The Irish Famine
and What it Means to Us
Schoolkids are taught that the United States was founded on freedom and Enlightenment ideals. That’s partially true. But at its heart, the American Revolution was a colonial uprising.
The rich guys in the States thought of themselves as respectable Britons. The problem was, actual British people thought of them as mere colonists. Americans thought of their States as equal to Yorkshire or the West Midlands. London thought of America as a cash register to be taxed and exploited.
Schoolkids are also taught that colonialism is based on race. And while it is true that imperialists have sometimes used race as an excuse for colonialism, the motivation has always been money. The color of the exploited colonists doesn’t matter at all. Blind greed doesn’t discriminate.
One of the most ghastly episodes in colonial history is the Irish Famine.
During the 17th Century, Great Britain reconquered and brutally pacified Ireland. Naturally, the British began to use their colony for selfish profit.
The British took the most fertile farmland in Ireland and used it for raising animals. Soon, wealthy and noble Englishmen were eating like kings, dining on meat from the fields of Ireland.
Meanwhile, the Irish themselves were eating like…Irish people; dining on potatoes.
The parts of Ireland that weren’t deemed suitable for grazing were left to the local peasants to farm. English landlords – some of whom never stepped foot in Ireland – owned large tracts of land and rented out of parcels of it to Irish families.
To maximize profit, the absentee English landlords split their property into smaller and smaller pieces so that they could have as many Irish families paying them rent as possible. Soon, the average farm size in Ireland was so small that peasants didn’t have room for animals or low-yield grains like wheat or barley.
The highest yield staple food that exists is potatoes. So that’s what most every Irish tenant farmer grew and that’s what most every Irish peasant was forced to eat every meal.
In the whitewashed version of history, a potato blight caused crop yields to plummet between 1845 and 1849, leading to the death of a million Irish people and the emigration of a million others. In just a few horrible years, the island’s population dropped by 25%.
In the history books, the Irish Famine was a natural disaster. In reality, it was a colonialist crime.
The blight only effected potatoes. The fertile grazing fields continued to produce meat at pre-blight levels. During the height of famine, imports of livestock, bacon, and butter into Liverpool actually increased.
There was plenty of food to go around in the 1840s, it’s just that the Irish didn’t have any money and the British didn’t have any desire to share.
Colonialism isn’t just an ugly page in history books. Our country is still arbitrarily ruling over territories that we conquered in the 20th Century.
I’m certainly not saying that the American empire is as villainously exploitive as the British. I am saying that colonialism is always wrong and that it is directly repugnant to the spirit of our country’s founding.
I will be especially proud to be an American on the day that our government finally grants Guam, Samoa, the Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico their freedom and independence.