To Feed the Hungry

Behind the scene ...

1830s Ireland was largely an agricultural country, with farmers working small holdings. Some owned their land while others rented land, often from absentee landlords. Irish inheritance laws saw sons inheriting land in equal shares so farms were gradually becoming smaller and growing sufficient food became more difficult. Growing potatoes was often the family’s only option. Emigration to other countries was a possibility for some people during the 1830s. However, many were forced from their land into the larger towns and cities where their problems often became worse.

Jacinta Prunty (1998, p. 337) writes about the many ‘threads’ which came together and caused poverty and hunger to become rife amongst the Irish people in the 1830s, later exacerbated by the potato famine (1845-1851). Her comments about Dublin applied to most of the country: “While the Dublin slum problem was interlinked in a complex manner, there were several discernible threads to the story – contagious disease, poor sanitation, both public and domestic; multiple occupancy and overcrowding of old building fabric; moral and physical ‘degradation’; vagrancy, begging, homelessness, and the policing, control and relief of the poor by state and charity organizations, all set against a backdrop of (initially) worthless local government and endemic poverty ...” For those with no income and possibly nowhere to live, surviving each day was a challenge.

Henry David Inglis (1835, p. 303), the Scottish travel writer and journalist, wrote about his visit to Ireland in 1834. Referring to his time in Limerick, he noted that many of the houses he visited revealed the extreme poverty of the people:

 “ ... the inmates, were some of them old, crooked, and diseased; some younger, but emaciated, and surrounded by starving children ; some were sitting on the damp ground, some standing, and many were unable to rise from their little straw heaps. In scarcely one hovel, could I find even a potato…”


Prunty, J. (1998) Dublin Slums 1800-1925: A Study in Urban Geography Dublin: Irish Academic Press.

Inglis, H. D. (1835) Ireland in 1834: A journey throughout Ireland London: Whittaker and Co.