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


As the famine ran its course, it is estimated that about 1 million people died, and another 2 million emigrated from a population that in 1845 stood at 8.5 million.24  Elsewhere the total figure of 3 million is cited for the period of 10 years following the first blight, and just resulting from the immediate famine years.25  A third scholar cites 1 million dead, and "at least that number" being forced to emigrate.26  These differences clearly speak to the difficulty of establishing a firm figure for the overall population loss because of (most likely) underreported famine deaths and emigrations. However, the figure of one million dead and two million transported seems to be the estimate that has approached post-revisionist scholarly consensus.

C. Land reform, the Gregory Clause, Famine

The structure of land ownership on the eve of the famine could best be described as semi-feudal. O'Grada estimates that just before the famine two thirds of the labor force was involved in farming, and of those two thirds, "two thirds of the males deriving a livelihood from the land held little or no land themselves."27  Particularly in the west, where the famine was most severe and the potato was relied upon most exclusively, a ubiquitous system of land utilization called clachan developed. Under this system, land was abstractly held in common by a group of families, called a baile. Property and farming rights for the communally held land were divided through a complex system that maximized use of arable land as an "ingenious adaptation to the environmental conditions of the west of Ireland, where tiny patches of glacial drift were frequently embedded in extensive areas of bog or mountains."28

Woodham-Smith describes a similar system of communal land ownership called the rundale system, and suggests that it caused a process of destructive subdivision. She also describes a system called conacre, through which the majority of agricultural labor in

24. Both estimates are from Cormac O'Grada, Ireland Before and After the Famine, 83.
25. Poirtier, 9.
26. Guiname, 1.
27. O'Grada, 25.
28. Whelan, in Poirteir, 24.
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