The Great Irish famine resulted in over a million deaths, from diseases such as cholera and dysentery, as well as starvation. Its cause, potato blight, had originated in America and spread widely throughout Europe, but nowhere were its effects as catastrophic as in Ireland. Through absent landowners and grasping agents, the Irish peasantry had been reduced to a virtual subsistence monoculture, almost entirely dependent on the potato. When the crop was destroyed by the blight, year after year, starvation was inevitable. Their plight was compounded by the callous and ineffectual response of the British government. In the famine of 1782–83, Irish exports of food were halted, but during the Great Famine, vast amounts of butter, beef and grain – often under military guard in full view of the starving – continued to be shipped out. The worst affected areas in the west lost over 30 per cent of their population, and many more through mass emigration to North America.
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