When we hear or read the words the Great Potato Famine, we almost always think of Ireland in the middle of the 19th century when one-fifth or more of the population died and the same number were forced to emigrate to find work and food.
Known as the Great Hunger or an Gorta Mór, the Famine changed Ireland for ever, with the horrific death toll something that had not been seen since the Black Death hit the country in the 14th century, writes Hamish MacPherson in this article published by The National.
The Famine killed more than a million people in a relatively short space of time with the government in Westminster seemingly unable to help. It wasn’t just about dying from hunger – typhus among populations seeking refuge in towns and cities killed tens of thousands. Many fled west – almost half of all immigrants to the USA between 1841 and 1850 were Irish.
In short, it was a catastrophe for Ireland, with the best estimates showing that the population fell from 8.4 million to 6.6m in just seven years from 1844 to 1851. And of course the Irish came to Scotland in large numbers to work in pits and mills and to build roads and railway lines.
Yet who in Scotland has heard of Gaiseadh a’ bhuntàta? That is the Scottish Gaelic term for the Highland Potato Famine, as historians and academics have come to call the period when parts of Scotland saw death and huge deprivation caused by exactly the same disease that devastated Ireland.
It in no way downplays an Gorta Mór to write about Gaiseadh a’ bhuntàta. In terms of sheer numbers alone, the two cannot be given equal consideration, but Hamish MacPherson is hoping to show that Scotland’s potato famine – it was not just confined to the Highlands – had a similar effect in terms of population and societal shift as the Great Hunger had for Ireland.
Source: The National. Read the full article here
Photo: The Emigrants: A memorial statue showing an evicted Highlander family during the clearances at Helmsdale, Sutherland.