During the 1500's, Ireland was torn apart by constant warfare and as a result of that, peasant farmers had a hard time growing enough food to even feed themselves. No one is sure how the potato arrived in Ireland, however the potato caught on very quickly in Ireland. The potato’s popularity was based on the potato producing more food per acre than any other crops Irish farmers had grown before.
Many people died
By the 1800's, the potato was so important in Ireland that some of the poorer parts of the country relied entirely on the potato for food. Because the potato was so abundant and could feed so many people, it allowed the population of Ireland to grow very quickly. However some people warned everyone that relying on just one crop was dangerous but no one listened.
The coffin ships
In September of 1845, it had made a disease appeared in Ireland. The disease attacked the potatoes as they grew in the fields and up to half of the crop was destroyed. Many of the potatoes were found to have gone black and rotten and their leaves had withered. In the harvest of 1845, between one-third and half of the potato crop was destroyed by the strange disease, which became known as ‘potato blight’.
The golden door
No-one knows for certain how many Irish people died in the Great Potato Famine. Modern historians and statisticians estimate that between 500,000 and 1,100,000 died. Many historians suggest the death-toll was in the region of 700,000 to 800,000.
In addition, in excess of one million Irish emigrated, mostly for America and Canada plus Australia and NZ. Of those who left, many died on board the boats they were travelling 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”.
America became their dream. Early immigrant letters described it as a land of abundance and urged others to follow them through the "Golden Door." These letters were read at social events encouraging the young to join them in this wonderful new country.