EXPORTS IN FAMINE TIMES

Throughout the entire period of the Famine, Ireland was exporting enormous quantities of food to England. In Ireland Before and After the Famine, Cormac O’Grada points out, “Although the potato crop failed, the country was still producing and exporting more than enough grain crops to feed the population. But that was a “money crop” and not a “food crop” and could not be interfered with.” Up to 75 percent of Irish soil was devoted to wheat, oats, barley and other crops that were grown for export and shipped abroad while the people starved. Cecil Woodham-Smith, noted scholar and author, wrote in The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845–1849 that “…no issue has provoked so much anger or so embittered relations between the two countries (England and Ireland) as the indisputable fact that huge quantities of food were exported from Ireland to England throughout the period when the people of Ireland were dying of starvation.”

In History Ireland magazine (1997, issue 5, pp. 32-36), Christine Kinealy, a Great Hunger scholar, lecturer, and Drew University professor, relates her findings: Almost 4,000 vessels carried food from Ireland to the ports of Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool and London during 1847, when 400,000 Irish men, women and children died of starvation and related diseases. The food was shipped under military guard from the most famine-stricken parts of Ireland; Ballina, Ballyshannon, Bantry, Dingle, Killala, Kilrush, Limerick, Sligo, Tralee and Westport. A wide variety of commodities left Ireland during 1847, including peas, beans, onions, rabbits, salmon, oysters, herring, lard, honey, tongues, animal skins, rags, shoes, soap, glue and seed. The most shocking export figures concern butter. Butter was shipped in firkins, each one holding 9 gallons. In the first nine months of 1847, 56,557 firkins were exported from Ireland to Bristol, and 34,852 firkins were shipped to Liverpool. That works out to be 822,681 gallons of butter exported to England from Ireland during nine months of the worst year of the Famine.