In 1845, Ireland suffered through a potato famine that killed over two million Irish. History has taught us to believe that those two million died because of a fungus that caused all the potatoes to be bad. The guilt doesn’t rest with the fungus, but with the myriad of problems before it. The potatoes should not be blamed for those many deaths.
Several people or organizations could have prevented them.
The most prominent government in the whole world, at that period, was the British Government. They had the power to help prevent this tragedy from occurring, but they refused to help. They kicked the Irish off of their own land and then gave it to wealthy British landlords. Several oppressive laws were enforced against the Irish too. The government enforced laws where only the landlords could hunt on their estate for fun while the starving Irish could only sit by and watch. When the farmers couldn’t pay the rent, Britain sent police to help the landlords evict them. Neighboring countries saw help was needed in Ireland and sent charity shipments. The British Government wouldn’t allow it unless it was brought on an English ship so they could make a profit out of it. They permitted the landlords to export seventeen million pounds of food out of Ireland while four hundred thousand Irish starved to death.
The British landlords were also heartless during this time of great suffering. Instead of allowing the tenant farmers to stay on the land while the potato crop failed, they ejected them because the farmers couldn’t afford to pay the rent. They allowed land to remain unplanted during the famine because their own profits would have decreased. The Irish tenant farmers were forced to live on the most horrible parts of land where only a small amount of potatoes could have grown. The amount of food the landlords exported to England would have been able to feed six million Irish. English philosopher George Berkeley wrote in 1736, wondering, “whether a foreigner could imagine that half of the people were starving in a country which sent out plenty of provisions.”
Even the Anglican Church refused to help during the Irish’s time of need. God’s own representatives were just as bad as everyone else. In fact, the church preached God’s punishment was the famine. An English mother told her daughter “it was the hand of Providence that destroyed the potato crop, for all the other crops prospered, and the very weeds in the stricken fields grew strong and green.” Even though the services of the Anglican Church were rendered to mostly wealthy Protestants, the poor Irish were obligated to pay ten percent of their crops to the church. In the early 1830s, five million acres of Irish land was owned by the Anglican Church.
However there was a greater force that the government, landlords, and the church were all following. That force was the system of colonial capitalism. Without the system, there wouldn’t have been a potato famine. The view of capitalism was commodities went to those who could afford them. Everyone was out to make money off of anything they could and the capitalist economy encouraged that behavior. Profits before people was the motto of the system.
The full weight of blame cannot be placed on any one reason; every reason played an enormous part in the tragedy of the famine. It wasn’t the potatoes that caused over two million deaths, but greed. Money makes people do unforgivable acts. It has always been that way, and will always be that way. You only need to look at the Irish Potato Famine to see that money only makes situations worse.