Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Irish Famine of the 1740's

An early famine which prefigured the Great Hunger one hundred years later. From Historical Writings:
It started with a Great Frost in December 1739 and went on to September 1741. Temperatures across Ireland and Europe plummeted to -12 °C indoors, and as high as -32°C outdoors. Little snow fell, as the winds increased, and temperatures dropped even further. Ireland and most of Europe had been affected, as rivers, lakes and streams froze, and the fish died in the first few weeks of this natural disaster.

Hypothermia was the greatest fear; people burned what they could to stay alive. Country dwellers fared better, as many properties were of wooden construction, and they burned trees to keep warm. In normal weather conditions, Ireland received shipments of coal from Wales and Scotland, but the weather temporarily suspended deliveries. By late January 1740, when shipments had resumed, prices had soared, above most people’s pockets.

Much machinery in those days was powered by water, and the sub-zero temperatures brought them to a halt. Like the food processing plants, cloth for the weavers, and paper for the printers. Then Ireland was plunged into darkness, when the oil froze, and the street lights were snuffed out.

Ireland had two main food sources; potato and oatmeal. Potatoes were grown in gardens and on farms, but most had been attacked by the frost and destroyed. In the spring of 1740, the rains did not come, the frost dissipated, but the fierce cold winds remained. If the cold had not killed off the livestock; sheep and cattle etc, the drought was the final straw.

In the summer of 1740, the people of Ireland faced a famine of the likes they had never experienced … The frost had killed the potato harvest. The drought killed off the grain harvest, cattle and sheep. People were starving, and food was becoming scarce. There started a mass exit out of Northern Ireland, heading to the south of the country, where beggars lined the streets. (Read more.)

No comments: