Starving to Death: the “luck” of the Irish

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. This morning Jackie of the Auburn Meadow Farm posted regarding the event that many of us know as the Potato Famine. I find it fascinating but also chilling to learn about the reliance on mono-crops and the influence of wealthy industry in that great tragedy. Can we learn from this?

Auburn Meadow Farm

“The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine.”

— Irish national activist, solicitor & political journalist, John Mitchel



My family came to America from Ireland in the early 1900’s so you’d think I’d have some firsthand tales to tell about the Great Hunger. But, alas, my family is not a sharer of stories, photos or heirlooms handed down from one generation to the next.

They say history is written by the victors, and mylack of understanding of the Irish Potato Famine proves this true.  This day every year when all Americans are honorary Irishmen is a perfect time to reflect on the actual history of the most influential Irish event I know.

Of course what we call the Irish Potato Famine, the Irish instead call the Great Starvation. The Irish rejection of the term Famine is very specific; a famine is a natural disaster. And…

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  1. Good article. Glad you reposted it. Sad that the travesties of 150 years ago are still being repeated today.

    • I didn’t know this history Nancy and I am very concerned about the lack of diversity in our crops. This really puts it home in terms of what establishing your farms around a single crop can do.

  2. Thank you for sharing this with us, Tammy. I didn’t know the details about it . .it makes St. Patrick’s Day a little meaningful.

    • Yes it does. It’s an important lesson Debbie that we need to be able to evangelize.

  3. Great post! My father’s family is from the providence of Ulster Ireland. They migrated from Scotland. My dad’s uncle was the keeper of the family history. It is very sad & amazing his family survived. Thanks so much for the post.

    • You’re welcome. You’re so lucky to have a family that is a keeper of heritage. This is something that I didn’t know about.

  4. Can we?!?! I so wonder. I also hope we don’t ever find out!


  5. Lisa H

     /  March 19, 2013

    That was a great piece of history. We should all pause and consider the consequences of how we grow our food and who is in control of the food supply. Small farmers are being priced out of the market due to subsidies given to larger farms (they have the lobbyists with money!). I keep buying from the small farms, hoping that my contribution combined with others will truly make a difference.
    On a lighter note, I hope you had a great St. Patrick’s day and enjoyed your Irish meal!

    • It’s a history that I wasn’t aware of Lisa but I feel so much more knowledgable having read this. The idea that a mono crop was partially responsible for the wipe out of a people is amazing. It’s a great argument for crop diversity and one that we should keep at our fingertips.

  6. Thanks for reposting the article, Tammy. I read some of the history of beef and cattle in Ireland in the Smithsonian on Sunday, but it does go light on the English.

    • And I duly note that no English are commenting! It’s was eye-opening for me to read.

  7. I’ll be heading to her blog now…But before that, I was always fascinated by Ireland. The great stretch of lands with flowers, pubs, beer- the cold sea, handsome men, romantic accent and romanticism every where- the quaint homes, the roadside shrines on which some old man gathers flowers and cares to put it in a vase…the border collies…Tammy I can just go on…

    • Rukmini, I want to hear what you think. You have an interesting history also where the monarchy is concerned. I had heard and learned about the famine but never that it was because a mono-crop was forced upon a people. That’s interesting and important for both of us to know so that we can advocate in the future.

  8. Tammy, great post/re-posting. My mom was 1/2 Irish, 1/2 Scots-Irish and I did know a lot of this history, but not all of it. The English oppression of Ireland was outrageous. So much of this article made me wonder where our current plutocracy is headed. I AM much more hopeful than I was 6 years ago, to be sure, but make no doubt, we still live in a plutocracy. This article really made my heart ache. I’m very proud of my Irish heritage – not because of all the silliness we see here on St. Patrick’s Day, but because of the beautiful poetic land and the heart-filled poets, drunks, bards and saints of that sainted Isle. Thanks so very much!

    • I’ve never been although I’m not sure why given that I lived and traveled through the UK for years. The thing that struck me was the issue of it having been a mono-crop and the control and I can certainly imagine a situation that might be similar.

  9. What a great article! I am happy that I read it! thanks for posting this!


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