One of the most polarized and controversial aspects of Famine historiography relates to the issue of food production, export and distribution. The popular understanding has tended to believe that large amounts of food left Ireland whilst the people starved. This interpretation has its roots in the writing of the radical John Mitchel. In his Jail Journal, published in1854, he presented the Famine as starvation in the midst of plenty, the blame for which he unequivocally attributed to ‘English’ rule.1 Mitchell further developed this theme in The Last Conquest of Ireland, published six years later which included the much-quoted phrase, ‘The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine.’2 Mitchel’s interpretation has been frequently criticized for being simplistic and politically motivated.3 One historian has suggested that as a consequence of Mitchel’s accounts, ‘by a masterly stroke of propaganda, the tragedy became harnessed to the bandwagon of Irish nationalism’. Moreover, those who have supported the idea that the Famine was neither inevitable nor caused simply by food shortages have similarly been tainted with political or nationalist motivations.4 But over-reliance on Mitchel as a source (significantly by his detractors) has served to obfuscate the complexity of the issue of food supply.
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