Friday, 12 February 2021
If my great-grandfather had been born in 1846, as his obituary claimed, and not 1844, as he himself had claimed, then it is possible his parents had migrated to England because of the Great Irish Famine. You probably know the essential details: the Irish peasantry had become dependent on the potato - they lived on almost nothing else - and when the potato blight struck, famine and starvation ensued on a previously unimaginable scale. I myself had heard a lot about it, but it was only recently that I read Cecil Woodham-Smith's classic history, The Great Hunger, Ireland 1845-1849, and something leaped out at me which the author herself did not press, and few others have mentioned: the underlaying cause of the disaster was overpopulation. It was a classic case of the Malthusian limit being reached.