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The Irish famine 1845 - 1849 Free essay! Download now

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The Irish famine 1845 - 1849

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Downloads to date: N/A | Words: 5000 | Submitted: 23-Jun-2005
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To what extent were British Politicians to blame for the disaster resulting from the Irish potato famine of 1845?


In the Penal laws of 1695 which aimed to destroy Catholicism, Catholics were forbidden from practicing their religion, receiving education, entering a profession, or purchasing or leasing land; since Catholics formed eighty percent of the Irish population, this effectively deprived the Irish of any part in civil life in their own country.

In the eighteenth century the Irish condition had improved: The Irish merchant marine had been revived and ports improved, and the glass, linen, and clothing industries developed. Agriculture had also been improved and in 1782 the Irish Constitution was formed. But this changed when William Pitt became British Prime Minister. He imposed a “free trade policy”, which destroyed Ireland’s new industries, particularly linens, by eliminating independent Irish shipping. A condition of “Free trade” was that Ireland should not trade with any country where trading would clash with the interests of the East India Company; England’s mightiest corporation, who were heavily involved particularly in the lucrative trade with India. This was typical of the British belief in protectionist economics. The role of parliament was to protect the interests of the powerful few who effectively pay rolled the government by their industry and profits against the plight of the many. British politicians were also careful not to affect private enterprise, and believed that it was counter-productive to interfere in economics. Advocates of Bentham had influenced the political attitudes of a generation. They had a natural distrust of the idea of state aid, which they believed would create what would later be called a dependency culture, and lead to national bankruptcy. They did not feel it was right to put money into relieving the plight of the British poor, so they were even more opposed to intervening for the benefit of the Irish poor, whom most of the British felt were inferior and were rightly kept in their place by the Free trade policy.

In 1801 the Irish Constitution was annulled in the Act of Union, and by the 1820’s eighty percent of Irish land was owned by British or Scottish land owners, who were often absentee landlords. One quarter of Irish land was unused but unavailable for farming by the Irish. The Woollen, Poplin, Linen and Furniture and Glass industries disappeared. Fishing was reduced due to a lack of capital for boats and storage; “Free trade” caused sixty percent unemployment. In 1829 The Duke of Wellington wrote
“There never was a country in which poverty existed to the extent it exists in Ireland.”

In the summer of 1845 a potato disease struck Ireland. A fungus Photophthora Infestans turned the potato harvest into decaying blackish masses of rottenness, unfit for human or animal consumption.
Potato diseases had occurred in Ireland previously, indeed in 1741 two hundred and fifty thousand people had died as a result of a famine. There had been fourteen partial or complete famines between 1816 and 1842. The “Blight” had begun in North Carolina in America, and had spread destroying potato crops throughout the Northern Hemisphere for several years. It had spread hardship to all countries with a population of poor agrarian workers, who typically used the potato as the staple food since an acre could support a family of five or six. However, in other countries where the blight struck, there was expanding industrialisation, and the will and capacity to help those afflicted by hardship; both of which were lacking in an Ireland ruled from afar by unsympathetic British Politicians, who typically represented the interests of the privileged industrialist and the landed gentry.

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