The Great Irish Famine (1845-1850), one of the last great famines in western Europe. The Famine was a disaster for Ireland and in many ways the country has not recovered from its impact to this day. The Famine or the ‘Great Hunger’ as it was known led to the deaths of 1 million people and the emigration of another two million. The article will examine the impact of the famine on Irish society and how it ‘decisively shaped the country’s history and the nature of its society and economy. The Irish Famine was not just of local importance but was to have international repercussions. This was because it led to the emigration of millions of Irish people, which changed societies from North America to Australasia.
Ireland in 1840 was largely a peasant society, where Catholic tenants worked the land of a Protestant landowning elite. Much of the agricultural land in the country was part of the estates of Protestant landlords. The country was part of the United Kingdom and was ruled by a British appointed administration in Dublin Castle, who were under the direct control of the London government. The country was overwhelmingly agricultural with little or no industry. Much of the population depended on the potato for their livelihood. The vast majority of the Irish population lived in conditions of abject poverty. In 1845, the potato blight was inadvertently brought to Europe from South America. The potato blight arrived in Ireland in the summer of 1846. It caused the potato crop to fail in many areas.