Ireland, John, 1838-1918, American Roman Catholic prelate, first archbishop of St. Paul, Minn. (1888-1918), b. Co. Kilkenny, Ireland. He emigrated to St. Paul in childhood. He was educated at French seminaries, was ordained (1861), and soon enlisted as a chaplain in the Civil War. He became prominent when he was cathedral pastor (1867-75) at St. Paul, as a strong advocate of total abstinence, opposing the liquor interests, and as an opponent of political corruption. In 1875 he was made coadjutor bishop of St. Paul and in 1884 bishop; in 1888 his see was made archiepiscopal. Bishop Ireland was an energetic spokesman for liberal American Catholicism. He gained many enemies by advocating state support and inspection of Catholic schools and by opposing the use of foreign languages in American Catholic churches, except in extreme need, and in parochial schools under any circumstances. He was in favor of Western settlement by immigrants, who could thereby escape the poverty of the Eastern urban environment. He continually made public statements on political matters, and he was a close personal friend of Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.

See biography by J. H. Moynihan (1953).

Ireland, John, 1879-1962, English composer. Inspired by visits to the Channel Islands, he wrote music of a simple, rugged beauty. His many songs include the cycle Songs of a Wayfarer (1903) and Sea Fever (1913), to the poem by John Masefield. In addition to songs, chamber music, and piano pieces, Ireland wrote orchestral music.
Ireland, William Henry, 1777-1835, English forger of Shakespearean documents and manuscripts. Besides forging deeds and signatures relating to Shakespeare, Ireland fabricated two plays, Vortigern and Rowena (1796) and Henry II (both pub. 1799), as the works of Shakespeare. Edmond Malone, however, exposed him, and Ireland later acknowledged the hoax.
Ireland, Irish Eire [to it are related the poetic Erin and perhaps the Latin Hibernia], island, 32,598 sq mi (84,429 sq km), second largest of the British Isles. The island is divided into two major political units—Northern Ireland (see Ireland, Northern), which is joined with Great Britain in the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland (see Ireland, Republic of). Of the 32 counties of Ireland, 26 lie in the Republic, and of the four historic provinces, three and part of the fourth are in the Republic.

Geology and Geography

Ireland lies west of the island of Great Britain, from which it is separated by the narrow North Channel, the Irish Sea (which attains a width of 130 mi/209 km), and St. George's Channel. More than a third the size of Britain, the island averages 140 mi (225 km) in width and 225 mi (362 km) in length. A large central plain extending to the Irish Sea between the Mourne Mts. in the north and the mountains of Wicklow in the south is roughly enclosed by a highland rim. The highlands of the north, west, and south, which rise to more than 3,000 ft (914 m), are generally barren, but the central plain is extremely fertile and the climate is temperate and moist, warmed by southwesterly winds. The rains, which are heaviest in the west (some areas have more than 80 in./203 cm annually), are responsible for the brilliant green grass of the "emerald isle," and for the large stretches of peat bog, a source of valuable fuel. The coastline is irregular, affording many natural harbors. Off the west coast are numerous small islands, including the Aran Islands, the Blasket Islands, Achill, and Clare Island. The interior is dotted with lakes (the most celebrated are the Lakes of Killarney) and wide stretches of river called loughs. The Shannon, the longest of Irish rivers, drains the western plain and widens into the beautiful loughs Allen, Ree, and Derg. The River Liffey empties into Dublin Bay, the Lee into Cork Harbour at Cobh, the Foyle into Lough Royle near Derry, and the Lagan into Belfast Lough.


Ireland to the English Conquest

The earliest known people in Ireland belonged to the groups that inhabited all of the British Isles in prehistoric times. In the several centuries preceding the birth of Jesus a number of Celtic tribes invaded and conquered Ireland and established their distinctive culture (see Celt), although they do not seem to have come in great numbers. Ancient Irish legend tells of four successive peoples who invaded the country—the Firbolgs, the Fomors, the Tuatha De Danann, and the Milesians. Oddly enough, the Romans, who occupied Britain for 400 years, never came to Ireland, and the Anglo-Saxon invaders of Britain, who largely replaced the Celtic population there, did not greatly affect Ireland.

Until the raids of the Norse in the late 8th cent., Ireland remained relatively untouched by foreign incursions and enjoyed the golden age of its culture. The people, Celtic and non-Celtic alike, were organized into clans, or tribes, which in the early period owed allegiance to one of five provincial kings—of Ulster, Munster, Connacht, Leinster, and Meath (now the northern part of Leinster). These kings nominally served the high king of all Ireland at Tara (in Meath). The clans fought constantly among themselves, but despite civil strife, literature and art were held in high respect. Each chief or king kept an official poet (Druid) who preserved the oral traditions of the people. The Gaelic language and culture were extended into Scotland by Irish emigrants in the 5th and 6th cent.

Parts of Ireland had already been Christianized before the arrival of St. Patrick in the 5th cent., but pagan tradition continued to appeal to the imagination of Irish poets even after the complete conversion of the country. The Celtic Christianity of Ireland produced many scholars and missionaries who traveled to England and the Continent, and it attracted students to Irish monasteries, until the 8th cent. perhaps the most brilliant of Europe. St. Columba and St. Columban were among the most famous of Ireland's missionaries. All the arts flourished; Irish illuminated manuscripts were particularly noteworthy. The Book of Kells (see Ceanannus Mór) is especially famous.

The country did not develop a strong central government, however, and it was not united to meet the invasions of the Norse, who settled on the shores of the island late in the 8th cent., establishing trading towns (including Dublin, Waterford, and Limerick) and creating new petty kingdoms. In 1014, at Clontarf, Brian Boru, who had become high king by conquest in 1002, broke the strength of the Norse invaders. There followed a period of 150 years during which Ireland was free from foreign interference but was torn by clan warfare.

Ireland and the English

In the 12th cent., Pope Adrian IV granted overlordship of Ireland to Henry II of England. The English conquest of Ireland was begun by Richard de Clare, 2d earl of Pembroke, known as Strongbow, who intervened in behalf of a claimant to the throne of Leinster; in 1171, Henry himself went to Ireland, temporarily establishing his overlordship there. With this invasion commenced an Anglo-Irish struggle that continued for nearly 800 years.

The English established themselves in Dublin. Roughly a century of warfare ensued as Ireland was divided into English shires ruled from Dublin, the domains of feudal magnates who acknowledged English sovereignty, and the independent Irish kingdoms. Many English intermarried with the Irish and were assimilated into Irish society. In the late 13th cent. the English introduced a parliament in Ireland. In 1315, Edward Bruce of Scotland invaded Ireland and was joined by many Irish kings. Although Bruce was killed in 1318, the English authority in Ireland was weakening, becoming limited to a small district around Dublin known as the Pale; the rest of the country fell into a struggle for power among the ruling Anglo-Irish families and Irish chieftains.

English attention was diverted by the Hundred Years War with France (1337-1453) and the Wars of the Roses (1455-85). However, under Henry VII new interest in the island was aroused by Irish support for Lambert Simnel, a Yorkist pretender to the English throne. To crush this support, Henry sent to Ireland Sir Edward Poynings, who summoned an Irish Parliament at Drogheda and forced it to pass the legislation known as Poynings' Law (1495). These acts provided that future Irish Parliaments and legislation receive prior approval from the English Privy Council. A free Irish Parliament was thus rendered impossible.

The English Reformation under Henry VIII gave rise in England to increased fears of foreign, Catholic invasion; control of Ireland thus became even more imperative. Henry VIII put down a rebellion (1534-37), abolished the monasteries, confiscated lands, and established a Protestant "Church of Ireland" (1537). But since the vast majority of Irish remained Roman Catholic, the seeds of bitter religious contention were added to the already rancorous Anglo-Irish relations. The Irish rebelled three times during the reign of Elizabeth I and were brutally suppressed. Under James I, Ulster was settled by Scottish and English Protestants, and many of the Catholic inhabitants were driven off their lands; thus two sharply antagonistic communities were established.

Another Irish rebellion, begun in 1641 in reaction to the hated rule of Charles I's deputy, Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford, was crushed (1649-50) by Oliver Cromwell with the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. More land was confiscated (and often given to absentee landlords), and more Protestants settled in Ireland. The intractable landlord-tenant problem that plagued Ireland in later centuries can be traced to the English confiscations of the 16th and 17th cent.

Irish Catholics rallied to the cause of James II after his overthrow (1688) in England (see the Glorious Revolution), while the Protestants in Ulster enthusiastically supported William III. At the battle of the Boyne (1690) near Dublin, James and his French allies were defeated by William. The English-controlled Irish Parliament passed harsh Penal Laws designed to keep the Catholic Irish powerless; political equality was also denied to Presbyterians. At the same time English trade policy depressed the economy of Protestant Ireland, causing many so-called Scotch-Irish to emigrate to America. A newly flourishing woolen industry was destroyed when export from Ireland was forbidden.

During the American Revolution, fear of a French invasion of Ireland led Irish Protestants to form (1778-82) the Protestant Volunteer Army. The Protestants, led by Henry Grattan, and even supported by some Catholics, used their military strength to extract concessions for Ireland from Britain. Trade concessions were granted in 1779, and, with the repeal of Poynings' Law (1782), the Irish Parliament had its independence restored. But the Parliament was still chosen undemocratically, and Catholics continued to be denied the right to hold political office.

Another unsuccessful rebellion was staged in 1798 by Wolfe Tone, a Protestant who had formed the Society of United Irishmen and who accepted French aid in the uprising. The reliance on French assistance revived anti-Catholic feeling among the Irish Protestants, who remembered French support of the Jacobite restoration. The rebellion convinced the British prime minister, William Pitt, that the Irish problem could be solved by the adoption of three policies: abolition of the Irish Parliament, legislative union with Britain in a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and Catholic Emancipation. The first two goals were achieved in 1800, but the opposition of George III and British Protestants prevented the enactment of the Catholic Emancipation Act until 1829, when it was accomplished largely through the efforts of the Irish leader Daniel O'Connell.

Ireland under the Union

After 1829 the Irish representatives in the British Parliament attempted to maintain the Irish question as a major issue in British politics. O'Connell worked to repeal the union with Britain, which was felt to operate to Ireland's disadvantage, and to reform the government in Ireland. Toward the middle of the century, the Irish Land Question grew increasingly urgent. But the Great Potato Famine (1845-49), one of the worst natural disasters in history, dwarfed political developments. During these years a blight ruined the potato crop, the staple food of the Irish population, and hundreds of thousands perished from hunger and disease. Many thousands of others emigrated; between 1847 and 1854 about 1.6 million went to the United States. The population dropped from an estimated 8.5 million in 1845 to 6.55 million in 1851 (and continued to decline until the 1960s). Irish emigrants in America formed the secret Fenian movement, dedicated to Irish independence. In 1869 the British prime minister William Gladstone sponsored an act disestablishing the Protestant "Church of Ireland" and thereby removed one Irish grievance.

In the 1870s, Irish politicians renewed efforts to achieve Home Rule within the union, while in Britain Gladstone and others attempted to solve the Irish problem through land legislation and Home Rule. Gladstone twice submitted Home Rule bills (1886 and 1893) that failed. The proposals alarmed Protestant Ulster, which began to organize against Home Rule. In 1905, Arthur Griffith founded Sinn Féin among Irish Catholics, but for the time being the dominant Irish nationalist group was the Home Rule party of John Redmond.

Home Rule was finally enacted in 1914, with the provision that Ulster could remain in the union for six more years, but the act was suspended for the duration of World War I and never went into effect. In both Ulster and Catholic Ireland militias were formed. The Irish Republican Brotherhood, a descendent of the Fenians, organized a rebellion on Easter Sunday, 1916; although unsuccessful, the rising acquired great propaganda value when the British executed its leaders.

Sinn Fein, linked in the Irish public's mind with the rising and aided by Britain's attempt to apply conscription to Ireland, scored a tremendous victory in the parliamentary elections of 1918. Its members refused to take their seats in Westminster, declared themselves the Dáil Éireann (Irish Assembly), and proclaimed an Irish Republic. The British outlawed both Sinn Fein and the Dáil, which went underground and engaged in guerrilla warfare (1919-21) against local Irish authorities representing the union. The British sent troops, the Black and Tans, who inflamed the situation further.


A new Home Rule bill was enacted in 1920, establishing separate parliaments for Ulster and Catholic Ireland. This was accepted by Ulster, and Northern Ireland was created. The plan was rejected by the Dáil, but in autumn 1921, Prime Minister Lloyd George negotiated with Griffith and Michael Collins of the Dáil a treaty granting Dominion status within the British Empire to Catholic Ireland. The Irish Free State was established in Jan., 1922. A new constitution was ratified in 1937 that terminated Great Britain's sovereignty. In 1948, all semblance of Commonwealth membership ended with the Republic of Ireland Act.

See Ireland, Republic of and Ireland, Northern.


See N. Mansergh, The Irish Question, 1840-1921 (1965); J. C. Beckett, The Making of Modern Ireland, 1603-1921 (1966); K. S. Bottigheimer, Ireland and the Irish: A Short History (1982); R. Munck, Ireland: Nation, State, and Class Conflict (1985); R. D. Crotty, Ireland in Crisis (1986); R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland, 1600-1972 (1989); J. Lee, Ireland, 1912-1985: Politics and Society (1989); T. Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (1995); C. C. O'Brien, Religion and Nationalism in Ireland (1995); D. Kiberd, Inventing Ireland (1996); N. Davies, The Isles: A History (2000).

Ireland, Church of, Anglican church of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. As a separate body the church goes back to the Reformation when the Irish church was officially reformed along the same lines as the church in England (see England, Church of). But the effects of the Reformation were superficial in Ireland and the Church of Ireland has always included only a small portion of the Irish population. It was disestablished as the state church in 1869. The church has about 410,000 members (1999), with its main strength in Northern Ireland.
Ireland, National University of, founded 1908 to provide higher education for Irish Roman Catholics. It consists of three colleges: University College, Galway; University College, Cork; and University College, Dublin (not to be confused with the Univ. of Dublin; see Dublin, Univ. of). The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and St. Patrick's College in Maynooth, a Roman Catholic seminary, are affiliated with the university.
Ireland, Northern, division of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (1989 est. pop. 1,583,500), 5,462 sq mi (14,147 sq km), NE Ireland. Made up of six of the nine counties of the historic province of Ulster in NE Ireland, it is frequently called Ulster. The capital is Belfast.

Land, People, Economy, and Government

The land is mountainous and has few natural resources. It comprises 26 districts. English is the official language. The majority of the population is Protestant, and nearly 40% is Catholic. Farming (livestock, dairy products, cereals, potatoes) is the largest single occupation. Heavy industry is concentrated in and around Belfast, one of the chief ports of the British Isles. Machinery and equipment manufacturing, food processing, and textile and electronics manufacturing are the leading industries; papermaking, furniture manufacturing, and shipbuilding are also important. Northern Ireland's fine linens are famous.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has limited devolved powers from the British Parliament, and often has been suspended since its establishment in 1999. The government is based on a power-sharing arrangement that requires that its members include a minimum number of both Protestants and Catholics, and that those members have the support of the representatives elected by their respective communities. Northern Ireland has 18 representatives in the British Parliament.


A Troubled History

Northern Ireland's relatively distinct history began in the early 17th cent., when, after the suppression of an Irish rebellion, much land was confiscated by the British crown and "planted" with Scottish and English settlers. Ulster took on a Protestant character as compared with the rest of Ireland; but there was no question of political separation until the late 19th cent. when William Gladstone presented (1886) his first proposal for Home Rule for Ireland. The largely Protestant population of the north feared domination under Home Rule by the Catholic majority in the south. In addition, industrial Ulster was bound economically more to England than to the rest of Ireland.

Successive schemes for Home Rule widened the rift, so that by the outbreak of World War I civil war in Ireland was an immediate danger. The Government of Ireland Act of 1920 attempted to solve the problem by enacting Home Rule separately for the two parts of Ireland, thus creating the province of Northern Ireland. However, the Irish Free State, now the Republic of Ireland (see Ireland, Republic of), which was established in 1922, refused to recognize the finality of the partition; and violence erupted frequently on both sides of the border.

The late 1960s marked a new stage in the region's troubled history. The Catholic minority, which suffered economic and political discrimination, had grown steadily through immigration from the Republic. In 1968 civil-rights protests by Catholics led to widespread violence. Prime Minister Terence O'Neill had sought to end anti-Catholic bias as part of his policy of fostering closer ties between Ulster and the Irish Republic, but opponents within his ruling Unionist party forced his resignation in Apr., 1969. His successor, James Chichester-Clark, was unable to restrain the growing unrest and in August called in British troops to help restore order.

The IRA and Sectarian Struggle

At the end of 1969 a split occurred in the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which is the illegal military arm of the Sinn Fein party; the new "provisional" wing of the IRA was made up of radical nationalists. Brian Faulkner became leader of the Unionist party and prime minister of Northern Ireland in Mar., 1971, and began a policy of imprisoning IRA and other militants. However, the IRA and the Ulster Defense Association, a Protestant terrorist group, continued and even intensified their activities.

On Mar. 30, 1972, the British prime minister, Edward Heath, suspended the government and appointed William Whitelaw secretary of state for Northern Ireland. Westminster's direct rule over the province was renewed in Mar., 1973. An assembly was formed in June, 1972, with the Unionist party, a moderate pro-British group, in the majority. In November the Unionist party formed a coalition with the Social Democratic Labour party (SDLP), the major Catholic group, and the nonsectarian Alliance party. A Northern Ireland Executive was formed to exercise day-to-day administration.

In late 1973, the British prime minister, the head of the Executive, and the Irish Republic's prime minister agreed to form a Council of Ireland to promote closer cooperation between Ulster and the Republic. However, both the IRA and Protestant extremists sought to destroy the Executive and the Council, as they found power-sharing between Protestants and Catholics unacceptable. In 1974, hard-line Ulster Protestants won 11 of the province's 12 seats in the British House of Commons and pledged to renegotiate Ulster's constitution in order to end the Protestant-Catholic coalition and progress toward a Council of Ireland.

In May, 1974, militant Protestants sponsored a general strike in the province, and the Northern Ireland Executive collapsed on May 28. The British government then took direct control of the province with the passage of the Northern Ireland Act of 1974. Meanwhile, bombings and other terrorist activities had spread to Dublin and London. In 1979 Lord Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA, and in 1981 protests broke out in Belfast over the death by hunger strike of Bobby Sands, an IRA member of Parliament.

Throughout most of the 1980s and 1990s terrorist violence by the IRA and other groups remained a problem. An assembly formed in 1982 to propose plans for strengthening legislative and executive autonomy in Northern Ireland was dissolved in 1986 for its lack of progress. In 1985, an Anglo-Irish accord sought to lay the groundwork for talks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Dublin agreed not to contest Northern Ireland's allegiance to Great Britain in exchange for British acknowledgment of the Republic's interest in how Northern Ireland is run. A 1993 Anglo-Irish declaration offered to open negotiations to all parties willing to renounce violence, and in 1994 the IRA and, later, Protestant paramilitary groups declared a cease-fire. Formal talks began in 1995. A resumption of violence (1996) by the IRA threatened to derail the peace process, but negotiations to seek a political settlement went ahead.

In July, 1997, the IRA declared a new cease-fire, and talks begun in September of that year included Sinn Féin. The result was an accord reached in 1998 that provided for a new Northern Ireland Assembly as well as a North-South Ministerial Council to deal with issues of joint interest to the province and the Irish Republic. The Republic of Ireland also agreed to give up territorial claims on Northern Ireland. The formation of a new government was slowed, however, by disagreement over the disarmament of paramilitary groups, but in Dec., 1999, a multiparty government was formed after further negotiations, and Britain ended direct rule of the province. Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble became leader of the Northern Irish government.

In Feb., 2000, however, Britain suspended self-government after the IRA refused to agree to disarm, but subsequent concessions by the IRA led to the resumption of self-government in May. Continued resistance by the IRA to disarming has threatened self-government and led Trimble to resign on July 1, 2001. Subsequently, Britain twice suspended the Northern Irish government in an attempt to avoid its complete collapse. Negotiations on disarming the IRA and other paramilitary groups, however, were relatively fruitless until late 2001, when the IRA began disarming; Trimble subsequently returned to office.

The arrests in 2002 of Sinn Féin government members for intelligence gathering for the IRA threatened the power-sharing government once again, leading Britain to suspend home rule once more, but in 2005 charges against the alleged spies, one of whom was a long-time government informant, were dropped, raising questions about the entire affair. The May, 2003, elections that would have reestablished the assembly were suspended by the British government. The ostensible reason was the insufficient specificity of the IRA's commitment to the peace process, but Trimble and the moderate Unionists also seem likely to suffer losses if the elections were held. Disagreements over the way the IRA's disarming was being handled continued.

When the elections were held in Nov., 2003, the more extreme Protestant and Catholic parties, Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists and the Sinn Féin, outpolled their more moderate counterparts. Home rule remained suspended, but in early 2004 Britain, the Irish Republic, and Northern Irish political parties began a "review" of the 1998 agreement in hopes of reestablishing a Northern Irish government. Subsequent accusations that the IRA was involved in criminal activities threatened any future participation of Sinn Féin in a government. In Apr., 2005, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams called on the IRA to abandon the use of arms and restrict its activities to politics, and an independent report affirmed in September that the IRA had decommissioned its weapons.

In Apr., 2006 the British and Irish governments called for the Northern Irish assembly to begin formation of an executive in May and complete the work before the end of November; if they failed to do so, the members of the assembly would no longer receive their salaries. The assembly reconvened in May, but there was no quick progress in forming an executive. However, talks in October produced some progress, and the November deadline was pushed back to Mar., 2007. In Jan., 2007, Sinn Féin agreed to back the Protestant-dominated Northern Irish police force.

In March, elections for the assembly led to strong showings by the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin, and later in the month the two parties agreed to form a power-sharing government in May. Ian Paisley became first minister. Also in May the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), the oldest Protestant paramilitary group, announced that it was renouncing violence; it did not plan then, however, to decommission its weapons, but by June, 2009, it had decommissioned its weapons. British troops ended their military mission in Northern Ireland, which began in 1969, in July, 2007.

UDA factional clashes during the summer of 2007 led to a demand that they decommission their arms or lose funding for a loyalist project associated with the UDA; the social development minister's insistence on the deadline and cutoff of funds led to tensions in the North Irish executive in Oct., 2007, with the DUP and Sinn Féin supporting a more lenient approach to the UDA. In November the UDA announced that its fighters' weapons were being put beyond use (but not decommissioned), and in Jan., 2010, it announced that it had decommissioned its weapons. Violence by republican and unionist splinter groups, some of them operating as criminal gangs, remains a problem.

Paisley retired as first minister and was succeeded by Peter Robinson, the new DUP leader, in June, 2008. A dispute over the devolution of justice and policing powers subsequently deadlocked the executive, and it continued through 2009. Peter Robinson's tenure as first minister was threatened in late 2009 by a personal and political scandal involving his wife, who had obtained money from property developers for her lover.


See A. Blacam, The Black North (1938); M. Wallace, Northern Ireland: Fifty Years of Self-Government (1971); P. Arthur, Northern Ireland Since 1968 (1988); B. Rowthorn, Northern Ireland: The Political Economy of Conflict (1988); F. Gaffikin, Northern Ireland: The Thatcher Years (1990); E. Collins, Killing Rage (with M. McGovern, 1999); G. Mitchell, Making Peace (1999); P. Taylor, Loyalists (1999).

Ireland, Republic of, Gaelic, Eire, republic (2005 est. pop. 4,016,000), 27,136 sq mi (70,282 sq km). It occupies all but the northeastern corner of the island of Ireland in the British Isles. (For physical geography and history to 1922, see Ireland.) From 1922 to 1937 the country was known as the Irish Free State, and from 1937 to 1949 as Eire. Dublin is the capital of the republic and by far its largest city.

Political Geography and People

The republic's 26 counties are Monaghan, Cavan, and Donegal (constituting part of the historic province of Ulster); Louth, Meath, Dublin, Kildare, Wicklow, Carlow, Wexford, Kilkenny, Laoighis, Offaly, Westmeath, and Longford (comprising Leinster); Tipperary, Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, and Clare (comprising Munster); and Leitrim, Roscommon, Galway, Mayo, and Sligo (comprising Connacht). In addition to the capital, other urban areas are Limerick, Cork, Dún Laoghaire, Waterford, Galway, and Dundalk.

The population is largely Celtic with a minority of English and more recent European and non-European immigrants drawn (since the 1990s) by the country's economic growth. The population is largely Roman Catholic (88%). Although there is no officially established church, the Roman Catholic church has historically played a dominant role in education in the Irish Republic. English and Gaelic are the official languages, with English the more widely used. Gaelic is most common in the west of the country.


Agriculture, once the most important sector of the economy, now engages only 8% of the workforce. The raising of dairy and beef cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry is the chief agricultural enterprise. Among the leading crops are flax, oats, wheat, turnips, barley, potatoes, and sugar beets. The republic's industries account for more than 45% of its gross domestic product and 80% of its exports, and employ roughly 30% of its workforce. Products include steel, foodstuffs, beer and ale, textiles, clothing, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, machinery, transportation equipment, vehicles, ships, computer and telecommunications hardware, computer software, linen and laces (for which Ireland is famous), crystal, and handicrafts. The main ports are Dublin and Cork. Around the free port of Shannon are factories producing electronic equipment, chemicals, plastics, and textiles. Copper, lead, zinc, silver, barite, and gypsum are mined, and oil and natural gas are produced offshore. Tourism is also very important. Ireland's main exports are machinery, computers, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, live animals, and animal products. Imports include data processing and other equipment, chemicals, petroleum products, textiles, and clothing. The main trading partners are Great Britain, the United States, and Germany.


The republic is governed under the constitution of 1937. The president, who is the head of state, is popularly elected to a seven-year term and is eligible for a second term. The prime minister, who is the head of government, is appointed by the president, as is the cabinet. There is a bicameral Parliament, the Oireachtas. The House of Representatives or Dáil Éireann is the more powerful chamber. Its 166 members are elected by popular vote on the basis of proportional representation. Members of the 60-seat Senate or Śeanad Éireann are indirectly elected or appointed. All legislators serve five-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 26 counties.


After the establishment by treaty with Great Britain of the Irish Free State (Jan., 1922), civil war broke out between supporters of the treaty and opponents, who refused to accept the partition of Ireland and the retention of any ties with Britain. The antitreaty forces, embodied in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and led by Eamon De Valera, were defeated, although the IRA continued as a secret terrorist organization. William Cosgrave became the first prime minister. De Valera and his followers, the Fianna Fáil party, agreed to take the oath of allegiance to the British crown and entered the Dáil in 1927.

In 1932, De Valera became prime minister, and under his administration a new constitution was promulgated (1937), establishing the sovereign nation of Ireland, or Eire, within the Commonwealth of Nations. De Valera's policies aimed at the political and economic independence and union of all of Ireland. The loyalty oath to the crown was abolished, and certain economic provisions of the 1921 treaty with England were repudiated, leading to an "economic war" (1932-38) with Britain.

During World War II, Eire remained neutral and vigorously protested Allied military activity in Northern Ireland. The British were denied the use of Irish ports, and German and Japanese agents were allowed to operate in the country. However, great numbers of Irishmen volunteered to serve with the British armed forces. The people of Eire suffered relatively little hardship during the war and even profited from increased food exports. The postwar period brought a sharp rise in the cost of living and a decline in population, due in great part to steady emigration to Northern Ireland, Great Britain, and other countries. In 1948, Prime Minister Costello demanded total independence from Great Britain and reunification with the six counties of Northern Ireland.

The Republic of Ireland was proclaimed on Apr. 18, 1949. The country withdrew from the Commonwealth and formally claimed jurisdiction over the Ulster counties. It was admitted to the United Nations in 1955. Nothing came of the claim to Ulster, and during the 1950s and 60s the republic and Northern Ireland improved their economic relations. The later decade also saw an all-time low in Irish population, 2.82 million in 1961. In the late 1960s the problem of Northern Ireland flared up again in bitter fighting between the Protestant majority and Catholic minority there, aggravated by the actions of the IRA, which was headquartered in the republic.

In 1973, Erskine H. Childers succeeded De Valera as president of Ireland, and Liam Cosgrave, at the head of a Fine Gael-Labour coalition, replaced Jack Lynch, of Fianna Fáil, as prime minister. In the same year the republic joined the European Community (now the European Union). Childers died in 1974 and was succeeded by Cearbhal O. Dalaigh. Lynch led Fianna Fáil back into office in 1977; in 1979 fellow party member Charles Haughey replaced Lynch as prime minister. In 1981 a Fine Gael-Labour coalition headed by Garret FitzGerald defeated Fianna Fáil on an economic platform. Although ousted in 1982, the coalition was governing again six months later. Beginning in the late 1970s the republic's political situation was more fluid than it had been; there were several general elections and a variety of party schisms. In 1987, Haughey again became prime minister. As unemployment soared, especially among young people, outmigration increased, reaching a peak of 44,000 in 1989.

During the 1990s, the economy grew significantly, buoyed by EU subsidies and new foreign investment. By the end of the decade, unemployment was below the EU average, although pockets of poverty persisted. In late 1994, after the IRA and Protestant militias agreed to a cease-fire, efforts were begun to negotiate a settlement of the the Northern Ireland issue. Despite some setbacks, agreements were reached in Apr., 1998, and approved by voters in both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland in May. Women's issues, such as the government's strong antiabortion stance and the constitutional ban on divorce, also became a focus in the 1990s; a referendum legalizing divorce passed by a narrow margin in 1995. In 1991, Ireland elected its first female president, Mary Robinson, and in 1997 Mary McAleese became its first president from Northern Ireland.

In 1992, Albert Reynolds, of Fianna Fáil, replaced Charles Haughey as prime minister, and when the governing coalition collapsed, Reynolds successfully formed another. The Reynolds government fell in 1994, and Fine Gael leader John Bruton succeeded him, heading a Fine Gael-Labour coalition. Bertie Ahern became prime minister in 1997, heading a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat coalition; his coalition was returned to office in 2002. Revelations in 2006 that Ahern had received loans from business acquaintances in 1993-94 while he was finance minister and had not yet repaid them sparked controversy. Ahern said his attempts to repay them had been refused; he did repay the loans soon after they were became public.

In 2007 Ahern led his party to another victory at the polls, but Progressive Democrat losses led to the addition of the Green party to the governing coalition. Investigation into Ahern's finances revealed he had received additional secret cash payments in the early 1990s, and in May, 2008, he resigned because the investigation was undermining his government. Deputy Prime Minister Brian Cowen succeeded Ahern as Fianna Fáil leader and prime minister.

In June, 2008, Irish voters rejected the European Union's Lisbon Treaty amid concerns over the loss of Irish sovereignty. The Irish, who voted in a referendum because of conflicts between the treaty and the Irish constitution, were the only national electorate given a chance to vote on the treaty. Ireland officially entered a recession in Sept., 2008, ending more than a decade of growth that had earned its economy the nickname "Celtic Tiger." A second vote on the Lisbon Treaty in Sept., 2009, following EU guarantees designed to allay Irish concerns, resulted in the treaty's approval.


For bibliography, see under Ireland.

The Great Famine (An Gorta Mór or An Drochshaol), also known as the Irish Potato Famine and the Great Hunger was a famine in Ireland which started in 1845, lasted — depending on the region — until 1849 or even 1852 and which led to the death of approximately one million people through starvation and disease; a further million are thought to have emigrated as a result of the famine. Some scholars estimate that the population of Ireland was reduced by 20 to 25 percent.

The proximate cause of the famine was a potato disease commonly known as late blight. Although blight ravaged potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s, the impact and human cost in Ireland — where a third of the population was entirely dependent on the potato for food — was exacerbated by a host of political, social and economic factors which remain the subject of historical debate.

The famine was a watershed in the history of Ireland. Its effects permanently changed the island's demographic, political and cultural landscape. For both the native Irish and those in the resulting diaspora, the famine entered folk memory and became a rallying point for various nationalist movements. Modern historians regard it as a dividing line in the Irish historical narrative, referring to the preceding period of Irish history as "pre-Famine." The fall-out of the famine continued for decades afterwards and Ireland's population still has not recovered to pre-famine levels.


From 1801 Ireland had been directly governed, under the Act of Union, as part of the United Kingdom. Executive power lay in the hands of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Chief Secretary for Ireland, both of whom were appointed by the British government. Ireland sent 105 members of parliament to the British House of Commons, and Irish representative peers elected twenty-eight of their own number to sit for life in the House of Lords. Between 1832 and 1859 seventy percent of Irish representatives were landowners or the sons of landowners.

In the forty years that followed the union, successive British governments grappled with the problems of governing a country which had, as Benjamin Disraeli put it in 1844, "a starving population, an absentee aristocracy, and an alien Church, and in addition the weakest executive in the world. One historian calculated that between 1801 and 1845 there had been 114 commissions and 61 special committees inquiring into the state of Ireland and that "without exception their findings prophesied disaster; Ireland was on the verge of starvation, her population rapidly increasing, three-quarters of her labourers unemployed, housing conditions appalling and the standard of living unbelievably low."

Although central to everyday life, the Irish potato crop was an uncertain quantity. The famine of 1845 was notable for its vastness only: according to the 1851 Census of Ireland Commissioners there were twenty-four failures of the potato crop going back 1728, of varying severity. In 1739 the crop was "entirely destroyed", and again in 1740, in 1770 the crop largely failed again. In 1800 there was another "general" failure, and in 1807 half the crop was lost. In 1821 and 1822 the potato crop failed completely in Munster and Connaught, and 1830 and 1831 were years of failure in Mayo, Donegal and Galway. In 1832, 1833, 1834 and 1836 a large number of districts suffered serious loss, and in 1835 the potato failed in Ulster. 1836 and 1837 brought "extensive" failures throughout Ireland and again in 1839 failure was universal throughout the country; both 1841 and 1844 potato crop failure was widespread.

Catholic emancipation had been achieved in 1829, and Catholics made up 80 percent of the population, the bulk of which lived in conditions of poverty and insecurity. At the top of the "social pyramid" was the "ascendancy class," the English and Anglo-Irish families who owned most of the land, and who had more or less limitless power over their tenants. Some of their estates were vast: the Earl of Lucan, for example, owned over . Many of these landlords lived in England and were called "absentee landlords". They used agents to administer their property for them, with the revenue generated being sent to England. A number of the absentee landlords living in England never set foot in Ireland. They took their rents from their "impoverished tenants" or paid them minimal wages to raise crops and livestock for export.

The 1841 census showed a population of just over eight million. Two-thirds of those depended on agriculture for their survival, but they rarely received a working wage. They had to work for their landlords in return for the patch of land they needed in order to grow enough food for their own families. This was the system which forced Ireland and its peasantry into monoculture, as only the potato could be grown in sufficient quantity. The rights to a plot of land in Ireland could mean the difference between life and death in the early 19th century.

The period of the potato blight in Ireland from 1845–51 was full of political confrontation. The mass movement for Repeal of the Act of Union had failed in its objectives by the time its founder Daniel O'Connell died in 1847. A more radical Young Ireland group seceded from the Repeal movement and attempted an armed rebellion in the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. It was unsuccessful.

Ireland at this time was, according to the Act of Union of 1801, an integral part of the British imperial homeland, "the richest empire on the globe," and was "the most fertile portion of that empire," in addition; Ireland was sheltered by both "... Habeas Corpus and trial by jury ...". And yet Ireland's elected representatives seemed powerless to act on the country's behalf as Members to the British Parliament. Commenting on this at the time John Mitchel wrote: "That an island which is said to be an integral part of the richest empire on the globe ... should in five years lose two and a half millions of its people (more than one fourth) by hunger, and fever the consequence of hunger, and flight beyond sea to escape from hunger ..."

Ireland remained a net exporter of food even during the blight. The immediate effect on Ireland was devastating, and its long-term effects proved immense, changing Irish culture and tradition for generations. The population of Ireland continued to fall for 70 years, stabilizing at half the level prior to the famine. This long-term decline ended in the west of the country only in 2006, over 160 years after the famine struck.



Following earlier reports of its incidence in England, on 13 September 1845 potato blight was first reported in Ireland. By mid October it was widespread. The Prime Minister Robert Peel was prompted to act. On 15 October he decided that this was the time to repeal the Corn Laws to reduce price of grain/bread for the poor. On 18 October Peel set up a Scientific Commission to go to Ireland and investigate the potato blight and report on conditions. An emergency Cabinet meeting on 31 October - 1 November instituted a Relief Commission plus other measures to alleviate distress but Peel's proposal to repeal the Corn Laws was rejected On 9-10 November Peel ordered the purchase of £100,000 worth of Indian corn from America for distribution in Ireland. On 15 November the Scientific Commissioners reported that half the potato crop had been destroyed. On 20 November the Relief Commission first met.Unable to convince his Cabinet to repeal the Corn Laws, on 5 December Peel tendered his resignation to Queen Victoria but was reinstated days later when Lord John Russell was unable to form a government.


The first deaths from hunger took place in early 1846.In March Peel set up a programme of public works in Ireland but was forced to resign as Prime Minister on 29 June.The new Whig administration under Lord Russell, influenced by their laissez-faire belief that the market would provide the food neededthen halted government food and relief works leaving many hundreds of thousands of people without any work, money or food.Grain continued to be exported from the country.Private initiatives such as The Central Relief Committee of the Society of Friends (Quakers) attempted to fill the gap caused by the end of government relief and eventually the government reinstated the relief works, although bureaucracy made food supplies slow to be released.The blight almost totally destroyed the 1846 crop and the Famine worsened considerably.By December a third of a million destitute people were employed in public works.

1847 ("Black '47")

1847's exceptionally hard winter made conditions even worse.A typhus epidemic killed tens of thousands, including wealthier people as the towns were now also affected. 1847's harvest was largely unaffected by blight but too few potatoes had been planted so the Famine continued unabated. The Soup Kitchens Act provided financial assistance to local authorities to help them feed Famine victims but this Act was withdrawn in September and relief was made the responsibility of local poor rates and of charitable organizations.This put impossible loads on local poor rates, particularly in the rural west and south. Emigration reached new heights and the infamous coffin-ships crossed the Atlantic in large numbers carrying people fleeing from the famine.


The blight returned in 1848 and outbreaks of cholera were reported.Evictions became common among the Irish who couldn't keep up with the demands of their British landlords. Famine victims on outdoor relief peaked in July at almost 840,000 people. On 29 July an uprising against the government was led by William Smith O'Brien. After a skirmish at "Widow McCormack's house" in the village of Ballingarry, County Tipperary the leaders of the rebellion fled to America or were sentenced to transportation.


The potato crop failed again in 1849 and famine was accompanied by cholera outbreaks.This deadly cholera epidemic kills one of Ireland's greatest poets: James Clarence Mangan.


The Famine ends.


By 1851 census figures showed that the population of Ireland had fallen to 6,575,000 - a drop of 1,600,000 in ten years. On the 1851 census both Cormac Ó Gráda & Joel Mokry would also describe it as a famous but flawed source. They would contend that the combination of institutional and individuals figures gives “an incomplete and biased count” of fatalities during the famine. The famine left in its wake perhaps up to a million dead and another million emigrated.The famine caused a sense of lasting bitterness by the Irish towards the British government, whom many blamed — then and now — for the starvation of so many people. The fall-out of the famine continued for decades afterwards.

Causes and contributing factors

Migration of blight to Ireland

The origin of Phytophthora infestans can be traced to a valley in the highlands of central Mexico. The first recorded instances of the disease were in the United States, in Philadelphia and New York City in early 1843. Winds then spread the spores, and in 1845 it was found from Illinois to Nova Scotia, and from Virginia to Ontario. The disease crossed the Atlantic Ocean with a shipment of seed potatoes destined for Belgian farmers in 1845.

Symptoms of the potato blight were then recorded in Belgium in 1845. According to W.C. Paddock, Phytophthora infestans (which is an oomycete, not a fungus) was transported on potatoes being carried to feed passengers on clipper ships sailing from America to Ireland.

Land consolidation

Since the act of Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of King Henry VIII in the mid 16th century, plantations of the country followed and were undertaken under Mary I and Elizabeth I. The plantations in Counties Laois and Offaly and in Munster did not survive, but the plantation of Ulster during the reign of James I (James VI of Scotland) brought about the Protestant colonisation of Ulster territories by mainly English and Scottish Presbyterians also creating several new strategic garrison towns. An insurrection, instigated by Irish rebels in 1641, led to civil wars in Ireland, England, and Scotland, culminating in the execution of King Charles I during January 1649 and the declaration of Britain becoming a Republic (until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660). This was followed during September 1649 by Oliver Cromwell's conquest of Ireland, bringing a swift end to any possible Royalist resurgence and Irish led resistance to British Parliamentary rule in Ireland.

It is estimated that as much as a third of the entire population of Ireland perished during the civil wars and subsequent Cromwellian conquest. William Petty who conducted the first scientific land and demographic survey of Ireland in the 1650s (the Down Survey), concluded that at least 400,000 people and maybe as many as 620,000 had died in Ireland between 1641 and 1653 many as a result of famine and plague. And this in a country of only around 1.5 million inhabitants.

Penal laws were introduced during the reign of King William III and further reinforced during the subsequent 18th century Hanoverian period whereby Roman Catholics rights were restricted from education and many of their civil liberties were removed, including ownership of a horse worth more than five pounds. Laws were also introduced to encourage Irish linen production but wool exports were restricted. Roman Catholic clergy were also banished as the British Parliament took over to legislate for Ireland. British law then barred Roman Catholics from succession, securing the ascendancy to remain in Protestant control and therefore removing any possible claims to the throne by the Roman Catholic descendants of King James II. Land ownership in Ireland fell mainly to English and Scottish Protestants who were loyal to the crown and the Established Church who rented out large tracts to tenant farmers. Many prominent Roman Catholics who owned land prior to the Williamite Wars and Treaty of Limerick had been forced into exile, called the Flight of the Wild Geese continued to live off rental income collected by their appointed land agents. Sometimes rents grew difficult to collect, forcing the landlords into debt and causing them to sell their estates.

This period also saw the rise of economic and other colonialism, often influencing countries to produce for export a single crop. Ireland, too, became mostly a single-crop nation although the southern and eastern regions sustained a fair sized commercial agriculture of grain and cattle. The potatoes grew well in Ireland and seemed the only crop that could support a peasant family limited — through subdivision of larger Catholic-owned estates — to a very small tenant plot of land.

Tenants, subdivisions, and bankruptcy

In 1845, 24% of all Irish tenant farms were of 0.4 to 2 hectares (one to five acres) in size, while 40% were of two to six hectares (five to fifteen acres). Holdings were so small that only potatoes — no other crop — would suffice to feed a family. The British Government reported, shortly before the Great Hunger, that poverty was so wide-spread that one third of all Irish small holdings could not support their families, after paying their rent, except by earnings of seasonal migrant labour in England and Scotland. Following the famine, reforms were implemented making it illegal to further divide land holdings.


According to James S. Donnelly Jr, it is impossible to be sure how many people were evicted during the years of the famine and its immediate aftermath. It was only in 1849 that the police began to keep a count, and they recorded a total of almost 250,000 persons as officially evicted between 1849 and 1854. Donnelly considered this to be an underestimate, and if the figures were to include the number pressured into involuntary surrenders during the whole period (1846-54) the figure would almost certainly exceed half a million persons. While Helen Litton says there were also thousands of “voluntary” surrenders, she notes also that there was “precious little voluntary about them.” In some cases tenants were persuaded to accept a small sum of money to leave their homes, “cheated into believing the workhouse would take them in.” Under the notorious Gregory clause, described by Donnelly as a “vicious amendment to the Irish poor law, named after William H. Gregory, M.P. and commonly know as the quarter-acre clause, provided that no tenant holding more than a quarter-acre of land would be eligible for public assistance either in or outside the workhouse. This clause had been a successful Tory amendment to the Whig poor-relief bill which became law in early June 1847, were its potential as an estate-clearing device was widely recognised in parliament, though not in advance. At first the poor law commissioners and inspectors viewed the clause as an valuable instrument for a more cost-effective administration of public relief, but the drawbacks soon became apparent, even from an administrative perspective. They would soon view them as little more than murderous from a humanitarian perspective. According to Donnelly it became obvious that the quarter-acre clause was “indirectly a death-dealing instrument.”

Food exports to England

Records show Irish lands exported food, even during the worst years of the Famine. When Ireland experienced a famine in 1782-83, ports were closed to keep Irish-grown food in Ireland to feed the Irish. Local food prices promptly dropped. Merchants lobbied against the export ban, but government in the 1780s overrode their protests; that export ban did not happen in the 1840s.

Cecil Woodham-Smith, an authority on the Irish Famine, wrote in The Great Hunger; Ireland 1845-1849 that, issue has provoked so much anger or so embittered relations between the two countries (England and Ireland) as the indisputable fact that huge quantities of food were exported from Ireland to England throughout the period when the people of Ireland were dying of starvation.
Ireland remained a net exporter of food throughout most of the five-year famine.

Christine Kinealy, a University of Liverpool fellow and author of two texts on the famine, Irish Famine: This Great Calamity and A Death-Dealing Famine, writes that Irish exports of calves, livestock (except pigs), bacon and ham actually increased during the famine. The food was shipped under guard from the most famine-stricken parts of Ireland. However, the poor had no money to buy food and the government then did not ban exports.

Irish meteorologist Austin Bourke, in The use of the potato crop in pre-famine Ireland disputes some of Woodham-Smith's calculations, and notes that during December 1846 imports almost doubled. He opines that

it is beyond question that the deficiency arising from the loss of the potato crop in 1846 could not have been met by the simple expedient of prohibiting the export of grain from Ireland.

Potato dependency

The Celtic grazing lands of...Ireland had been used to pasture cows for centuries. The British colonized...the Irish, transforming much of their countryside into an extended grazing land to raise cattle for a hungry consumer market at home.... The British taste for beef had a devastating impact on the impoverished and disenfranchised people of...Ireland.... Pushed off the best pasture land and forced to farm smaller plots of marginal land, the Irish turned to the potato, a crop that could be grown abundantly in less favorable soil. Eventually, cows took over much of Ireland, leaving the native population virtually dependent on the potato for survival.

Death toll

It is not known how many people died during the period of the Famine, although it is believed more died from diseases than from starvation. State registration of births, marriages or deaths had not yet begun, and records kept by the Roman Catholic Church are incomplete. Eye witness accounts have helped medical historians identify both the ailments and effects of famine, and have been used to evaluate and explain in greater detail features of the famine. In Mayo, English Quaker William Bennett wrote of

three children huddled together, lying there because they were too weak to rise, pale and ghastly, their little limbs ... perfectly emaciated, eyes sunk, voice gone, and evidently in the last stages of actual starvation.
Revd Dr Traill Hall, a Church of Ireland rector in Schull, described
the aged, who, with the young — are almost without exception swollen and ripening for the grave.
Marasmic children also left a permanent image on Quaker Joseph Crosfield who in 1846 witnessed a
heart—rending scene [of] poor wretches in the last stages of famine imploring to be received into the [work]house...Some of the children were worn to skeletons, their features sharpened with hunger, and their limbs wasted almost to the bone…
William Forster wrote in Carrick-on-Shannon that
the children exhibit the effects of famine in a remarkable degree, their faces looking wan and haggard with hunger, and seeming like old men and women.

One possible estimate has been reached by comparing the expected population with the eventual numbers in the 1850s (see Irish Population Analysis). Earlier predictions expected that by 1851 Ireland would have a population of eight to nine million. A census taken in 1841 revealed a population of slightly over 8 million. A census immediately after the famine in 1851 counted 6,552,385, a drop of almost 1,500,000 in ten years. Modern historian R.J. Foster estimates that 'at least 775,000 died, mostly through disease, including cholera in the latter stages of the holocaust'. He further notes that 'a recent sophisticated computation estimates excess deaths from 1846 to 1851 as between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000...; after a careful critique of this, other statisticians arrive at a figure of 1,000,000.' In addition, in excess of one million Irish emigrated to Great Britain, United States, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere, while millions emigrated over following decades.

Decline in population 1841–51 (%)
Leinster Munster Ulster Connaught Ireland
15.3 22.5 15.7 28.8 20
Table from Joe Lee, The Modernisation of Irish Society (Gill History of Ireland Series No.10) p.2

Detailed statistics of the population of Ireland since 1841 are available at Irish Population Analysis.

Perhaps the best-known estimates of deaths at a county level are those by Joel Mokyr. The range of Mokyr’s mortality figures goes from 1.1 million to 1.5 million Famine deaths in Ireland between 1846 and 1851. Mokyr produced two sets of data which contained an upper-bound and lower-bound estimate, which showed not much difference in regional patterns. Because of such anomalies, Cormac Ó Gráda, revisited the work of S. H. Cousen’s. Cousen's estimates of mortality was to rely heavily on retrospective information contained in the 1851 census. The death tables, contained in the 1851 census have been rightly criticised, as under-estimating the true extent of mortality, Cousen’s mortality of 800,000 is now regarded as much too low. There were a number of reasons for this, because the information was gathered from the surviving householders and others and having to look back over the previous ten years, it underestimates the true extent of disease and mortality. Death and emigration had also cleared away entire families, leaving few or no survivors to answer the questions on the census.

Another area of uncertainty lies in the descriptions of disease given by tenants as to the cause of their relatives’ deaths. Though Wilde’s work has been rightly criticised as under-estimating the true extents of mortality it does provide a framework for the medical history of the Great Famine. The diseases that badly affected the population fell into two categories, famine induced diseases and diseases of nutritional deficiency. Of the nutritional deficiency diseases the most commonly experienced were starvation and marasmus, as well as condition called at the time dropsy. Dropsy was a popular name given for the symptoms of several diseases, one of which, kwashiorkor, is associated with starvation. The greatest mortality, however, was not from nutritional deficiency diseases, but from famine induced ailments. The malnourished are very vulnerable to infections; therefore, they were more severe when they occurred. Measles, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis, most respiratory infections, whooping cough, many intestinal parasites, and cholera were all strongly conditioned by nutritional status. Potentially lethal diseases, such as smallpox and influenza, were so virulent that their spread was independent of nutrition.

A significant cause spreading disease during the Famine was “social dislocation.” The best example of this phenomenon was fever, which exacted the greatest toll of death. In the popular mind, as well as among much medical opinion, fever and famine are closely related. This view was not wholly mistaken, but the most critical connection was the congregating of the hungry at soup kitchens, food depots, overcrowded work houses where conditions were ideal for spreading infectious diseases such as typhus, typhoid and relapsing fever. As to the diarrheal diseases, their presence was the result of poor hygiene, bad sanitation and dietary changes. The concluding attack on a population incapacitated by famine was delivered by Asiatic cholera. Cholera had visited Ireland, briefly in the 1830’s. But in the following decade it spread uncontrollably across Asia, through Europe, and into Britain and finally reached Ireland in 1849.

On the 1851 census both Cormac Ó Gráda & Joel Mokry would also describe it as a famous but flawed source. They would contend that the combination of institutional and individuals figures gives “an incomplete and biased count” of fatalities during the famine. Ó Gráda referencing the work of W. A. MacArthur, writes, specialists have long known the Irish death tables left a lot to be desired in terms of accuracy. As a result Ó Gráda says to take the Tables of Death at face value would be a grave mistake, as they seriously undercount the number of deaths both before and during the famine.

In 1851, the census commissioners collected information on the number who died in each family since 1841, the cause, season and year of death. Its disputed findings were as follows: 21,770 total deaths from starvation in the previous decade, and 400,720 deaths from disease. Listed diseases were fever, dysentery, cholera, smallpox and influenza; the first two being the main killers (222,021 and 93,232). The commissioners acknowledged that their figures were incomplete and that the true number of deaths was probably higher: "The greater the amount of destitution of mortality...the less will be the amount of recorded deaths derived through any household form; - for not only were whole families swept away by disease...but whole villages were effaced from off the land." A later historian has this to say: “In 1851, the Census Commissioners attempted to produce a table of mortality for each year since 1841… The statistics provided were flawed and probably under-estimated the level of mortality…”


On 8 December 1845, Daniel O’Connell, in the Repeal Association, proposed the following remedies to the pending disaster:
If they ask me what are my propositions for relief of the distress, I answer, first, Tenant-Right. I would propose a law giving to every man his own. I would give the landlord his land, and a fair rent for it; but I would give the tenant compensation for every shilling he might have laid out on the land in permanent improvements. And what next do I propose? Repeal of the Union.
John Mitchel wrote that in the latter part of O'Connell’s speech after pointing out the means used by the Belgian legislature during the same season—“shutting the ports against export of provisions, but opening them to import, and the like,” O’Connell continued:
If we had a domestic Parliament would not the ports be thrown open—would not the abundant crops with which heaven has blessed her be kept for the people of Ireland—and would not the Irish Parliament be more active even than the Belgian Parliament to provide for the people food and employment (hear, hear)? The blessings that would result from Repeal—the necessity for Repeal. The impossibility of the country enduring the want of Repeal,—and the utter hopelessness of any other remedy— all those things powerfully urge you to join with me, and hurrah for the Repeal.

As early as 1844, Mitchel, one of the leading political writers of Young Ireland, raised the issue of the "Potato Disease" in The Nation; he noted how powerful an agent hunger had been in certain revolutions. Mitchel again in The Nation on 14 February 1846, put forward his views on "the wretched way in which the famine was being trifled with”, and asked, had not the Government even yet any conception that there might be soon "millions of human beings in Ireland having nothing to eat." On 28 February, writing on the Coercion Bill which was then going through the House of Lords, he writes,

This is the only kind of legislation for Ireland that is sure to meet with no obstruction in that House. However they may differ about feeding the Irish people, they agree most cordially in the policy of taxing, prosecuting and ruining them.
In an article on "English Rule" on 7 March, Mitchel wrote:
The Irish People are expecting famine day by day... and they ascribe it unanimously, not so much to the rule of heaven as to the greedy and cruel policy of England. Be that right or wrong, that is their feeling. They believe that the season as they roll are but ministers of England’s rapacity; that their starving children cannot sit down to their scanty meal but they see the harpy claw of England in their dish. They behold their own wretched food melting in rottenness off the face of the earth, and they see heavy-laden ships, freighted with the yellow corn their own hands have sown and reaped, spreading all sail for England; they see it and with every grain of that corn goes a heavy curse. Again the people believe—no matter whether truly or falsely—that if they should escape the hunger and the fever their lives are not safe from judges and juries. They do not look upon the law of the land as a terror to evil-doers, and a praise to those who do well; they scowl on it as an engine of foreign rule, ill-omened harbinger of doom."
Mitchel because of his writings was charged with sedition, but this charge was dropped, and he was convicted under a new law purposefully enacted of Treason Felony Act and sentenced to 14 years transportation.

1848 rebellion

In 1847 William Smith O'Brien, the leader of the Young Ireland party, became one of the founding members of the Irish Confederation to campaign for a Repeal of the Act of Union, and called for the export of grain to be stopped and the ports closed. The following year he organised the resistance of landless farmers in County Tipperary against the landowners and their agents.

Government response

F.S.L. Lyons characterised the initial response of the British government to the early less severe phase of the famine as "prompt and relatively successful." Confronted by widespread crop failure in the autumn of 1845, Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel purchased £100,000 worth of Indian corn and corn meal secretly from America. Baring Bros & Co had to act as agents for the government. The government hoped that they would not “stifle private enterprise” or that their actions act as a disincentive to local relief efforts. Due to weather conditions, the first shipment did not arrive in Ireland until the beginning of February 1846. This corn was then re-sold for a penny a pound. The corn when it arrived had not been ground and was inedible, and this task involved a long and complicated process if it was to be done correctly and it was unlikely to be carried out locally. In addition, before the Indian meal could be consumed, it had to be ‘very much’ cooked again, or eating it could result in severe bowel complaints. Because of maize's yellow colour, and the fact that it had to be ground twice, it became known in Ireland as 'Peel's brimstone'. In 1846 Peel then moved to repeal the Corn Laws, tariffs on grain which kept the price of bread artificially high. The famine situation worsened during 1846 and the repeal of the Corn Laws in that year did little to help the starving Irish; the measure split the Conservative Party, leading to the fall of Peel's ministry. This fall came on the 25 June, when he was defeated in the House of Commons on a motion that the Irish Coercion Bill be read a second time. According to Michael Doheny, the majority against him was seventy-three, and it was made of the “Whig party, the extreme Conservatives, the ultra-Radicals and Irish Repealers.” Ten days after, Lord John Russell assumed the seals of office.

The measures undertaken by Peel's successor, Lord John Russell, proved comparatively "inadequate" as the crisis deepened. Russell's ministry introduced public works projects, which by December 1846 employed some half million Irish and proved impossible to administer. The Public Works were “strictly ordered” to be unproductive—that is, they would create no fund to repay their own expenses. Many hundreds of thousands of “feeble and starving men” according to John Mitchel, were kept digging holes, and breaking up roads, which was doing no service. In January the government abandoned these projects and turned to a mixture of "indoor" and "outdoor" direct relief; the former administered in work-houses through the Poor Law, the latter through soup kitchens. The costs of the Poor Law fell primarily on the local landlords, who in turn attempted to reduce their liability by evicting their tenants. This was then facilitated through the “Cheap Ejectment Acts.” The poor law amendment act was passed in June 1847. According to James Donnelly in Fearful Realities: New Perspectives on the Famine it embodied the principle popular in Britain that Irish property must support Irish poverty. The landed proprietors in Ireland were held in Britain to have created the conditions that lead to the famine. It was asserted however, that the British parliament since the Act of Union of 1800 was partly to blame. This point was raised in the Illustrated London News on the 13 February 1847, “There was no laws it would not pass at their request, and no abuse it would not defend for them.” On the 24 March the Times reported that Britain had permitted in Ireland “a mass of poverty, disaffection, and degradation without a parallel in the world. It allowed proprietors to suck the very life-blood of that wretched race.” The "Gregory clause" of the Poor Law prohibited anyone who held at least a quarter of an acre from receiving relief. Which in practice meant, that if a farmer, having sold all his produce to pay the rent, duties, rates and taxes, should be reduced, as many thousands of them were, on apply for public out-door relief, he should not get it, until he had first delivered up all his land to the landlord. Of this Law Mitchel was to write: "it is the able-bodied idler only who is to be fed — if he attempted to till but one rood of ground, he dies." This simple method of ejectment was called "passing paupers through the workhouse" — a man went in, a pauper came out. These factors combined to drive thousands of people off the land: 90,000 in 1849, and 104,000 in 1850.


William Smith O'Brien, speaking on the subject of charity in a speech to the Repeal Association February 1845 was to say:
“I congratulate you, that the universal sentiment hitherto exhibited upon this subject has been that we will accept no English charity (loud cheers). The resources of this country are still abundantly adequate to maintain our population: and until those resources shall have been utterly exhausted, I hope there is no man in Ireland who will so degrade himself as to ask the aid of a subscription from England.”
Mitchel wrote in his The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps), on the same subject, that no one from Ireland ever asked for charity during this period, and that it was England who sought charity on Ireland’s behalf, and, having received it, was also responsible for administering it. He stated:
It has been carefully inculcated upon the world by the British Press, that the moment Ireland fell into distress, she became an abject beggar at England’s gate, and that she even craved alms from all mankind. Some readers may be surprised when I affirm that , neither Ireland nor anybody in Ireland, ever asked alms or favours of any kind, either from England or any other nation or people;—but, on the contrary, that it was England herself that begged for us, that sent round the hat over all the globe, asking a penny for the love of God to relieve the poor Irish ;—and further, that, constituting herself the almoner and agent of all that charity, she, England, took all the profit of it.
The Nation according to Charles Gavan Duffy, insisted, that the one remedy, was that which the rest of Europe had adopted which even the parliaments of the Pale had adopted in periods of distress, which was to retain in the country the food raised by her people till the people were fed. The following poem written by Miss Jane Francesca Elgee was carried in the The Nation and who was one of the best known and most popular authors.
Weary men, what reap ye? Golden corn for the stranger.
What sow ye? Human corpses that wait for the avenger.
Fainting forms, Hunger—stricken, what see you in the offing
Stately ships to bear our food away, amid the stranger’s scoffing.
There’s a proud array of soldiers—what do they round your door?
They guard our master’s granaries from the thin hands of the poor.
Pale mothers, wherefore weeping? ‘Would to God that we were dead—
Our children swoon before us, and we cannot give them bread.
The response from Ireland was that the Corporation of Dublin sent a memorial to the Queen, “praying her” to call Parliament together early (Parliament was at this time prorogued), and to recommend the requisition of some public money for public works, especially railways in Ireland. The Town Council of Belfast met and made similar suggestions to those of Dublin, but neither body asked charity, according to Mitchel. “They demanded that, if Ireland was indeed an Integral part of the realm, the common exchequer of both islands should be used—not to give alms, but to provide employment on public works of general utility.” It was Mitchel’s opinion that “if Yorkshire and Lancashire had sustained a like calamity in England, there is no doubt such measures as these would have been taken, promptly and liberally.” A deputation from the citizens of Dublin, which including the Duke of Leister, the Lord Mayor, Lord Cloncurry, and Daniel O’Connell, went to the Lord Lieutenant (Lord Heytesbury), and offered suggestions, such as opening the ports to foreign corn for a time, to stopping distillation from grain, or providing public works, that this was extremely urgent, as millions of people would shortly be without food. Lord Haytesbury told them they "were premature", and told them not to be alarmed, that learned men (Playfair and Lindley) had been sent from England to enquire into all those matters; and that the Inspectors of Constabulary and Stipendiary Magistrates were charged with making constant reports from their districts; and there was no "immediate pressure on the market". Of these reports from Lord Haytesbury, Peel in a latter to Sir James Graham was to say that he found the accounts "very alarming", though he reminded him that there was, according to Woodham-Smith "always a tendency to exaggeration in Irish news".

Large sums of money were donated by charities; Calcutta is credited with making the first donation of £14,000. The money was raised by Irish soldiers serving there and Irish people employed by the East India Company. Pope Pius IX sent funds and Queen Victoria donated £2,000.

Quaker Alfred Webb, one of the many volunteers in Ireland at the time, wrote:

Upon the famine arose the wide spread system of proselytism ... and a network of well-intentioned Protestant associations spread over the poorer parts of the country, which in return for soup and other help endeavoured to gather the people into their churches and schools...The movement left seeds of bitterness that have not yet died out, and Protestants, and not altogether excluding Friends, sacrificed much of the influence for good they might have had...

In addition to the religious, non-religious organizations came to the assistance of famine victims. The British Relief Association was one such group. Founded in 1847, the Association raised money throughout England, America and Australia; their funding drive benefited by a "Queen's Letter", a letter from Queen Victoria appealing for money to relieve the distress in Ireland. With this initial letter the Association raised £171,533. A second, somewhat less successful "Queen's Letter" was issued in late 1847. In total, the British Relief Association raised approximately £200,000. (c.$1,000,000 at the time)

Ottoman aid

In 1845, the onset of the Great Irish Famine resulted in over 1,000,000 deaths. Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid declared his intention to send 10,000 sterling to Irish farmers but Queen Victoria requested that the Sultan send only 1,000 sterling, because she had sent only 2,000 sterling. The Sultan sent the 1,000 sterling but also secretly sent 3 ships full of food. The English courts tried to block the ships, but the food arrived at Drogheda harbour and was left there by Ottoman sailors.

From American Indians

In 1847, midway through the Great Irish Famine (1845–1849), a group of American Indian Choctaws collected $710 (although many articles say the original amount was $170 after a misprint in Angie Debo's The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic) and sent it to help starving Irish men, women and children. "It had been just 16 years since the Choctaw people had experienced the Trail of Tears, and they had faced starvation… It was an amazing gesture. By today's standards, it might be a million dollars." according to Judy Allen, editor of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma's newspaper, Bishinik, based at the Oklahoma Choctaw tribal headquarters in Durant, Oklahoma. To mark the 150th anniversary, eight Irish people retraced the Trail of Tears, and the donation was publicly commemorated by President Mary Robinson.


Consequently, later mini-famines made only minimal effect and are generally forgotten, except by historians. By the 1911 census, the island of Ireland's population had fallen to 4.4 million, about the same as the population in 1800 and 2000 and only a half of its peak population.


See also: Irish diaspora

While the famine was responsible for a significant increase in emigration from Ireland, of anywhere from 45% to nearly 85%, depending on the year and the county it was not the sole cause. Nor was it even the era when mass emigration from Ireland commenced. That can be traced to the middle of the 18th century, when some quarter of a million people left Ireland to settle in the New World alone, over a period of some fifty years. From the defeat of Napoleon to the beginning of the famine, a period of thirty years, "at least 1,000,000 and possibly 1,500,000 emigrated However, during the worst of the famine, emigration reached somewhere around 250,000 in one year alone, with far more emigrants coming from western Ireland than any other part.

As a rule, families en masse did not emigrate, younger members of it did. So much so that emigration almost became a rite of passage, as evidenced by the data that show that, unlike similar emigration throughout world history, women emigrated just as often, just as early, and in the same numbers as men. The emigrant started a new life in a new land, sent remittances "reached £1,404,000 by 1851 back to his/her family in Ireland which, in turn, allowed another member of the family to emigrate.

Generally speaking, emigration during the famine years of 1845 to 1850 was to England, Scotland, the United States, Canada, and Australia. Many of those fleeing to the Americas used the well-established McCorkell Line.

Of the 100,000 Irish that sailed to Canada in 1847, an estimated one out of five died from disease and malnutrition, including over five thousand at Grosse Isle. Mortality rates of 30% aboard the coffin ships were common.

By 1854, between 1½ and 2 million Irish left their country due to evictions, starvation, and harsh living conditions. In America, most Irish became city-dwellers: with little money, many had to settle in the cities that the ships they came on landed in. By 1850, the Irish made up a quarter of the population in Boston, Massachusetts; New York City; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Baltimore, Maryland. In addition, Irish populations became prevalent in some American mining communities.

The 1851 census reported that more than half the inhabitants of Toronto, Ontario were Irish, and in 1847 alone, 38,000 famine Irish flooded a city with less than 20,000 citizens. Other Canadian cities such as Saint John, New Brunswick; Quebec City and Montreal, Quebec; Ottawa, Kingston and Hamilton, Ontario also received large numbers of Famine Irish since Canada, as part of the British Empire, could not close its ports to Irish ships (unlike the United States), and they could get passage cheaply (or free in the case of tenant evictions) in returning empty lumber holds. However fearing nationalist insurgencies the British government placed harsh restrictions on Irish immigration to Canada after 1847 resulting in larger influxes to the United States. The largest Famine grave site outside of Ireland is at Grosse-Île, Quebec, an island in the St. Lawrence River used to quarantine ships near Quebec City. In 1851, about a quarter of Liverpool's population was Irish-born.

The famine marked the beginning of the steep depopulation of Ireland in the 19th century. Population had increased by 13–14% in the first three decades of the 19th century. Between 1831 and 1841 population grew by 5%. Application of Thomas Malthus's idea of population expanding 'geometrically' (exponentially) while resources increase arithmetically was popular during the famines of 1817 and 1822. However by the 1830s, a decade before the famine, they were seen as overly simplistic and Ireland's problems were seen "less as an excess of population than as a lack of capital investment. The population of Ireland was increasing no faster than that of England, which suffered no equivalent catastrophe.

Judgement of the government's handling of the Famine


Contemporary opinion was sharply critical of the Russell government's response to and management of the crisis. From the start, there were accusations that the government failed to grasp the magnitude of the disaster. Sir James Graham, who had served as Home Secretary in Sir Robert Peel's late government, wrote to Peel that, in his opinion, "the real extent and magnitude of the Irish difficulty are underestimated by the Government, and cannot be met by measures within the strict rule of economical science."

This criticism was not confined to outside critics. The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Clarendon, wrote a letter to Russell on 26 April 1849, urging that the government propose additional relief measures: "I do not think there is another legislature in Europe that would disregard such suffering as now exists in the west of Ireland, or coldly persist in a policy of extermination." Also in 1849 the Chief Poor Law Commissioner, Edward Twistleton, resigned in protest over the Rate-in-Aid Act, which provided additional funds for the Poor Law through a 6p in the pound levy on all rateable properties in Ireland. Twisleton testified that "comparatively trifling sums were required for Britain to spare itself the deep disgrace of permitting its miserable fellow subjects to die of starvation." According to Peter Gray, in his book The Irish Famine, the government spent seven million pounds for relief in Ireland between 1845 and 1850, "representing less than half of one percent of the British gross national product over five years. Contemporaries noted the sharp contrast with the 20 million Pounds compensation given to West Indian slave-owners in the 1830s."

Other critics maintained that even after the government recognised the scope of the crisis, it failed to take sufficient steps to address it. John Mitchel, one of the leaders of the Young Ireland Movement, wrote the following in 1860: "I have called it an artificial famine: that is to say, it was a famine which desolated a rich and fertile island that produced every year abundance and superabundance to sustain all her people and many more. The English, indeed, call the famine a 'dispensation of Providence;' and ascribe it entirely to the blight on potatoes. But potatoes failed in like manner all over Europe; yet there was no famine save in Ireland. The British account of the matter, then, is first, a fraud - second, a blasphemy. The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine."

Still other critics saw reflected in the government's response the government's attitude to the so-called "Irish Question." Nassau Senior, an economics professor at Oxford University, wrote that the Famine "would not kill more than one million people, and that would scarcely be enough to do any good." In 1848, Denis Shine Lawlor suggested that Russell was a student of the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser, who had calculated "how far English colonization and English policy might be most effectively carried out by Irish starvation." Charles Trevelyan, the civil servant with most direct responsibility for the government's handling of the famine, described it in 1848 as "a direct stroke of an all-wise and all-merciful Providence", which laid bare "the deep and inveterate root of social evil"; the Famine, he affirmed, was "the sharp but effectual remedy by which the cure is likely to be effected. God grant that the generation to which this opportunity has been offered may rightly perform its part..."


Christine Kinealy expresses the consensus of historians when she states that "the major tragedy of the Irish Famine of 1845-52 marked a watershed in modern Irish history. Its occurrence, however, was neither inevitable nor unavoidable." The underlying factors which combined to cause the famine were aggravated by an inadequate government response. As Kinealy notes, "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.

Several writers single out the decision of the government to permit the continued export of food from Ireland as suggestive of the policy-makers attitude. Leon Uris suggested that "there was ample food within Ireland", while all the Irish-bred cattle were being shipped off to England. The following exchange appeared in Act IV of George Bernard Shaw's play Man and Superman:

MALONE. He will get over it all right enough. Men thrive better on disappointments in love than on disappointments in money. I daresay you think that sordid; but I know what I'm talking about. My father died of starvation in Ireland in the black 47, Maybe you've heard of it.
VIOLET. The Famine?
MALONE. [with smouldering passion] No, the starvation. When a country is full of food, and exporting it, there can be no famine. My father was starved dead; and I was starved out to America in my mother's arms. English rule drove me and mine out of Ireland. Well, you can keep Ireland. I and my like are coming back to buy England; and we'll buy the best of it. I want no middle class properties and no middle class women for Hector. That's straightforward isn't it, like yourself?

Critics of British imperialism point to the structure of empire as a contributing factor. J. A. Froude wrote that "England governed Ireland for what she deemed her own interest, making her calculations on the gross balance of her trade ledgers, and leaving moral obligations aside, as if right and wrong had been blotted out of the statute book of the Universe. Dennis Clark, an Irish-American historian, claimed that the famine was "the culmination of generations of neglect, misrule and repression. It was an epic of English colonial cruelty and inadequacy. For the landless cabin dwellers it meant emigration or extinction...

Suggestions of genocide

As mentioned, 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 what would now be called genocide, remains a historically and politically-charged issue.

In 1996 Francis A. Boyle, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, wrote a report commissioned by the New York-based Irish Famine/Genocide Committee which concluded that "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. On the strength of Boyle's report, the U.S. state of New Jersey included the famine in the "Holocaust and Genocide Curriculum" at the secondary tier.

Several commentators have argued that the searing effect of the famine in Irish cultural memory has effects similar to that of genocide, while maintaining that one did not occur. Robert Kee suggests that the Famine is seen as "comparable" in its force on "popular national consciousness to that of the 'final solution' on the Jews," and that it is not "infrequently" thought that the Famine was something very like, "a form of genocide engineered by the English against the Irish people." This point was echoed by James Donnelly, a historian at the University of Wisconsin, who wrote in his work Landlord and Tenant in Nineteenth-Century Ireland, "I would draw the following broad conclusion: at a fairly early stage of the Great Famine the government's abject failure to stop or even slow down the clearances (evictions) contributed in a major way to enshrining the idea of English state-sponsored genocide in Irish popular mind. Or perhaps one should say in the Irish mind, for this was a notion that appealed to many educated and discriminating men and women, and not only to the revolutionary minority...And it is also my contention that while genocide was not in fact committed, what happened during and as a result of the clearances had the look of genocide to a great many Irish...

Historian Cormac Ó Gráda disagreed that the famine was genocide: first, that "genocide includes murderous intent and it must be said that not even the most bigoted and racist commentators of the day sought the extermination of the Irish"; second, that most people in Whitehall "hoped for better times in Ireland" and third, that the claim of genocide overlooks "the enormous challenges facing relief efforts, both central, local, public and private". Ó Gráda thinks that a case of neglect is easier to sustain than that of genocide

Well-known Irish columnist and song-writer John Waters has described the famine as the most violent event in a history which was characterised by violence of every imaginable kind and stated that the famine "was an act of genocide, driven by racism and justified by ideology", arguing that the destruction of Ireland’s cultural, political and economic diversity and the reduction of the Irish economy to basically a mono-cultural dependence was a holocaust waiting to happen. Waters contends that arguments about the source of the blight or the practicability of aid efforts once the Famine had taken hold were irrelevant to the meaning of the experience.


The Great Famine is still remembered in many locations throughout Ireland, especially in those regions that suffered the greatest losses, and also in cities overseas with large populations descended from Irish immigrants.Ireland

  • Strokestown Park Famine Museum, Ireland
  • Custom House Quays, Dublin, Ireland. Painfully thin sculptural figures, by artist Rowan Gillespie, stand as if walking towards the emigration ships on the Dublin Quayside.
  • St. Stephen's Green, Dublin, Ireland. "Famine", a sculpture by Edward Delaney.
  • Limerick, The 'Broken Heart' Famine memorial, Lower Mallow Street. The sculpture is a fountain in the shape of a broken heart in memory of the forced emigration of several thousands who fled to America and beyond from nearby Steamboat Quay. Also in Limerick city, the Pauper's Graveyard (now known as St Brigid's cemetery) in Killeely. Here a large timber cross was erected on the site of this mass graveyard. There are no headstones.
  • Murrisk, County Mayo, Ireland. This sculpture of a famine ship, near the foot of Croagh Patrick, depicts the refugees it carries as dead souls hanging from the sides.
  • Donaghmore Famine Museum - set in Donaghmore Workhouse in County Laois.
  • Doolough, County Mayo. A memorial commemorates famine victims who walked from Louisburgh along the mountain road to Delphi Lodge to seek relief from the Poor Board who were meeting there. Returning after their request was refused, many of them died at this point. This became known as the Doolough Tragedy.
  • Doagh Island, Inishowen, County Donegal, Ireland. Doagh Visitor Centre and Famine Museum has exhibits and memorial on the effects of the famine in Inishowen, Donegal.
  • Ennistymon, County Clare, Ireland. This was the first memorial in Ireland to honour those who suffered and were lost during the Great Famine. It is erected across the street from an abandoned workhouse where an estimated 20,000 Irish died and a mass graveyard for children who perished and were buried without coffins.
  • Sligo, County Sligo, has three memorial sculptures erected by the Sligo Famine Commemoration Committee. One is at the quayside, of a family comforting each other, where 30,000 people emigrated between 1847 and 1851. The other two are the gates of a famine graveyard and of a tree (called Faoin Sceach) in the grounds of the graveyard, where approximately 2,000 famine victims are buried.
  • Newcastle West, Co. Limerick, The Famine Graveyard is at the rear of modern day St. Ita's Hospital. Hundreds of people who died during the famine are buried there in unmarked graves. The cemetery is marked by a plain old cross. Close by stands the Workhouse.
  • Kilkenny in the McDonagh Junction complex. The memorial is marked by a small garden, where many bodies were found during an excavation.
  • Ballingarry Famine Warhouse 1848. Widow McCormack's house, the site of the 1848 rebellion, has now been converted into a museum.United Kingdom
  • Liverpool, England. A memorial is in the grounds of St Luke's Church on Leece Street, itself a memorial to the victims of the Blitz. It recalls that from 1849–1852 1,241,410 Irish immigrants arrived in the city and that from Liverpool they dispersed to locations around the world. Many died despite the help they received within the city, some 7000 in the city perished within one year. There is also a plaque on the gates to Clarence Dock. Unveiled in 2000, the plaque inscription reads in Gaelic and English: "Through these gates passed most of the 1,300,000 Irish migrants who fled from the Great Famine and 'took the ship' to Liverpool in the years 1845–52" The Maritime Museum, Albert Dock, Liverpool has an exhibition regarding the Irish Migration, showing models of ships, documentation and other facts on Liverpool's history.
  • Cardiff, Wales. A Celtic Cross made of Irish limestone on a base of Welsh stone stands in the city's Cathays Cemetery. The cross was unveiled in 1999 as the high point in the work of the Wales Famine Forum, remembering the 150th Anniversary of the famine. The memorial is dedicated to every person of Irish origin, without distinction on grounds of class, politics, allegiance or religious belief, who has died in Wales.
  • Carfin, Motherwell, North Lanarkshire. A Celtic Cross memorial unveiled by An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in the early 21st century.United States

  • In Boston, Massachusetts, a bronze statue located at the corner of Washington and School Streets on the Freedom Trail depicts a starving woman, looking up to the heavens as if to ask "Why?", while her children cling to her. A second sculpture shows the figures hopeful as they land in Boston.
  • Buffalo, New York has a stone memorial on its waterfront.
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts has a memorial to the famine on its Common.
  • Chicago, Illinois has a Famine Memorial at Chicago Gaelic Park
  • Cleveland, Ohio A high stone Celtic cross, located on the east bank of the Cuyahoga River.
  • In Fairfield, Connecticut a memorial to the Famine victims stands in the chapel of Fairfield University.
  • In Hamden, Connecticut, a collection of art and literature from the Great Famine is on display in the Lender Family Special Collection Room of the Arnold Bernhard Library at Quinnipiac University.
  • Irish Hills, Michigan — The Ancient Order of Hibernian's An Gorta Mor Memorial is located on the grounds of St. Joseph's Shrine in the Irish Hills district of Lenawee County, Michigan. There are thirty-two black stones as the platform, one for each county. The grounds are surrounded with a stone wall. The Lintel is a step from Penrose Quay in Cork Harbour. The project was the result of several years of fundraising by the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Lenewee County. It was dedicated in 2004 by AOH Divisional President, Patrick Maguire, and many political and Irish figures from around the state of Michigan.
  • Keansburg, NJ has a Hunger Memorial in Friendship Park on Main Street.
  • New York, New York has the Irish Hunger Memorial which looks like a sloping hillside with low stone walls and a roofless cabin on one side and a polished wall with lit (or white) lines on the other three sides. The memorial is in Battery Park City, a short walk west from the World Trade Center site. See Another memorial exists in V.E. Macy Park in Ardsley, New York about 32 km north of Manhattan.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Phoenix, Arizona has a famine memorial in the form of a dolmen at the Irish Cultural Center.
  • Hackensack New Jersey has a large stone located on the front corner of the Bergen County Government Court House on Main Street, honoring all of those who perished in the famine. Every year in October, numerous Irish-American organizations from northern New Jersey hold a ceremony to remember all of those who perished.Canada
  • Grosse-Île, Quebec, Canada, the largest famine grave site outside of Ireland. A large Celtic cross, erected by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, stands in remembrance overlooking the St. Lawrence River. The island is a Canadian national historic site.
  • Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, limestone cross donated by the government of Ireland in 1997
  • Kingston, Ontario, Canada, has three monuments. Celtic cross at An Gorta Mor Park on the waterfront. Another is located at Skeleton (McBurney) Park (formerly Kingston Upper Cemetery). Angel of Resurrection monument, first dedicated in 1894 at St. Mary's cemetery.
  • Maidstone, Ontario, Canada, has a nine foot stone Celtic Cross at the cemetery outside St. Mary's Church
  • Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the "Boulder Stone" in Pointe-Saint-Charles
  • Toronto, Ontario Four bronze statues arriving at the Toronto wharves, at Ireland Park on Bathurst Quay, modeled after the Dublin Departure Memorial. List of names of those who died of typhus in the Toronto fever sheds shortly after their arrival. Current memorial plaque at Metro Hall. Also a pieta statue outside St. Paul's Catholic Basilica in memory of the famine victims and Bishop Michael Power, who died tending to the sick.Australia
  • Sydney, Australia. The Australian Monument to the Great Irish Famine is located in the courtyard wall of the Hyde Park Barracks, Macquarie Street, Sydney. It symbolises the experiences of young Irishwomen fleeing the Great Irish Famine of 1845–49, and was sculpted by Angela and Hossein Valamanesh.

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