Are you ready? Mysteries, the hit fiction podcast team and. Yes, reaches this thrilling final season. Just coming after my dear child team, and by season four, no one is allowed up here. I have all the listen and follow team and be on the radio, our Apple podcast, or wherever you listen to podcasts, take me to to Monday. But now we wait till Monday.
Hi, this is Hillary Clinton, host of the new podcast, You and me both. There's a lot to be anxious and worried about right now, and it's made so much worse by the fact that we can't be together. So I find myself on the phone a lot, talking with friends, experts, really anyone who can help make some sense of these challenging times. These conversations have been a lifeline for me.
And now I hope they will be for you to please listen to you and me both on the I Heart radio app, Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Happy Saturday, everybody. Today, we have the second part of our two parter on the great famine that struck Ireland starting in 1845. This famine grew out of ongoing persecution and subjugation of Irish people, particularly Irish Catholics, which we talk more about in part one. This episode originally came out on June 19th, 2013.
Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class A production of I Heart Radio. Hello and welcome to the podcast. I'm Holly from and I am Tracy B. Wilson. So, Tracy, we're going to continue. Yes. The story we started last time, you're going to pick up on the the Irish potato famine. And to recap just a little bit in the mid-day, hundreds, the social and political climate that we talked about in the previous episode had led Ireland to depend really heavily on the potato as a food crop.
The poorest people in Ireland ate almost nothing but potatoes. And anything that was anything else that was being grown on a farm wasn't really being raised to eat. It was being raised to sell, to pay the rent. So potatoes were filling bellies and everything else was paying for the land that you were living on.
So when a blight cut just a huge swath through the potato crop in 1845 and almost wiped it out entirely in 1846, the impact on Ireland was severe. So in this episode, we're going to look at how this intersection of politics and farming unfolded.
So in 1846, when the blight was in full swing, the British government's response was minimal in the government's laissez faire view and that of many landowners who had holdings in Ireland. All of the obvious relief measures like providing food or subsidies were counterproductive. They would threaten free enterprise and caused the Irish to become dependent upon government handouts.
The government's desire not to influence free enterprise also meant that it didn't want to meddle in other business affairs, like the practice of exporting grain out of Ireland and into England.
Instead, it was pretty much business as usual. So food exporters in Ireland, many of whom were owned by people living in England, just kept exporting food as normal. So when the potato crops died, Irish farmers kept selling all their other crops to pay the rent.
The choice was one of starvation or eviction. The people who owned the farms would then export the other crops out of Ireland.
So throughout the famine, Ireland continued exporting grains, rabbits, butter, fish, onions, honey and other foods along with non-food items like wool and leather. So they were sending food away while they were starving to death, right.
So whether stopping these exports and distributing this food to Irish farmers would have stopped the famine is a hotly contested subject. Some scholars argue that the potato made up so much of the Irish food supply that no amount of other food grown there could have possibly filled that gap.
But regardless, shipping food out of Ireland while people were starving looked really bad. There were riots in port cities in response to these shiploads of food that were leaving Ireland bound for England. Riverboats and ports were appointed military guards.
And really, even if keeping the food in Ireland would have been a futile effort, this continued export was really deeply damaging to the relationship between England and Ireland.
People scavenged what they could eat and they sold their belongings to try to pay for food. Even in coastal areas where fish were plentiful, the fish were generally in water that was too deep and treacherous for people to reach in their small boats with ordinary nets.
That winter, which is the winter of 1846, also saw one of the worst blizzards in Ireland's history. With snow reaching the rooflines of people's huts.
By 1847, it had become clear that this was not just a temporary situation that was going to be relieved by the next year's harvest.
Even though the blight did disappear that year, the 1847 crop was healthy, but not enough had been planted in the spring to sustain everyone.
People had resorted to eating the potatoes they would have normally reserved for replanting in. Many were so weakened by hunger and illness that they weren't able to get their crops in the ground.
While many people wanted to plant something other than potatoes, at this point, seeds for new crops were often beyond their means. So they planted what they could get, which was mostly potatoes.
Britain opened soup kitchens to help get food to needy people, and the death toll did start to drop a little bit. But the kitchens didn't last for very long. Parliament enacted the Irish Poor Law Extension Act on June 8th, 1847, which once again moved the British government away from providing direct aid to the Irish. Under this act, it was up to the Irish landlords to support their impoverished tenants. Government soup kitchens were scheduled to be closed, and they had only existed for about six months.
And the public works programs that were meant to support the Irish were shut down.
The Poor Law Extension Act also made it a lot harder for people to enter one of Britain's workhouses, which at this point was the last refuge for the destitute farmers.
Britain had created the system of workhouses in 1838. There were 130 of them, which could accommodate about 100000 people. Once they arrived at a workhouse. Families were divided up and giving, given separate. Housing for women and men, and they were uniforms, they weren't allowed to leave the building and they worked for 10 hour days, the youngest children would get school lessons and older children would get training on how to work in a factory. These workhouses were dirty and demoralizing and illnesses spread really quickly in such tight quarters.
And apart from all of this, the whole idea of going to a work house was just an extreme humiliation, which made people really reluctant to do it. But even so, conditions were so bad in Ireland, the workhouses were quickly strained to the breaking point. The government implemented stricter and stricter rules about who could go to a workhouse in a in an attempt to stem the tide.
And under the new poor laws, men had to give up any other means of making a living if they wanted to enter a workhouse.
Hey, it's Bobby Bones, executive producer of Make It Up as we Go, the brand new podcast from Audio Up and I Heart Radio brought to you exclusively by Unilever's Noor and Magnum Brands. The story follows a songwriter's journey as well as the songs themselves and how they make it to country radio from executive producer Miranda Lambert and creators Scarlett Burke and Jared Goosestep, a story inspired by the competitive world of Nashville writing rooms featuring original music by Scarlett Burke, director and executive producer, featuring some of the biggest names in country, including The Cool Guy and everything now.
Nowadays, everything just. Now it's feeling like one day on a Saturday night. Make it up as we go only on the podcast network in association with audio up media created by Scarlett Burke and Jared Goosestep. So two point six million Irish people went to these institutions during the famine, so they were hugely, vastly overcrowded. Conditions were on top of being overcrowded, just very dirty and difficult. And more than 200000 people died in the workhouses that were meant to help them.
By 1847, the problem was actually money, thanks to the healthy but very small potato crop, there was plenty of food, but nobody had money to buy it or to pay the rent on the land. Even the British government was having financial problems because it had been hit by a banking crisis.
Landlords who didn't want to be saddled with supporting their tenants as was required under the poor laws or didn't have the money to do so because this had this had a trickle up effect. People who couldn't pay their rent meant that the landlords also had no money.
A lot of them chose to evict people who couldn't pay the rent. About half a million Irish people were evicted during the famine. Often the male head of the household would go to jail for non-payment of his rent and the rest of the family would just be left homeless. Many families, once they got a notice of their impending eviction, chose to flee rather than standing trial for this reason.
Or landlords would pay for their tenants to be transported to British North America, primarily Quebec, Canada, on ships that were so poorly made, overcrowded and disease written that they were actually nicknamed coffin ships following 1847, healthy but small harvest.
Many people were hopeful that Ireland had turned a corner. You know, people kept thinking that this was just a temporary thing and that one more good harvest would would fix the problem. But people had spent the very last of their money getting a potato crop into the ground to support themselves for the following year.
And then in 1848, again, thanks to wet weather conditions, the blight came back and the English not understanding why the Irish had planted potatoes instead of something else, demanded that the Irish pay for their own relief.
So taxes were actually increased on farmers and landlords.
For Irish farmers, this was really the last straw, and emigration out of Ireland began in earnest. People had been immigrating from Ireland in the years before the famine, so emigrating was not a new thing. In particular, young men had gone to the United States to work as manual laborers and American companies would advertise for workers in Irish cities. In the years before the famine, between 1815 and 1845, nearly a million Irish people had gone to America.
For the sake of comparison, that's about half as many as left Ireland in the ten years between 1845 and 1855, which are thought of as the famine years. But the immigration during the famine was different, both in scale and just in sheer awfulness on the coffin ships to Canada, the trip could take up to three months.
The people aboard were so sick. By the time they arrived, the quarantine facility in Quebec ran out of room, leading to a backlog that kept the passengers on newly arrived ships from being able to disembark. So the ships would just sit there in port with sick and dying and deceased people aboard.
Eventually, quarantine and inspection procedures were abandoned and the passengers were allowed to go on their way, meaning that the Irish people arriving at various cities in Canada were extremely ill. They were homeless and they were destitute. So many sick people arrived in Quebec that there was a typhus epidemic in Canada, which came directly from the influx of immigrants from Ireland.
In 1847, about 100000 people sailed from Ireland to Canada, and about 20 percent of them died from disease or malnutrition.
Those who could afford it went instead to the United States, mostly to the port cities of New York, Boston, Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans, where for the most part they faced illness, poverty, discrimination and bigotry and intense competition for unskilled jobs. And in New York, Irish conmen who built them out of their money in exchange for a filthy place to stay.
Yeah, basically, New York had been, of course, one of the most common ports of entry for people emigrating from Ireland. So people who were getting off the boats during the blight would be greeted by what seemed to be a friendly face, who spoke their language, and that would, in fact, be a person who was going to steal all their money.
That's so delightful. No, there is a point at some at some point in my outline previously there was this and the.
Do you think it was going to stop getting worse because it's just going to get worse?
So the United States was also not really on board with the idea of becoming home to a bunch of really sick Irish immigrants. So fares to the United States from Ireland became way more expensive and ports along the East Coast started requiring bonds from the captains of the ship to guarantee that their passages were not going to become dependent on the government to live. And it wasn't just a matter of jacking up fares.
The U.S. had laws regulating the number of passengers a ship could hold and the ship's accommodations. They were way more strict and more strictly enforced than British laws, which meant that the voyage was more expensive to begin with.
So you were more likely to survive the ship on a on a ship that was going to America because of these laws than a ship going to Canada.
But it also cost a lot more, much harder to get on those ships. Yes.
The people who had enough money to flee but not enough money to get to the United States or Canada would instead try to emigrate to England with Liverpool, Glasgow and South Wales being common destinations. But this trip, while it was definitely a whole lot shorter, wasn't necessarily safer. There was one ship that arrived in Liverpool in Liverpool with 72 dead aboard after the captain batten the hatches in a storm and the people inside the deeply overcrowded ship suffocated.
And while the hope was that at least in England, people wouldn't starve. Irish immigrants quickly overwhelmed the cities.
In Liverpool, for example, Irish immigrants more than doubled the population of the city and exhausted the relief services on June 21st, 1847, in an attempt to relieve Liverpool of just this insurmountable population explosion. The British government passed a law that allowed Irish people to be deported back to Ireland. In general, what would happen is these people would be abandoned on the docks once they were returned to Ireland, where, like you said before, they had no home and no money.
Similar laws were enacted in other English cities that had a big influx of Irish immigrants.
So even after the blight disappeared, the famine had so completely changed. The political and ethnic landscape in Ireland, England and even much of North America, the American immigrant population became overwhelmingly Irish really quickly.
And Northern Irish Americans who associated Irish people with poverty and disease, SIFF lessness and the still pretty distrusted Catholicism carried a lot of anti Irish prejudice.
Deep anti Irish and anti Catholic sentiment remained until the Civil War, when the tide started to turn a little as Irish fighting units proved themselves to be both brave and dependable. And Irish laborers filled a need for workers after the war was over.
And eventually Irish Catholics found that they could influence local politics by voting. Irish Catholics made their way into public office and started influencing public policy, which made life for Irish immigrants a little easier in the United States. Back in Ireland during the blitz aftermath.
The economy was still in dire straits. Landowners were deeply in debt, and many sold their land just to get out from under it. This left tenant farmers who had been working that land homeless.
Ireland's recovery continued to just be really slow after the famine was gone, both because of the sudden population drop and the consequent drop in how much farm labor was available and the economic fallout from the famine.
It's hard to make precise estimates of exactly how bad the final death toll was. Census records at the time weren't super precise, but the most commonly cited statistics are that one million people died. Most didn't die of starvation, but of diseases like relapsing, fever, typhus, dysentery and cholera. Hunger made people more susceptible in poverty, and overcrowding caused these diseases to spread rapidly.
Another about two million people left Ireland as a direct result of the famine, with most of them heading to England, Canada or the United States.
The population was about eight point four million people in Ireland in 1844 that had fallen to six point six million in 1851. And in the end, the year's thought of as the the famine years saw a drop in the Irish population by 20 to 25 percent.
And the population actually continued to drop in the aftermath so that when Ireland gained independence in 1921, its population was actually half of what it was before the famine began.
Debate about how to interpret the government's response to the famine continues today. On the one hand, is the nationalist review that the government could have made better choices and is pretty much responsible for the huge death toll. The revisionist view is more sympathetic to the government and the landlords, and it takes the opposite stance.
In the most extreme national nationalist view, this famine wasn't really a famine. It was genocide. That's not that doesn't get a lot of traction in the world of academia.
But it is a view that a lot of people take that because a lot of the policy was so anti Irish that what was happening was the deliberate extermination of Irish people through the tool of hunger because of the famine and the blight was actually identified what this disease had actually been in May of 2013 as a probably now extinct stream of Phytophthora infestations, which is native to South America and Mexico.
It almost certainly came to Ireland aboard ships from Mexico having contaminated other crops, and it completely changed their history forever.
It did it and consequently the history of other countries as well. Right. And it became sort of the hallmark of more recent Irish history.
Like Ireland, Ireland has had a lot of unhappy events in its history, and the potato famine is cited as one that just had a deep and long lasting effect on everything about Ireland.
And there are there's a whole body of literature that draws directly from the famine.
When you talk to people who live in the United States, who have Irish family, a lot of people will say that's when my grandparents came to the United States or that of my great grandparents came to the United States.
And yet a lot of the education about it begins and ends with potatoes. And they died. Yeah, it's pretty quick.
I mean, we really don't get that much in depth in it. Yeah, well, in school.
Well, and some of that is because some of the classroom discussions on the famine are in sort of the late elementary and middle school years. And it's, you know, getting into all the political complexities surrounding it is maybe not quite appropriate for that age level.
But even so, considering, you know, you and I live in the United States, considering what a huge effect the famine had on the demographics of the United States and politics and and religion and all of that kind of thing, it seems a little weird that there's not a more thorough discussion of it later on in the later school years.
Thanks so much for joining us on this Saturday. Since this episode is out of the archive, if you heard an email address or a Facebook Eurail or something similar over the course of the show, that could be obsolete. Now, our current email address is History podcast at I, heart radio dot com, our old HowStuffWorks. The email address no longer works, and you can find us all over social media at MTT in history. And you can subscribe to our show on Apple podcast, Google podcast, the I Heart Radio app, and wherever else you listen to podcasts.
Stuff you missed in history class is a production of I Heart Radio for more podcasts from my Heart Radio is it by her radio app Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.