Potato Famine

Potato Famine

In Ireland, the Great Famine was a period of mass starvation, disease and emigration between 1845 and 1852.

It is sometimes referred to, mostly outside Ireland, as the Irish Potato Famine because one-third of the population was then solely reliant on this cheap crop for a number of historical reasons.

Altogether, about a million people in Ireland are reliably estimated to have died of starvation and epidemic disease between 1846 and 1851, and some two million emigrated in a period of a little more than a decade (1845-55).

Phytophthora infestan, or “late blight,” as it’s known to gardeners and farmers, is a widespread disease found all over the world, including farms and backyard gardens in North Carolina. It was one of the first plant pathogens ever described by scientists. Dr. Ristaino first became interested in studying the pathogen when she took a sabbatical overseas ten years ago and saw firsthand ancient samples of diseased leaves from the potato famine.

People couldn't afford to pay their rents anymore and were evicted by their landlords. They were forced to move to disease-infested workhouses or to emigrate to other countries. But even emigration was no solution for many of people - they were crowded into little ships, later also labeled "coffin ships", and many of them died on the way due to hunger, disease and other causes. Usually just over half of the emigrants survived the long journeys.

Other people, who could not afford to buy other food, were forced to eat the rotten potatoes, contracted diseases such as typhoid, and passed these on in their entire villages. Since not even the priests could afford to buy coffins for the dead, they were either not buried or just buried wearing the clothes that had died in, so no one was really safe of disease.

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