Illuminations: The Potato, A Story from this Month’s Issue of the Ohio Irish American News

Illuminations: The Potato
By: J. Michael Finn

It’s probably an unlikely subject for a column on Irish history, but one should not discount the important role this lowly plant has played in the history of Ireland. As much as any historical figure or event, the potato shaped Irish history.

The potato was originally discovered in the Andes Mountains of South America by Spanish explorers, who introduced the tuber to Europe in the second half of the 16th century. How the potato arrived in Ireland seems to be up for some debate among historians. Like many things in Ireland the origin involves politics.

Some historians credit the Spanish with introducing the potato to Ireland. One story says the potato arrived via Spanish trading ships that regularly visited Ireland; the other states that potatoes washed up on the shores of Ireland after the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the English in 1589. Either one of these stories is certainly credible, but there are other theories as well.
The English, who were not friends with the Spanish in the 1500s, are reluctant to acknowledge the involvement of Spain in bringing the potato to Ireland. They offer an alternative theory.

This origin theory involves the English soldier and adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh was a captain in the British army and fought in Ireland during the Desmond Wars that devastated the province of Munster. Grateful for his murdering ways in Ireland, the English granted Raleigh a 40,000 acre estate in Ireland. Raleigh supposedly introduced the potato around 1587 on his estate as an easy to grow crop that was ideal for the “lazy” Irish. Several historians will tell you the Raleigh stories are rubbish and the Spanish should get the credit.

Despite the conflict over its origin, there are several facts about the potato that are not in dispute. The potato was remarkable for both its adaptability to various climates and its nutritional value. It provides starch, an essential component to the diet.

In addition, potatoes are a rich source of vitamin C, high in potassium and an excellent source of fiber. Potatoes alone supply every vital nutrient except calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D. The easily-grown plant has the ability to provide more nutritious food faster on less land than any other food crop. The potato was also useful as a disease preventer, helping to prevent such diseases as scurvy, tuberculosis, measles and dysentery.

The Irish peasantry embraced the tuber more passionately than anyone in Europe. The potato was well suited to the Irish the soil and climate, and its high yield suited the most important need of most Irish farmers – to feed their families.

What made the Irish dependent upon the potato as a food source? The Irish farmed land they did not own. The landlords required that all marketable crops grown on the land be sold to pay the rent. This sale established the amount of the annual rent as the “market value” which could increase each year as the price of crops went up or if the landlord made improvements to the land. This practice is known as rack-renting.

Because of the abuses of rack-renting, the Irish tenant farmer could not grow any marketable crops for his own consumption as everything had to be sold in order to pay the rent and avoid eviction. The potato was not a very marketable crop and therefore the Irish tenant farmer could grow as much as he liked. Thus, the Irish became dependent on the potato as their chief source of food.

By the early 1840s, almost one-half of the Irish population had become entirely dependent upon the potato. Yet this wonderful crop also had its drawbacks. It did not keep well, nor could it be stored from one season to another. The crop that was harvested in September would last only until the following June. Many would go hungry during the “starvation months” of summer until the new crop appeared in September.

When the potatoes ran out in June, the Irish were forced to switch to expensive meal as a food source, meaning that they had to buy the food on credit at high interest rates offered by the dreaded local usurer known as the Gombeen man.
The potato was also subject to disease. Because the Irish planted the same crop in the same place year after year, this robbed the soil of nutrients and made the potato susceptible and prone to various diseases.

The Irish dependence on the hazard prone potato did not go unnoticed by the British Government. Between 1801 and 1845 ,there were 114 commissions and 61 special committees that were appointed by Parliament with instructions to report on the state of Ireland.

Without exception their findings predicted a potential disaster because of the population’s dependency on the potato. Little was done as a result of these reports as Parliament’s opinion was that Ireland’s problems could only be solved by taxing Irish land, which led to higher rents, more evictions, more poverty and more starvation. The small amount of help they provided only perpetuated the suffering.

Then in September of 1845, the deadly blight first hit the potato crop. Potatoes were attacked and eaten by a fungus known as phytophthora infestans which turned the potatoes into an indigestible mass of black goo. Yields were reduced by one third in 1845 as the blight ravaged and completely destroyed subsequent crops in 1846, 1847, 1848 and 1849.

As the potatoes became scarce the Irish population began to starve. Despite the fact that Ireland continued to produce and export sufficient food to feed everyone, over a million and a half people died of either starvation or the diseases that followed; an additional million and a half people emigrated from Ireland. There are some who say these statistics are grossly understated.
The refusal of the English to close the Irish ports and stop the export of food condemned the Irish to starvation, disease and death. That is why the Irish correctly call it the Great Hunger and not the Great Famine.

*J. Michael Finn is the Ohio State Historian for the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Division Historian for the Patrick Pearse Division in Columbus, Ohio. He is also Chairman of the Catholic Record Society for the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio. He writes on Irish and Irish-American history; Ohio history and Ohio Catholic history. You may contact him at

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7th Annual Festival Focus, and Summer Fun Run

There are over 176,000 people of Irish descent in Cuyahoga County, 450,000 living in Greater Cleveland, more than 1.4 million in Ohio. The impact and involvement of the Irish has shaped the state since its birth. There is no better return on your advertising investment to reach the Irish community than the Ohio Irish American News. We will celebrate our 7th Anniversary later this year. We have become an impactful and significant player in the community in which we live and serve. The OhIAN brings the movers, shakers and music makers to you from a unique perspective each month. You get our readers, who are responsive, active and loyal to our advertisers. See the testaments of those who have made the journey with us this far, below.

Special features, Out & About Ohio event listings and our Heart of the Issue advertiser profiles all combine with our active, vibrant online community of followers;,, and are each updated daily, and generate an already large, and rapidly growing, group of loyal followers, now numbering more than 50,000. These active followers spread the word about news and events, supporters and local businesses through sharing, retweeting and comments.

The OhIAN is delivered in Cleveland the 1st Thursday of each month, by Scene Magazine and by FedEx throughout the rest of Ohio and in six surrounding states. It is the go to source for events and places for travelers too. All issues are archived online, extending feature and advertising life.

I am writing to invite you to partner with us as well. Out next issue is the 7th Annual Fantastic Festival Focus issue, but the Irish community is active all year long. We hope you will be too. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions; my cell and email are below. We can design an ad and an advertising package perfectly suited to your needs.


John O’Brien, Jr.
Co-Publisher / Editor
Ohio Irish American News
Deputy Director
31st Annual Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival
July 19 – 21, 2013 /


Out & About Ohio May Events ~ Stick it to the fridge!

Out & About Ohio – May 2013

3rd Annual Hooley on Kamms Corners Returns
11th – The family friendly street festival features Craic Brothers, Marys Lane, Cleveland Police and Cleveland Fire pipe bands, Harp City, Brady-Campbell, Burke, and Cannon Irish Dance schools, children’s entertainment, food & fun! Noon to 8.

Cincinnati – Irish Heritage Center
Library by appointment/ Genealogy for members/Tea Room by reservation. Irish Language Classes, Tuesdays 7:00 / Irish History Classes, Thursdays 6:30 / Sat Art Classes / Children’s Sat, Adult Tues Irish Dance Classes. Irish Heritage Center 3905 Eastern Avenue 513.533.0100,

Brooklyn – Hooley House!
3rd – Marys Lane, 4th – Breakfast Club, 10th – Velvet Shake, 17th – Brigid’s Cross on Patio @ 5:00, Charlie in the Box ~ 9:30, 18th – Abbey Rodeo, 24th – Samantha Fitzpatrick, 25th – UFC 160, 31st – Brigid’s Cross (Patio @ 5:00), Abby Normal 10pm. 10310 Cascade Crossing, Brooklyn 216-362-7700.

The Harp
1st – Lonesome Star, 3rd – Irish Session, 4th – The Porter Sharks, 8th – Chris & Tom, 10th – Brent Kirby, 11th – Chris Allen, 15th – Lonesome Star, 17th – Fior Gael, 18th – Pitch The Peat, 22nd – Chris & Tom, 25th – Kristine Jackson, 29th – Lonesome Stars, 31st – Walking Cane. 4408 Detroit Road, 44113

Stone Mad
5th – Cinco De Mayo Party w/ Mariachi’s Lane (Marys Lane), 12th – Holleran Traditional Irish Session, 19th – Rob Duskey and Friends, 26th – Chris Allen & the Guilty Hearts. Live music entertainment every Sunday. Traditional Irish Session 1st Sunday of ea/month, Happy Hour Monday-Friday 4 – 7. 1306 West 65th Street Cleveland 44102 216-281-6500

Flat Iron Café
3rd – Cats On Holiday, 10th – Marys Lane, 17th – Donal O’Shaughnessy, 24th – Brittany Reilly Band, 31st – Rob Duskey & the Rounders. Cleveland 44113-2406 216.696.6968.

5th – G.S. Harper, 12th – Patrick Graney Trio; 19th – One Room School House; 26th – Smug Saints. 820 College Avenue, Cleveland, 44113

PJ McIntyre’s
1st -Pub Quiz 7pm, 3rd – New Barleycorn, 4th – Carlos Jones, 10th – Disco Inferno, 11th – 4th – Annual Hooley 12-8pm music inside by Lake Shore Drive, 17th – Marys Lane, 18th – Abbey Normal, 19th – Phil Masterson Fundraiser 3-7pm, 24th – Dj Kidd, 25th – Sumrada, 26th – Cleveland Feis @Wolstein Center, Good Luck To All The Brady Campbell Dancers! 31st – Crazy Chester. 17119 Lorain Avenue, 44111

West Park Station
2nd – Jim & Eroc HH, 5th – Etiquette HH, 9th – Austin Walkin’ Cane
10th – Tim & Michelle HH, 16th – Mossy Moran HH, 17th – Faction, 18th – Drunk Betty, 23rd – Stevie Monce HH, 24th – Stevie Monce Band, 25th – Cocktail Johnny, 30th – Jackson Rohm HH. Mon: I Hate Mondays 2 Hr Extended HH & Trivia Night 7pm. Tues: Roll Call-discounted drinks 4 Fire, Police, Military & Med Pros 9pm. Wed: Karaoke 9pm. Thur: Ladies Night 9pm. Sun: SIN Night 9pm. 17015 Lorain Avenue Cleveland 44111 (216) 476-2000.

Flannery’s Pub
323 East Prospect, Cleveland 44115 216.781.7782
PaddyRock Irish SuperPub

3rd – Tom Evanchuck, 4th – Bastard Bearded Irishmen, 10th – Chuck Cornwell, 11th – The Hooley on Kamm’s Corner Smug Saints, 18th – Burning River Ramblers, 24th – Wally Franz.16700 A Lorain Avenue Cleveland, 44111

Avon Lake
Ahern Banquet Center
Ahern Banquet Center is booking weddings and special events. Call Tony Ahern / Lucy Balser @ 440-933-9500. 726 Avon Belden Rd, Avon Lake 44012.

Irish American Club East Side
3rd – Corks & Kegs Meet & Greet @St. John Vianney Hall w/One More Pint $10, 4th – Kentucky Derby Party, 5th – Cinco de Mayo Party, 10th – Loch Erie, 17th – Mary Agnes Kennedy. PUB: 7:30 – 10:30. IACES 22770 Lake Shore Blvd. Euclid, 44123. 216.731.4003

Paddy’s Pour House
922 East 222nd Street, Euclid, 44123

Logan’s Irish Pub
2414 South Main Street, Findlay 45840 419.420.3602

Beck Center for the Arts
4th – Super Saturdays free art activities ages 1-8, 5th – Women’s Board Victorian Tea Party, 10th & 11th – Razzle Dazzle XIII: The Nature of Things, 10th-19th – Youth Theater presents Bye Bye Birdie, 19th – Bike for Beck Community Festival & Bicycle Tour, 31st – The Pitmen Painters. 17801 Detroit Avenue Lakewood 44107 (216) 521-2540

Medina – Sully’s
3rd – Westside Steve, 4th – Loch Erie, 10th – Lake Shore Drive, 11th – Music Men, 17th – New Barleycorn, 18th – Donal O’Shaughnessy, 24th – High Strung Irish, 25th – Lisa Spicer, 31st – Mossy Moran. 117 West Liberty Medina, 44256

Hooley House
3rd – Matt Johnson Dueling Pianos, 10th – Almost Famous, 11th – Abbey Rodeo, 12th – Brigid’s Cross, 17th – Jeff Soukup Band, 18th – Marys Lane, 24th – Carlos Jones, 25th – UFC 160, 31st – Big in Japan. All starts @9:30. Every Tues: Open Mic w Nick Zuber, Every Wed: Trivia Night. 7861 Reynolds Rd Mentor (440) 942-6611.

Olmsted Twp
West Side Irish American Club
12th – Mother’s Day Breakfast, 24th Annual Reverse Raffle. Every Friday Great Food 5:30 – 8:00, Great live music 7:30-10:30. WSIA Club 8559 Jennings Rd. 44138 440-235-5868.

4th – Kevin McCarthy, 10th – Eric Butler, 11th – One More Pint, 18th – Dan McCoy, 24th Brendan Burt, 25th – Mossy Moran. Wed: Karaoke, Thurs: Ladies Night w/ D.J. 4110 Erie Street

Croagh Patrick’s
4857 Robinhood Drive Willoughby, 44094 (440) 946-8250.

Shamrock Club Events
Happy Hour every Friday from 5-7pm! 60 W. Castle Rd. Columbus 43207 614-491-4449

Tara Hall
Traditional Irish music w General Guinness Band & Friends 2nd Friday 8:00 – 11:00pm. No Cover. Tara Hall 274 E. Innis Ave. Columbus, 43207 614.444.5949.

Ongoing Traditional Irish Sessiúns – Bring your instruments and play along!
Akron Hibernian’s Ceili Band Sessions, Wednesdays 7:30 pm. Mark Heffernan Div 2 Hall 2000 Brown St, Akron 330-724-2083. Beginner to intermediate
Croagh Patrick’s – 2nd Tuesday of every month 8 – 10pm
Bardic Circle @The Shamrock Club of Columbus Beginner – friendly, intermediate level Irish session meeting every other Thursdays 8:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Irish Eyes Heavenly Pub, 1st Wednesday of month. 3324 Secor Rd, Toledo
Stone Mad – 1st Sunday of the month Holleran Traditional Irish Session, 7pm
The Harp – 1st Friday of every month, 9pm
Logan’s Irish Pub – 1st Wednesday of the month, 414 S. Main St., Findlay, 7:30 pm
Oberlin’s Traditional Irish Session – Sundays, 3 – 5 pm. Informal all experience
welcome: Bibbins Hall, 77 West College Street,
Oberlin 44074
Claddagh Irish Pub – Sundays 6:00pm-9:00pm. All experience levels welcome
585 S. Front St. Columbus, Ohio 43215

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O’Bent Enterprises includes:

March Intro ~ Editor’s Corner: A Story from this Month’s Issue: Ohio Irish American News:

Editors Corner:

Last night I was at a social for the contestants in the 2013 Northern Ohio Rose of Tralee. Each is a wonderful ambassador for the Irish heritage. Supporters of each contestant and the Rose of Tralee overall offer proof in the pudding of their commitment to actively support our young people in word and in action. Support doesn’t always involve money, but some times it has to.

The social is a chance for the contestants to meet judges and the board in a relaxed setting, without pressure. Personality and presence get to shine, unencumbered by makeup or by nerves. The glitter and crowning is still to come; the makeup less beauty is now.

On the same night, at the other end of the spectrum, I went to a retirement party for Chief Tim Oleksiak, of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office. We look at older leaders: law enforcement, judges, civilian or not, to impart the wisdom and insight. Hopefully they depart with some knowledge of the impact their efforts, the gifts they have passed on. Hopefully they know our blessing that these leaders stepped in; they give of themselves for the safety, wealth and lessons of another generation, or two.

We Irish have a long legacy of wading in on the tough jobs, learning, mastering and then paying it forward, thereby smoothing the road for those who come after. It is the story of the Irish in America, and I imagine many other lands too. There is a common denominator of taking a risk, being brave, and seeing the possibility of stepping outside your comfort zone to accomplish the noteworthy or the necessary in nation building.

Leadership conferences and classes talk about honor and action. You can’t pay the bills without paying the expenses. You can paint the scene, but scars refine, for street cred doesn’t come from the classroom. Honor comes in every culture and color, Oleksiak is not Irish; I’ve never met a better man.

The promise of youth at the beginning of the night and the wisdom of those who fought the battles and smoothed the road at the end; a Rose by any other name is just as sweet.

I hope you enjoy this, our 77th issue; next month is our 7th Annual Festival Focus issue, and we are approaching our 7th Anniversary. There is much in this issue, there is never enough. Earned wisdom has taught us to listen to everything we love.



Gerry Quinn has been Irish radio in Cleveland, for more than thirty-three years. He has a great legacy of supporting concerts, events, causes and fundraisers, often out of his own pocket. Time to pay it forward, and say thanks by supporting a fundraiser for Gerry’s Quinn Irish Radio Show:

Irish Variety Concert for 1420 WHK, Sunday, May 19, 3:30 p.m. at Magnificat High School Auditorium. Featuring New Barleycorn; Marys Lane; Donegal Doggs; Bigley, Holleran & Hurley; plus the Cannon, Leneghan, Burke and Murphy Irish Dance Schools and more. Purchase tickets at, Irish Variety Concert.

Good Luck to all the competitors and schools competing in the 56th Annual Cleveland Feis this month.

“Follow me where I go, what I do and who I know;
O’Bent Enterprises includes: