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Session 2

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1. What economic and socal conditions in Ireland made a catastrophe, like the famine, inevitable?
Many foresaw it coming and predicted its occurrence, but circumstances on the ground were ignored by the British administration, of whom it has been truly said that they knew more about darkest Africa (whom they were about to exploit for colonies) than they did about their nearest neighbor.
Look at the problems caused by the continual subdivision of land, overpopulation (Ireland had certainly the highest density of population of any country in Europe), a ruined and depressed economy, an unstable social and political system. What else?

2. "The Almighty sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine"  John Mitchell, one of the Young Irelanders (
Would you agree that the Great Famine (1845-49) was an artificial famine (as many are), given that no other crop failed except the potato, upon whom the Irish peasantry almost totally depended for food? The potato blight did not affect the grain harvests, which were better than average. Livestock also throve, because there was no shortage of grass and fodder. But all of this was exported to England to pay the rents that the peasants owed to their landlords, most of whom were absentees - exported under the eyes of starving people, who saw their only source of food leave their shores.
To what extent did the Victorian economic doctrine of Laissez faire ('Let do') and the indifference of the Whig administration under Lord John Russell (1846-52) worsen the effects of the famine?


Copyright ©2008 Aidan Breen, Ph.D.