View Full Version : Potato famine

08-26-2009, 11:53 PM
Anyone see any parallels to modern US?

The Bigfella
08-27-2009, 12:01 AM
They didn't have the 2nd

08-27-2009, 08:03 AM
Perhaps it'll precipitate a great exodus of Irish from New York, Boston, and Chicago....;)

08-27-2009, 08:17 AM
The potato famine was caused by two great pests. The first was the potato blight. The second was the British.

We have had some blight this year, spread by tomato plants bought from big-box chains and exacerbated by the wet summer, but we don't seem to have any more than the normal long term level of Brits. I don't see that there will be a problem.


Keith Wilson
08-27-2009, 08:49 AM
Anyone see any parallels to modern US?No. The early 19th century Irish poor lived almost exclusively on potatoes. Our food supply is far more diverse. We could have other problems, but not that.

08-27-2009, 08:51 AM
not just the U.S...
theres going to be a whole lotta hungry people all over the world pretty soon.

08-27-2009, 08:58 AM
If you switch Potatoes to dollars........

You'd be able to dig dollars out of the ground..... You could cut a piece off of a dollar and grow a whole bunch of fifty cent pieces....:D

Glen Longino
08-27-2009, 09:06 AM

08-27-2009, 09:14 AM
Show on the history channel last night. The English were importing all the food and livestock from Ireland into England even though the Irish were starving. There was an uprising but in the end millions had to flee the country.
Reminded me of how our jobs are being exported and there is nothing we can do about it.

08-27-2009, 09:21 AM
The famine is still a controversial event in Irish history. Debate and discussion on the British government's response to the failure of the potato crop in Ireland and the subsequent large-scale starvation, and whether or not this constituted genocide, remains a historically and politically-charged issue.
In 1996 Francis A. Boyle (http://www.woodenboat.com/wiki/Francis_A._Boyle), a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (http://www.woodenboat.com/wiki/University_of_Illinois_at_Urbana-Champaign), wrote a report commissioned by the New York-based Irish Famine/Genocide Committee, that concluded "Clearly, during the years 1845 to 1850, the British government pursued a policy of mass starvation in Ireland with intent to destroy in substantial part the national, ethnic and racial group commonly known as the Irish People.... Therefore, during the years 1845 to 1850 the British government knowingly pursued a policy of mass starvation in Ireland that constituted acts of genocide against the Irish people within the meaning of Article II (c) of the 1948 [Hague] Genocide Convention."[143] (http://www.woodenboat.com/forum/#cite_note-142) On the strength of Boyle's report, the U.S. state of New Jersey (http://www.woodenboat.com/wiki/New_Jersey) included the famine in the "Holocaust and Genocide Curriculum" at the secondary (http://www.woodenboat.com/wiki/Secondary_education_in_the_United_States) tier.[144] (http://www.woodenboat.com/forum/#cite_note-143)
Historian Peter Duffy (http://www.woodenboat.com/wiki/Peter_Duffy) writes that "The government's crime, which deserves to blacken its name forever ..." was rooted "in the effort to regenerate Ireland" through "landlord-engineered replacement of tillage plots with grazing lands" that "took precedence over the obligation to provide food ... for its starving citizens. It is little wonder that the policy looked to many people like genocide."[145] (http://www.woodenboat.com/forum/#cite_note-144)

Andrew Craig-Bennett
08-27-2009, 09:28 AM
Well, let me declare an interest: I'm British.

The "potato famine" was caused by:

1. Reliance on a monoculture - potatoes for every meal, with a very limited range of varieties grown (see (4) below)

2. The potato blight fungus, Phytophthora infestans, combined with

3. The Irish climate, which tends to be warm and humid, abobe 10 degrees C with a relative humidity often above 90%, along with a lack of seriously cold winters, which kill the fungus.

4. The conacre system and the progressive abuse of the cottier class resulting from it, resulting in:

5. The cottiers being pushed off the better grazing land, and forced increasining into depedence on potatoes. This is critically important - basically the poorer third of the Irish population lost their cows and their access to dairy products, as the grazing was turned over to beef for export to England.

6. A steady increase in the population.

7. An extremely weak government apparatus - comparable to that of many Third World countries today, in which systematic corruption weakened the ability of the executive to get anything done.

8. (except for Ulster) the weakness of the tenant vis a vis the landlord, with no compensation for improvements, hence no incentive to improve - Ulster had a slightly different legal system, with "tenant right", so the problems of the rest of Ireland did not show up in Ulster to anything like the same extent.

It is worth noting that "the Famine" was not by any means the first time the potato crop had failed in Ireland; it was just much the worst, because the population had grown larger and the blight itself was a new problem - earlier potato diseases were different.

The crop failed for three years running.

(Now, if the Irish peasants had imported their seed potatoes from Scotland, and used Bordeaux mixture, the outcome would have been different. But nobody knew that, then.)

At this point the British Government turned a misfortune into a catastrophe by insisting that nothing was to be done which might interfere with the operation of free markets.

We should pause to consider which British Government this was.

The Conservative administration of Robert Peel was in power in 1844 and imported American corn to Ireland in secret using Barings as their agents; when this was not sufficient Peel repealed the Corn Laws which banned the import of grain into Britain unless the price rose above a certain point on a sliding scale; the Corn Laws protected British farmers and the landed interest was Conservative so Peel's action brought down his own Government and destroyed his party for a generation.

The Liberals under Lord John Russell were returned to power and...stopped all aid to Ireland insisting that the free market be allowed to operate.

Its operation was disastrous because Ireland continued to export food throughout the Famine - Irish cottiers had no money to buy food with, but English industrial workers did have money to buy food with, so off to the cities of England went Irish food - even from the areas where the famine was at its worst.

Now, does anyone see a parallel with the issue of medical care in the United States?

Edited to add - I have just read the above posts. I don't think its necessary to adduce a conspiracy theory, when incompetence is sufficient - apply Occam's razor, here.

08-27-2009, 09:47 AM
Proof that the free market isnt always best.

Andrew Craig-Bennett
08-27-2009, 09:56 AM
It gets worse; we did it again, in the Great Famine of 1876-78 in India.

The political consequences were the same, too - the Irish Famine gave rise to the movement for Irish Independence and the Indian Famine gave rise to the movement for Indian Independence (the Congress Party was founded as a direct consequence).

Andrew Craig-Bennett
08-27-2009, 10:16 AM
Even today, we are so often blinded by partiality for our own nation that we fail to draw the lessons of the past correctly.

History is, as Edward Gibbon (I think) put it, "a record of the crimes, follies and vices of mankind" but also of the blunders of the well meaning who could not see beyond the end of their noses - and I think that the blunders are often the things that cause the worst catastrophes.

In the end the British did learn something - we can be proud of post-War Hong Kong, where the absolute need to provide medical care, education and decent public housing for millions of refugees forced a very doctrinaire laissez-faire colonial administration to take drastic action in violation of their own principles - but at what an awful cost in Irish and Indian lives - and it took us a hundred years...

Peerie Maa
08-27-2009, 03:31 PM
I think that it is also true that at the time of the Famines there was not a government on the earth nor any political system that considered the welfare of the population as a whole. England was no different from any other, and our colony's were not the only lands to experience famin. (lots of French Haute Quisine is famine food, why else eat frogs legs, land snails and raw ground horse meat?)