Nutritional Decline in Post-Famine Ireland, c.1845-1922

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Irish dietary practice changed dramatically after the Famine. Families began to consume a more varied diet instead of relying on the potato. Prior to the Famine, this change would have been greeted positively. Most political economists advocated ending Ireland’s monocrop culture as they associated the potato diet with a lack of socio-economic development. This paper explores the meanings attached to dietary change and argues that concerns were raised after the Famine about the failure of the Irish poor to obtain a diet as nutritious as the potato diet had previously been. By the turn of the twentieth century, many commentators agreed that the national dietary adjustment, which had followed the Famine, had not been an improvement. On the contrary, the Irish poor seemed undernourished and underfed as they now subsisted upon nutritionally insufficient diets dominated by tea and white bread. In addition, this chapter explores the new ways in which food was thought about after the Famine with particular emphasis on how the new sciences of food impacted on the discussion of the Irish diet. It investigates state and voluntary interventions in Irish dietary health and maintains that these were relatively ineffective. In summary, this chapter problematises the post-Famine Irish diet by emphasisinga sense of decline in nutritional well-being debated in contemporary commentary on the national diet set against a backdrop of shifting expert ideas on food.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
JournalProceedings of the Royal Irish Academy Section C: Archaeology, Celtic Studies, History, Linguistics and Literature
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Jul 2015


  • post-Famine Irish diet
  • dietary change in post-Famine Ireland
  • history of tea drinking in Ireland
  • food history Ireland
  • Charles Cameron
  • Robert Kane
  • Irish potato diet
  • history of school meals in Ireland
  • history of malnutrition in Ireland


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