The Great Irish Famine

Topics: England

British Government during the great famine of Ireland between 1845 and 1852. It will look at the political Ideology that Inspired the public relief works and how they failed to offer relief from starvation, but instead focused on bringing about social change inspired by largely an anti;Loris sentiment. It will also examine the role of the soup kitchen’s that were set up to attack famine conditions directly and how this represented and exposed the Governments lies that they in fact could have done more to prevent the deaths of so many.

Considered is also the role in which Free Trade had during the famine period, when food was needed most It continued to leave the country, only for the food that did arrive to be highly out of reach for those destitute whys only Income was from the largely unsuccessful Public Relief works. At the turn of 1 840 it was estimated that the population of Ireland stood at approximately eight million. By this time, some 40% of the population were dependent on the potato for food and even employment.

When the blight hit Ireland In September 1 845 the consequence for the Irish poor would be devastating, but as he famine of 1782-84 demonstrated, manageable, provided the government responded in the correct way . By late 1846 famine conditions were spread throughout Ireland, but most notably the famine had took on a regional dimension, hitting places worst In the South and West. Already suffering from the effects of decline In trade, poverty was already well planted In places like Cosmonaut, In the West, and Muenster, In the South, years before the blight struck.

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As consequence, employment moved eastward to Dublin which left many unemployed on the eve of famine. This slump in industry was also evilly felt in Britain following the collapse of the railway and corn trade in 1847-1848. This prompted anti-Irish sentiment when coupled with famine relief. The Times condemned any further British aid to Ireland, labeling It as an unfair burden on England and a ‘misplaced humanity Annihilating Irish self-reliance .

This Industrial depression coincided with the failure of the potato crop and was not exclusive to Ireland. It left many out of work and increased their vulnerability to such an unforeseen event, leading to mass destitution . Ireland, under British control from 1 800, was often treated poorly and even referred o as the ‘Prodigal son’ of the united Kingdom. With many now out of work and beginning to starve, government intervention was desperately needed.

Lord John Russell – who later became Prime Minister in 1846 – Insisted that the responsibility of relief lay on the shoulders of Irish landlords who ought to provide employment for the poor . However, following the severe crop failures between 1845 and 1848, combined with the slump in trade, landlords were more concerned with trying to off load surplus workers teen could Darrel Nora to pay.. Sir John Peel stated to parliament his wish to take advantage of this calamity for introducing among the people of Ireland the taste for a better and more certain provision for their support… ND thereby diminishing the chances to which they will be constantly liable, of recurrences of this great and mysterious visitation. ‘ He believed that Ireland was full of resources that only required entrepreneurship and a reinvigorated industry to be released and that the potato enabled the Irish population to maintain an alleged lazy and indolent lifestyle leaving no incentive for the Irish farmers to modernism their agriculture or the economy .

Peel was convinced that Ireland’s problems lay in root of their social backwardness. He saw maize, which would be cheaply imported from America, as a permanent substitute for the potato in the Irish diet, and insisted that the rural poor had to become landless laborers, working for wages on the land of substantial farmers. He was confident that if social reorganization was accompanied by the challenge of free trade, private corn merchants would develop the maize trade after it was freed thus propelling Ireland out of poverty .

Following his vision, many local peasants on the brink of destitution were cleared from the lands which offered them shelter and were forced into icebreakers work which was supposed to offer relief, a lack of intervention in the trade industry would allow the continuation of food exports whilst raising the prices of what did enter the country and many would be left to starve as the soup kitchens that proved to be successful in attacking the famine, were shut down due to their lack of social re-organization. Relief in Ireland was more focused on how to reorder society than how to fight famine.

The British Government conceded that the Irish poor needed help, motivated by the view that the local landlords had failed in their duty. After little research by George Nicholls, a Commissioner of the English Poor, the new Irish Poor Law was set in place. Based on the old British Poor Law, The aim was not only for providing relief, but was equally, if not more so, set on bringing about much desired social changes in Ireland, whilst also keeping the role of the government to a minimum . The main provisions of the 1838 Act dictated that the country would be split in to one hundred and thirty new unions.

Each union must set up a workhouse for its local population, which would be overseen by the Assistant Commissioners who were to implement the act in Ireland, following the extension of the existing Poor Law Commissioners’ powers to Ireland. They would then create a Board of Guardians in each Union, two-thirds would be elected and the other third was to be appointed. They would also help oversee the collection of a local poor-rate to finance the work house system as well as raise the funds for the assisted emigrations that also took place .

By making relief a local charge, the government was able to realize the long- held aspiration that Irish property should support Irish poverty. Sir Charles I reversal – commander In cancel AT Tamale reelect – was also a strong advocate AT transferring the financial burden for relief on to the Poor Law. He felt that by placing the responsibility upon the local ratepayers, fewer instances of abuse and over- spending were likely to occur . After 1846 the government chose public work as a means of alleviating the distress.

This policy was seen as disastrous. The workhouses were designed to house approximately 100,000 destitute people, which fell well short of the 2,400,000 the royal commission had declared in 1836 as to be in a state of poverty. The works were of little benefit to the community, and as mechanism for saving lives they failed massively . Aimed at discouraging ‘pauperism’ by a harsh regime of work, diet and aggregation by age and sex , the workhouse system suited Sir John Peels vision for social change and long-term improvement in Ireland .

A large criticism was aimed at the cost compared to the effect the workhouses had on fighting the conditions of famine. By March 1847 the total cost of the works had reached almost and was generally considered to have been largely squandered, providing neither long term benefit to Ireland, nor short term relief to the poor . During the winter of 1846-47 relief in the work houses was dependent on undertaking hard, physical labor and wages were paid according to labor employed.

This put those who were already weak or debilitated by malnutrition, at a disadvantage. In response to the high admittances, wages were grossly inadequate at less than eight pence per day and made what food that was available on the private market unobtainable due to the rising prices thanks to the government’s lack of intervention in free trade. The poor and overcrowded conditions of the workhouses also contributed to the spread of fever which added to the death toll brought about by famine conditions.

James Hack Take, on a humanitarian mission to Dongle in the inter of 1846, recalls the state of the workhouses he visited…. The day before they had but one meal of oatmeal and water, and at the time of our visit had not sufficient food in the house for the days supply…. Their bedding consisted of dirty straw, in which they were laid in rows on the floor; even as many as six persons being crowded under one rug; and we did not see a blanket at all. The rooms were hardly bearable for filth.

The living and the dying were stretched side by side beneath the same miserable covering. No wonder that disease and pestilence were filling the infirmary and that the pale, haggard countenance of the or boys and girls told of sufferings, which it was impossible to contemplate without pity . I en puddle works were ten single most expensive Item AT Famine reelect prop the British and resulted in a further change of policy . In February 1847 The Temporary Relief Act was introduced and Soup Kitchens were opened throughout Ireland to distribute free food.

The significance of their arrival is important for various reasons. Following the slump in industry of 1847 which left many English factory closed, Travelers insisted that the London Treasury did not possess the adequate finances to aid British unemployment, and certainly did not assess the administrative capability or finance to feed such a large number of starving people in Ireland. He also added in response to the public works, that no government had done more to support its poor than Britain had done during the famine years .

However, Parliament voted that would be donated to the Temporary Relief act which at its peak saw over 3 million people receive food rations daily, making it individually the most availed of the relief measure. In addition to that, the administrative machinery which supported the system had been assembled in less than two months. This relief scheme contradicted Traversal’s claims, and proved that the British government did possess the financial and administrative ability to provide direct relief to starvation on a massive scale – and in comparison to the public workhouses, at relatively little cost.

The soup kitchens were not entirely popular, however, at a public meeting attended by local landowners in Rescission, they criticized the Temporary Relief Act for demoralizing the poor and leaving them free to idleness and acts of crime. ‘ As had been a common theme in the Government’s handling of the famine crisis, regaining social order would take precedent. The soup kitchens were subsequently closed on the 30th of September.

For those now denied the direct relief of starvation, the government ordered that all able-bodied men in receipt of poor relief were to be made to work on the roads as a test of destitution, and were packed back in to the workhouses where deaths reached up to 2,500 per week . Had Travelers been intent only on saving lives, the soup kitchens could have been brought in far sooner and sustained for longer than they were. Instead, he stuck to his political ideology of social reform and insisted that Irish relief was now the turn of the Irish ratepayers .

The policy choice made by the government denied people successful relief that had showed to be maintaining improved health in Ireland. The government’s denial not only failed to save lives, but allowed mass starvation that – had been proven to be commutable – to continue . It is also important to consider the role of Free Trade that continued throughout the famine era. John Mitchell – a follower of the Young Ireland party who strongly opposed the British and Whig Government – often criticized the free role private merchants were allowed to take in exporting Irish resources at a time when every little scrap was needed.

He repeatedly made the point that ‘a government ship sailing Into any Rills port Walt Animal corn was sure to meet anal a cozen galling out Walt Irish wheat and cattle ‘. However, this was not entirely correct and in fact during the famine as much food was imported in to Ireland, than that which left it; The Inns Gram Trade 1843-48 on 1000 tons) Year Exports Imports 1843480 15 1844424 30 1845 513 28 1846 1847 284 146 197 889 1848 314 439 Although food did continue to leave Ireland, it also continued to arrive Just as frequently in the years it was required most .

But Mitchell sentiments were still the name, why was food allowed to leave Ireland at all? The answer argued by John Percival is that; ‘… The export of food to England and Scotland was crucial to the Irish economy… Loris farmers depended on the English market for many years and Irish traders had made a good living out of it. Had they not done so, Ireland would have been even poorer than it was, and poverty was also the root of the famine problem… ‘ The decision by the government not to interfere in Irish trade was motivated by an ideological commitment to free trade.

In 1846 the corn harvest was below average, not Just in Ireland but throughout Europe. This meant that there were less surplus foods available for sale. As a consequence, the demand for existing supplies was heavy. The removal of protective legislation – set by the British Tories in 1845 – allowed other European countries to purchases supplies within Britain and between the years of 1846-49 grain exports to Europe increased. Some of this grain originated in Ireland. At the same time, many European ports were closed to exports in an effort to protect their own supplies.

The policy was an attempt to appease Irish merchants, who felt their position had been undermined by the Tory government intervention in he market place in 1845 and to help reinvigorate the Irish economy which could help alleviate the strain felt on the London Treasury help claw Ireland out of poverty. The lack of restrictive legislation and a strong attitude committed to political ideology compounded the problem of food shortages and helped further increase famine conditions . But want tout ten T Tanat was Imported In to Ireland?

For tense won required It most, it was often out of reach due to the high prices placed on food following a cumbersome body of legislation, including the Navigation Acts . The effect of this act as to hamper the free movement of goods, and it acted as a ceiling on the amount of food that could be imported into Ireland at any one time. This increased the cost of freight charges on the import ships which in turn increased the cost of the goods being delivered. After the harvest of 1846, they rose to three time their usual rate. In the winter of 1846-47, food prices rose dramatically.

They only started to fall in the spring of 1847. By this time, it was too late for many Irish people, whose only source of income had been the low-paid public works where wages were too low to sustain life. In the winter of 1846, both combined, the poor handling of Irish Trade and the lack of finance provided for wages’ on the public works, left an estimated 400,000 dead, either directly or indirectly, through want of food . It is clear then, that the British Government were more inspired by political and economic ideology than simply trying to fight the conditions of famine.

The Irish Poor Law that introduced the public relief, most notable the workhouses, were always destined to fall short due to their lack of capacity to hold those were already confirmed as destitute . Inside the workhouses conditions were appalling. The backbreaking work coupled with shortages of food left the inmates malnourished and left them vulnerable to the spreading diseases which were rife, and thus resulted in high fatalities. For those who did manage to survive and endure stints in the workhouses there was little reward.

With so many occupants the wage return for such grueling work was far from rewarding and not enough to live on due to the rising food prices brought about by the government’s insistence not to interfere with free trade. Singly the most expensive form of relief, the workhouses had failed to alleviate the distress. In a turn of policy by the Government, Soup kitchens were set up to directly combat starvation. It had proved successful in maintaining life and at relatively little cost -particularly in comparison to the public works- to government.

The soup kitchens also exposed the Government’s attitude toward Ireland. Travelers insisted that the needs of British industry should come first and that the finance or organization to implement further relief was something the British didn’t have. Shortly after this the Temporary Relief act received a injection from parliament to fund the Soup Kitchens. This was less than half the figure that had been spent on the workhouses and took Just two months for the kitchens to be operational. This proved that the government did have the means to offer more to the people of Ireland.

Closing the kitchens that had been highly successful in saving lives and combating starvation was a death sentence to many. The government consciously chose to deny people relief that was successful in keeping people alive, thus the closures marked that Travelers was wrong in his insistence that little more could be done. Instead the kitchens Just didn’t suit Traversal’s vision of moral and social order. If the sole intention was to save people from starvation then the kitchens should have been opened sooner and for longer.

Trade was also handled poorly in response to famine conditions, but as a part of government policy to Invigorate ten economy was allowed to continue ten export AT much name T supplies. Motivated by the vision that trade could help propel Ireland out of poverty, it continued at a high price. By the time food arrived in Ireland the regulations set in place by the government raised the prices of cargo. For what food that did arrive in Ireland was far too expensive for those in receipt of wages on the public works.

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The Great Irish Famine. (2017, Nov 28). Retrieved from

The Great Irish Famine
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