Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The History of Potato Blight - by Jean Wray

In 1844 the first evidence of a new and deadly disease appeared in the potato crops in Ireland. Commonly known as 'Blight' the airborne fungus Phtophthora Infestans turned growing crops black overnight and rotted the tubers. At this point in history the majority of Irish people depended on the potato as their main source of nutrition. There was no known cure for this devastating fungus which became even more virulent in 1845. The result lead to starvation and disease with over a million people dying and eight hundred thousand leaving the shores of Ireland. Many died in the 'Coffin Ships' as they sailed to America, Canada and further afield. They took with them diseases such as typhus which resulted in epidemics, Canada being particularly affected.

The famine relates to several elements of history. The cause was a natural event out of man's ability, at the time, to control. The social consequences were devastating. From death to emigration the Irish population dropped by an estimated 25%. Numbers cannot be accurate as deaths were not registered and the 1841 census of population at 8,173,124 was widely accepted to be an underestimate. At the time Ireland was under British rule and British government were reluctant and slow to give help. Although many landlords did what they could to relieve suffering the political aftermath continues to this day. The blight fungus remains to the present time though now can be controlled. It devastated an already impoverished Society in the 1840s. Even today Irish radio issues warnings when Blight favorable weather is expected.

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