Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

John Bohstedt

Committee Members

Vejas Liulevicius, David Tompkins


This project argued that the leadership of the Irish middle classes was essential in providing relief to the destitute during the Great Irish Potato Famine, 1845-1851. It further argued that middle class leadership in the Famine period translated into a greater class consciousness and subsequent political leadership. Records from the transactions of relief projects from the Society of Friends, pamphlets written by contemporary British and Irish men of the middle and upper classes, and workhouse records illuminated the role of the middle classes in relief efforts. This project joins that primary research to secondary scholarship on the growing political role of the middle classes in the two decades following the end of the Famine.

The evidence showed that the middle classes stepped into a void of leadership created by landlord absenteeism and provided crucial local structures for effective organization distribution of relief. Further the middle classes gained a sense of identity forged in the shared experience of leadership in the Famine. With this common history, the middle classes were able to imagine themselves as a class with similar political interests and goals which they expressed through increasingly powerful national lobbying organizations.

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