Ireland, 1500s. There was conflict between the country’s English rulers and the Irish inhabitants, and between local nobles who were always fighting one another. As a result, life was difficult Ireland’s peasant farmers.
This was when the potato was introduced. They caught on quickly in Ireland, because it produces more food per acre than any crops grown before. The potato may have been discovered by explorer Sir Walter Raleigh. Others speculate that the potato washed up on the beach part of the shipwreck of the Spanish Armada.
Soon, the potato became a major food source, especially for the poor. Because of it's abundance, it allowed the population of Ireland to swell from less than 3 million in the early 1500’s to 8 million people in 1840.
By September 1845, a strange disease affecting the potato had been found in Ireland. Up to half of the crop was destroyed - the affected potatoes were found to have gone black, mushy, and rotten and their leaves had withered. The 'potato blight' was later found to be caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans.
Modern historians and statisticians estimate that between 500,000 and 1,100,000 died due to starvation.
Irish left for the US to escape the blight, poverty, disease, and English oppression. These ships became known as the “coffin ships”, as many died on board because of the crowded and dirty conditions. The prospect of America was not joyful, however - it was referred to as the “American Wake”, for they knew they would never see Ireland again.