UCD Centre for Economic Research Working Paper Series WP18/21
Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine was a poor and backward economy. The Great Irish Famine of the 1840s is accordingly often considered the classic example of Malthusian population economics in action. However, unlike most historical famines, the Great Famine was not the product of a harvest shortfall, but of a major ecological disaster. Because there could be no return to the status quo ante, textbook famine relief in the form of public works or food aid was not enough. Fortunately, in an era of open borders mass emigration helped contain excess mortality, subject to the limitation that the very poorest could not afford to leave. In general, the authorities did not countenance publicly assisted migration. This paper discusses the lessons to be learned from two exceptional schemes for assisting destitute emigrants during and in the wake of the Famine.