Many Irish people were left with a stark choice during the Great Famine – emigrate or die?

In one year alone 250,000 Irish people fled their homeland in the hope of a better life. They often found their dreams were dashed long before they reached their destination.

Those attempting to escape the horror of famine were herded on to crowded, filthy, disease ridden ships and left with little access to even the most basic food and water supplies. Sadly for many, the dream of a new life turned to a horrible nightmare as hundreds died on the overcrowded and poorly provisioned ships.

Whilst crossing the Atlantic it was common for around 30% of a ship’s passengers to die. It is not surprising that these vessels became known as Coffin Ships.

From a population of eight million, by 1851, the country’s population had fallen to six million and when emigration finally slowed down around 1900, only about four and a half million were counted in the population. Whilst the population had fallen dramatically, the impact of the famine was the first step in the global phenomena whereby a vast number of people of many nationalities worldwide can trace their heritage back to such a small island.