To What Extent Was the Famine a Turning Point in Irish History? Essay

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To what extent was the Great Famine a turning point in the economic and social history of modern Ireland? The famine of the 1840’s has been described as a ‘profoundly significant event in modern Irish history,’ and there has been considerable debate by historians as to the exact implications it had for Irish economy and society. If the effects were widespread and dramatic, then this period in Irish history is one which needs to be studied and explored extensively to ascertain exactly why this was the case. If not however, the effects become less significant. Some historians regard the period as a, ‘major dividing-line’ in terms of economic and social Irish history, marking the end of ‘the prehistoric times in Ireland’ and bringing about many changes. Others regard it, by itself, as insignificant with regard to these changes and argue it was simply an event which saw acceleration of trends already set in motion. This period did indeed mark an age of change in terms of economic history in Ireland and can be seen in the sphere of agriculture, size and ownership of farms in Ireland and in living standards. The change is particularly well demonstrated in the sphere of agriculture. It has been traditional to regard the famine as a line which clearly demarcates two eras in Irish agriculture. The earlier era is thought of as one in which the Irish rural population remained on the land and tilled rather than grazed. The latter era is regarded as one in which the people either emigrated or embraced the rearing of livestock as opposed to the production of grain. However, the important question is whether this dividing line came before the famine or as a result of it. Some revisionist historians have claimed that 1815 was in fact the time when the structure of Ireland’s agriculture began to shift from tillage to cattle farming. Foster claims that livestock encroached the
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