Why had the potato become the staple diet in Ireland in the 1840s?

Essay by ahughes34B-, April 2002

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Why had the potato become the staple diet in Ireland in the 1840's

The introduction of the potato in the sixteenth century heavily influenced Irish culture, including its agriculture and the fluctuation of its population. The reason the Irish became so dependant on the potato was due to the colonial system. When Britain was experiencing an industrial revolution, Ireland failed to do so due to a lack of natural resources such as iron ore and coal. Even though Ireland was mainly an agricultural economy and had vast supplies of cattle, her economy was deeply affected by the land owning structure, which the British had created. This encouraged a subdivision system, helping to increase the population and forcing the Irish to rely heavily on one food source.

The potato originated in Cuzco, located in the Andes of Peru. It was brought to Spain in 1565 by Spanish explorers to the New World.

When the potato first reached Ireland in the sixteenth century, the potato was not eaten by the Irish people but used to feed livestock. The Irish diet was based on cattle, which Ireland traditionally produced in vast numbers. The potato thrived in the damp climate and the importance of the potato in the Irish diet grew gradually in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds. In the late 1700's the population began to increase, particularly at the bottom of the social ladder, this was mainly due to early marriages, followed by large families. Unlike Britain, Ireland lacked major industrial centres. Jobs were scarce and there was little point in trying to save up by waiting to get married. A small plot on the farm on which to grow food and a house built with stones and 'mud kneaded with straw' was the most any married couple could hope for. Parents...