Nick Wilson, "Political Ecology and the Irish Potato Famine"


'overpopulation' indefinitely, and, where it occurred, a proper corrective to the relationship with resources [strained by said overpopulation] was inevitable."14 A Malthusian interpretation was often used in Victorian England, and it is critical to recognize that, contra Davis and Sen, the Malthusian model to some degree naturalizes the process of famine so that it is a normal environmental effect of overpopulation.

Indeed, for O'Grada, "the issue, then, is not so much 'Was Malthus right?' as which Malthus fits pre-Famine trends best?"15  He argues that Ireland, from 1821 to 1841, had experienced enormous growth in precisely the areas of the country that were least equipped to support it: the south and west of the island. Particularly in the difficult terrain of these areas, some counties experienced a 50% population spike in the 20 years before the famine began. However, he goes on to describe how the population growth of the entire country, and particularly the south-west, had been slowing over the entire period, lending support to Malthus' theory of a population in balance with ecology.16

Despite the slowing of population growth, part of the groundwork for the famine was laid with the increased population in the south-west of Ireland. The potato for a time seemed to be the ideal solution to this demographic quagmire: it was an incredibly high yield crop per acre planted, was extremely nutritious, was labor intensive (soaking up extra workers for the poorly industrialized Ireland), and was cultivable in previously unused marginal lands.17 The requirements of these marginal lands resulted in a monoculture of the "lumper" potato, "a high bulk variety that which could tolerate poorer soils, and above all else required little manure," in

14. Patrick O'Sullivan, editor, The Meaning of the Famine (Washington, 1997), 21.
15. O'Grada, 6.
16. O'Grada, 6-8.
17. Whelan, "Pre-and Post-Famine Landscape Change"
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