The Great Irish Famine Years

Averil Staunton

There was a huge increase in the Irish population from 1788 to 1841. It doubled in those 53 years from 4 million to over 8 million. Because people were dependent on smaller and smaller portions of land, hardship came about as a result this population explosion. People depended on the land they had leased from the landlor0ds. This system meant that often families lived on little more than a rood of ground (quarter of an acre). They managed happily while times were good. They were dependant on the highly nutritious potato crop for their basic nourishment, which every family grew for their own use. The potato was the main staple in their diet. Any wheat, oats or barley, which these tenants grew was not part of their food chain, but was sold to pay the rent for their tiny holdings to their landlords.

The failure of the potato crops, due to blight between the years 1845 and 1849, meant that the people had nothing to eat. The one crop they depended on was lost.  The rent still had to be paid to their landlord and those unable to pay were evicted from their homes. The Irish people could no longer trust the land to provide constant sustenance, nor could they rely on whatever security of tenure was allowed by the landlords. More importantly they learned that their English political masters cared little for their plight. Many landlords did their best not to pressurise destitute tenants but there were other who were ruthless and fled to England leaving the dirty work of evictions to their agents.

Workhouses were not built to cope with the Great Famine and resulted in great numbers driven by desperation and starvation, converging at their doors seeking admission. This resulted in severe over-crowding particularly in Ballinrobe Workhouse.

The Famine statues, in Custom House Quay in the Dublin Docklands, were presented to the City of Dublin in 1997. These statues commemorate the Great Famine of the mid 19th century. Photo Averil Staunton


Course: Remembering our Heritage – Ballinrobe Workhouse

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