The Potato Blight

County Mayo is the ancestral home of many Cleveland Irish Americans.

Ireland: A Brief Overview

Imagine the appearance of three French sails on the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean and the effect on a local population schooled by hedge school masters waiting for the legendary myth of freedom and deliverance from second class citizenry to unravel. The three French ships landing in Ballina carried one thousand French soldiers under the command of General Humber t , including lieutenant Bartholamen Teeling of Belfast.

Their plan was to enlist the native Irish in a revolt against a regime depriving Irish citizens of the United Kingdom jobs, and the right to education and property. The French vessels pulled into the tiny seacoast village of Ballina in Killala Bay. After a brief encounter with yeoman Loyalist Police they overcame local resistance, who were caught by surprise by the unannounced invaders. Together, the French and Irish achieved the first military victory of the so-called Army of the Gael, in There is no real talisman for predicting victory in battle.

In Castlebar this was proven when a vastly outnumbered contingent of French Soldiers and Irish patriots arrived on the battlefield after a hour forced march. There they encountered British General Lake and his occupying army. But not so.

Weddings at Great National Hotel Ballina

The French soldiers, armed with muskets, flanked the British, and the Irish recruits, armed with pikes, attacked the center in a wild charge, though sustaining heavy losses. The British were apparently caught by surprise.

Make your great escape

In , the blight had been localized and variegated, but from early reports in it was obvious that blight had affected the potato crop throughout Ireland. While it had been difficult to obtain an accurate estimate of the damage caused by the blight in , as its appearance was spread over a number of months, in the destruction of the potato crop was as rapid as it was comprehensive. The nutritious potato had been the mainstay of the agricultural laborers and cottier class and dominated the diets of at least two-thirds of the population.

No other country in Europe depended on the potato as extensively as Ireland. When the blight hit the first year, it was a disaster for those who depended on the potato. When the blight returned in the following years, it meant death for many of those who were already living precariously at subsistence level, and emigration for those who had the resources to flee disease, death and poverty.

The Famine was a disaster of major proportions, even allowing for statistical uncertainty as to its estimated effect on mortality. Yet the Famine occurred in a country that, despite concurrent economic problems, was at the center of a still-growing empire and an integral part of the acknowledged workshop of the world. There can be no doubt that, despite a short-term cyclical depression, the resources of the United Kingdom could have either completely or largely mitigated the consequences of consecutive years of potato blight in Ireland.

Within Ireland itself there were substantial resources of food that, had the political will existed, could have been diverted, even as a short-term measure, to feed the starving people. The policy of closing ports during periods of shortages in order to keep home-grown food for domestic consumption had on earlier occasions proved to be effective in staving off famine within Ireland.

During the subsistence crisis of —84, an embargo was placed on the export of foodstuffs from the country.

The outcome of this humanitarian and imaginative policy was successful. The years —84 are barely remembered as years of distress.

The 1798 Rising in Co Mayo

Throughout the entire period of the Famine, Ireland was exporting enormous quantities of food to England. But that was a 'money crop' and not a 'food crop' and could not be interfered with. In History Ireland magazine , issue 5, pp. A wide variety of commodities left Ireland during , including peas, beans, onions, rabbits, salmon, oysters, herring, lard, honey, tongues, animal skins, rags, shoes, soap, glue and seed.

Learn About the Great Hunger

The most shocking export figures concern butter. Butter was shipped in firkins, each one holding 9 gallons. In the first nine months of , 56, firkins were exported from Ireland to Bristol, and 34, firkins were shipped to Liverpool. That works out to be , gallons of butter exported to England from Ireland during nine months of the worst year of the Famine. The Great Hunger was one of the first national disasters to elicit an international fund-raising effort.

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Donations came from distant and unexpected sources. The first collections, made following the appearance of blight in , took place in Calcutta in India and Boston in the United States. Most fund-raising, however, took place in the wake of the second, more devastating appearance of the potato blight in It appears JavaScript is disabled.

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