Tales from the Home Garden: The Return of the ‘Irish Famine' Potato!
The photo shows a rare and some would say infamous variety of potato growing quite nicely in containers at my home. It is known as the ‘Lumper’ and I planted a number of these heritage vegetables in my garden during mid-March at the beginning of the great lockdown, though I kept them separate from my main crop of spuds.
The Lumper is not very attractive ('lumpy'- hence the name!) and some would say not very tasty. But its infamy arises from the fact that it was the variety of potato that was grown extensively in Ireland until the Great Famine ('An Gorta Mór' = 'The Big Hunger') of the 1840s. Over one million people in Ireland died due to the failure of their primary food source caused by a potato blight that originated in Mexico.
During this period of Irish history, the vast majority of the Irish lived in extreme poverty as they had being dispossessed of their clan(tribal) lands in successive waves of plantations over many centuries by British colonialists. The great forests were cut down and the native Irish were driven off the fertile lands to make way for tillage and increasingly during the 19th century for livestock farming (shades of today's Amazonia).
The potato though is a wonder food crop, is highly nutritious and can grow on very poor soils in large enough quantities on very small patches of ground which was all most Irish families then possessed.
Once the blight destroyed their only food crop, large sections of Irish society starved to death with approximately 1.5 million driven into exile, primarily to North America. Yet in spite of the mass deaths, the colonial landlords continued to export huge amounts of food to Britain and beyond. In fact the export of grain and livestock from Ireland increased during the famine years! Ireland was then the granary for the British homeland providing grain as well as meat and vegetables to the growing urban working population of England's industrial revolution. The establishment were not going to allow death and starvation in British Empire's oldest colony to interfere with their profits and free trade policies. The famine also provided a golden opportunity for some of the Anglo-Irish gentry to clear even more lands of their native tenantry to make way for livestock. To facilitate this exodus, they paid them the cost of traveling by ship to the Americas.
My own maternal ancestors suffered terribly during the Famine. They were evicted from their squalid hovel of a home, most starved to death with the surviving members of the family ending up in the dreaded workhouse in Carrickmacross in county Monaghan. Only one survived. If he did not, I would not be writing this post.