THE BRITISH RESPONSE

The Famine was a disaster of major proportions, even allowing for statistical uncertainty as to its estimated effect on mortality. Yet the Famine occurred in a country that, despite concurrent economic problems, was at the center of a still-growing empire and an integral part of the acknowledged workshop of the world. There can be no doubt that despite a short-term cyclical depression, the resources of the United Kingdom could have either completely or largely mitigated the consequences of consecutive years of potato blight in Ireland.

Within Ireland itself there were substantial resources of food that, had the political will existed, could have been diverted, even as a short-term measure, to feed a starving people. The policy of closing ports during periods of shortages in order to keep home-grown food for domestic consumption had on earlier occasions proved to be effective in staving off famine within Ireland. During the subsistence crisis of 1782–84, an embargo was placed on the export of foodstuffs from the country. The outcome of this humanitarian and imaginative policy was successful. The years 1782–84 are barely remembered as years of distress. By refusing to allow a similar policy to be adopted in 1846–47, the British Government ensured that Black ’47 was indelibly associated with suffering, famine, mortality, emigration, and to some, misrule.