Ireland in the mid-1800s was an agricultural nation, populated by eight million persons who were among the poorest people in the Western World. Only about a quarter of the population could read and write. Life expectancy was short, just 40 years for men. The Irish married quite young, girls at 16, boys at 17 or 18, and tended to have large families, although infant mortality was also quite high.
The Irish catastrophe
The Great Famine in Ireland began as a natural catastrophe of extraordinary magnitude, but its effects were severely worsened by the actions and inactions of the Whig government, headed by Lord John Russell in the crucial years from 1846 to 1852.
In early 18th century, the “middleman system” was introduced to manage land which left rent collection on agents. The ability of a middleman was judged by the amount of money he could extract for the landlords. The law was heavily biased in favor of the landowners as they dominated Irish representation in Britain. The tenants lived in abject poverty. With the population of the island rapidly increasing, widespread unemployment among laborers and majority of the population living in poverty, Ireland was on the verge of a disaster.
Maximum extractions from the land led to potato becoming the most popular crop
The misery of the people is generally attributed to the manner in which estates are let. A rich man who does not wish to trouble himself with details will let a large extent of ground to a single man, whose intention is not to work, but to underlet perhaps to 20 persons; they again will let to perhaps 100 peasants moderately well off; and these once again will let the poorer unproductive land at an exorbitant rent to perhaps 1,000 poor labourers … they cultivate the greater part of it in potatoes which serve to nourish a family, They fattend a pig and raised a few chickens to sell in the market this being there only income and taken by the farmers agent to pay the anual rent ,