From 1846 to 1850, famine cast a dark shadow on Ireland. Since most of the country was poor, the potato was a staple of the Irish diet. In some of the poorer countries, it was all that people ate. Everything else must be paid for, and were expensive, but potatoes were dirt cheap, and most people grew potatoes themselves, since Ireland was a primarily agricultural society.
Blight hit the potatoes, making them inedible. Those who did eat the blighted potatoes became ill. While thousands of pounds of grain was being exported from the country, millions were suffering from starvation, because they did not have enough money to buy grain, because of taxes imposed on it by the British government, who did little to help the Irish during the famine. An estimated one million people died of starvation, while another million emigrated to other countries. The result was a mass exodus of Irish to America-many didn't even make it through the voyage without dying from illness or starvation. The country's population dropped substantially. Another result was the rising hostility towards the British, who refused to help the country it was supposedly governing because of its lassiez-faire business practices.
In the mid 1840's, Bishop Loras of Dubuque, Iowa, visited Ireland. He was so appalled by the conditions that he found there that he submitted a letter to the London Tablet. Here is a portion of that letter:
|"I assure you, dear sir, the scene of poverty and misery in some quarters was wonderful (that is, awful), and I am told that it is still worse in other counties. I saw many poor cottages covered with straw, half buried in the ground, and occupied by poor Catholic tenants, who cultivate in the sweat of their brow small fields divided by poor green hedges or half-tumbled walls. The manner in which many were clothed was a sure indication of great poverty and unavoidable sufferings. At every station, at least in towns, the stage was surrounded by whole families of beggars, who, by their pressing demands, would elicit charity from the most hardened heart. Many of those cottages were crumbling in ruins and abandoned by their tenants, who had emigrated to some more hospitable shore. As I was traveling along I saw occasionally some of those extensive and princely estates occupied by rich English lords, whose dwellings and parks are surrounded by old lofty walls and shaded by quite annuated trees. The contrast between great opulence and extreme poverty was truly appalling, and one is at a loss to understand how this state of things can be tolerated in this age of light and philanthropy. Another contrast I cannot help noticing. As soon as I crossed the Channel from Dublin to Holyhead, In England, I perceived great change for the better in the face of the country, and in the look of the people; so much so, that one could hardly believe that Ireland and England were both under the same laws, and protected by the same government; and more than that, the poor Irish are either incarcerated or transported, whenever they make any attempt to better their truly miserable condition."|
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