Essay - What was the short-term significance of the Irish Potato Famine in Ireland?

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Millie Rollason 13.10
What was the short-term significance of the Irish Potato famine in
the years 1845-50?
Ireland's famine of 1845-50 was caused by a disease, which affected the leaves
and roots of the potato, rotting the crops. As a result of this famine, about a
million people in Ireland died of starvation and epidemic disease between 1845-50,
and over one million people emigrated. (Aaelman & Pearce, 2001) This caused a
huge drop in demographic figures, being the most significant short-term effect of
the Irish Potato Famine to a large extent. However, there were other short-term
outcomes aside from simply this.
Considering that the potato was the primary diet of the majority of Ireland's
farming population, who consumed on average 7-15 tonnes of potatoes daily, the
devastation caused on the wake of the blight was inevitable. Ireland saw a loss of
almost ¼ of its population ­ the greatest losses being in Connaught with 28.8%. It
is believed that more people died from the diseases (Typhus, Typhoid, Cholera and
Pneumonia) that spread rife as a result of the lack of effective medical relief and
overcrowding, mainly in workhouses. Furthermore, about one-and-a-half million
people emigrated from Ireland due to evictions, starvation, and harsh living
conditions. (Wikipedia, n.d.) This was mainly to England and Scotland (¼ of those
who emigrated), attracted by the employment opportunities from Industrialisation,
and, the others, to North America or Australia. Not only this, of the
million-and-a-half that left, 20% of them died. Due to the combination of mass
migratio1n and mass starvation, the population dropped about 8,200,000 to
6,600,000 over the five-year period (Aaelman & Pearce, 2001). This drop in figures
was so dramatic that it would take many generations before Ireland's population
would recover - Ireland's current population figure stand at just over half of what
it was in 1845, before the famine, a significantly smaller population today than
would be expected for a European country of its size.
This drop in demographics had positive outcomes as well. Ireland's population had
peaked at over 8 million, prior to the famine, due to Industrial and Agricultural
revolutions in Europe and a particularly high birth rate of 37 per 1000. Employment
opportunities were few - in 1835, 75 per cent of Irish workers lacked consistent
employment (Pike, 2011) and therefore having such a high population figure was
not ideal. Having taken this into account, with such a sharp drop in numbers,
Ireland had the benefit of far less pressure on the land, on employment and on its
resources. It was of course tragic to lose so many lives, but it did mean that the
average standard of living in Ireland rose. Housing improved as Ireland saw fewer
of its one-room cabins. The average worker's wage rose, following a drop from 1.2
million workers (1845) to 0.7 million (1861). Additionally, and arguably most
importantly, Ireland's literacy levels rose as the result of a more urbanised society,
with the growth of Irish towns. Therefore, the famine had the significance of
immediately relieving Ireland from over-population, creating higher living standards
for the groups of people affected by the famine in the first place.
The Irish relief effort soon came under the control of Charles Trevelyan, Secretary
of the British Treasury. Trevelyan believed in the popular theory of the day,
"Laissez-faire (let it be)," which advocated a belief that a situation would
eventually solve itself through natural processes (Pike, 2011). British government
involvement in relieving the famine is regarded in different views ­ between
criticism and defence of their actions. Trevelyan defended his government's
actions in a letter in 1847 [Source A]. Trevelyan held the view that the `poorest
and most ignorant peasant' should note the `benefits' of `wages and meal' from
being part of the Union and thus shouldn't `repeal' it (Pelling, 2003). Essentially, it
was the view that Irish peasants should be thankful for government help. It is
predictable that Trevelyan would write this view, as he was defending his own

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Millie Rollason 13.10
policies. Of course there is the widely argued view that the government did little
to help with its applied `laissez-faire' attitude. This caused strong anti-government
feelings, which lead to the emergence of the Young Ireland movement. However,
this anti-government movement failed to succeed.…read more

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Millie Rollason 13.10
Wikipedia, n.d. Great Famine (Ireland). [Online] Available at:
Pike, J., 2011. Global Security. [Online] Available at:
[Accessed 19 September 2012].
Aaelman, P. & Pearce, R., 2001. Great Britain and the Irish Question 1800-1922.
Aaelman, P. & Pearce, R., 2001. Great Britain and the Irish Question 1800-1922.
London: Hodder and Stoughton.
Hoppen, K., 1999. Ireland Since 1800: Conflict and Conformity. 2nd ed. Addision
Wesley Longman Limited.
Pelling, N., 2003. Anglo-Irish Relations, 1798-1922. London: Routledge.
Finn, J.…read more

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Millie Rollason 13.…read more


Marium Hussain


I just want to know what sort of mark you achieved for this as I am doing the same unit in A2 history

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