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By 1801, the population of Ireland was about 5 million. Forty years later in 1841 the census revealed a population of 8,175,124. (See census page.) As the population grew, farms were subdivided and dwindled in size. Many farming families lived on potatoes and little else. In 1845, blight affected the potato crop in widely separated areas. The following year it appeared throughout the whole country. The potatoes rotted in the ground, throughout the country the air was filled with the stench of the rotting tubers, and many people faced starvation.

Charles Tteveleyan permanent Head of Treasury under Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, introduced relief schemes in the poorest areas to enable people to earn enough money to buy maize that the government imported from the United States. Maize is a grain which needs to be ground exceptionally finely to deliver its nutritional value, the Irish did not have the means to do this, the coarsely ground maize passing through their systems largely undigested. These measures proved to be totally inadequate, and the next government, under Lord John Russell, had to distribute food free of charge. But these relief measures were also inadequate. Hundreds of thousands died, along the roadsides or in their huts, where sometimes entire families lay unburied, their corpses gnawed upon by stray dogs and rats. In a hovel in County Mayo a old woman was found barely alive with parts of the arms and face eaten off by rats, she died shortly after.


Famine 1