“If there is one thing I want you to remember, it is that the Irish potato famine was avoidable.” After such a powerful statement, Aidan, our tour guide, takes a heavy breath. He is dressed in all black, as if to mourn the death of those lost in the tragedy. Though I am sure that he has given this speech many times before, his light eyes still appear as if they are going to water. Slowly, he walks into the next room of the museum. The class follows silently, all speechless from the claim he has just made. I am stunned. The death of almost one million people could have been avoided?
I step into the next room. It is almost bare, save for a television screen depicting the first stages of the famine. The rain beats on the window outside and the wind howls. Inside the chilly museum I imagine what those starving were forced to endure during the harsh winter of the famine.
Before coming to Ireland, I knew very little about the country. However, one of the facts I was aware of was the prominence of the potato within the Irish diet. And I was not disappointed during my visit to Ireland. My first full meal in Ireland contained not one, not two, but three sides of potatoes: creamy garlic mashed potatoes, traditional “chips” (french fries with vinegar), and cheesy thinly sliced potato au gratin. Throughout the duration of my stay, potatoes continued to make it onto my plate in almost every meal in some shape or form. The many different uses that the Irish have found for the potato continues to surprise me. Even to a visitor, like myself, it is evident that the potato plays an important role within the Irish meal plan. This is what makes the effects of the Irish Potato Famine so devastating.
While the Irish Potato Famine is widely known to most Americans, what isn’t taught is that it could have been avoided. In the 1840’s, the working Irish depended on this one food source. In 1845, a potato blight infected and ruined the entire crop in a matter of weeks. Nonetheless, regardless of the potato blight, Ireland still managed to produce enough food (in the form of grain and vegetables) to feed Ireland’s entire population. So why were the people of Ireland starving? The governmental policies, which benefitted the wealthy landlords and not the farmers, only allowed for the farmers to rent a small portion of land for their crop. Such a small portion of land only allowed for the farmers to make enough profit to pay their rent. Unfortunately, when the crop died, the farmers were unable to pay their rent and starved as a consequence. However, Ireland still continued to produce enough food for all of Ireland to be fed, but instead the food was exported for profit of the wealthy. Bottom line, had the government intervened, almost one million lives could have been saved. I leave the museum astonished.