It’s my go-to starchy vegetable.

One part of history particular intrigued me. The Great Irish Famine of the mid-1800’s.
Here are some of the facts and how the “famine” changed not only Britain but the United States.

  • Biases in favor of the landlords caused Ireland to teeter on the brink of disaster. The “middleman system” was introduced to manage land. The effectiveness of a middleman was judged by the amount of money he could extract from the landlords. The law was heavily unfair to the landowners as they dominated Irish representation in Britain. With the population of the island rapidly increasing, widespread unemployment among laborers, caused the majority of the people to live in poverty. Ireland was on the verge of a disaster.
  •  The middlemen split up the land into smaller parts to increase the amount of rent they could extract from the tenants. By the time the famine struck, about 1/4th of the Irish farms were between one and five acres, with as little as 40% being between five and fifteen acres. As the holdings grew smaller and smaller, only potatoes were sufficient enough to feed the tenant families. Poverty was so widespread that 1/3rd of the tenants were not able to pay rent or support their families.
  • Since Britain held a huge market on the beef industry, more and more of the land was used for grazing, the Irish turned to potatoes since no other crop could be grown abundantly in such unfavorable soil. By the 18th century, potatoes became the staple food of the farmers, such as it is today in our country. Of interest, an Irish worker ate ten pounds of potatoes every day. No typo here … ten pounds per day.
  • A potato disease commonly known as the Potato Blight destroyed potato crops across Europe which led to the Irish Potatoes Famine. In 1845 from 1/3 to 1/2 of the cultivated potato crops were lost. The destruction continued the following year when 3/4 of the crops were destroyed the first report of starvation death came into existence. The effect of the failure of potato crops was felt throughout Europe but it was devastating in Ireland in particular since over three million Irish people were totally dependent on potatoes for food. Fortunately, what caused the fungus that created the blight is now totally eradicated. I’d show you some pictures of what the blight did to the potatoes, but they would have to be blurred out because they are so ghastly. It wasn’t until 2013 that the true strain of the virus that caused the crop failure was identified. It was HERB-1.
  • By the time the famine ended in 1851, approximately 1 million people had died in Ireland due to starvation or disease. This was about 1/8th of the island’s population. By 1855 about 2 million people had fled from Ireland. Overcrowded and poorly managed vessels which were called “coffin ships” caused numerous deaths of emigrating Irish people. Even today, more than 150 years later, Ireland’s population has still not recovered from its pre-famine level.
  • I am not going into the political issues, but the Great Famine created a permanent change to the island’s demographics, political and cultural landscape.
  • The Great Famine is memorialized in numerous locations not only in Ireland but also in other parts of the world where large populations have descended from Irish immigrants. In the 1990’s Ireland commemorated the 150th Anniversary of the Great Famine.

Can you imagine having to live on potatoes as your main food source … and eating ten pounds a day?

To one lucky reader who leaves a comment, I will send you a copy of my newest Kasota Springs contemporary romance, Out of a Texas Night.







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A native Texan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Phyliss Miranda still believes in the Code of the Old West and loves to share her love for antiques, the lost art of quilting, and the Wild West.

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49 thoughts on “The Great Irish Famine”

    • Hi Kim, good to hear from you. I’m totally with you .. ten pounds, but of course that makes me sad to think that’s all they had to survive on. Happy October 1st! Hugs, Phyliss

      • Hi Alisa. Thanks for reading my blog and leaving a comment. You are so right … “lots” of potatoes; more than I could ever eat in a month. Happy October 1st.

  1. Good morning my dear Friend. I love potatoes, but 10 lbs. a day I just can’t imagine. What a great history lesson, thank you for sharing.
    Love and hugs from KS!

    • Hi Tonya. Thanks for reading my post and glad you liked the history lesson. I love potatoes, too; and unless I have noodles or rice, my go-to starch is potatoes. But ten lbs. No way! But then I guess I’d eat whatever I had if I was hungry enough. Happy October 1st, my friend. Hugs, Phyliss

    • Hi Janine. Good to hear from you! I’m like you, I could eat them every day, but certainly not ten pounds. I love a sweet potato, especially with pork. Happy, happy October 1st! Hugs, Phyliss

  2. I love potatoes but no I can’t imagine living off of potatoes and having to eat 10 pounds of potatoes per day for survival. I mean it’s not like they had oil to fry them, sour cream, butter, cheese, chives and all that we do to switch up our potatoes. I bet they mostly ate boiled or pan fried. Probably boiled. What a sad time. Thanks for this historical blog, I had forgotten some of it and never knew a lot of it. I have a good percentage of Irish in my blood so it’s just blasphemy that I didn’t know more. Happy October!

    • Hi Miss Stephanie Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. You make a very valid point about them not having all of the goodies we have to vary our potato recipes. I definitely wouldn’t like boiled potatoes all of the time. I can’t even imagine fried potatoes without some type of oil. My granny could fix the best fried potatoes, but she used lard and lots of it. Don’t hit yourself over the head about not knowing more about this subject. I was shocked and didn’t even use 2% of what I read. There was a great deal of political inference but I didn’t want to go there … particularly when I had a ton of information at my fingertips. Thanks again, sweet lady. And, please have a wonderful October 1st! Hugs, Phyliss

    • Hi Teresa. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. I’m like you, I love potatoes, but could never eat ten pounds a day, but then they had to survive. When I began researching I had no idea my blog would end up being a real history lesson…something I don’t remember learning about in school; and, I loved history all of my life. Please have a wonderful October 1st! Hugs, Phyliss

  3. I will have to say we eat potatoes everyday here because it doesn’t seem like I can cook a meal without them. I don’t go through 10 lbs a day more like a week or two on the 10 lbs.

    • Hi Miss Quilt Lady. Thanks for reading my blog and leaving a comment. I can’t fix meat without potatoes, too; unless I have noodles or rice. Most meat simply demands potatoes. But now that it’s just my DH and me, I can’t use a ten pound bag in two weeks. When we have a 2Fer, I get both bags and take one to my neighbor who we’ve been living next door to one another for nearly 40 years. We do a lot of dividing, since there’s only two of them, also. Thanks, my friend, and I hope you have a wonderful October 1st! Hugs, Phyliss

  4. I do love potatoes but still need a variety. If that was all I could have then that is what I would have.

    • Hi Miss Debra. Thanks for dropping by. I like a variety, too. There are some that simply go with other foods. I was raised when we had meatloaf, Mother fixed scalloped potatoes and baked beans. Chicken fry has to have mashed taters for the luscious gravy. But, I agree, if potatoes were my only food source, that’s what I’d eat, like it or not … they had to survive the best way they could. Have a wonderful October 1st!

  5. A very sad for in history. I can’t imagine eating ten pounds of potatoes a day. Just the starch alone. But I imagine when you’re starving you’ll eat it.

    • Good morning, Miss Carol. Good to hear from you. I agree that the famine and what led up to it was a sad part of history. Yes, the starch alone would be horrific to their systems, but agree when you’re hungry, you’ll eat whatever you have. Thanks for dropping by and reading my blog. I hope you have a wonderful October 1st! Hugs, Phyliss

    • Good morning, Miss Estella! Good to hear from you. Thanks, I found tons of research on the Famine and didn’t even touch on the subject. There’s so much, that I may do a second blog down the road on more about it. I’m like you, I couldn’t live on just potatoes, but then if that was all I had to eat, I’d do it. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have a wonderful October 1st!

  6. Wow! I can’t imagine eating 10 pounds of potatoes every day!! How sad. Kind of like the Israelites eating manna every day for 40 years in the wilderness. How sad that the landlords were so greedy that they did this to the tenant farmers. I’m sure there were sharecroppers here who had bad things done to them, too, but not on the scale of the Irish!! No wonder they migrated to here! Sheds light on the problems they’ve had, for sure!

    • Hi Miss Trudy. Good to hear from you. I totally agree about the Israelites. Yes, this was a sad time for the farmers. My research did come up with a lot of examples of the bad things that were done to them. There was a ton of politics involved between Britain and Ireland, but I didn’t want to go there. And, I can’t remember the numbers, but there were hundreds of thousands of Irish who migrated to the US.. and I think we’re all thankful for them. I know I have some Irish blood in my family, so if they hadn’t come, I might not have those traits…if I do. Such horrific problems. Thanks for reading my blog, and I hope you have a wonder October 1st! Hugs Phyliss

  7. Hi my precious Fellow Filly! Thanks for reading my blog, both today and yesterday. Always good to have someone to find my mistakes. (Smiling!!!!) Thanks for giving me the idea about the Famine, if it hadn’t been for your suggestion, no telling what I would have written about. Yes, it was a sad time in history. I think we all love potatoes, but never ten pounds at a time. I think the next time I eat a potato, I believe I’ll think about my blog. Again thanks for the idea and have a wonderful October 1st! To me that’s the beginning of Fall and we’re really feeling it in the Texas Panhandle right now and will all of this week. The trees are turning golden right before our eyes. Love you, too, my precious bestie.

  8. Only potatoes every day? I I think I would cut down a pine tree, remove the growth tissue in the stem and make some pettuleipä (pine bark bread) just to get some variation in my diet.

  9. Hi Minna, good to hear from you. What a great idea! I’m not familiar with pettuleipa bread. Will have to check it out. I hope you have a wonderful October 1st. Hugs, Phyliss

  10. I love potatoes but not ten pounds per day.. Thank You for such an interesting blog. Have a Great Day!!!

    • Hi Glenda. So good to hear from you. Yes, ten pounds is more than I can eat in a week. Thank you for your kind comments. I enjoyed researching and writing this blog; and I hope you have a wonderful day, too! Hugs, Phyliss

  11. Oh, my goodness. Our ancestors certainly suffered, didn’t they? While many of us write in the 1800’s for the romance of it, there was a darker side of that time period most of us don’t know about. Thank goodness for modern agriculture and medicine!

    Fascinating blog, Phyliss. And nope. Not gonna eat 10 lbs of potatoes a day, either!

    • Thanks, Pam, for reading my blog and commenting. I totally agree that as romance writers we love to write about the positive, fun side of the ol’ west with a bit of hoodlums scattered along the way. I think we all avoid the darker side that existed. I also agree about modern medicine and agriculture; and was shocked to learn that the bacteria that caused the famine was only identified a few decades ago. I think I can make a pack with just about everybody today that we will not eat 10 pounds of potatoes, ever! Thanks again and I hope you have a wonderful October 1st!

  12. I can’t imagine eating that many potatoes nor living through the blight.

    I do remember my grandma making potatoes at every meal.

    • Hi Denise. Good to hear from you. I agree about not even coming close to imagining what their lives were like during and after the blithe. My granny also had potatoes every meal. I don’t even remember her having rice or noodles. I hope you have a wonderful October 1st! Hugs, Phyliss

    • Margaret, good to hear from you. You brought up an interesting issue that I don’t recall seeing addressed in my research for this blog. Why didn’t they fish? I presume they were stuck in a situation where they had to protect their property and couldn’t get close enough to the sea. Very interesting question. Makes me want to read more and see if I can find out the answer. Thanks so much; and hope you have a wonderful October 1st! Hugs to one of my sister Fillies, Phyliss

  13. Very sobering, isn’t it? But yeah, 10 pounds is a bit much. I love potatoes in any and all forms, but I guess there is a limit.

  14. Hi Sally. So good to hear from you. Yes, sobering is an excellent word for the whole issue. I’m like you there isn’t a potato I don’t like, but there is a limit and 10 pounds a day is certainly way over my limit. Thanks for leaving a comment; and I hope you have a wonderful October 1st! Hugs, Phyliss

  15. I have Irish and English ancestors. As a Texan, I find potatoes a mainstay. I have not found a variety I do not like or a preparation method that I will not eat. Love them taters.
    Enjoyed the history you shared.

    • Hi Jerry Lynn, thanks for dropping by and reading my blog. I’m pleased you enjoyed the history. Being born and raised in Texas, I’m with you … never found a tater I didn’t like! I just pared potatoes for mashed taters to go with chicken fry! I know a Texan knows exactly what a chicken fry means without adding steak and gravy to it. Hope you have a wonderful October 1st! A big Texas hug from one Texan to another, Phyliss

  16. Hi Susan, so glad to hear from you. I agree…ten pounds is a whole lot more than a tad too much for me, too. It breaks my heart to think that many of our ancestors had no choice but to eat only potatoes. Thanks for leaving a comment; and I hope you have a wonderful October 1st! Hugs, Phyliss

  17. This is so very interesting and I learned a lot from it. I love potatoes also, but I don’t think I could eat them for every meal, but I guess if they are fixed in different ways It could be done. Thank you for the chance . Have a Great rest of the week. God Bless you. I enjoyed reading this.

  18. Hi Alicia, so good to hear from you. I’m happy you found my blog interesting. I sure learned a ton about the Famine and how it effected our country, as well as Ireland. I hope you have a wonderful October 1st and may the Good Lord Bless and Keep You and Yours, Phyliss

  19. We eat a lot of potatoes but no where near 10 pounds. I don’t think we eat that much in a month.

    Potato blight has not been totally erradicated. There was some found in a field in Central Washington this summer. Thanks to modern agriculture it can be controlled.

  20. I like potatoes but I would not want them every night. I can’t even imagine eating 10pounds of potatoes in one day.

  21. In the mid 1800’s one of my Irish ancestors arrived in America as a widower with five children including a new born baby.

    According to the ships log his wife died on the ship.
    He settled in CT with four children but it is unknown what happened to the baby.

    There were probably many tragedies on those Irish Immigrant ships.

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