The Great Hunger was one of the first national disasters to elicit an international fund-raising effort. Donations came from distant and unexpected sources. The first collections, made following the appearance of blight in 1845, took place in Calcutta in India and Boston in the United States. Most fund-raising, however, took place in the wake of the second, more devastating appearance of the potato blight in 1846. Calcutta sent approximately £16,500 in 1847, while Bombay sent £3,000.
The Society of Friends, or Quakers, first became involved with the Irish Famine in November 1846. The Quakers collected mostly American food, flour, rice, biscuits and Indian meal, along with clothes and bedding. They set up soup kitchens, purchased seed, and provided funds for local employment. During 1846–47, the Quakers gave approximately £200,000 for relief in Ireland.
The British Relief Association, founded in 1847, also raised money in England, America and Australia. They received about £400,000. This money included donations from people who were themselves poor and marginalized. The Choctaw Indian Nation, in the United States, fresh from their own “trail of tears,” sent over $170.
Many major cities in America and Britain set up relief committees for Ireland. Churches of all denominations made collections on behalf of the Irish poor. Jewish synagogues in America and Britain also contributed generously.
The donors included the rich and the famous–—President Polk, of the United States, Queen Victoria, Pope Pius IX—while people in Italy, Antigua, France, Venezuela, Hong Kong and Barbados were among those who sent contributions.
We do not know the names of all the people who gave to Ireland during the Great Hunger, nor do we know their motivation, but we do know that their generosity saved lives. •