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Sophie Lock

To what extent was the Irish Potato Famine the cause of worsening Anglo-Irish relations 1800-1853.
The Irish Potato Famine was a period of mass starvation, disease and emigration causing the population to decline from roughly 8 million to about six million. It caused the Irish social structure, economy, population and land system to change. The famine was unexpected and therefore the government were slow to react and the population declined by a quarter. The apathetic British attitude to this made the Irish bitter and was a catalyst for Irish nationalism. The British response to the Great Famine was in their eyes generous and they believed they were in the moral right; some even believed that the famine was due to divine punishment on the lazy. In September 1845 the Famine first came to the attention of Robert Peels government. Peel saw it as an opportunity to carry out the repeal of the Corn Laws. He believed that to not maintain the Corn Laws whilst Irishmen starved would be intolerable. However this had little effect on the Irish peasantry as most could not afford to buy foreign goods. 100,000 worth of American Maize was eventually bought and sold to the Irish at low prices, which was more effective. His main effort was devoted to encouraging the Irish landlords to organise local committees to raise money for the relief of the distressed. The Landlord class were badly affected economically by the famine which resulted in around 10 per cent of landlords becoming bankrupt. The Whig government passed the Encumbered Estates Act of 1849 hoping to lead to the emergence of a new, more enterprising, landlord class. However the majority of new landlords resulted in being rather speculators, raising rents to the highest prices possible, or members of the old landlord class that had survived the famine and could buy up the estates cheaply on the market. Jobs were also created building roads and bridges to provide people with money to buy food; however the pay was too low to live on. Eventually free food was given out by government funded soup kitchens, which fed over three million people; this was the most effective relief method. The Poor Law System put in by Peels government initially provided 200,000 peasants places in work houses, which was funded by Poor Law Rates, taxes on land owners. However it ultimately failed due to overcrowding in the work houses which in turn lead to widespread disease. In 1846 Peel was succeeded by Lord Russell, and the blight struck again but with greater force on a larger scale. The peasantry were even less prepared, and millions faced starvation. Russell assumed an almost Laissez-Faire approach to Ireland, he clarified that It must be thoroughly understood, we cannot feed the people. The Irish felt that they had signed the Act of Union, 1800, in vain and that the British should have given them more aid as after the Act of Union this should be part of Britains agenda. The Irish believed that the British got all the advantages and the Irish the disadvantages. It also did not help that the ignorant view of some British politicians was that the Irish themselves were to be blamed for the conditions they

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Sophie Lock

were in. Lord Clarendon said, in May 1847 The real difficulty lies with the people themselvestheir idleness and helplessness can hardly be believed. They also generally refused that due to the Union it was also partly their responsibility. This led to growing Anglo-Irish tensions. Trevelyan, the Treasury official who was in charge of the famine relief, is seen as one of the main villains during the famine due to is lack of help given. The failure of Daniel OConnells repeal campaign and his death in 1847 caused the emergence of a more extreme group of Irish Nationalists associated with the Young Ireland movement. They held the British government responsible for the Great Famine and started to form the idea of armed rebellion. There was also already existing tensions between the Catholics and the Protestants from the Penal Laws imposed under English and later British rule that sought to discriminate against Roman Catholics in favour of members of the established Church of Ireland. When many of the Irish opted to emigrate there was virtually nothing done by the British government to help. Many emigrants died on the journey across the Atlantic, in the coffin ships, which was almost as hazardous as the famine conditions in Ireland. This hatred of England, which formed from the lack of aid, was taken with emigrants to the New World. The peasants left in Ireland were also full of resentment for the British as they were left in awful conditions with practically no help. In conclusion I believe that there was already underlying tension between the British and the Irish due to the uncaring way that the British government treated Ireland. However, the Great Famine seemed to be a huge catalyst for worsening Anglo-Irish relations which pushed them to breaking point.