In 1845, the Irish Potato Famine devestated harvests of the country’s staple crop, and turned the potatoes into a “slimy, decaying, blackish ‘mass of rottenness.’ ” This unfortunate condition was caused by a fungus that had traveled from Mexico to Ireland.
Irish peasants consumed a diet consisting largely of potatoes. A farmer could grow triple the amount of potatoes as grain on the same plot of land, and a single acre of potatoes could support a family for a year. About half of Ireland’s populated depended on potatoes.
In the spring of 1847, Britain set up soup kitchens and programs of emergency work relief to aid those affected by the famine, however, several of the programs ended when a banking crisis hit Britain. Britain ended up relying on work houses to deal with the famine, but these grim institutions were insufficient to deal with a crisis of this scale. Some 2.6 million Irish entered overcrowded workhouses, where more than 200,000 people died.