the great irish famine

This DVD is a dramatised documentary about a family from mid Ulster during the Great Irish Potato Famine from 1845-1849.  John Kane, his wife and 8 children had a small farm during the mid 1800s - this is their story.  This DVD is part of the history curriculum in almost every school in Ireland.

Between the years 1845—1849 the whole of Ireland was in the grip of the Great Irish Potato Famine caused by a deadly disease which struck the potato crop.  The blight first appeared as dark brown spots on the potato leaves, was washed down the stalks by rain and rotted the potatoes growing in the ground.    The Great Irish Potato Famine began in the Autumn of 1845 but caused the most devastation in 1846 when the Winter of that year was particularly harsh.   The Great Irish Potato Famine caused the death of over a million people from hunger and    between 1845 and 1855 caused another two million to emigrate to America and Canada.   The Great Irish Potato Famine was worst in parts of the South and West of Ireland although few parts of the country escaped entirely.

3000 years ago, potatoes were growing wild on the plains of America.   Over 300 years ago Drake or Raleigh (No-one is quite sure which) brought them to Ireland.   One thing is sure and that was the potato was soon to become the main food crop here and was largely responsible for the population explosion.    In 1700 there were 4 million people living in Ireland.   A Cencus taken in 1841 revealed that the population had grown to 8.1 million.  Many historians have said that number could have been as high as 10 million. There is no doubt that a large number of these people depended on the potato as a sole means of survival.   One benefit the potato had over crops like oats and barley, was that it could grow in the poorest of soil, even today in rural Ireland potato rigs can still be seen near to the tops of mountains.   A potato rig was  made by turning a sod which had first been fertilized with cow or horse manure over, a nick was made in the soil and a potato seed planted into the nick.   More earth was added as the potato grew.

A good man with a spade could have made an acre of rigs in a week, which could have sustained his family for the full year.   Milk, butter and buttermilk added to the diet and people were healthy and happy.  For centuries, cow, donkey and horse dung were piled up in middens and used as a fertilizer to make the crops grow bigger and better.   Near the coast seaweed was harvested for this purpose and even today people still use well rotted horse and cow manure in their vegetable gardens.   By 1840 newspaper advertisements were urging farmers to use artificial manure which it was claimed could double their crop of potatoes.   This artificial fertilizer was called Guano and most likely came from Peru.  It was the accumulation of seabird droppings over many centuries, was mined, brought over here by the shipload and was a very successful manure with high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, ideal for growing large crops of potatoes.    Unfortunaly, although never fully proved, the Guano was blamed for bringing the Potato blight which caused The Great Irish Potato Famine.