The Irish Famine
In the 40 years that followed the union, successive British governments grappled with the problems of governing a country which had, as Benjamin Disraeli put it in 1844, a starving population, an absentee aristocracy, and an alien Church, and in addition the weakest executive in the world. One historian calculated that between 1801 and 1845, there had been 114 commissions and 61 special committees enquiring into the state of Ireland and that without exception their findings prophesied disaster; Ireland was on the verge of starvation, her population rapidly increasing, three-quarters of her labourers unemployed, housing conditions appalling and the standard of living unbelievably low.
Laws that restricted the rights of Irish Catholics
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish Catholics had been prohibited by the penal laws from owning land, from leasing land; from voting, from holding political office; from living in a corporate town or within 5 mi (8.0 km) of a corporate town, from obtaining education, from entering a profession, and from doing many other things necessary for a person to succeed and prosper in Irish society at the time. The laws had largely been reformed by 1793, and in 1829, Irish Catholics could again sit in parliament following the Act of Emancipation.