• For hundreds of years, people have immigrated to North America for various reasons, such as to escape religious persecution and to find new opportunities. In 1845, the potato famine forced Irish to choose between starvation and migration. Few, however, had food to take with them. So death by starvation was extremely likely on the voyage.


    In the 19th century, more than half of the Irish people lived on small farms that were leased from wealthy landowners. Often the rent was paid in crops with little more than potatoes left to feed the people. When the potato crop failed in 1845, the result was mass starvation of more than 2 million people.

    Overseas Transport

    Landlords paid to send pauper families overseas with promises of food, money and clothing. Most passengers had no food to take on the journey and depended on the ship's rations of barely 1 pound of grain a day.

    Immigrant Malnutrition

    The ships that carried the Irish emigrants were called coffin ships because of their unsanitary, crowded conditions. The death rate was accelerated due to malnutrition from lack of food.

    Cooking on Deck

    Open fires on the ship deck allowed the limited cooking of oatmeal and water into a mush. The ship captain usually had a personal cache of pork, rice, beans and potatoes he might sell to the passengers, often taking their last penny or personal possession.

    Bread and Water Sustenance

    Irish cooking is simple and usually consists of potatoes, onion and meat boiled into a stew. Unfortunately, many immigrants had only bread and water for the trip across the ocean.


    Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute: Irish Immigrant Families in Mid-Late 19th Century America

    The History Place: Irish Potato Famine--Coffin Ships

    EMILE, Early Immigrant Letter Stories: Irish Emigration--The Crossing

    More Information:

    Spartacus Educational: Immigrating to the USA, Irish Immigration

    New Advent: Catholic Encyclopedia: The Irish in the United States:

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