The Great Famine
In 1800, approximately five million people lived in Ireland. By the autumn of 1845, when the Great Famine struck, there were over eight million souls living on the Emerald Isle. Most of these people depended on one simple crop for their existence and livelihood - the potato. The potato, presumably a gift from the "New World", became the most valuable crop in the country, as a large quantity of potatoes could be grown on a relatively small plot, making it possible to feed many with only a small section of land. However the potato was not enough to alleviate poverty, and hunger was no novelty to peasant families, for there had been partial failures of the potato crop in other years, but never had the crop failure affected the whole island.
Disaster struck the potato crops as a fungal disease (Phytophthora infestations), making the potato plants rot in the ground (giving off a terrible stench) before they could be harvested. More than half the Irish potato crop planted rotted before harvesting in 1845. Sir Robert Peel, the British prime minister, implemented the Relief Works for Irish peoples aid and a committee to investigate into the potato blight. However, the science community could offer little help in the blight, and in 1846 the potato crop was a complete failure.
The Irish government began to target the landlords of large farms as being responsible for the famine and mass unemployment, forcing them to pay higher rates in order to support the relief effort. To pay these increased rates, the landlords raised the fees on the agricultural work force. Because the majority of the agricultural tenants were out of business due to the failure of the potato crop, they had no way to pay the increased tax, and were evicted from their homes. Many fell victim to typhus fever and died from that, if not starvation itself
Ironically, the truth in the end was that Ireland was producing plenty of other foods to feed its people. However, as most of the food was too expensive for the poor to purchase, it was being sold to England. To feed themselves, peasants sold their tools for money to buy food. When the next planting season arrived, they had no tools to plant crops or even land to plant on. If they resorted to eating the crops destined for sale, they were evicted from their homes with nowhere to go. The famine is estimated to have decreased the population from over 8 million (1845) to just over 5 million (1851). After emigration to the United States and Canada continued in the following decades, the Irish population dropped to only slightly above 1 million people remaining at the turn of the century.