The Famine

Justin McCarthy
Chapter XI | Start of Chapter

In 1846 there was an almost total failure of the potato crop throughout the greater part of Ireland, and the result was a famine, especially in the south and west, in the winter of that year and many months of the next. The whole civilized world was roused to pity and sympathy, and from the farthest regions of the earth the help of the charitable came in. That help was sadly wanted, for the measures taken by the Government at home in the first instance proved pitiably inadequate. Red tape was allowed to interfere with promptitude in official action, and the peasantry were dying by hundreds while the authorities were considering how the distribution of relief could best be reconciled with the rules of political economy.

One great, although indirect, result of the Irish famine was the triumph of the principle of Free Trade in British financial policy. But this was yet to come; and meanwhile the famine was doing its grim work in Ireland. Men, women, and children were starving in towns and villages and on hillsides, and the bewildered parochial authorities were not able to provide coffins enough for the burial of hunger's victims.