The Prepper Journal

What Preppers Can Learn from the Irish Potato Famine

Editor’s Note: A guest contribution from Aden Tate to The Prepper Journal.

It wasn’t that long ago that a field known as moral philosophy was studied in schools. Within this field, students would look at history as a whole in order to glean what lessons mankind could gather from ancestor’s past mistakes and successes, and then apply those lessons to their present lives.

As a prepper, it makes sense then to spend a fair amount of time reading about disasters, tragedies, and wars in order to try to come to a conclusion of what works and what doesn’t during such times. There are innumerable examples that one could pull from history to learn from – it seems earth has been a collection of such stories – but one in particular may have special resonance today – the Irish Potato Famine.

Zero Diversity

What Preppers Can Learn from the Irish Potato Famine - The Prepper Journal
The chief reason the Irish potato famine was even allowed to happen in the first place was because the chief crop of Ireland was potatoes. There were a number of reasons for this (e.g. it was a low labor crop), but the fact remains that when you only have one of something to rely upon, what happens when it’s gone?

Why didn’t the Irish grow a large number of other foodstuffs alongside their potato fields? Why no focus on poultry, livestock, vegetables, or orchards? Shoot, why not fish? I mean, it’s an island. There’s a lot of water. Obviously, climate predicts what you’ll be able to grow, but you’d still be hard-pressed to find an example throughout the world where a mono-culture – one single crop – is the norm. The reason? Because an environment is not resilient when there is only one organism growing in it.

So as a Prepper, What Does this Mean?

It means incorporating fail-safes is key to increasing your resilience. Yes, there is the old adage “one is none”, but that’s not entirely what I mean here. What I mean is using diversity to add layers of protection. For example, I have my Milwaukee drill that I typically use around the house. Should it break, then I have an old Black and Decker drill from my college days. If that one finally bites the dust, then I can go back to my Papaw’s hand-driven brace and bit to drill the hole that I need.

Each tool does the same job, but they are each different. The diversity allows me to have alternatives.

The same could be said for your garden. You may be really good at growing corn, but what happens if a blight hits this year for corn? Your garden produces nothing. If you’ve also planted squash, pumpkins, lettuce, and tomatoes, then you have a diversity of food that all accomplish the same purpose (keeping you full).

Repeating Past Mistakes

Part of the reason that the Irish Potato Famine was so terrible was because it lasted two growing seasons. After the first year of blight, and the devastation that it caused, the Irish went right back and planted the exact same strain of the exact same crop the very next year! As expected, the blight came back again, and another season of starvation commenced.

Yes, there may have not been as full of an understanding of how plant disease works back then, but wouldn’t it seem wise at that point, after having watched all of the suffering around you and been starving yourself, to try something different?

I sure as heck wouldn’t want to put all of my trust in potatoes again after how they had failed the year prior. Yet that is exactly what happened.

I believe it was Einstein who said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Within prepping learn from your past mistakes. If you know that your Harbor Freight batteries didn’t last very long at all during the last storm, is it really a good idea to rely on them again for future storms?

Don’t Wait for the Government

England ruled Ireland at this point in time. There were some attempts to do things to relieve the pressure from the famine, but for the most part the English mindset was to disbelieve and discredit any stories they heard of starvation taking place right across from their island. Very little aid made its way in to Ireland from England as a result.

This isn’t to say that I think it’s the government’s role to step in for such situations (I rather believe it is the Christian church’s role, and that individual responsibility is key as well), but what I am saying is to just wait back for “the government to take care of it” is foolish, regardless of what “it” is.

From a prepping standpoint, this means doing what it takes to ensure that your family will be better provided for in a disaster and taking personal responsibility for the situation as well. Hawking off your family’s well-being to government attention because you are under the illusion that you have no role in the situation is naïve.

Fatalism is Laziness

There are many individual reports that came out of the Irish Potato Famine talking about people who would witness the failure of their crops, and then spend the rest of their life (literally) just staring at the ruined earth. How many people died because of the accepting of the idea “this year my family will starve”? Obviously, you cannot will food into existence in times of famine. But sitting for days on end staring at rotting crops literally does nothing. Fatalism assists the feared fate to come about.

If your basement floods during a hurricane, doing nothing but sitting at the top of the stairs for a week and thinking, “well, it’ll grow mold now”, does nothing to remedy the situation. Sure, there are situations that we have no control over that take place every day, but there are often ways we can work to ensure the situation improves as well.

Wrapping it Up

Obviously, there were a lot of other factors at play with the Irish Potato Famine than what I’ve covered here. Shelves worth of books have been written on the subject. I think if ponds had been built at the top of hills, gravity-fed water would have assisted in droughts and allowed mills to work at full capacity. I think England should have permitted the Irish to lease the land, rather than taking away any incentive to improve their farms by having the ability to kick them off the land literally any hour.
But that’s all beside the point.

The point is that there are things we can learn from our ancestor’s lives. And the Irish Potato Famine is no exception.

Further Reading

If you really want to delve further into the why’s and how’s of the Irish Potato Famine, I highly recommend checking out James Kelly’s The Graves are Walking. Like his other works, it’s a fantastic book written by a fantastic writer.

Also, if you enjoy my writing style, check out my upcoming book by Prepper Press, The Faithful Prepper: A Christian Perspective on Prepping. In it I approach topics such as: is prepping a lack of faith in God? What is the role of the Church post-disaster? How do you exercise Biblical charity post-disaster? And more. I hope you’ll check it out!

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