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Irish Potato Famine Essay

  • Submitted by: munieka
  • on March 18, 2012
  • Category: History
  • Length: 7,601 words

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Below is an essay on "Irish Potato Famine" from Anti Essays, your source for research papers, essays, and term paper examples.

The proximate cause of the Great Irish Famine (1846-52) was the fungus phythophtera infestans (or potato blight), which reached Ireland in the fall of 1845. The fungus destroyed about one-third of that year's crop, and nearly all that of 1846. After a season's remission, it also ruined most of the 1848 harvest. These repeated attacks made the Irish famine more protracted than most. Partial failures of the potato crop were nothing new in Ireland before 1845, but damage on the scale wrought by the ecological shock of potato blight was utterly unprecedented (Solar 1989; Bourke 1993; Clarkson and Crawford 2001). However, the famine would not have been nearly so lethal had Ireland's dependence on the potato been less. The experience of other European economies in the 1840s is telling in this respect. In Ireland the daily intake of the third or so of the population mainly reliant on the potato was enormous: 4-5 kilos daily per adult male equivalent for most of the year. After allowing for non-human consumption and provision for seed, the 2.1 million acres (or 0.8 million hectares) under potatoes in the early 1840s produced 6.2 million metric tons for human consumption. That amounted to an average daily intake of 4.6 lbs (or over two kilos) per man, woman, and child. In France, by comparison, the average daily intake of potatoes was only 165 grams in 1852; in Norway in the early 1870s, 540 grams; in the Netherlands about 800 grams in the 1840s; in Belgium 640 grams. A few European regions -- Belgian Flanders, parts of To appear in Cormac Ó Gráda , Richard Paping and Eric Vanhaute (eds.), The potato famine of 1845-1850: causes and effects of the 'last' European subsistence crisis (CORN Publication Series: Comparative Rural History of the North Sea Area). 1

Prussia, and Alsace -- came closer to the Irish norm, however (for sources see Ó Gráda 1999: 18, 237). Table 1 (based on Bourke 1993: 90-113; Mokyr 1981) gives a sense of the potato's importance in the Irish rural...

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