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The Great Hunger

In less than a decade in the mid-19th century, the population of Ireland plummeted from 8.25 million to just over 6.5 million. Many were forced to flee their famine-struck homeland – then as much a part of the United Kingdom as Cornwall is today – in dangerously overloaded ‘coffin ships’. The rest perished. The story of how a million deaths from mostly preventable disease and hunger happened on the doorstep of the world’s wealthiest country still shocks.

BEREFT, HUNGRY, ABANDONED This figure is one several sculptures of starvation-stricken men and women, trudging alongside the River Liffey in the centre of Dublin – her haunted expression says it all

The collective impact of the Irish Potato Famine, the British government’s reaction to it, and the resultant exodus of emigrants was profound and long lasting. The diaspora of Irish people and Irish culture, all over the globe, not to mention the famine itself, generated a focussed fury that’s been articulated in nationalist politics, poetry and folk songs ever since, and remains a thread in the fabric of the modern country. Ireland continued to haemorrhage its human resources long after the famine ended, and the legacy of the Great Hunger – famine roads, ghost villages and memorials – can be seen across the land.

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BBC History Revealed Magazine
March 2018

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