On The Bricks

November 20, 2020

          One crop, the potato, failed in Ireland from 1845 to 1851 and more than a million people starved to death tells The Book of Bizarre Truths. The reason the Great Famine took such a toll is because those who starved were the poor.

          For generations, the impoverished in Ireland survived by planting potatoes to feed their families. They had little else. Ireland’s wealthy landowners grew many crops, but these were shipped off and sold for profit.

          In Irish history, the Catholics and the Protestants didn’t get along, just as the Irish and the English didn’t. Back then, the wealthy landowners were mostly English Protestants, with the poor were Catholic peasants. The Irish peasants grew their food on small parcels of land they rented from the English.

          In the 16th century, the potato crossed the Atlantic from Peru, originally arriving in England and finally getting to Ireland in 1590. Spuds grew well in Ireland, even on the rocky, uneven plots of the peasants. They quickly became the peasants’ main food source. Potatoes require little labor to grow, and an acre could yield 12 tons of them, enough to feed a family of six for the entire year, with leftovers to feed the animals.

          Potatoes are loaded with vitamins, carbohydrates, and some protein. Add a little fish and buttermilk to the diet and the family could live quite happily. Potatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner fueled a population boom in Ireland. By the 19th century, three million people were living on the potato diet.

          In 1845 the blight turned Ireland’s potatoes into black, smelly, inedible lumps. Impoverished families had no options. Their pitiful savings were wiped out, and they fled to the workhouses, the only places they could get food and shelter in return for labor.

          When the potato crop failed again the next year, and every year through 1849, people began dying in earnest. They died from starvation, scurvy, and gangrene (caused by lack of vitamin C), typhus, dysentery, typhoid fever, and heart failure. Overwhelmed and underfund, the workhouses closed. People weakened by hunger, died of exposure after being evicted from their homes. A cholera epidemic spread during the last year of the blight, killing thousands more.

          The exact number who perished is unknown, but believed to be between one and two million. At least a million people left the country, many of them dying at sea.

          All during this time, there was food in Ireland, but it was consumed by the wealthy. The poor had nothing and were left to starve.

          When we look back in history, it makes us realize that the story of COVID, as a medical emergency, is not new.

FYI: In 2005, three and a half years after the company filed for bankruptcy, Polaroid chairman Jacques Nasser received $12.8 million for selling shares of the company. Meanwhile, 6,000 former employees each got $47 and lost their benefits.

Famous Okie information: Recently I have been watching the television series “Leverage” via Netflix DVD. I love the series (there were five seasons) and the actors are great. I like them so much that I pulled the cast up on Google and found out Christian Kane who plays Eliot Spencer, the tough guy, is an Okie. He was born in Texas in 1974, but moved to Norman, Okla., when in eighth grade. He attended the University of Oklahoma. Besides being in “Leverage” he was also in “Secondhand Lions,” one of my favorite movies.

Keep going on New Years resolutions: Pay off your credit card every month and if something is so expensive that you don’t think you’ll be able to, don’t buy it.

Made me laugh: The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

See you on the bricks, soon! Stay safe.