History of the Potato in Ireland
IRELAND’S UNIQUE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE POTATO
No other European nation has a more special relationship with the potato than Ireland. The first Europeans to accept it as a field crop in the seventeenth century, the Irish were the first to embrace it as a staple food in the eighteenth. The potato emerged strongly in Ireland because it suited the soil, climate and living conditions remarkably well.
What set Ireland apart from other European countries was the way the population took to the tuber – the potato was universally liked. Arthur Young, an English farmer and a Fellow of the Royal Society who made an extensive survey of Irish agriculture during the years 1776-9, was impressed by the vast acreage of potato cultivation he encountered. The potato was seen as a safeguard against the tandem social plagues of unemployment, poverty, overpopulation and land hunger. By 1780, at a population level of four million, those afflictions had helped push the potato to dominance. In 1830, young adult males in Ireland were consuming 5 kgs per capita per day – a matter of public record. By 1841, four years before the Famine, the population had literally doubled to 8.15 million – a phenomenal increase by any standard.
Initially, reports describing the appearance of a mysterious disease on the potato crops in various parts of Europe in 1845 were regarded with curiosity rather than alarm within Ireland. In the previous year, a number of Irish newspapers had carried reports from American journals and newspapers concerning a disease which had attacked the potato crop there for a second consecutive year. Within Ireland, however, there was little response to the news that the same disease had apparently spread to Europe in 1845. Read more..