The great famine was a terrible time in Irish history between 1845 and 1852 the repeated failure of the potato crop led to widespread famine. Potato consumption in Ireland was huge; it was the staple food for the majority of people, as well as providing fodder for pigs.
The famine was caused by a severe outbreak of 'potato blight' which had been transported to Ireland from Europe and North America. Potato blight causes the crop to rot whilst in the ground, making it inedible.
Initially, the British government dealt with it by importing maize into the country. However, later administrations saw the famine as the responsibility of Irish landlords, who failed to provide adequate help for their tenants.
The number of pigs fell by over two-thirds and workhouses became overcrowded and disease-ridden due to a massive influx of starving peasants. The death toll began to rise, with many being buried in mass graves, or simply left to rot because many feared they would contract diseases if the dead bodies were touched. Due to overcrowding, contagious diseases such as typhoid, dysentery and fevers became rampant.
Massive emigration followed, with many Irish landlords paying for tenants to be shipped to America or Britain. The Families were promised food and money before being packed onto ships for up to three months. The ships became known as 'coffin ships' due to sick and dying passengers passing on disease to healthy passengers. Many of the dead were thrown overboard. When the emigrants arrived at their destination, the promises of food and money turned out to be false, and homeless, penniless exiles were often left to make their own way. Between 1847 and 1853, 53 boats were lost at sea (mainly because they were not seaworthy in the first place). Over 9,000 people died from disease or drowning.

"The Cruel Flower"

Under it's beauty, lay death
It deceived us with pretty blossoms
Promising health, contented bellys
Carefree days, held with promise

Some were violet, some white
They filled our hearts with great delight
We danced between the flowers
Got soaked in spring showers

The wind blew and the blossoms danced
They held us all in a trance
The dancing clouds above agreed
But in it's wind it brought disease

Every family had its story
Hearts - no longer enduring
Fiddles playing - gave away
To mourners praying

How cruel this life can be
When families are leaving on the seas
Broken hearts, shattered dreams
Mothers crying, babies dying

Once again the sound of laughter
Children dancing in the pasture
Once again the fiddle plays
Promising carefree days.

Valerie Heney
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