This image portrays the hardships brought on by the potato famine that drastically affected the Irish people. The potato famine not only caused starvation, but also brought other factors such as poverty. The potato was practically a source of life for the Irish people. Not only was it used in everyday meals, but it was also a cash crop and source of revenue for many. Once the potato’s became infested with blight they became useless to the Irish people who’s lives depended on them.

 Over one million Irish citizens died from 1845 to 1852 as a result of The Great Famine which struck terror into the heart of the citizens and blight across the nations potato crops. Irish families and farmers already struggling to survive and make ends meet were forced out of their land and were in a constant search for a job. Roaming townland to townland performing tedious and laboring agricultural work, many Irish families had to bond together to survive. Along with this nomadic life often came hunger, poverty and debt. These were some of the many hardships that the Irish faced during the Nineteenth Century.  The devastating hardships the Irish faced throughout the nineteenth century was a result of the Great Famine and the controlling and manipulating British government. It is obvious that the Great Famine heavily impacted the Irish people during the time of struggle but the British government and their authoritarian laws perhaps made the effects worse thus resulting in a greater negative impact on the Irish people. By analyzing some of these authoritarian policies such as those under the  “Irish Poor Law System”, policies regarding community and labor, and economy while comparing the effects of those policies on the Irish people that lead  them to poverty, hunger, and emigration, it can be seen that British Government was responsible for the magnitude of devastation and struggles the Irish faced in the nineteenth century.

Along with the battle of survival amongst the Irish people, they were also desperately working on moving away from British rule and religious prosecution. In 1801, Britain took gained control of Ireland’s government with the Act of Union. Since then until about 1922, British Parliament and government oversaw the Irish people and often discriminated against Irish Catholics. With the control over the land and economic powers, Great Britain made it hard for the Irish people to gain economic stability and quickly led to their down spiral of poverty. Irish were practically forced to the country side in which they would travel in groups with their families from townland to townland looking for work or economic stability (Scally, 160). Often, these vigorous journeys were made by foot and were full of hunger and distress. The emigrants lived in constant fear of eviction. Once The Great Famine shook the country and killed over a million people and forced the Irish into a deeper economic rut, Irish began immigrating to foreign countries such as the United States in search of economic gain and in hope of new beginnings. The voyage over the Northern Atlantic Ocean proved to be another hardship for the Irish emigrants. Scally states “While the mortality of the emigrant voyage cannot be compared in magnitude to the colossal atrocities of slavery and genocide, the incidence during the famine emigration of death and suffering at sea and shortly after landing was appalling enough to stun its witnesses, revolt humanitarians, and enrage even the most moderate Irish nationalist on both sides of the Atlantic.”(Scally, 218). Emigrants often were forced with travelling in overcrowded unworthy sea vessels, or “Coffin Ships”, that were usually unsanitary as well. Disease, such as cholera, quickly spread amongst the emigrants on these vessels as well serving as another factor pushing against Irish emigrants. “Once aboard ship, no emigrant had much control over his or her fate.”(Scally, 220)

“Irish emigrants on shipboard in the River Mersey, about to embark for America” c.1846


In the scholarly article “That Coming Storm: The Irish Poor Law, Colonial Biopolitics, and the Great Famine“, author David Nally aims to analyze the hardships and suffering of the Irish people throughout the Great Famine and the mid Nineteenth “within the context of an evolving “colonial bio-politics” aimed at regenerating Irish society”(Nally, 714). Part of Nally’s main argument revolves around the Irish Poor Law system and how British colonial powers took advantage of the Great Famine in efforts to reform Ireland further. Not only does Nally explore other authors arguments of colonial impact on Irish during the Great Famine, he elaborates on exactly how the government interacted with the Irish during this time of hunger and suffering.

The Irish Poor Law system was composed of laws aimed at lowering poverty that were enacted in the 1830’s and 1840’s by the British colonial government that required all Irish citizens who were receiving relief and aid to work in unpleasant workhouses under harsh conditions. The harsh conditions and the workhouses were designed in hopes that those in poverty would move to regions with higher employment. Also, another aspect of the Irish Poor-Law system  is the centralized colonial government and how it’s main focus shifted from controlling territory and it’s inhabitants to population management amongst the Irish people. The colonial government took the Great Famine and it’s hard impacts on the Irish to re-brand the Irish citizens as “unproductive” and in need of help thus providing the British government an alibi to further manipulate and control the Irish people in which they referred to as “providing aid” to these people in desperate need(Nally, 717). An eyeopening fact about the effects of British policy in Ireland is that a total of one million Irish died and two million fled from Ireland as a result of the Great Famine and which the mortality rates were largely influenced by the Laissez-Faire attitude held by the British government at the time(Nally, 718).


-In this photo above, a large group of workers are gathered outside of a workhouse. A workhouse is a factory made for Irish civilians that were in poverty whom were being forced to work by the British Government as a part of the Irish Poor-Law System. Often times, wages and work conditions were poor in these workhouses and the profits made from them would go directly to the British Government and would hardly aid the Irish people who were in need at all.


Continuing to depict the Irish Poor-Law System, the article “The Famine“, by Patrick Brantlinger, analyzes the influence of the British Government on the Irish people during the time of crisis after the Great Famine left the starving population in desperate need of aid. Brantlinger provides examples of evidence of why the starvation and suffering of the Irish people after the Great Famine was drastically increased by the lack of aid provided by the British government. The author addresses the “Laissez Faire” mindset of the British government (Brantlinger, 193) during that time in which this lack of aid led to the “Irish nationalist charge of deliberate murder or extermination -what would now be called genocide- on the part of the mainly English government” (Brantlinger, 194). Economical factors forced by the British government are also examined in this scholarly article such as the” land tenancy, subdivision, rent, and taxation”(Brantlinger, 194). Another factor that is examined in this article that led to the magnitude of Irish poverty and starvation was how the land in Ireland was divided by the British government “leaving the poor at the mercy both of the potato and of the farmers and middlemen above them, with the landlords often absent” (Brantlinger, 196).

In the novel “The End of Hidden Ireland; Rebellion, Famine, and Emigration”, author Robert James Scally argues for the hardships of the Irish people during the nineteenth century in regards to British policies and forced migration. Scally outlines some of the main conflicts amongst the Irish people and the conflicts that arose from Emigration and troubles in Ireland. One conflict in specific was the poverty and debt of the Irish community that was forced upon them . According to Scally, “debt was as intrinsic a part of the tenant-farmer’s life as the smell of manure or the fickle weather”(Scally, 36). Many of the Irish people engaged in hard physical agricultural labor for the wealthy upper class. In most townland communities where this poverty existed, many of the Irish engaged in crop sharing and shared gazing rights in order for their community to survive (Scally, 36). Within all of this poverty in Ireland arose new problems for citizens as well. Class distinctions between peasantry trying to survive and Landowners who were also in debt quickly developed. Scally states “Thus, the intensifying bitterness between the cottier-laborers and the commercial farmers became the main source of violence as the century progressed; this was as much a conflict of cultural values as of economic interests.”(Scally, 37). Coinciding with these economic hardships was The Great famine. From 1845 to 1852, blight quickly spread throughout Ireland and infected potato crops across the country. Blight practically rendered the potato useless to the Irish people. The potato served as a source of life for many Irish by supplementing them with food, in which the potato was generally the main food they ate, as well as serving as an economic source of income by selling and exporting the potatoes. The harsh policies that were enforced by the British Government and the Irish Poor-Law system revolving around the migration and control of economy heavily influenced the magnitude of the hardships stated. Such laws often forced people out of their homes and away from the coasts of Ireland thus resulting in the up-rise of mass poverty and and conflicts between the struggling community.


“Poor Law Unions of County Kilkenny (pre-1849)”

One editorial article that analyzes the emigration and famine in Ireland during the late 19th century and relates it to the role of the British government is “The Famine in Ireland”  published by the New York Times in 1861 regarding the British governments response to the crisis in Ireland.The main argument of this article mainly revolves around the desperate need for help of the Irish people being affected by the Great Famine. The article contains an excerpt from an Irish press publication that explains that without the much needed help or aid, the people of Ireland are doomed to poverty and a future of struggle. British government is also addressed for the minimal efforts or lack of aid it contributed to fight the effects of the Great Famine. The author of the article goes on to encourage Irish emigrants to escape the hardships and struggle to Ireland and come to America as well as the aid that Americans are willing to offer them in contrast to the lack of aid the British government is contributing. The article was written in the historical context of mostly contemporary views of Americans during 1861 regarding the Great Famine in Ireland. Meaning, most Americans did not quite object to Irish emigrants coming to America due to the fact that they often served as a cheap source of labor at the time because they came from Ireland desperate for work. The Irish received this invitation as a way to escape the devastating aftermath of the Great Famine. America was sought as a way to escape the harsh work laws enforced by the Irish Poor-Law system and reach financial stability they have been longing for which was barely offered due to the British Government.

To support this claim of the New York Times Article about the negative impacts of the British Government’s policy on the Irish people is the article “The Flight from Hunger” in which author Martin Chulov aims to provide readers with a closer and more in depth look into Irish Immigration in the mid nineteenth century by providing facts about the potato famine as well as analyzing the overruling British government that controlled the Irish people at the time. Chulov describes some of the many hardships the Irish people had to face that ultimately lead to the mass immigration. One fact that Chulov provides about the potato famine is that “from 1845 to 1849, more than one million people died from hunger or disease and the population of Ireland dropped by more than one-third”(Chulov, 24). Another factor that Chulov addresses is the fact that the British government had began to overrule and occupy their land. The article then goes on to explain how desperate the Irish people were to flee from poverty and hardships in Ireland. This desperation is shown by the willingness of the Irish immigrants to perform hard labor for very little pay. It is clear that the lack of aid by the overruling British Government at the time has not only failed to supply aid, as shown by the death toll caused by the famine, but also fueled the poverty of the Irish people with the policies forcing the Irish out of their land.

An issue of the British Medical Journal, published on April 24, 1897, contains an article titled “Irish Poor-Law Reform” which provides a voice for the people of whom the Irish Poor Law System was affecting the most. The main argument and purpose for this article is to reform the Irish Poor Law system and get rid of it as a whole. The article makes the claim that the Poor Law system in the country  “in many senses is a fraud”(pg 1053). The article also wish’s for the British government and British Commissioner and politician Gerald Balfour to here the pleas of the Reform committee and the public’s opinion to try to get rid of the Poor Law system in Ireland. Although not implicitly stated, this article was most likely written by Irish nationalist or those of the Reform committee at the time aiming to get their voices heard by the British Government or anyone to whom the Poor Law System involves. This article serves as evidence of the negative effects of the Poor Law system on the Irish people.

In conclusion, it is clear to see that the devastating hardships the Irish faced throughout the nineteenth century was a result of the Great Famine and the controlling and manipulating British government.  By analyzing some of these authoritarian policies such as those under the  “Irish Poor Law System”, policies regarding community and labor, and economy while comparing the effects of those policies on the Irish people that lead  them to poverty, hunger, and emigration, it can be seen that British Government was responsible for the magnitude of devastation and struggles the Irish faced in the nineteenth century. The articles and primary sources that implicitly state the negative impacts along with the articles that describe the conditions of the British policies such as forced migration, workhouses, and other policies under the Irish Poor-Law System shed light upon the negative role of the British Government on the Irish people throughout the nineteenth century.


“Miss Kennedy Distributing Clothing at Killrush,” ,

“Irish emigrants on shipboard in the River Mersey, about to embark for America” c. 1846,

“The Famine in Ireland-Peasants at the Gate of a Workhouse”.,

Walsh, Dennis . “Poor Law Unions of County Kilkenny (pre-1849)”.(2004).

Works Cited:

Brantlinger, Patrick. “The Famine” Victorian Literature and Culture, Vol. 32, No. 1 (2004), pg. 193-207. Print.

Chulov, Martin. “The Flight from Hunger.” The Australian. August 2, (2001): Pg. M24. Print

“Irish Poor-Law Reform”. The British Medical Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1895 (Apr. 24, 1897), pg. 1053. Print.

Nally, David. “That Coming Storm: The Irish Poor Law, Colonial Biopolitics, and the Great Famine.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 98, No. 3 (2008): 714-741.

Scally, Robert James. “The end of hidden Ireland rebellion, famine, and emigration. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Print.

“The Famine in Ireland.The New York Times. December 5, (1861), 03624331 ed.: 4. Print.