The Great Hunger

The Irish Potato Famine is also referred to as The Great Hunger, a period of mass death from starvation and disease between 1845 and 1852. This exhibition tells the story of what happened and why. Our exhibition and film commemorates this event.

After centuries of British colonial rule, and dispossessed of their ancestral land, most of the Irish native, catholic population lived in extreme poverty and depended on the potato as their main (and often their only) food source for survival. The threat of Great Hunger was never far away.

Centuries of British invasions, land confiscations and anti-catholic laws had reduced the country and it's people to levels of poverty not seen in other parts of Europe. 

At the same time, Britain was booming and in the throes of the industrial revolution. Ireland (forcibly) was part of the United Kingdom at this time and might have expected to benefit accordingly. But this was not to be.

       The Great Hunger FilmIrish Farm Labourer c1853


Britain had always treated Ireland harshly. This time would be no different.

Massive humanitarian aid was required, and quickly. Instead the British Government chose piecemeal and slowly. Their overriding concern was not to disrupt market forces, and food continued to be exported to Britain as the Irish starved. They raised taxes and washed their hands of the crisis when it was still only half way through.

The Great Hunger Daniel O'Connell

    Daniel O'Connell (only known photo 1844)

At the start of the potato crops multiple seasons of failures, Daniel O’Connell warned the British government that unless they intervened quickly to provide relief, there would be a ‘death-dealing famine’ in the country. His prediction proved correct. The Government was massively informed by witnesses on the ground. Clergy, Relief Administrators, Notable Citizens, Newspaper men etc.

The Great Hunger devastated Ireland. At least a million died, perhaps even 1.5 million...we will never know the true figure. Millions more were forced to feel the country. The population of the island has never recovered. From a population of between 8 and 9 million in 1845, a steady decline ensued for the next century and a half as other European populations grew. 

Great Hunger Film Landlords

Mote Park County Roscommon, the seat of the Crofton Family from the 16th century  


Whether resident or absentee, many landlords administered their estates in an extremely short-sighted fashion. Their priority was to extort the highest possible rents, and only a minority were ‘improving’ landlords who re-invested in their estates. Some landlords preferred to rent their estate to “middlemen” and so avoid having to deal with a multitude of tenants. In order to maximise his return, the middleman in turn would divide the land up into many small pieces of ground, usually no more than an acre, and let them annually to peasant farmers for a high rent.  

Irish Famine Museum / The Great Hunger Exhibition and Film, 2nd Floor, Stephens Green Shopping Centre, Dublin.