This article is taken from the Illustrated London News and addresses the unprecedented levels of emigration that occurred from Ireland during the mid-19th century. The author describes the ‘torrent’ of emigration that was taking place by the 1850s, which appeared to be ‘unprecedented’ and ‘ceaseless’. Perhaps 5,000 people were leaving Ireland every week by this time, many on cramped and unsanitary ships bound for America from Cork or Belfast, or on steamers destined first for Liverpool and from there to New York, Boston and elsewhere.
Mass emigration from Ireland was a direct result of the ‘Great Famine’ which occurred between 1845 and 1852. During these years successive harvests of Ireland’s staple potato crop were destroyed by blight. Because Ireland was largely a subsistence economy during the years the effects of the failure were devastating. Perhaps as many as one million people died from starvation and poverty, with an equal number of people leaving the country in search of a better life overseas. The longer-term consequences of this rapid depopulation for Ireland were profound. The political and economic landscape of the country changed forever, with the famine also responsible for stirring campaigns for Home Rule later in the 19th century.