What’s more, the potato had obvious advantages for the farmers of Ireland. You see, while many owned only tiny portions of land to cultivate – the majority of small tenant farmers possessed only 15 acres or less each to their names, in fact – they also typically had large families and many mouths to feed. It made sense, then, to grow the most productive crop available – which was the potato.
After all, potatoes not only grew well – even on poor land – but they were also easy to store for lengthy periods after harvesting. In terms of calories, too, the tubers are worth three times as much as the equivalent weight in grain. With all this taken into account, it stands to reason that potatoes were at the center of many Irish families’ meals by about 1800.
As a consequence, then, while farmers in Ireland once had diets based around grains and dairy products, the potato ultimately took over. But why had the country ended up so dependent on the vegetable? Well, the answer lies in both the structure of Irish society and the fact that the whole island was a British colony.