It was in the 1750s that a group of sailing Spaniards returned back home to Europe, bringing with them a delicious tuber plant from South America. The tuber we know as a “potato” eventually reached Norway in the mid-18th century and became a regular part of Norse cuisine. Before the arrival of potatoes (1750s) communities had problems with crop failures, occasional famines and hard times.
All was well for a few decades and then things changed. Once again “Hard times” took its toll on Ireland. Cased by fungus-like organism blight spreading rapidly amongst the potato farmers, The Great Famine also known as the Potato Famine or the Great Hunger, was a period of mass starvation and disease in Ireland from 1845 to 1849. The worst year of the period was 1847, known as “Black ’47”. The most severely affected areas in the west and south of Ireland.
Before it ended in 1852, the Potato Famine resulted in the death of roughly one million Irish from starvation and related causes, with at least another million forced to leave their homeland as refugees. Between 1845 and 1855, at least 2.1 million people left Ireland, primarily on packet ships but also steamboats and barque sailing vessel —one of the greatest exoduses from a single island in history.
The famine was a defining moment in the history of Ireland. Its effects permanently changed the island’s demographic, political, and cultural landscape, producing an estimated two million refugees and spurring a century-long population decline.
At the height of the Famine the English were shipping as many Irish as they could to Australia or Canada, with most going to Canada. Because they were considered social refuse and traveling at government expense, the Famine Irish often came over in conditions worse than those experienced by blacks transported to America as slaves; blacks, at least, were worth money. The destitute Irish were a financial burden to the English as long as they were on their land. Their objective was to be rid of them; it didn’t really matter if they arrived in Canada dead or alive. The 6,000 Irish buried on Grosse Ile near Quebec City is testament to that.
While many Irish-American families are descendants of Famine survivors, Are you a descendant of Famine emigrants?