During the 1500s, Ireland was torn apart by constant warfare between the country’s English rulers and Irish inhabitants. As a result, farmers had a hard time growing enough food to feed themselves. It was then the potato was introduced around the year 1600.
No one is sure exactly who introduced. The potato’s popularity was based on the potato producing more food per acre than any other crops. Ireland was the first country where the potato became a major food source. By the 1800s, the potato was so important in Ireland that parts of the country relied entirely on the potato for food.
By 1840, the country’s population had swelled from less than three million in the early 1500’s to a staggering eight million people, thanks to the potato. Some men and women tried to warn everyone that it was dangerous for so many people in one place to be dependent on just one crop. Unfortunately, no one listened to their warnings.
Then in September of 1845 a strange disease was reported to have attacked the potato crops. The disease attacked the potatoes up to half of the crop was destroyed. Many of the potatoes were found to have gone black, rotten and their leaves had withered. It is estimated that between 500,000 and 1,100,000 people died.
In addition, one million Irish emigrated away, mostly for America and Canada. Of those who left, many died on board the boats they were traveling in because the conditions were so crowded and dirty. For this reason, the ships that carried Irish immigrants to the New World became known as “coffin ships”.
Though life in Ireland was cruel, emigrating to America was not a joyful event for these people knew they would never see Ireland again. Those who pursued this path did so only because they knew their future in Ireland would only be more poverty, disease, and English oppression. America became their dream.