For many centuries potato was the staple food for all poor population throughout rural Mayo, especially in winter. It thrived on very well even in the stoniest soil and for this reason also the smallest holdings were capable of producing sufficient potatoes to feed the family for the most of the year.
But, when the Great Famine (in Irish an Gorta Mòr) struck the country in 1830 and 1831 as consequence of a potato disease, commonly known as potato blight, this dependency had devastating effects. There was no substitute for the potato and people starved to death. Houses were no better than hovels, the living conditions were very hard and people fell ill.
Two category of diseases appeared: famine-induced diseases and diseases of nutritional deficiency such as oedema, called dropsy at that time, starvation, marasmus, kwashiorkor, tuberculosis, whooping cough, typhus, cholera, relapsing fever and scurvy.
The effects of successive famines were particularly acute in the West of Ireland, where the population declined by as much as a fifth.
Rents fell behind and landlords reacted in one of two ways. The more benign provided tickets so that people could emigrate. However, the conditions on board what were called 'coffin' ships were so terrible, that many died.
The less benign landlords pursued the hapless, starving tenants and evicted them forcibly off their land, leaving them to die on the roadside.