Irish Famine of ’40

There is an odd thing in the history of Ireland in particular and the UK to some extent.

Every so often they have a terrible famine.

The Potato Famine

There was the one most folks think of, called The Potato Famine or The Great Famine. It started in 1845.

In Ireland, the Great Famine was a period of mass starvation, disease and emigration between 1845 and 1852. It is also known, mostly outside Ireland, as the Irish Potato Famine. In the Irish language it is called an Gorta Mór (IPA: [ənˠ ˈɡɔɾˠtˠə ˈmˠoːɾˠ], meaning “the Great Hunger”)[fn 1] or an Drochshaol ([ənˠ ˈdˠɾɔxˌhiːlˠ], meaning “the bad times”).

But there was an earlier famine in 1740-41:

The Great Frost–1741)

The Irish Famine of 1740–1741 (aka Bliain an Áir, “The Year of Slaughter”)in the Kingdom of Ireland was perhaps of similar magnitude to the better-known Great Famine of 1845–1852. Unlike the famine of the 1840s, which was caused in part by a fungal infection in the potato crop and, separately, extreme government regulations, that of 1740–41 was due to extremely cold and then rainy weather in successive years, resulting in a series of poor harvests. Hunger compounded a range of fatal diseases. The cold and its effects extended across Europe, and it is now seen to be the last serious cold period at the end of the Little Ice Age of about 1400–1800.

An extraordinary climatic shock, “The Great Frost” struck Ireland and the rest of Europe between December 1739 and September 1741, after a decade of relatively mild winters.
Its cause remains unknown. Charting its course sharply illuminates the connectivity between climate change and famine, epidemic disease, economies, energy sources, and politics. The crisis of 1740-1741 should not be confused with the equally devastating Great Famine in Ireland of the 1840s.

Though no barometric or temperature readings for Ireland (population in 1740 of 2.4 million people) survive from the Great Frost, Englishmen were using the mercury thermometer invented 25 years earlier by the German pioneer Fahrenheit. Indoor values during January 1740 were as low as 10 °F (−12 °C). The one outdoor reading that has survived was 32 °F (0 °C), not including the wind chill factor, which was severe. This kind of weather was “quite outside the Irish experience,” notes David Dickson, author of Arctic Ireland: The Extraordinary Story of the Great Frost and Forgotten Famine of 1740-41.

During the ramp up to the crisis in January 1740, the winds and terrible cold intensified, yet barely any snow fell. Ireland was locked into a stable and vast high-pressure system which affected most of Europe, from Scandinavia and Russia to northern Italy, in a broadly similar way. Rivers, lakes, and waterfalls froze and fish died in these first weeks of the Great Frost.
People tried to avoid hypothermia without using up winter fuel reserves in a matter of days. People who lived in the country were probably better off than city dwellers, because the former lived in cabins that lay against turf stacks, while the latter, especially the poor, dwelt in freezing basements and garret dwellings.

Coal dealers and shippers during normal times ferried coal from Cumbria and south Wales to east and south-coast ports in Ireland, but the ice-bound quays and frozen coal yards temporarily froze trade. When in late January 1740 the traffic across the Irish Sea resumed, retail prices for coal soared. Desperate people then stripped bare hedges, fine trees, and nurseries around Dublin to obtain substitute fuel. Also affected by the Frost were the pre-industrial town mill-wheels, which froze. Water powered the machinery which ground wheat for the bakers, tucked cloth for the weavers, pulped rags for the printers. As a result, the abrupt weather change disrupted craft employment and food processing. The intense cold even snuffed out the oil lamps lighting the streets of Dublin, plunging her into darkness.

One can only wonder what would be the impact of a similar freeze on the modern windmills…

W.W.II and UK Rationing

During the 1940’s, Ireland had a fair amount of food. Enough that they could export some to Britain (where the folks in the UK were on war rations, so having a bit of their own kind of famine).

At the start of World War II (1939), the United Kingdom imported 20 million tons of foodstuffs per year (70%), including more than 50% of its meat, 70% of its cheese and sugar, nearly 80% of fruits and about 70% of cereals and fats. The population would have been somewhere between 46 million (46,038 thousand as measured in the 1931 census) and 52 million (53,225 thousand as measured in the 1951 census). It was one of the principal strategies of the Axis to attack shipping bound for the United Kingdom, restricting British industry and potentially starving the nation into submission.

To deal with sometimes extreme shortages, the Ministry of Food instituted a system of rationing. To buy most rationed items, each person had to register at chosen shops, and was provided with a ration book containing coupons.
The shopkeeper was provided with enough food for registered customers. Purchasers had to take ration books with them when shopping, so the relevant coupon or coupons could be cancelled.

My family managed to participate in both the Irish famines (Dad’s side) and the UK Rationing (Mom). Lucky us… So I’ve been raised with many stories of privation and the need for preparedness…

Another interesting note comes from looking at the “list of famines” at wiki:

While there are a very large number of them, and many are clearly of political or war origin, there is this odd cooincidence:

1648–1660 Poland lost an estimated 1/3 of its population due to the wars, famine, and plague Poland
1649 Famine in northern England England
1650–1652 Famine in the east of France France


1540 [citation needed] Spain
1555 [citation needed] England

Prior to that time the famine events in England and Ireland “wander a bit more” and have several in the ’60s instead of the ’40s. I’m left to wonder, though, if the period might just be a tad off of the even 100 years marker…

And Now?

All of which causes me to wonder what it is about the ’40s. There were 1940’s war rations in England. 1840s Potato Famine in Ireland. The 1740’s Great Frost and Famine in Ireland.

And now we’ve got the prediction of a New Little Ice Age in 2040 from a couple of sources as the sun goes very quiet. That can’t be very good for the UK and Irish agriculture.

I’m left wondering if once again history will repeat; or have a strong rhyme…

Are we heading into a new Little Ice Age?
Posted on 25 October 2007 by John Cook

Solar activity is not static – it shows long term trends of brightening or cooling as well as a distinct 11 year cycle. Currently, we’re at the minimum of the solar cycle with no sunspots observed over the last few weeks. With the sun on the verge of entering a new cycle, there are speculations that we could be heading into a period of lower solar activity, leading to global cooling and possibly even a new Little Ice Age. Russian scientist Habibullo Abdussamatov predicts that around 2040, the sun will cool down to Maunder Minimum levels (Abdussamatov 2005). This was a period in the 17th Century with almost no sunspots for 70 years, coinciding with the Little Ice Age. Could a cooling sun overrule anthropogenic global warming?

That article was from 2007, yet in 2010 we were still on track for that cold outcome:

So, when at the ICCC conference there was a talk by Dr. Habibullo Abdussamatov that predicted we would start our way into a new Little Ice Age in about 2014. (Given how winter weather has been the last couple of years, I’m thinking maybe it’s starting a bit early ;-) At any rate, I think it’s worth a reminder that this HAS been predicted to be the entry into a very cold period that is to extend until about 2040 at the depths of the bottom.

At any rate, I find it a very odd coincidence that there seems to be a periodic “time of troubles” that hits the UK / Ireland area about every hundred years on the ’40s marker…

Perhaps this time we can get off the wheel… just this once…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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7 Responses to Irish Famine of ’40

  1. gallopingcamel says:

    When things turn bad one may have to leave (vote with one’s feet).

    Or as Christopher Lasch put it: “Ambitious people understand, then, that a migratory way of life is the price of getting ahead.”

    That might explain why so many Irish folks “Adapted” by moving to Boston. At least the ambitious ones did and look how they prospered!

  2. E.M.Smith says:


    Frankly, I suspect that is part of why America did so well for so long. It was the place to which the “Hell No!” folks moved. In the last 50 years, we had a lot more of the “mine mine mine mine” folks flooding in, but….

    There are still an excess of folks here who just don’t like being dependent on others.

    I suspect those who would like to make us into a EuroSocialistWanabee state have lost touch with that part of America and have no idea how deep those feelings run. To some extent, their may even be a genetic basis to the tendency (as many enzyme systems influence behaviours and emotional predispostions) and to that extent, while you can ‘train out’ some of it, it never fully goes away…

    At any rate, it will be interesting to watch the results.

    Oddly, there has been a large migration of the “ambitious” out of California as the Socialism Lite starts to bind… There’s also been migration from the USA to other more “free” places… A very strange thing…. That some folks would be headed TO Latin America to get some breathing room is an odd thing…

  3. gallopingcamel says:


    My first visit to the USA was in 1970; then in 1981 I moved from England to North Carolina. I was expecting to find remnants of the “Frontier Spirit” with its self reliance and individualism.

    While I was not entirely disappointed, I was surprised to find plenty of the “Entitlement Mentality” so familiar in the UK and some other European countries. In the last 30 years the trend here has gone entirely in the wrong direction from my perspective.

    In 2002 I ran for public office thinking it would be a popular idea to take the US constitution seriously by reversing the growth in power of the federal government so that the states or the people would dominate in most matters (10th Amendment). This turned out to be naive, so the district 23 senate seat went to Ellie Kinnaird, politically a little to the left of Karl Marx.

    The USA is still a beacon of hope for humanity but I fear the light is starting to dim.

    When you said : “That some folks would be headed TO Latin America to get some breathing room is an odd thing…” you hit really close to close to home.

    Even though everyone in my family is healthy, our medical insurance now costs double what our home costs. We will probably move to Queretaro in Mexico or Medellin, Colombia where our medical expenditures will be 5 to 10 times lower than in the USA.

    In both of these places the quality of medical care is far superior to what Sarasota or Brevard counties (Florida) can offer. For example, can you imagine……..doctors who makes house calls for affordable fees? Can you imagine…….. a laboratory using the latest MRI scanner that can make a cranial scan for $102? Can you imagine………doctors who will explain that MRI lab report and decline to charge you?

    My writings concerning the baneful influence of the medical colossus have been rejected by the “Main Stream Media”. If you take guest posts, I would be happy to contribute something.

  4. gallopingcamel says:

    Thanks for writing about the Irish famines. Having spent 10 happy years working in Belfast I love Ireland almost as much as the USA.

  5. pascvaks says:

    There be four kinds of Irish –

    The starving, dying huddled masses yerning for something to eat and a warm hearth and bed. They won’t last long.

    The quiters who feel they have nothing to loose and decide to shuck it all and leave for anywhere they can find passage.

    The suffering multitude who eck out a living as best they can.

    The fighters who feel there is nothing to loose and all to gain by burning this or that or killing so and so.

    They all dream..

    (Come to think of it, there be four kinds of Mexicans too.. and Yanks.. and Brits.. and Frogs.. and Cubans.. and Canuks.. and Chinese.. damn man, there be four kinds of everybody on this here little old planet;-)

  6. P.G. Sharrow says:

    @pascvaks: Are you a creator or a destroyer? ;-) pg

  7. pascvaks says:

    @PGSharrow: I’m Irish with a little Limey and HighlandScotch and Kraut, at the moment I’m an Old Cat III Yank, I have a feeling there’s a tiny bit of Yiddish in there somewhere too (probably one of those quickie conversions from way back in the Middle Ages;-) What would we ever do without labels?

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