Irish Famine (1879)

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The Irish famine of 1879 was the last main Irish famine. Unlike the earlier Great Famines of 1740-1741 and 1845-1849 the 1879 famine (sometimes called the "mini-famine" or An Gorta Beag) caused hunger rather than mass deaths, due to changes in the technology of food production, different structures of land-holding (the disappearance of the sub-division of land and of the cottier class as a result of the earlier great famine), income from Irish emigrants abroad which was sent to relatives back in Ireland, and in particular a prompt response of the British government, which contrasted with its Laissez faire response to the earlier Great Famine of 1845-1852.

Radical Irish Member of Parliament Charles Stewart Parnell of the Home Rule League (later its leader), Michael Davitt of the Irish Land League and some Irish clergy, notably Bishop Logue of Raphoe were actively involved in campaigning to put pressure on the British government and in the distribution of aid.[1] Since the famine of the 1840s a railway system had been built, allowing food to be transported to the west of Ireland in days instead of months.

Unlike earlier famines, what is sometimes called the "mini-famine" of 1879 was not marked by many deaths, mainly increased hunger, and was largely focused in the west of Ireland, in the province of Connacht. It was, however, part of a wider series centre of food shortages and crop failures which swept Ireland in the 1870s to early 1890s, notably food shortages in 1877-78, 1885 and 1889-90. Other countries in the period also experienced famines and food shortages due also to crop failure, with some climatologists suggesting a series of unusual weather patterns, including extremes of weather (very dry or very wet summers, very mild or very cold winters), had triggered off problems with the growth of food, making easy the spread of disease among plants or killing off new seeds. Alone among these failed Irish harvests, the greater scale of the failure of the harvest in 1879 led it to be called a 'famine'.

Though it was of a far smaller scale to either of the two Great Famines, its appearance caused widespread panic among Irish people; many of the adults of the period had experienced the Great Famine of 1845-1849 as children and were terrified that their families faced a repeat of the widespread deaths, and in particular a repeat of Black '47 was happening. An increase in emigration occurred, as did a move from foodless parts of rural Ireland into major cities and towns. However the population moves proved temporary. With the re-appearance of the harvest in 1880 many of those who had fled to urban centres repopulated the areas they had left.

Historians have noted the appearance of a religious revival during the famine months, most famously the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary along with two saints at a church in Knock in County Mayo. Knock developed as Ireland's internationally known Marian shrine in subsequent decades as a result of the alleged apparition.

Because of the short period it covered, and the low number of deaths compared to the earlier great famines, the 1879 famine is rarely remembered in Irish history, except as a footnote to the battle for the 'Three 'Fs' (fair rent, fixity of tenure, free sale) being waged by Davitt and the Land League, and as a factor that started the Land War of the late 1870s and early 1880s.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Herald of Relief from America". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 September 2010.