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‘Great Famine’ responsible for gene defect still causing mental illness

The years of malnutrition suffered by Irish people during the ‘Great Famine’ could have paved the way for centuries of mental illness in their descendants.

That is the view of Irish historian Oonagh Walsh, who believes the increase in mental health sufferers of people of Irish descent in the last 150 years is a direct result of the famine suffered in Ireland. She believes that the malnutrition suffered caused an ‘epigenetic change’.

Famine figures in Dublin

The lack of a nutritional balanced diet among pregnant women in the mid-19th century, may have caused damage to the development of their babies, resulting in this gene defect. This means that genes were weakened slightly leaving a person at a higher risk of developing mental illness.

The risk has remained as the defect has since been passed down through generations, and been spread around the world as Irish people have continued to leave their homeland.

The ‘Great Famine’ lasted from 1845 until 1850, when a series of failed potato crops left millions of Irish people starving. The population of Ireland was around 8million before the famine, but was devastated with the loss of one million to starvation and a further million who were forced to leave the country.

In 1841, there were about 3,000 people in Ireland suffering from mental illness, according to records of those in mental asylums and similar institutes. By the turn of the century, that number had increased 800% to 25,000, despite the overall population of the country having halved to four million.

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Walsh does concede that these figures cannot be considered completely accurate. In the years after the famine, it is believed that some families would commit a relative to an asylum in order to be free of providing for them. This was sadly the fate for numerous elderly or disabled people, who were considered to be a burden rather than an asset, as families struggled to get back on their feet after years of hardship.

Walsh has written a book on the subject, Insanity, Power and Politics in Nineteenth Century Ireland: The Connaught District Lunatic Asylum.

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8 thoughts on “‘Great Famine’ responsible for gene defect still causing mental illness

  1. Chris Fogarty

    It is shocking that 170 years after the start of the Holocaust (An t-Ár Mór) of 1845-1850 that any writer is still referring to it as “famine.” We were all taught “famine” in school, but who still hasn’t learned that it was genocide perpetrated by Britain by means of more than half its empire army; 67 of its total of 130 regiments? They removed, at gunpoint, Ireland’s abundant meats, livestock, wheat, flour, oats and oatmeal, poultry and dairy products to the ports for export, murdering approximately 5 million who were mostly buried in mass graves across Ireland. My wife and I install regiment-naming memorials over those mass graves. Others are beginning to do so.

    While researching, in 1986, for my grandfather Kieran Fogarty’s biography at Britain’s Public Record Office in Kew, Surrey, I found that the 40th of Foot that he joined in 1857 had, when Kieran was 5 through 11 years of age, removed the food from South Co. Galway to the Port of Galway for export. Shocked; I pursued this line and learned the identities of all 67 perpetrating regiments, and of the identities of the Irish districts that each stripped of foods. Feel free to contact me for proof of the above. fogartyc@att.net

    11/10/2016 at 4:20 pm
  2. Vic Clogger

    The percentage of people of Irish descent in America with a recognizable personality disorder, most often alcohol-triggered, seems to be hugely higher than 25000 on 4 million. What could be causing an increase from one generation to the next? Patrick Tracey hints at it in his book “Stalking Irish Madness” when pointing out that his mad sisters are very pretty. I believe the reason is that girls with the gene are particularly pretty. After all, they have to have something going for them to avoid being eliminated from the gene pool. So that is it: Girls with the gene are more likely to leave offspring than those without it.

    11/08/2016 at 4:55 am
  3. Deirdre St John

    It is worth remembering the criteria used to put people in Mental Assylums was as crazy as the institutions themselves.

    11/04/2016 at 11:58 pm
  4. Natalie Cooney

    One only has to look at recent scientific findings in study of epidemics to see that this theory has much merit….multi and trans generational impacts of historical trauma can and does impact DNA levels as well as emotional stunts and impacts brain functioning
    Healers of Indigneous cultures understood this

    01/04/2016 at 11:06 pm
  5. Sharon

    Start checking DNA. There is plenty around both living and in cemeteries. Sometimes people have a good theory but not the expertise to follow through on it.

    01/04/2016 at 1:59 pm
  6. Rosi Writer

    These numbers add up to suspicion. Firstly to sell a book. Secondly, there’s no substantive proof to nurture this bad potato. Thirdly, it is a known fact, people dealt with their own. Over the course of time, this changed. Another testament how the family unit constantly changes.

    31/03/2016 at 11:44 pm
  7. joyce parkes

    Extremely difficult theory to accept or believe. And make no mistake, this is only a theory which seems to be based solely on increases in our mental ill health numbers over time. These numerical increases are found all over the world.
    I find no mention of genetic research to back it so surely that’s the next step?

    11/10/2015 at 11:52 am
  8. The above link I provided also shows that Kelts and Germanic folk should not be eating the gluten grains for they cause brain and other neurological damage.

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201103/wheat-and-schizophrenia

    01/10/2015 at 4:09 pm

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