Irelands' History in Maps


        1800
Maps: BC . 100 . 150 . 200 . 300 . 400 . 500 . 600 . 700 . 800 . 900 . 1000 . 1100 . 1200 . 1300 . 1400 . 1500 . 1600 . 1700 . 1800 . 1845


The map above represents pre-famine percentages of literacy and poor (4th class) housing in Ireland circa 1841. This helps set the stage for a short description of 'The Great Hunger' which began in Ireland around the Fall of 1845, continued up to 1851, and ended in the deaths of an estimated one million Irish (or one out of every nine inhabitants). To understand the Great Famine, one must realize the expanding population of early 1800's Ireland and the growing dependency on a single crop - the Potato. To realize why it lasted for five years one must understand the politics, culture and economics of the time, since full crop failures did not occur every year between 1845 and 1850.

In 1800, some four and one-half million people lived in Ireland. By the autumn of 1845, when the Great Famine struck Ireland, there were more than eight million. This was the largest increase in the population of Ireland in its history, an increase estimated at 172%. By the time of the Famine Ireland's population of poor was very high, and its population of landlords was very low (est. 5000).

The "white" potato, known today as the Irish potato, originated in the Andean Mountains. In 1532 the Spanish arrived in north Peru and it is speculated that they brought the potato to Europe in the second half of the 16th century. By 1800, the potato had taken root and ninety percent of the Irish population was dependent on the potato as their primary means of caloric intake and as an export.

In September of 1845, a fungus called Phytophthora infestans was infecting Ireland's potato crops, devastating the potato population. About half the Irish potato crop failed in 1845. This event is what began The Great Famine in Ireland.

The next year, 1846, the crop was destroyed again. By 1847 (Black '47) the impact of the famine spelled doom for Ireland. A large proportion of the population died from disease or starvation, while a great number of the people fled the country, largely occuring in a five year period between 1846 to 1851. This event is well noted as one of the greatest catastrophes of the 19th century.

While the blight provided the catalyst for the famine, the calamity was essentially man-made, a poison of blind politics, scientific ignorance, rural suppression, and enforced poverty.

Many Irish landlords sent badly needed grain to England for profit, instead of retaining it for the poorer classes (cottiers and labourers). Without crops or employment the tenants could no longer pay rent, so many lost the lands they may have rented while their landlords exported grain ans cattle to offset their losses. The effect of this was multiplied by the fact that the English parliament was reluctant to send any food to Ireland. One official declared in 1846, "It is not the intention at all to import food for the use of the people of Ireland."

Although the net export of food out of Ireland actually decreased over the Famine period, shipping records indicate that 9,992 Irish calves were exported to England during Black '47, a 33 percent increase from the previous year. Irish grain was exported, while cheap Indian meal was (sometimes) imported to feed the poor population. What was not known at the time, however, was the Indian meal contained little or no nutrients and only contributed further to the spread of disease. A majority of Famine victims died from malnutrition-related diseases such as dropsy, dysentery, typhus, scurvy and cholera, rather than directly from starvation.

For many the only alternative to disease and starvation, and the only option to eviction from their tenant lands, was emigration. The Passenger Act of 1847 was passed and it granted each [eligible] emigrant 10 cubic feet and a supply of food and water. Realistically captains didn't obey this act and many people starved or died of disease in cramped quarters aboard the emigrant ships. An estimated one and one-half million Irish emigrated from 1845 to 1851, upwards of 20-45% dying in the "coffin ships" on their journey or shortly after their arrival in their new home.

The overall impacts of the Famine included: Today there are over 5 million people in Ireland, while it is estimated there are upwards of 70 million people of Irish descent throughout the world.

In a statement by British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the eve of the 150th Famine commemoration in 1997, he said, "The famine was a defining event in the history of Ireland and of Britain. It has left deep scars. That one million people should have died in what was then part of the richest and most powerful nation in the world is something that still causes pain as we reflect on it today. Those who governed in London at the time failed their people through standing by while a crop failure turned into a massive human tragedy. We must not forget such a dreadful event. Britain in particular has benefited immeasurably from the skills and talents of Irish people, not only in areas such as music, the arts and the caring professions, but across the whole spectrum of our political, economic and social life."

The famine is still a highly sensitive issue in Ireland and has left a bitter legacy in Anglo-Irish relations. Historians agree that the British Government could not be held solely responsible for the calamity. When the potato crop failed through blight every year between 1845 and 1850, food was shipped to Ireland by the Government and charities but the profitable export of grain and cattle was allowed to continue. As wealthy farmers and landowners profited, their tenants starved to death and London was widely accused of doing too little too late by way of relief. Ireland lost a quarter of its eight million population in six years. In addition to those who perished in Ireland, a million fled abroad to North America, Australia and New Zealand. Thousands died in horrific conditions on the Famine Ships.


Decline in Population by County: 1841-1851
County 1831 Census 1841 Census Forecasted 1851 Census Actual 1851 Census % Decrease 1841-1851 Population Decrease 1841-1851 Estimated Population Decrease due to Famine & Emigration
Antrim 323,306 360,870 398,434 359,934 0% 936 38,500
Armagh 220,651 232,393 244,135 196,084 16% 36,309 48,051
Carlow 81,576 86,228 90,880 68,078 21% 18,150 22,802
Cavan 228,050 243,158 258,266 174,064 28% 69,094 84,202
Clare 258,262 286,394 314,526 212,440 26% 73,954 102,086
Cork 812,967 854,118 895,269 649,308 24% 204,810 245,961
Donegal 298,104 296,448 294,792 255,158 14% 41,290 39,634
Down 352,571 361,446 370,321 320,817 11% 40,629 49,504
Dublin 386,694 372,773 358,852 405,147 -9% (32,374) (46,295)
Fermanagh 149,555 156,481 163,407 116,047 26% 40,434 47,360
Galway 427,407 440,198 452,989 321,684 27% 118,514 131,305
Kerry 264,559 293,880 323,201 238,254 19% 55,626 84,947
Kildare 108,401 114,488 120,575 95,723 16% 18,765 24,852
Kilkenny 193,024 202,420 211,816 158,748 22% 43,672 53,068
King's 144,029 146,857 149,685 112,076 24% 34,781 37,609
Leitrim 141,303 155,297 169,291 111,897 28% 43,400 57,394
Limerick 300,080 330,029 359,978 262,132 21% 67,897 97,846
Londonderry 222,416 222,174 221,932 192,022 14% 30,152 29,910
Longford 112,391 115,491 118,591 82,348 29% 33,143 36,243
Louth 125,533 128,240 130,947 107,662 16% 20,578 23,285
Mayo 367,956 388,887 409,818 274,499 29% 114,388 135,319
Meath 177,023 183,828 190,633 140,748 23% 43,080 49,885
Monaghan 195,532 200,442 205,352 141,823 29% 58,619 63,529
Queen's 145,843 153,930 162,017 111,664 27% 42,266 50,353
Roscommon 239,903 253,589 267,275 173,436 32% 80,153 93,839
Sligo 171,508 181,002 190,496 128,515 29% 52,487 61,981
Tipperary 402,598 435,553 468,508 331,567 24% 103,986 136,941
Tyrone 302,943 312,956 322,969 255,661 18% 57,295 67,308
Waterford 176,898 196,187 215,476 164,035 16% 32,152 51,441
Westmeath 148,161 141,300 134,439 111,407 21% 29,893 23,032
Wexford 182,991 202,033 221,075 180,158 11% 21,875 40,917
Wicklow 122,301 126,143 129,985 98,979 22% 27,164 31,006
Totals 7,784,536 8,175,233 8,565,930 6,552,115 20% 1,623,118 2,013,815

Sources: 1831, 1841 and 1851 Census of Ireland
Notes:
"Forecasted 1851 Census" = extrapolated 1851 population based on population growth from 1831 to 1841.
"Estimated Population Decrease due to Famine & Emigration" = difference between forecasted and actual 1851 census.
(estimated decrease due to emigration and starvation-related disease and death)
It is almost certain that, owing to geographical difficulties and the unwillingness of the people to be registered, the census of 1841 gave a total smaller than the population in fact was. Officers engaged in relief work put the population as much as 25 percent higher. Perhaps similar comments may be applied to the 1851 census.
The Census Commissioners in 1851 stated that, had the Famine not occurred, the population would have been 9,018,799. The commissioners calculated that, as a percentage of the 1841 population, mortality from 1845 to 1850 was as follows:
1845 : 6.4%
1846 : 9.1%
1847 : 18.5%
1848 : 15.4%
1849 : 17.9%
1850 : 12.2%

Irish History Reference:
  Continue the Story
at Wesley Johnston's "History of Ireland".

Return to Ireland's History in Maps Home Page


Further Reference:
The Great Irish Famine: http://www.nde.state.ne.us/
The Irish Famine: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/
Great Hunger Digitized Books: http://www.quinnipiac.edu
Irish FAQ: The Famine: http://www.faqs.org/faqs/cultures/irish-faq/part06/
Decline in the Population of Ireland: http://www.libraryireland.com
Demographic Map (1991): http://www.mzes.uni-mannheim.de/
The Great Famine in Mayo: http://www.mayo-ireland.ie/
Irish Genocide: http://www.aepizeta.org/~codine/famine/gen.html

        1800


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