st patrick’s day food and drink ideas 10 Facts About The Titanic That You Don’t KnowThe diseased plants withered with shocking speed. When the potatoes were dug up for harvest, they were found to be rotting.
Poor farmers discovered the potatoes they could normally store and use as provisions for six months had quickly turned inedible.
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Modern potato farmers spray plants to prevent blight. But in the 1840s the blight was not well understood, and unfounded theories spread as rumors. Panic set in.
The failure of the potato harvest in 1845 was repeated the following year, as well as in 1847.
In the early 1800s, a large part of the Irish population lived as impoverished tenant farmers, generally in debt to British landlords. The need to survive on small plots of rented land created the perilous situation where vast numbers of people depended on the potato crop for survival.
Historians have long noted that while Irish peasants were forced to subsist on potatoes, other crops were being grown in Ireland, and food was exported for market in England and elsewhere.
Beef cattle raised in Ireland were also exported for English tables.
In 1841 Ireland’s population was more than eight million. It has been estimated that at least one million died of starvation and disease in the late 1840s, and at least another one million emigrated during the Famine period.
The Famine hardened resentment toward the British who ruled Ireland. And nationalist movements in Ireland, which had always ended in failure, would now have a powerful new component: sympathetic Irish immigrants living in America.
Scientific Cause of the Irish Famine
The botanical cause of the Great Famine was a virulent fungus (Phytophthora infestans), spread by the wind, that first appeared on the leaves of potato plants in September and October of 1845.