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The Great Hunger


Known in Ireland as the Great Hunger, the Irish Famine of 1846-50 caused nearly one million deaths, and radically changed Irish society and culture.

  • The Irish language almost disappeared, since it was the rural areas where Irish was still spoken as the first language that were most affected.

  • There was an end to the division of family estates into tiny lots capable of sustaining life only with a potato crop. From this time on one son inherited the farm, leaving the others little choice but to emigrate.

  • The poorest classes - the cottiers and labourers - were affected most of all, the cottier class being almost wiped out.

  • Early marriage became impossible for most Irish. The birth rate dropped as a result.

  • Over one million people emigrated during the famine years. The population dropped from over 8 million in 1845 to about 6 million by 1850. This exodus became a pattern, so that by 1900 over 4 million had left Ireland. Emigration continued well into the 1950s, averaging 60,000 a year.

  • The millions who left Ireland on the emigrant ships, commonly called "coffin ships", took with them a hatred of English rule that has survived to the present day.

  • The landowner classes were ruined. Profits fell and debts rose, but much of their land was tied and could not be sold off until the Government passed the Encumbered Estates Act in 1849.

  • A new generation of rebels and agitators arose. Parnell and Davitt fought for and achieved land reforms. Padraig Pearse and other rebels expounded the need for national independence from England. The 1798 Rising by the United Irishmen, the 1916 Easter Rising and the subsequent War of Independence, the Civil War and the 1949 formation of the Republic all have roots in the Great Famine.






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