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The spring of 1845 was one of hope. Farmers around Ireland were anticipating a good year; a plentiful crop. Although the overall agricultural forecast for the whole of the country was somewhat unstable, the immediate season was setting up to be a good one.
Then the reports came in.
Initially found in English crops in early summer, the first report of potato blight in Ireland was made in September of 1845 in Wexford. The blight, caused by a fungus in the plant, had begun to spread. It would eventually lead to a loss of six million Irish citizens, either through immigration or starvation.
During the course of the Great Famine, you can follow the emotional impact in the newspaper collection at Findmypast. As family historians, it is important to put your ancestor into that historical setting, and events such as the potato blight – and its disastrous effect on Ireland – allow you to do so by tracking the events over time.
Articles tell of areas being completely untouched as late as 1848, and “disappearing” cases across Europe, giving readers hope:
In 1846, the Cork Examiner devoted eleven columns of its September 4 edition to public meetings, being called and held to address the “general distress” the “failure of the Potato crop, and the consequences which that failure is certain to entail on all classes in the country.” They go on to state that there is no attempt to “… exaggerate the distress and misery which are certain to flow from a calamity so dreadful and so universal. All is alarm and apprehension. … It is time for each man to set his own house in order.” Certainly the mood had changed.
Everyone felt the impact; those who were standing and watching their crops fail, and those around the world, seeing the change in immigration, the demand for change in policy and law, and anxiously awaiting news of their families’ struggles.
Indeed, “Death by Starvation” was becoming an all too common phrase. There were many reports of this nature, and the Limerick Reporter tells us of one:
Of course, many across the nation were not just feeling despair, they were angry. They looked for men to blame, and they found them in their political leadership. Whether historically accurate or not, it is not our place to judge. The emotional journey of our ancestors is the objective, and so, this anger must also be taken into consideration. The Evening Packet of January 26, 1847 expresses this opinion vehemently, and goes on to list more than thirty victims of the crimes that led to starvation.
As the recorders of our past, we must be open to all opportunities for insight into the lives of our ancestors. Therefore, we must also be willing and able to leave our own opinions and present the general mood of the time as it was reported and preserved in historical records. Utilizing newspapers from the county in which your family resided is an endeavor well worth undertaking; creating an emotional story to supplement the facts.
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