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Irish Potato Famine Lesson for Kids: Causes & Facts

Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

The Irish Potato Famine that struck Ireland in the mid-1800s was a dark period when many people died or left Ireland. Learn about the potato blight that caused the famine and other facts related to the Irish Famine.

Potatoes in Ireland

Most kids like potatoes, especially when they're made into french fries, but would you like to eat potatoes every day for every meal? Well, that is what kids living in Ireland did in the early 1800s.

The Irish Potato Famine was a scary time for families in Ireland.
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In the early part of the 19th century, potatoes were very important to the people of Ireland. Potatoes were their main source of food and income. Most Irish people were potato farmers and grew potatoes to be sold to other countries as exported goods. But all that changed when Ireland was struck by the Irish Potato Famine.

What Was the Irish Potato Famine?

The Irish Potato Famine is sometimes referred to as the Great Famine or simply the Irish Famine. A famine is something that happens when large groups of people don't have enough to eat. The Irish Potato Famine was a time of starvation and disease that resulted in many Irish people dying or leaving Ireland due to the loss of the potato crops.

What Caused The Famine?

The Irish Potato Famine was caused by a disease called potato blight, which is a fungus that attacks potatoes causing them to rot and turn black.

Potato blight causes potatoes to rot and turn black.
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The fungus thrived in the damp weather of Ireland and quickly spread through the air. Being air-borne made the blight very bad because it not only spread over the fields killing the growing potato crops, it also found its way into the farmer's barns and killed the potatoes they had in storage.

When Did the Irish Potato Famine Occur?

The worst years of famine were 1846 to 1850, but the disease started one year earlier. In 1845, the potato blight started to spread, wiping out 40 percent of the potatoes in Ireland. In 1846, almost all of the potatoes in Ireland were lost to the potato disease.

Imagine if most of the food in your house suddenly turned black and rotten, and you'll understand how scary the Irish Potato Famine was for the Irish people. In 1847, the blight was no longer hurting the potatoes, but the famine wasn't over because there were no potatoes left to plant as seeds.

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