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“Explain why Ireland’s population grew so quickly in the second half of the eighteenth century.”

“Explain why Ireland’s population grew so quickly in the second half of the eighteenth century.”

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Benjamin O'Gorman. Originally submitted for Bachelor of Arts (History and Legal Studies) at National University of Ireland Galway, with lecturer Dr. Pádraig Lenihan in the category of Historical Studies & Archaeology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Benjamin O'Gorman. Originally submitted for Bachelor of Arts (History and Legal Studies) at National University of Ireland Galway, with lecturer Dr. Pádraig Lenihan in the category of Historical Studies & Archaeology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/13/2014

 
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Abstract: “Explain why Ireland’s population grew so quickly in the second half of theeighteenth century.”
 From 1750 to 1820 the population of Ireland grew at a very rapid rate of between 1.6% and1.7% annually and stood at around 5 million at the end of the eighteenth century. This essayexplains why and how this high level of growth occurred by examining the two traditionalreasons cited by K.H. Connell; early marriage and the ubiquity of the potato, against themore recent criticisms of historians such as Cormac Ó Gráda and Joel Mokyr.The essay begins by acknowledging the substantial lack of data available to historians whenresearching the growth in population in Ireland in the eighteenth century and how thisproblem has meant that historians have been reduced to using sources of dubious accuracy,such as hearth tax returns. It points to the fact that this at times inaccurate source was theprincipal resource used by the historian K. H. Connell in his seminal work on the topic.Connell considered that the figures for hearth tax returns after 1788 were inaccurately lowand therefore increased them by 50%, which resulted in Connell finding that the populationhad increased by a factor of four between 1686 and the Famine. The essay notes that ÓGráda and Mokyr criticised Connell for over compensating the figures after 1788.Connell argued that the increase in population was due to a lowering of the marriage ageand the prevalence of the potato. Ó Gráda and Mokyr on the other hand argued that
Connell’s data source was unreliable, and pointed to the fact that evidence of the falling
marriage age can be seen far earlier than he suggested.The essay then turns to examine the role of the potato in population growth. Itacknowledges that it was a major factor thanks to the fact the potato provided more food
 
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per acre than grain, was reliable up to the Famine and, when combined with milk, made upa healthy diet. It notes that the crucial effect of the potato was that it cut the cost of havinga family. From a historiographical perspective the essay describes how Connell argued thatthe potato increased the available resources of the country which allowed an increase inpopulation whereas L.M. Cullen disagreed and argued the converse: that the spread of the
potato was due to population growth and not vice versa. Mokyr disputed Cullen’s stance
however. The influence of the potato is then examined from a regional perspective.The possibility of changing attitudes to children in the eighteenth century being a factorwith regard to increased fertility is then discussed. The essay notes that children weredesirable for two reasons; firstly children could serve as insurance in the absence of PoorLaw provisions, and secondly the potato meant raising children was cheaper. Finally theessay considers the effects, if any, of medicine on lowering the death rate and thus aiding anincrease in population.
 
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Title: “Explain why Ireland’s population grew so quickly in the second half of the eighteenthcentury.”
 Word Count: 1,807

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