Irish Genocide of 1845-1852

By Caden Potter

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The Event

The year is 1844, Ireland. A mold, know as Phytophthora infestans, infests the Irish cash crop, the potato, spreading via way of contaminated water. This "Potato Blight" was bad on its own, and had struck Central Europe in the years prior, however 3 key factors escalated the situation in Ireland gravely.


  • To start with, the Irish Catholic population was primarily lower class, as a result of British Penal Laws that prevented them from basic rights like owning or leasing land, running for public office, obtaining a education, and pursuing a profession.
  • Secondly, the Irish populus relied heavily on the crop: those families that were considered upper class used the crop as a source of profit, while the majority working class families used the potato to pay for rent to their landlords, as well as using it as their main source of food.
  • Third and finally, the British also relied heavily on the potato crop coming out of Ireland, and when the Blight struck potato crops in Central Europe during the early 1840's, the British government felt as though this supply was in jeopardy. This resulted in some very drastic measures, with the British government going as far as sending military regiments to go and collect what was left of the Irish's surplus supply.

These 3 key factors led to many Irish citizens to outright lose the ability to pay for simply necessities. Kicked out of their homes by their landlords, and lacking money, food, and housing, these people were given 2 options, as stated in An Argument that the Irish Famine was Genocide by an unknown author, "Starving Irish peasants tried to eat the rotten potatoes and fell ill to cholera and typhus and whole villages were struck down." and "Other families were sent to workhouses where the overcrowding and poor conditions led to more starvation, sickness, and ultimately death." Others still, who had sympathetic landlords, were sent via ship to the Americas or Australia. These ships, known as coffin ships, were packed to capacity with Irish imigrants and sent off on several-month long journeys, of which only two thirds of the passengers would survive. Ultimately, these events ended with 1 million Irish dead, and 1 million more displaced to foreign countries.

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Britain’s Secret History: The Irish Holocaust

In this article, Sean Adl-Tabatabai reports on the events of the Irish Potato Famine, supporting the stance that the Famine was actually a Genocide, and that it was put forth by the British Government. He cited numerous sources, including an account from Prime Minister Lord John Russell on the restriction on the surplus goods of Ireland, saying "Free trade’ decreed that no government surplus food – no ‘welfare’ – be given to the starving, in order to leave the market for food undisturbed." He also details how the British used their Military power to enforce this policy and remove the surplus goods at a rate of 40 to 70 shiploads a day, with at least 100,000 British soldiers dedicated to this task at any given time. He goes on to say that the British's exploitation and enforcement of this 'free trade' principle to deprive the starving of said surplus goods gave the Irish no other alternative than to try their luck at starving, working in a workhouse, or sailing on a coffin ship to a foreign country. He rounds his article out by citing that "According to the definitions of the Geneva Convention, what happened in Ireland between 1845-50 was Genocide. During those ‘potato famine years’ – food was systematically removed from the shores of Ireland, a policy conducted in full awareness that it was starving the population," and that this resulted in the death and displacement of roughly 3 million Irish.

Whistling In The Wind: Was the Irish Famine Genocide?

In this article, Robert Nielsen takes a stance questioning if the Famine in Ireland was in fact genocide. In particular, Nielsen questions the primary source of those in favor of calling the famine a genocide, a book by Tim Pat Coogan called The Famine Plot. This claims that the famine was not a natural disaster, but in fact a deliberate act by the British to destroy the Irish people and claim the land. The book also covers the alleged export of the surplus goods form Ireland by Britain. However, these statements, Nielsen explains, are extremely difficult to prove true or false, as records from the time either never existed or were lost long ago.
The Irish Potato Famine Explained: World History Review

Media Bias in Articles

If you examine the first article, you will find an immense amount of evidence in support of the claim that it was a genocide. You will not, however find any items in defense of Great Britain. This lack of any sort of mention in favor of the opposing view results in an article that is heavily one sided. In addition to this, the first article also focuses heavily on looking at Britain's supposed use of the military to enforce the 'free trade' policy. The author delves deeply into this single aspect of the event, and, while a large factor in the event, creates an anchoring bias in the process.

Criticisms of the Event

Due to the nature of the Anglo-Irish relationship at the time, which is to say that the two groups did not, and still do not see eye to eye on many things, many parts of the event were thrown exponentially out of proportion. The British generally saw the Irish as lesser people, often taking advantage of this and exploiting them. The Penal Laws imposed by the British, for instance, prevented Irish citizens from doing many things, like going to school, owning land, or pursuing a profession; things that we generally take for granted. The Irish were treated this way because of where they came from; who their people were in the past, and that is the definition of Cultural Criticism.


Feeding off of the last criticism, one could argue Historical Criticism played a major role as well. The British felt harshly toward the Irish due to the two groups checkered past. Britain still distrusted the Irish even 47 years after the events of the Irish Rebellion in 1798. In the eyes of Britain, Irish citizens were seen as criminals, and often treated as such. On top of that, the prior history and differences between the Catholic and Anglican churches only fueled the hatred and distrust, to the point of prolonged violence, as was most notable in the case of the Tithe War of 1830. By 1845, Anglo-Irish tension was at a tipping point, and any past trust was long since gone.

References

Nielsen, R. (2013, March 05). Was The Irish Famine Genocide? Retrieved May 11, 2016, from https://whistlinginthewind.org/2013/03/05/was-the-irish-famine-genocide/


A, A. (n.d.). The Irish Famine was Genocide. Retrieved May 11, 2016, from http://www.irishhistorylinks.net/History_Links/IrishFamineGenocide.html


O. (1995). Official British Intent. Retrieved May 11, 2016, from http://www.irishholocaust.org/officialbritishintent