Potato Famine

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is the tale of a girl and her family in 1845 in Ireland during the potato famine.

Submitted: June 07, 2012

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Submitted: June 07, 2012



September 23rd, 1845

I write this sitting in the corner of our little hut. It’s raining. Mama stands on the other side of the room, making us a stew from some of the last year’s potato crop. It won’t be as good as it once was, when the potatoes were first harvested, but I’m hungry and it’s food nonetheless. Anyway, wait, here comes papa, rain dripping off his skin, making puddles on the floor. He had been out checking this year’s potato crop, with my brother, Fallon. Their smiles radiate through the room.

“What’d it look like, Seoirse?” my mom asks, dusting her hands off of her skirt.

“Moir, this crop is going to be the best crop in years.”

“Good. We could use one of those. Last year’s potatoes are getting tiresome. A new supply would feel good, especially a healthy supply.”

And now I think I should go and eat the stew and then dream of the potato crop to come and let the rain softly lull me to sleep in my cozy mud home.


September 25th, 1845

Still everything appears to be going well. Ms. Garps from down the road’s crop seems to be doing well. More stew tonight.


September 27th, 1845

Took a trip to the fields today with Fallon. To see how the fields looked myself. It was early morning and the sun shone off the morning dew in a soft, warm light. I sat against the large rock in the middle of our fields. I had brought some breakfast to chew on and nibbled it as the sun came up. Slowly, ever so slowly the bread disappeared and the sun rose higher in the sky.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Fallon whispered. I nodded my head slightly. The fields looked beautiful, indeed. I agreed with papa, the potatoes did appear to be flourishing. It was nice to sit there, warm and comforted that things would turn for the better.


October 1st, 1845

A new month, potatoes soon!


October 4th, 1845

Ms. Garp’s son came to visit with mama and papa. They’re going to harvest their crop on the thirteenth. We’re so hungry papa says we’ll harvest as soon as the eleventh! Potatoes in a week, imagine!


October 7th, 1845

Fallon and I were bored today, so mama kicked us outside. I should’ve guessed, the pigs were everywhere and doing everything all cooped up inside our house, so she was a bit on the grouchy side. Apparently Fallon was too, because the game I made up soon turned into throw rocks into the creek rather than play with me. And you know what? Now I’m grouchy too! Seems to be like a fever going around, this grouchiness. When we harvest the potatoes and have good food for once, hopefully all will resolve and be well, hopefully.


October 12th, 1845

It rained yesterday, so we didn’t get to harvest any food. But today, today was so amazing. One by one we pulled the potatoes from the ground and stored them. They looked good enough to me. Food, food, food! We ate well tonight! Best crop ever! Mama actually cried and dada smiled with pleasure. Finally, finally, the world is looking up and I have a full stomach. Off to bed!


October 15th, 1845

Something’s dreadfully wrong


October 16th, 1845

The potatoes already have begun to rot. This makes no sense. The crop was great this year! We found some good ones and that was our dinner. We continue to harvest, but all are the same. We’re all confused. When Fallon and I went to bed last night we softly heard mom and dad’s voices talking worriedly. No one knows what to do.


October 17th, 1845

Ms. Garps heard about our potato troubles and was worried about her own. They too, are rot. We heard this through her son today. He talked with mama and dada.


October 19th, 1845

Scientific commissions are being set up to tell us what to do to fix the problem. Hopefully, they will be of some help.


October 20th, 1845

It has been suggested that we bake the potatoes in ovens to dry them. Papa and mama are trying it right away. Anything to save the potatoes.


October 23rd, 1845

Still rot. But we have heard of a new remedy idea from the Hummel’s down the street. They have one child named Buanaan. Her name means lasting or enduring, and I hop our and everyone else’s potatoes share the same meaning as her name. They’re already trying it. You have to treat the potatoes with lime and salt. Mom and dad agree we should try it.


October 27th, 1845

No change. Alas. 6 months provisions gone. What will we eat? More worried conversations, more whispered anxieties.


November 1st, 1845

We continue harvesting. Nothing good to eat, nothing. Rained today. Fits my mood. Gloomy. Tired of this. Tired of everything.


November 4th, 1845

Went out to the rock Fallon and I had sat at earlier, with hope. I sat there for a good long time. Things have definitely changed, yet this rock hasn’t. Then mom called me in for dinner. I wish I could have sat there forever and not changed a bit, like the rock. But life goes on and this must end at some point, right?


November 10th, 1845

Papa did some work outside today with Fallon. He says it keeps his mind off his problems at hand, but I would much rather cower in a corner to hide my troubles. Mama just purses her lips. But it never completely leaves our minds. Hunger and sorrow just don’t do that.


November 15th, 1845

Another rainy day this week. It’s been raining for so long. I’m so bored. I had to resort to playing with Fallon. We drew in the dry dirt in our house with our hands, taking care to stay away from the leaks in the roof and drew pictures and played games. Fun, but I’m still hungry


November 23rd, 1845

I spent all day today doing housework. Cleaning our house and doing other household chores, ignoring my stomach’s constant rumbling. Mama and dada agree the lime and salt treatment did not work. Nothing works.


November 29th, 1845

Heard mama humming today. The song was about Ireland’s glory and its people. It’s hard to feel that way now when times are so difficult. Now I find myself humming that tune as well.


December 4th, 1845

Last month, one half of the food was really in no shape to be eaten. Now, our crops are in even worse shape. The Hummel’s called and apparently faring even worse than us. They all looked a bit pale. We all do, but the Hummel’s more so.


December 8th, 1845

I was just trying to think of the last time I had a good meal and felt full afterwards. According to this journal, it was October 12th. How long ago that seems! A nearly 2 month rumbling stomach. I must have set some record. But no one has eaten well, so what does it matter?


December 15th, 1845

Mama and dada talked for a long time last night about our problems we are having. Not only is everyone hungry, but also we’re running out of money. The Hummel’s don’t own their house like we do and can’t pay their landlord. Ma and da need to come up with a way to get us some money and food. I see a huge problem coming.


December 22nd, 1845

The days just blur together and are equally dismal. Nothing to do, nothing to eat. I would rather watch a whole piece of grass grow with a full stomach, than have free reign on an empty one.

January 1st, 1846

A new year. Things should be changing. Yet everything seems to be just as bad as before. Ms. Garps died yesterday. She was old and never could fill her stomach. Her son is distraught. But there’s not much anyone can do to help.


January 6th, 1846

Not really anything to write. I can’t believe the state things are in. No one smiles. No one laughs. No one wants to. Many a person just stares into the distance, remembering.


January 16th, 1846

Why do good people get stuck in bad situations?  How can my wonderful parents, the Garps, and the Hummels get stuck in such an undeserved situation or predicament? I don’t understand. I will never understand, ever. As long as I live. This I vow.


February 20th, 1846

It takes effort even to write this simple couple of words. I’m just plain starved. Everyone in our family is thinner. I can count every single one of my ribs. I fainted today. But what is there to eat?


February 27th, 1846

Buanaan is sick. She has what they are now calling “famine fever”, by eating rot potatoes. We all pray she gets better soon. She must because her name says she will last, right?


March 3rd, 1846

Buanaan is worse. Her parents are beside themselves, but what can they do? A doctor was called.


March 4th, 1846

The doctor had not the faintest idea what to do. I’m surprised the e Hummel’s even got a doctor to come, there aren’t many around to help the now fast-spreading illnesses. I’ve heard of starvation, dysentery, typhus, and cholera. Awful maladies they are!


March 12th, 1846

Buanaan died early this morning. Ma and da keep looking at Fallon and I, worried for our health. She will be missed deeply and buried in their family cemetery. This can’t help but get me to thinking, if someone lasting and enduring can die, what is to happen to everyone else? I can’t imagine…


March 31st, 1846

Everyone I see looks sick, Ma, Da, Fallon, me. It seems as if all of Ireland is dying. Soon, will our land be empty, a barren wasteland? How are we to fix this problem? What can we possibly do? The potatoes are gone now, have been since February, every last one. This not only is an obvious problem, but what are we to plant next year?

April 2nd, 1846

I miss Ms. Garps and Buanaan. I should be thankful my family is all together, while so many are split now, but it is hard when so many things are wrong. The world is an unfair, unjust place.


April 19th, 1846

I feel like sitting in the corner and crying out of hunger, either that or getting up and running and running and running on and on until I come to a place brimming with food. But of course, this won’t happen, so I’ll just have to starve here to my death.


May 6th, 1846

Nothing much to say. What can I say? I try to write as often as I can, but end up staring at a blank page, willing it to turn into a nice warm plate of food. Ms. Garps son came to visit, yesterday. He tells us he’s going to try and scrape together the money to go to America, start a new life, he hopes. We all smiled and acted happy for him because, in way, we are, but inside we were sad that the time came where he had no choice but to go. The journey will take 40 days. He leaves the 30th.


May 27th, 1846

The Hummels visited today. Without Buanaan, they will be going to America. The government will sponsor them to sail over. They leave July 26th. It seems that everyone wants to go to America.


May 30th, 1846

Ms. Garps son sailed to America today. He is going, finally. We stopped by his house to see him off. He brought nothing with him. Despite being excited for this opportunity, he was saddened to leave behind Ireland. We all understand his feelings. He tells us to try and join him soon. We’ll try.


June 2nd, 1846

I can’t believe that in September there was Ms. Garps, her son, Buanaan, Mr. and Ms Hummel, Fallon, me, ma and da, all together in Ireland. Now there is only Mr. and Ms. Hummel, leaving soon, ma and da, and Fallon and me. Who would have thought? Not me.


June 10th, 1846

My worst nightmare has come true. Mama and dada are deathly sick, with what I am not sure. No doctors can help, none can be found. Fallon and I have no idea what to do. Everything fails and they seem to worsen.


June 18th, 1846

A day I will never forget. Ma died this very afternoon. I was feeding her water and put it down, she looked so tired. When I looked back she had slipped away, forever. Da looks around, confused. Moir, my mama, I will never forget you, the very fabric of our family.


June 25th, 1846

Why must this happen? I do not understand. Da, now, as well, is dead. But at least he shall be with ma. What I don’t get is why they can’t be together, here on earth. Fallon and I have no idea what to do. We buried ma and da together, in the cemetery, Moir and Seoirse, mother and father of the orphaned Fallon and Doirent. Alone. Lifeless.


July 9th, 1846

Ms. Garp’s son should be arriving in America today. Another person who is already gone for good.


July 10th, 1846

The Hummels came to say hello today and were astounded to find ma and da gone. I fell into Ms. Hummel’s arms and she comforted me as I comforted her. Same with Fallon and Mr. Hummel. We acted like small children. Buanaan, ma, da, gone. They left, the Hummels promising to come check on us tomorrow.


July 11th, 1846

The Hummel’s didn’t come today. What could have happened?


July 12th, 1846

Fallon and I went to check on the Hummel’s. They were unable to move, sick. Not them too, please.


July 14th, 1846

Fallon and I are alone now. The Hummels have left.


July 16th, 1846

Now that the Hummels can’t go to America, Fallon and I will. I should feel excited. Except I feel numb.


July 26th, 1846

America day. Yet not as planned. Fallon and I boarded the ship. And immediately felt the presence of filth. Fallon and I were dressed in our old clothes, all unwashed and dirty. We noticed other people were dressed in rags as well. The deck was not swept and I would not declare one single thing on that ship clean. I tried to hold my breath to mask the smell of seasickness and other indescribable things, yet you could still smell the stench. I felt my spine tingle and saw no proper place to sit. Even if things were clean, I doubt it would have been easy, things were so cramped and tight. There were rats and mice and I saw not much fit to eat. I felt as if I could not breathe. I heard someone say these ships were called coffin ships and I could hardly disagree. This ship was repelling. America or not, I wanted to run right off. Fallon and I just held hands and cried.


July 27th, 1846

Ireland is out of sight now. Ma, da, Ms. Garps, Mr. and Ms Hummel, all gone. This brings a fresh load of tears. But I can’t cry, because there is little water to drink to recover.

August 1st, 1846

A small girl died. The sailors on this ship tossed her over the side. So cruel. Her mother screamed.


August 11th, 1846

I befriended a small, also orphaned boy named Tod this morning. He can’t be more than 9. Fallon and I agree to look after him.


August 15th, 1846

So home sick today. What if America isn’t all Fallon and I hoped? Tod seems to look up to Fallon and me. It comforts me to comfort him. More people die every day.


September 1st, 1846

Land in sight! A tall green statue welcomes us. Fallon, Tod and I have hopes.


September 2nd, 1846

The other day was a very big day. We went to a place called Ellis Island, where all the people coming into America are received. We walked up a large staircase and at the top we were instructed to have a medical check. Some people got letters chalked on their shirts, including Tod and I wondered what it meant, but he was taken away before I could ask. The Americans asked us a lot of hard questions, but when we were finally done, we were finally in America! I’m glad I had Fallon with me because people tried to take advantage of us once we entered, but we managed to make it through without problem. Now Fallon and I need to find work.


September 4th, 1846

Fallon and I now live in a ghetto, what they call Irish communities here. We still have yet to find work. It seems starting out may be harder than we thought and loads of places have a sign saying “No Irish Need Apply.”


September 6th, 1846

Luck! Fallon and I have found work! I am getting to work at a textile factory and Fallon has a job sweeping streets. Maybe everything will work for the better, now that we’re here, in American, settled, at last.



In Ireland, around this time, conditions were not favorable. People lived in mud cabins and did not have the best of living conditions. One half of people had the potato as part of their main diet and 40% of people ate the potato almost entirely. Potatoes had a one year life and if a potato crop died, it could not be replaced. This is why when the potato blight struck, caused by an airborne fungus, 1 million Irish would die. You can see what happened in 1845 through the diary. In 1846, people panicked and ate leaves, grass, and tree bark. The whole crop died. In 1847, there were not enough seeds for new potatoes, though the crop survived. In 1848, the blight struck again. I n 1849, the blight was over. People died from many diseases (starvation, famine fever, dysentery, diarrhea, typhus and cholera) and little medical care was available. When people got “coffin ships” to America, the ships were filthy and disgusting. The journey lasted about 40 days. Immigration to America between 1820 and 1880 was 3.5 million Irish. Irish were never less than a third of all immigrants. People could come because they had the money, were sponsored, got over with indenture contracts or had earlier immigrated family send money. Once in America, it was hard to get settled. Immigrants were taken advantage of and some jobs said “No Irish Need Apply”. Irish had to live in almshouses, cellars, shanties and ghettos. The jobs Irish got could be building bridges, canals, railroads, sweeping streets, mining, cleaning stables, being chambermaids, cook, caretakers, servants and working in factories.

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