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What was the famine?

In the 1840s a blight destroyed the potato crop across Europe leaving the peasantry who relied on potatoes as a staple destitute. Areas such as Flanders and Prussia lost roughly a third of their population through starvation and emigration. In the United Kingdom whole villages in Cornwell were left ghost towns as the entire populace deserted their homes in a desperate quest for food whilst the blight ravaged Scotland which was already suffering under the Highland clearances. Ireland however on the outskirts of Europe with little industry and natural resources was the worst affected of all.

Governments at the time were elected by and composed off only the wealthy and the nobility. They did not consider it their role to care for the poor, providing no pensions, unemployment relief etc (Victorian London was arguably the richest city in the world yet half of all children born there died before their fifth birthday) Rather than feed the starving directly they funded public works and mass emigration abroad as depicted in this drama, depending on local charities to do the rest, sticking to the idea of lassez-faire economics which resisted government intervention in the economy or individual citizen's welfare. In practice this proved hopelessly inadequate, government gestures such as Britain repealing the Corn Laws (a measure which kept food prices artificially high in order to prevent homegrown produce being undercut by cheap foreign imports) meant little to starving peasants who could not even afford the cheaper price.

It is estimated that the death toll for Europe as a whole was well over a million with perhaps twice that number emirgating, mainly to the USA and Australia/New Zealand where they created huge ethnic diasporas which persist to this day. Irish Nationalists cited the famine as justification for their desire for Ireland to break away from the rest of the United Kingdom, claiming that the British government would have done more to help the victims had they not been Irish and for the most part Catholic (Roman Catholics in Britain had gained the vote a decade previously but as with their Protestant counterparts, only for the wealthy). However poverty and emigration actually increased in Southern Ireland after it ceded from the UK in the 1920s and modern historians stress that it was a tragedy which crossed both national and religious boundaries. One positive effect was that both the upper classes and the governments they composed increasingly saw it as their duty to provide for the less well off in society and progressively introduced measures to benefit them over the following decades.

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