The “Irish” potato is not originally from Ireland but from South America (specifically Peru and Bolivia), where the Indigenous people have been growing it for thousands of years. After the Spanish conquistadors invaded the region during the 16th century, they brought the potato back to Europe, where it eventually became a popular food crop by the 19th century.

During the 1840s, a potato blight began to infect all the potatoes throughout Europe. The Irish were hit particularly hard because they almost solely subsisted on potatoes. They were mostly tenant farmers who were allocated a small plot of land in return for working on the lands of their landlords.

Potatoes were easy to grow in a small area and were cheap, filling, and less prone to spoilage, so it became the perfect food source for the poor. At the height of the Irish famine in 1847, the British landowners continued the exportation of food from Ireland to England and Scotland, which only exacerbated the situation. England refused to enact any sort of export ban.

Approximately 1 million Irish people died due to starvation. In the same year, the Choctaw people managed to scrape together $170 (worth $4,800 today) to send to Ireland for famine relief. Just 16 years prior, the Choctaw had been removed from their lands and made to walk the “Trail of Tears,” in which as many as 4,000 men, women, and children died due to starvation, disease, and exposure.

Irish family eating a meal of
potatoes and milk, 1917.

The Ottoman Empire also sent ships stocked with food, but they were turned away by the British. They had to covertly transport their supplies into a small town, 70 miles north of Dublin, in order to feed the starving Irish. Sultan Abdulmejid I also offered to donate 10,000 British pounds (worth $1.3 million today), but Queen Victoria refused to accept as she had already donated 2,000 British pounds and did not want to lose face. The sultan begrudgingly lowered his offer to 1,000 British pounds.



In 2020, the Irish people raised nearly $2 million for the Navajo and Hopi Nations so they could protect themselves from the pandemic.

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