BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
The Great Irish Famine and Its Impact, 1845-1900

Unit code HIST31451
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? No


The Europe-wide failure of the potato crop in the 1840s cost Ireland a quarter of its population. This course explores the background, process and longer term impact of this Great Irish Famine. Several key questions will be asked: Was it inevitable? Was it someone’s fault? Did it represent a ‘turning point’ in Ireland’s history? What were its worldwide implications? How have historians addressed these questions? How has popular memory dealt with the crisis?


HIST31451 is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; and History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas (please check your programme structure for further details).

This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; and History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas. Available to students on an Erasmus programme subject to VSO approval.


  • Students will be encouraged to engage with historical debates surrounding the Famine using a variety of on-line and library resources.
  • Primary source analysis will form a key component of the course and will allow engagement with contemporary arguments over population problems, crisis relief, death, emigration and the social, religious and political repercussions of the Famine.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:


The following themes will be explored during the course:

  • Introduction: Studying Famines
  • Ireland before the Famine: Politics, Population and Society
  • The Contours of Calamity: Blight, Death, Disease
  • The Politics of Relief: Conservative & Liberal Responses
  • Relief in Practice: Landlords, the Poor Law & Private Charity
  • Impacts of the Famine: Emigration & the Diaspora
  • Impacts of the Famine: Economy & Society
  • Impacts of the Famine: Religion & Culture
  • Impacts of the Famine: Politics & Memory
  • Writing Catastrophe: Historians & the Famine

Teaching and learning methods

 1 x 3-hour Lecture/Seminar + Course Unit Office Hours equivalent to 1 hour per week

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understand debates surrounding the causes of, and culpability for, the Irish Famine
  • Appreciate the longer term consequences of the Famine
  • Put the Irish Famine in a broader global context.

Intellectual skills

  • Analyse a range of different types of documentary evidence.
  • Locate discussion of source material in a wider understanding of historiography.
  • Critically engage with relevant debates.

Practical skills

  • Present their work orally
  • Communicate complex ideas clearly

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Group working
  • Respectful debate/discussion

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Apply research and/or arguments to real-world situations
Group/team working
Respond to unseen tasks in class, both individually and in groups
Respond to unseen tasks in class, both individually and in groups
Apply research and/or arguments to real-world situations

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%

Feedback methods

Students will receive essay feedback electronically and through verbal discussion: summative

Recommended reading

  • Enda Delaney, The Curse of Reason (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 2012)
  • James S. Donnelly Jr, The Great Irish Potato Famine (Sutton, 2001)
  • Cathal Poirteir (ed.) The Great Irish Famine (Cork, 1995)
  • Christine Kinealy, The Hidden Famine (London, 2000) [ebook]
  • Peter Gray, ‘National Humiliation and the Great Hunger: Fast and Famine in 1847’ in Irish Historical Studies , Vol. 32, No. 126 (Nov., 2000), pp. 193-216 [jstor]
  • Cormac O¿ Gra¿da, Black '47 and Beyond: The Great Irish Famine in History, Economy, and Memory (Princeton, 1999)
  • Eugenio Biagini and Mary E. Daly, eds., The Cambridge Social History of Ireland (Cambridge: CUP, 2016)
  • Michael Murphy, John Crowley, William J. Smyth et al, eds., Atlas of the Irish Famine (Cork: Cork University Press, 2012)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Sarah Roddy Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Assessment Methods

Primary Source Essay, summative, 1500 words, 20%

Essay, summative, 2500 words, 30%

Exam, summative, 2 essays, 50%


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