Why were the Irish so dependent on potatoes as a staple food at the time of the Great Famine? Why couldn’t they just have turned to other grains as an alternative to stop more deaths from happening?

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Why were the Irish so dependent on potatoes as a staple food at the time of the Great Famine? Why couldn’t they just have turned to other grains as an alternative to stop more deaths from happening?

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Anonymous 0 Comments

Ireland was quite poor at the time. It was effectively a colony of England, and the wealthy landowners of Ireland (who were mostly English) had bought up much of the land to grow luxury crops for export to England and elsewhere. That left relatively little land for poor farmers. This happened throughout Europe, but Ireland was unusually poor and was ruled by an almost completely external power, so the effect was especially strong there.

Potatoes were popular throughout Europe, but weren’t a staple food in most places. Instead, they supplemented wheat and other crops. But in Ireland, potatoes became more of a staple because potatoes require very little growing space. Poor farmers on limited land had had to resort to growing potatoes on that small amount of land in order to get enough calories.

So when an epidemic of potato blight (a plant disease that destroys potato crops) struck Europe, it hit Ireland especially hard because they were unusually poor (and therefore unable to import other foods – and in fact, [banned from doing so](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corn_Laws) early in the famine), because they were unusually dependent on the potato because of pseudo-colonial farming practices, and because ruling powers in England didn’t really give much of a shit about Irish laborers and pretty much left them to die.

Anonymous 0 Comments

We did have plenty of other food. But the english were taking it as “rent” to feed their army who was invading India.

On top of that, we had hundreds of years of oppression. One particularly evil thing that was bestowed upon us were the Penal Laws. Look them up. One of them was that you had to divide your farm per each child, so within a few generations, people were trying to eke out a living on “land” the size of a modern bathroom. And then the bastards took your food as rent, to live in your own land.

Not going to write any more, getting too angry.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The Irish were cranking out plenty of the potatoes during the Great Famine, they just couldn’t keep them for themselves. The British required a certain volume of crops. When the blight knocked down crop yields the British kept taking their cut and the shortfall was left on the Irish, hence the starving. They used the same playbook in India (check out the Bengal famine).

Switching crops takes, minimum, one entire growing season, *if* you have all the seeds and equipment, which the Irish didn’t.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The English already saw Ireland as a starving nation when they took it over, and the Napoleonic Wars led to an even higher demand to steal Ireland’s food. The English shoved them off into some corner and took all the good land with its wheat and corn for themselves. The Irish had only small fields of poor soil to feed themselves with, and the only crop that did well enough to survive off of was potatoes – they’re very space-efficient and much more tolerant of poor soil and other conditions than other plants.

The Famine *might* have been less devastating had there been more variety *of* potatoes, but they were pretty much all the same cultivar (Irish Lumper).

Anonymous 0 Comments

I see a number of people here think that only potatoes were grown in Ireland. The reality was that Ireland produced large amounts of grain and animal products like pork, beef and dairy. However *everything* other than potatoes was sold to pay rent on their “farms” which had been made tiny by the enforced division among children – the traditional Irish way was the oldest inherited the land but the British imposed their ideas instead, reducing the population to devastating poverty. While all these goodies were being exported, the Irish actually did quite well on potatoes and milk, probably better than their equivalents in other countries who subsisted on bread and cheese.

However once the potato blight hit, their food source was wiped out. The US sent some grain ships to try to help but, because of the English Corn Laws, they were not allowed to land their cargo in case they depressed the prices in the markets. [Turkey did send some grain](https://archive.aramcoworld.com/issue/201501/an.irish.tale.of.hunger.and.the.sultan.htm) and snuck it into Drogheda with the legacy that the Star and Crescent is now a common motif in the town, even appearing on the [local football team’s logo](https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FDrogheda_United_F.C.&psig=AOvVaw2r2Ipj6h_oKePOKgCVYn2i&ust=1675891431403000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CBAQjRxqFwoTCIDEw52shP0CFQAAAAAdAAAAABAE). Probably the most notable contribution was the few dollars sent by the [Choctaw Nation](https://xyuandbeyond.com/irish-famine-and-the-choctaw-nation/) even though they had almost nothing after the Trail of Tears.

The tiny amount of relief provided by the British was to set up soup kitchens where the starving could get food if they changed their religion to Protestantism, and support for road building where the work was stretched out by the creation of winding roads.

TL;DR: The other foodstuffs they had to hand were sent to England to make money for their landlords, so the potato crop’s failure meant starvation.

Anonymous 0 Comments

A quick note on potatoes in the 19th century. They tasted like shit but could be grown on poor land and produce a lot with comparatively small plots devoted to them. What wasn’t understood at the time was that they were a really nutritious staple food. Potatoes and milk fulfil the vast majority of the bodies requirements.

So the English ruled Ireland. They were complete fuckers about it. To keep their English landowners from tearing their homes down they had to grow crops that the English wanted to eat, not grubby dirt tasting potatoes but proper wheat and meat products. Of which the English took and exported. Unless they decided they wanted to follow a trend like converting their farms to pastures then they’d destroy the Irish farmers roofs as soon as winter set in to force them to flee the property or freeze to death.

Anyway. Ireland was not in a position to make their own decisions. They ate potatoes because they had to. A mostly potato diet being accidentally very healthy at the time led to many decades of booming population. A massive population of healthy farmers growing lots and lots of crops for the use of their colonial masters and eating potatoes.

The potato blight did not destroy the majority of the available calories in Ireland. It just destroyed the calories the Irish were allowed to consume. England forcefully exported literal armadas laden with food from the staving Irish. Food that their own hands had grown.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The English took everything else to sell and it was illegal to fish or hunt without permission Ireland has always had plenty of food the rich never starve.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It isn’t as simple as switching to another crop. As others had mentioned, all food produced in Ireland, aside from potatoes, was taken as rent and used to feed the British military. Not to mention the forced division of land between sons caused many to have very little land to grow food on. These two forced a complete reliance on Potatoes to feed themselves, since potatoes need less land to feed the same number of people compared to other crops.

But even if they could just grow something else, that food was considered rent for their landlords. If they didn’t pay their rent, landlords would evict them. So now thousands had no land and no way to grow food to feed themselves. So not only were they starving from lack of food but also many were now homeless.

Sometimes it wasn’t even a lack of rent that would encourage landlords to evict their tenants. Look up the Ballinlass Incident. The landlord evicted the entire village of Ballinlass, over 300 individuals, simply because turning the village into grazing land for cattle was more profitable for her.

The apathy of the British government is more responsible for the deaths of over a million Irish than just the mere lack of potatoes to eat.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Ireland was quite poor at the time. It was effectively a colony of England, and the wealthy landowners of Ireland (who were mostly English) had bought up much of the land to grow luxury crops for export to England and elsewhere. That left relatively little land for poor farmers. This happened throughout Europe, but Ireland was unusually poor and was ruled by an almost completely external power, so the effect was especially strong there.

Potatoes were popular throughout Europe, but weren’t a staple food in most places. Instead, they supplemented wheat and other crops. But in Ireland, potatoes became more of a staple because potatoes require very little growing space. Poor farmers on limited land had had to resort to growing potatoes on that small amount of land in order to get enough calories.

So when an epidemic of potato blight (a plant disease that destroys potato crops) struck Europe, it hit Ireland especially hard because they were unusually poor (and therefore unable to import other foods – and in fact, [banned from doing so](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corn_Laws) early in the famine), because they were unusually dependent on the potato because of pseudo-colonial farming practices, and because ruling powers in England didn’t really give much of a shit about Irish laborers and pretty much left them to die.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The Irish were cranking out plenty of the potatoes during the Great Famine, they just couldn’t keep them for themselves. The British required a certain volume of crops. When the blight knocked down crop yields the British kept taking their cut and the shortfall was left on the Irish, hence the starving. They used the same playbook in India (check out the Bengal famine).

Switching crops takes, minimum, one entire growing season, *if* you have all the seeds and equipment, which the Irish didn’t.