Important feature of Irish society

Research question:

What are the causes and consequences of very high emigration from Ireland which began in 18940s and lasted until 18960s ?

Emigration was the very important feature of Irish society for much of its history. Some periods are more associated with emigration than others. For example famine and post famine years. Despite Ireland had long established culture of emigration , the scale of the problem in the 1940s had much bigger impact on Irish society than emigration both in earlier and later periods. No other country experienced such a heavy emigration over so long period. Emigration peaked between 1846- 1855 when about 2, 5 million Irish left the country in the response to the famine and to the social evolution afterwards. High level of emigration lasted until 1860s. Irish were going to many different locations depending on the period. Amount The numbers of people who left the country and famine itself have huge impact on Ireland.

The Great Irish Famine

The period b B between 1845 and 1852 is one of the most tragic in the whole history of Ireland. For Irish people this was the time of starvation, emigration or death. Great Irish Famine had many causes and even more influential long-lasting results. Even before the famine Ireland was an underdeveloped, poor and over- populated country with great social diversity. One of the facts that where important for the emergence of the Irish famine was the attack of the potato blight. Potatoes attacked by this disease, caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans, could not be eaten. At these times potatoes were a basic component of the diet of big partmost of the Irish society. The fact that Ireland was a potato- based country resulted in about one million death and a s, very high rate of emigration. The emigration achieved extraordinary high rate with lasted until 1960s. In the result of starvation and emigration population decreased from 8,295,000 to less than 6 million.

There were many causes of the Great Irish Famine and famine emigration and the story of starvation can be linked to many things, to a growing population, low living standards, insecurity of land tenure and high rents, industrial stagnation but also to excessive dependence on the potato. The Famine was triggered by the fungal disease blight. The problem of potato blight was crucial for the emergence of the great Irish famine and emigration primarily because over 3 million people in Ireland were relying on potato as main food and approximately 15 million tonnes of potatoes were consumed annually in the early 1940s. Potatoes became so popular because they were not only very nutritious and easy to cook (unlike grain) but also could grow anywhere and did not need great conditions and could be grown in bad quality and rocky soils what? . Irish farmers utilized an ancient 'lazy bed' planting technique. For poor families what counted was the fact that on hectare of potatoes produced as much food as two hectares of different crops. Great help for the cultivation of potato was also the Irish climate. Frost and rain were great enemies for more demanding vegetables. It does not mean that there were no others crops in Ireland. There were others for example corn that were grown, but for different purposes, for example for export.

Failure of the British Government

The starvation itself was not the only problem which forced people to leave their country, very crucial was also the failure of the British government to deal with the crisis. Sir Robert Peel was the Prime Minister when the famine became a serious problem. Chritstine Kinealy writes:

"While it was evident that the government had to do something to help alleviate the suffering, the particular nature of the actual response, especially following 1846, suggests a more covert agenda and motivation. As the Famine progressed, it became apparent that the government was using its information not merely to help it formulate its relief policies, but also as an opportunity to facilitate various long-desired changes within Ireland. These included population control and the consolidation of property through various means, including emigration...

Despite the overwhelming evidence of prolonged distress caused by successive years of potato blight, the underlying philosophy of the relief efforts was that they should be kept to a minimalist level; in fact they actually decreased as the Famine progressed."[1]

Despite the hard situation in the country taxes, rents, and food exports were collected and sent to British landlords. As a result, the Irish were left with no alternatives to the potato, and therefore couldn't make a living. Before famine Ireland was exporting to Britain amount of corn which was enough to feed 2 million people. This is one of the reasons why Ireland was called the "bread basket"[2] of Britain. During famine there were many new policies introduced. New regulations were not intended to protect Irish but rather to protect existing trading relationship. Tomas Aichir, a farmer from Co. Clare, survivor from the Famine wrote in his memories "the foods during the Famine were Indian corn and Indian meal, but sad to say, a shipload of American corn coming would pass a shipload of Irish corn going out of Ireland to England- corn which they had to sell to pay the landlord's rent and escape losing their homes and their all"[3]. In another relation account we can read:"Yes, the Famine was man- made. It was our rulers that saw to it that our food was shipped away to England from us, and then left the people here starving. There was no one to talk. The men in power were all Protestants, men that could get enough for themselves and their families no matter what came. They were in league with England and it was their delight to see the population decreasing by the thousands dying with hunger and what followed."[4] Despite the big role of the blight for the emergence of famine and disastrous results there were still many possibilities for saving people from starvation. A contemporary comment was that "God sent the blight, but the English made the famine": and to some extent this was true because the governments of both Peel and Lord John Russell did little to help the Irish population. Irish people were aware that they do not get help that they need. "Can we wonder if the Irish people believe -- and believe it they do -- that the lives of those who have perished, and who will perish, have been sacrificed by a deliberate compact to the gains of English , and if this belief has created among all classes a feeling of deep dissatisfaction, not only with the ministry but with English rule. . ."[5] The Britiish government upheld the absolute right of landlords to evict Irish families during a terrible famine even in the dead of winter. Further, the Poor Law was encouraged landlords to engage in eviction in order not to be bankrupted by poor rates for their tenants. In deciding their course of action during the Famine, British government officials and administrators rigidly adhered to the popular theory of the day, known as laissez-faire (meaning let it be), which advocated a hands-off policy in the belief that all problems would eventually be solved on their own through 'natural means.' After many years, PM of United Kingdom, Tony Blair admitted "those who governed in London at the time failed their people trough standing by while a crop failure turned into a massive tragedy"[6] source of quotation? . Irish people were dying of starvation not only because lack of food but also because lack of food they could afford to buy. Irish historian described Irish famine as "the tragic outcome of three factors: an ecological accident that could not have been predicted, an ideology ill- geared to saving lives and, of course, mass poverty"[7]


Due to their great hardships, many Irish had no choice other than to leave their home country. Famine related emigration achieved a number equal to famine- related deaths. Total emigration from Ireland in the ten years after the blight struck totaled two and a half million people. And until 1870 this number arose to 3 million. By 1851 there were one million Irish in United States, three-quarters of a million in Britain and a quarter of a million in Cana, 70000 in Australia and Many in Central and South America. In the beginning most only men or the whole families emigrated. First main destination for Irish emigrants was Britain but after the crisis in1847 people were going to United States more often. The cheapest fares were to Canada, around 55 shillings, while a fare to the USA cost between 70 shillings and £5 (100 shillings). There were two ways one could travel; either in a standard class or steerage. Standard passengers had berths and could walk on the deck. Steerage passengers were crowded together below decks and often could not use the deck. For many emigrants, steerage was the most they could afford. People leaving Ireland were travelling on dirty and dangerous vessels. These early vessels got a name of coffin ships. The suffering associated with travelling on coffin ships does not need to be only imagined as we have vivid relations for example the one from Stephen de Vere who was travelling as a steerage passenger to Canada in the late spring of 1847: "Before the emigrant is a week at sea, he is an altered man... . How can it be otherwise? Hundreds of poor people, men, women, and children, of all ages, from the driveling idiot of ninety to the babe just born; huddled together without light, without air, wallowing in filth and breathing a fetid atmosphere, sick in body, dispirited in heart...; the fevered patients lying between the sound in sleeping places so narrow as almost to deny them the power of indulging, by a chance of position, the natural restlessness of the diseased; by their agonized ravings disturbing those around them and predisposing them, trough the effects of the imagination, to imbibe the contagion; living without food or medicine except as administered by the hand of casual charity; dying without the voice of spiritual consolation, and buried in the deep without the rites of the church."[8]

The British authorities government was were well awareconscious that the Poor Law was beneficial only for made landlords who were more likely to make a one-time payment for "coffin ship" passage for their tenants rather thaninstead of continue to paying taxes for their upkeep in workhouses. Emigration seemed to be a great solution, because only reduction of population would lead to increased prosperity in Ireland. British authorities well informed by Canadian officials repeatedly sent reports informing British officials ofabout the massive mortality rates on these ships. Lack of medical care together with lack of food on board was the cause of many deaths during long journey. Irish nationalist were very unhappy with emigration as the solution for problems. "In truth the whole thing is only an effort to relieve the Irish landowners of any motive whatever to promote the improvement of the country"[9] Nationalists also pointed out at the bad conditions during the travel. Despite the journey was so dangerous, people still preferred to go. We know from many sources that people were really desperate. "Some of the poor people used to leave their children at some rich person's house, unknown to them. Others would have them locked in the houses and go off to America and leave the children to die. Children used to be heard crying with the hunger miles off."[10]

Departures during the immediate aftermath of the famine were almost as enormous as during the famine years themselves. Of the total 2.1 million who left between 1845 and 1855, 1.2 million fled before 1851, but as many as 900000 departed over the next five years. As the result the number of Irish born abroad was very high even after many years after famine.

Britain was the main destination was Irish emigrants since the 1830s so before the emergence of the great Irish famine. There was a few generations of irish people living in England before the struck of the blight. Prior to the 1930, the majority of the Irish immigrants went to United States and not to England. Later by the late 1940s over 80% of all Irish emigrants were going to England. The reason was simple. Irish people were allowed to settle in England without restriction according to Ireland Act (1949), Section 2 (1). High level of emigration to England lasted until 1870s (Barrett 1998; Courtney 1995). In the famine years, according to its geographical location all the British towns on the western coast were place of settlement for new immigrants,but it was first of all Liverpool that became the main port of disembarkation and provided the best opportunity for a transatlantic berthpassage to the New World,. Only from 1846 when it was obvious that newcomers are a problem, it was ordered that police should count arriving immigrants. Edward Rushton reported that only between January and December 1847, number of immigrants from Ireland reached nearly 300000. Some of them, about 130, went later to United States. The arrival of this great amount of irish paupers was the major cause of increasing poverty. 1847 was the year when there was 370, 872 instances of outdoor relief in Liverpool.[12] Next year in Liverpool there were over 250000 new immigrants. Soon after many people became aware of the economic slump in Britain and concentrated their efforts on making it to United States, but still in order to get to United States they were very often coming to Liverpool first. During next years from 1849 to 1953 it was estimated that about 1241000 passengers arrived from Ireland to Liverpool, including many paupers. Passengers coming to Liverpool were travelling in very unsanitary conditions. In 1848 many passengers (72 of 206) on the Londonerry suffocated during the journey from Sligo when crowded below decks. It took quite long before officials decided to prompt a parliamentary investigation. New regulations limited overcrowd on the steamers.[13] what are the sources of all of this information? .

Many thousands of Irish decided to cut their losses and set sail on emigration boats to America. New York was the main port of entry intodestination in North America fir Irish famine emigrants both during and after famine. The figures for this period period show a dramatic remarkable increase in in the number of Irish people arriving in coming to the United States: 92,484 in 1846, 196,224 in 1847, 173,744 in 1848, 204,771 in 1849, and 206,041 in 1850. By the end of 1854 nearly two million people - about a quarter of the population - had immigrated to the United States in only ten years. They mainly lived in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, Ohio and New Jersey. An investigation carried out in 1978 revealed that since 1820 over 4,723,000 people immigrated to the United States from Ireland. This amounted to 9.7 per cent of the total foreign immigration during this period.

Results of emigration for Ireland

The country left behind by the emigrants was transformed by the famine. The famine was followed by a dramatic fall in the birth rate and a rapid and irreversible decline in the poorest sectors of rural society, the cottiers and laborer who were swept away by death and emigration. Emigration changed the society forever, most strikingly by greatly reducing the population.

The fall of population resulted in a consolidation of farms, a decrease in a number of small holdings and the beginning of emergence of the new social group in Ireland - tenant farmers with medium or large holdings.

The Famine hardened gave irish nationalists new reasons for resentment antipathy toward the British government who ruled had power over Ireland. Many Irish people knewfelt that the British could have done more and were disappointed. this Lack of a proper actions of british officials caused a lot of anti-British sentiment to arise, particularly not only in Ireland and but also among the Irish who had gone to Americawere forced to leave their country. They were to provide a retrospective condemnation of Britain for its alleged murder of the Irish people, as well as the source of money for Irish nationalist movements. Nationalist movements in Ireland, which had always ended in failureused to be very weak, would now have a powerful new component:support of sympathetic Irish immigrants living in America. Again, copied sentence...

Another result of famine and emigration was a decline of the Irish language. The gradual decline began the famine, but the both famine and post- famine emigration accelerated this process. In 1845 about 30% of Irish population spoke Irish, this amount decreased because people who died or emigrated, so people from rural areas were mainly Irish speakers. People in their relations from post famine period also mention this problem: "It was pitiful and heartbreaking the many people tried to get English for their children. Small blame to them. There was America and bread in it. Any dearbhfhaoil English they could give them. In my young days at home in Ballinamona, near Mallow, everyone over 40 knew Irish. No one spoke it. It wasn't lucky."[14]

The blight that struck the potato crop in 1845 was the main cause of starvation, which in turn pushed Irish people to emigration on a scale much larger than ever before. The government was faced with several difficulties in dealing with famine, but there are also many questions about its willingness or unwillingness to act. Government's slowness in grasping the scale of the problem made it to become a real disaster and forced people to leave their country.

This essay unfortunately doe s not deserve a passing mark, because of your heavy reliance on unacknowledged online sources . If it wasn 't for the plagiarism, you would have received a mark above the passing bar. You have done some decent research and the writing shows that. However the level of engagement with course themes is insufficient and t here is not enough of your own analysis. This essay would have been marked 50, but because of the plagiarism it is a 35.


  • Desmond Williams, Dudley Edwards 1997 The Great Irish Famine, Dublin: Lilliput Press
  • Fitzpatrick 1984 Irish Emigration 1801- 1921. Ireland: Dundalgan Press
  • Gallman Matthew 2000 Receiving Erin's Children: Philadelphia, Liverpool, and the Irish Famine Migration, 1845- 1855. United States: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Keating John 1996 Irish Famine Facts. Dublin: Teagasc
  • Kinealy Chritine 2002 The Great Irish Famine: Impact, Ideology and Rebellion. London: Palgrave 1997 A Death- Dealing Famine: The great Hunger in Ireland. London: Pluto Press 1994 This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845- 52. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan Ltd
  • Macraild Donald 2006 The Irish in Britain 1800- 1914. Dublin: Dundalgan Press (W. Tempest) Ltd
  • Morgan Gerard 2004 Sending out Ireland 's Poor: Assisted emigration to North America in the Nineteenth Century. Dublin: Four Courts Press
  1. Kinealy Christine, This Great CalamitY; The Irish Famine 1845-52, 1994. p.352-3
  2. Clarendon to Russel, Clarendon Papers, 12 July 1847
  3. Poirteir Cathal, Famine Echoes, p. 210
  4. Ibid, p. 211
  5. The Dublin University Magazine. "The Famine in the Land: What Has Been Done, And What Is To Be Done." April 1847 found on (University of Virginia)
  6. International News June 2, 1997 Blair apologises to Ireland for Potato Famine
  7. O' Grada, Ireland before and after the Famine, 137.
  8. Quoted in Brendan O Cathaoir, Famine Diary (Dublin and Portland, Oregon 1999), p.120
  9. Galway Vindicator, 9 Jun. 1847 quoted in Morgan Gerard, Sending out Ireland's poor: Assisted emigration to North America in the Nineteenth Century. P. 74
  10. Poirteir Cathal, Famine Echoes, p. 245
  11. Compiled from data in Macraild Donald, The Irish in Britain 1800- 1914, p.17
  12. Macraild Donald, The Irish in Britain 1800- 1914, p.16
  13. All information about Liverpool come from ( if not stated otherwise) Gallman Matthew, Receiving Erin's Children. p. 28- 32
  14. Poirteir Cathal, Famine Echoes, p.252

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