Ireland and the Potato

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About
How and when the potato was first introduced to Ireland remains the subject of much conjecture and debate. Of the stories which have been current, the most plausible states that it was introduced to Ireland from Virginia by Sir Walter Raleigh, who owned estates in County Cork and was mayor of the town of Youghal in 1588 and 1589. In any case, the potato was certainly in Ireland by the late 16th century, and an established feature of the Irish diet by the end of the 17th. So successful was its assimilation into Irish food patterns that by the end of the 18th century it had displaced the older staples of cereals and dairy produce as the dominant item in the diet of the cottier (cottager) class and the landless agricultural labourers. Indeed, on the eve of the Great Famine in 1845, over one-third of the Irish population relied almost exclusively on the potato for their sustenance.