The Irish Potato Famine & the Memorials of Today

“Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.”

-Tibetan saying

I must admit, before my tour of Ireland I did not know much about the Irish famine, nor did I have any sense of understanding the severity of the disaster. Luckily, I had an amazing tour guide, Dave, who was insanely knowledgeable on the history of the famine. Dave did a great job describing the events that led up to the mass deaths due to damaged potato crops, as well as the history behind different memorials throughout Ireland dedicated to those who lost their lives.

There is so much history surrounding the famine; I am in no way an expert on this subject, however I will give a small introduction to what I learned. I URGE everyone, however, to really research the famine and learn more about the impact of the British. From turning their backs on the Irish, to the mass deaths and immigration produced by the famine, it is sad to think so many deaths could have been prevented with the aid of the British. Although there are no set numbers recorded of how many actually died, it in fact wiped out most of the population in Ireland and contributed to the huge Irish population now in Boston and other cities.

In the mid 1840’s, the farming of potatoes was the number one food resource for the mainly poor inhabitants of Ireland, as the crop yielded a high supply in rough growing conditions. Additionally, the potato was a nutritious food that these people could live from almost every meal of the day including their livestock. From 1845 to 1849, potato blight hit the crops, rotting them inedible and spreading to the rest of the potato crops across the nation, as the disease thrived in damp conditions. The potatoes that did survive drastically increased in price, leaving the Irish population starving. Then, disease spread, killing the already weak and starved Irish trying to survive.

To get an understanding of how much the Irish depended on potatoes, I researched this excerpt from The Great Irish Potato Famine website:

A working man would eat 14lb (6.5kg) of potatoes a day. A family with 4 children would consume 5 tons of potatoes per annum with any excess going to the pigs or chickens. An acre of manured land yielded roughly 12 tons of potatoes.

During this period of time, Ireland was ruled by Britain; the British did not extend a helping hand to those in need as they should have. Ireland was exporting much of their resources to Britain, and wealthy British landowners were living large on Irish land while the Irish were living in mud huts. Instead of assisting with grants, Britain extended loans and opened workhouses, saying the Irish would have to earn their money. The starving Irish were told to build stone walls from the base of a mountain to the top; walls that had no purpose. Seeing as these people were starving and weak, it was much harder on them than someone who was well-fed and strong. While driving through the countryside in Burren, we were able to see some of these “famine walls,” as they still stand today.

famine wall
Picture taken by Gail Bjork. I did not take any pictures of the famine walls as I drove past them.

One interesting and extremely sad fact I learned was that during the famine, the Queen had donated a small amount of money to help assist those starving from the famine, but then made a donation twice the size to a British dog charity. Also, the Ottoman Empire tried donating money but the Queen denied the full amount, stating she had already donated money. The Ottoman Empire sent ships full of food to Ireland instead, and the British tried blocking them from being received. Irish were evicted for not being able to pay their rent, others immigrated on “coffin ships,” ships that were built poorly and many died on. Even more sad, other crops were still being grown such as grain, however the British insisted they stay as exports and not food for the starving. Instead, cheap corn normally used as livestock feed was imported for the dying to eat.

Throughout Ireland, you can see burial stones dotting the hills and cemeteries. These stones mark where mass graves are located; no one knows how many are buried in these spots, as it can be a family or a community.

burial rocks

There are famine memorials throughout the country:

A boat depicting dead souls…
famine memorial

famine memorial

A sight where dead bodies were found during a walk between cities, which is also where the annual famine walk takes place. When visiting, you are supposed to leave a stone on the memorial in honor of those who passed…

famine memorial

Emaciated figures walking towards the ships in Dublin as if they were immigrating in hopes to save themselves…

famine memorial



Like I said, there is so much history on the famine, and it goes much deeper than what I wrote. It is a sad and painful mark on history that I truly believe everyone should read into if not already educated on. Based on the monuments and how locals speak of the famine, it is however a subject you get the strong sense of unity among the Irish from. It is something locals of any county in Ireland take pride in memorializing, as they have found strength in their country’s past tragedy.

A HUGE thanks to Shamrocker Adventures, and my amazing tour guide Dave, for hosting my travels and teaching me on the tragedies of Irish history; it definitely made an impact. All opinions, like always, are my own.

About The Roaming Bean (109 Articles)
You're probably wondering what the heck is a "Roaming Bean"... Given that I am clearly not a Bean, and my name is Jen, what gives with this Bean thing, right? A friend of mine called me JenBean as a child, and it kinda stuck. Actually, it really stuck... even my license plate says Jenbean. And seeing as I have this grand lust to wander the world, The Roaming Bean seemed suitable. I've changed my career path more times than I have my underwear (minus all the times I've gone commando).... from animating, to forensic pathology, to international business, to fashion marketing and even to my wonderful and favorite of the bunch, degree in culinary arts, nothing kept my attention. Nothing was fun enough to do every day for the rest of my life. I mean, even though I cooked for celebrities in the heart of Hollywood, CA, why the hell would I want to sweat my ass off in a ridiculously HOT kitchen for most of the day and go home smelling like beef and onions? And the chef hat?? Do you know what that did to my hair?? Enter traveling.... The rainy day I descended down the tower of Notre Dame in Paris, gripping on to the railing for dear life so not to slip and tumble to an early death from the torrential down pour that was causing a small flood in the stairwell, my life changed. When I safely made it to the ground, legs shaky from an apparent lack of fitness it requires to walk up and down 387 steep stairs, I realized my hands were stained a delightful copper color from the rusted hand rail I had so dearly clung to. Desperate to get the icky stuff off my supple hands, and no running water in sight, I did what any other hopeless idiot would have done: I washed my hands in the nearest Parisian gutter. It was that moment that changed my life... I threw away my hair dryer, my rolling luggage and my dignity. I let my hair go natural, I bought a back pack and I CAMPED through Europe for a month and a half. Yes my friends, I crossed over into a savage traveling beast. Ok, a lot of people travel that way. But I didn't. And I'm so incredibly thankful for that rainy day in Paris that made me realize the world is a pretty sweet place. That realization led me on a quest; a quest to get out there, see things, soak up some local culture and eat my way around the world (with minimal food-related illnesses, such as but not limited to raging diarrhea).

5 Comments on The Irish Potato Famine & the Memorials of Today

  1. I’ve just finished a novel about a family that escapes Ireland in 1847. I’m trying to find a British cargo ship during that era for my ebook cover. The ship will be set on fire by Irish rebels. Can you help?

  2. You might find the book “The Little Ice Age” by Brian Fagan to be interesting. There’s a chapter on the famine, showing how the combined effects of politics, economics, single-crop dependencies, and environment all played into the horrible situation.


3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

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