The Great famine
In Ireland, the Great Famine was a period of mass starvation, disease and emigration between 1845 and 1852.It is also known, mostly outside Ireland, as the Irish Potato Famine. In the Irish language it is called an Gorta Mór , meaning "the Great Hunger")[ or an Drochshaol meaning "the bad times").
During the famine approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island's population to fall by between 20% and 25%. The proximate cause of famine was a potato disease commonly known as potato blight. Although blight ravaged potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s, the impact and human cost in Ireland – where one-third of the population was entirely dependent on the potato for food – was exacerbated by a host of political, social and economic factors which remain the subject of historical debate.
The famine was a watershed in the history of Ireland. Its effects permanently changed the island's demographic, political and cultural landscape. For both the native Irish and those in the resulting diaspora, the famine entered folk memory[fn 2] and became a rallying point for various nationalist movements as Ireland was then part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Modern historians regard it as a dividing line in the Irish historical narrative, referring to the preceding period of Irish history as "pre-Famine".
The term Coffin ship is used to refer to the ships that carried Irish immigrants escaping the Great Irish Famine.These ships, crowded and disease ridden, with poor access to food and water, resulted in the deaths of many people as they crossed the Atlantic. Owners of coffin ships provided as little food, water, and living space as was legally possible – if they obeyed the law at all.
While coffin ships were the cheapest way to cross the Atlantic, mortality rates of 30% aboard the coffin ships were common. It was said that sharks could be seen following the ships, because so many bodies were thrown overboard. Watch the video Diary of an Irish coffin ship
At least eleven priests died in the Diocese of Cork and Ross during the famine period
- Father Daniel Mc Swiney died of fever contracted from a parishioner in 1845 during the Great Famine.
- Father Patrick Forde died from a famine related illness while acting as parish priest in Kinvara Co. Galway on St Stephens day 1846.