The Conservatives themselves maintained their large support bases in Ulster, Sligo and Carlow, with the rest o Ireland divided between the Whigs and the Repealers.
|Seats won by the parties, 1841. Click to enlarge.|
Against this political backdrop, Ireland was suffering from the beginning of what was to become known as the Great Famine. A potato blight, thought to be carried over from America, was infecting potato crops across the island, rendering the crops inedible and leaving the vast majority of Irish tenants and labourers without food. In response to the Famine, Peel moved to abolish the Corn Laws which protected Britain's corn exports, and directed the importation of £100,000 worth of Indian corn to Ireland. This action did help to reduce the impact of the famine to some extent, although the amount of corn was only enough to feed one million people on an island of over eight million. Peel also moved to set up public works schemes which would allow poor people to earn money by working on roads and piers.
Peel's policies were unpopular amongst many of his Westminster colleagues, even within the Conservative Party. Upon the defeat of a bill of his in the House of Commons in 1846, Peel resigned as Prime Minister and was replaced by Lord John Russell of the Whigs. A new general election would follow the next year, and the Conservatives would split as Peel would lead his own supporters against his old party.
In Ireland, the blight worsened and the Great Famine occurred from 1845 until the early 1850s. The Famine would have a tremendous psychological impact on the people of Ireland, with millions of people either dead or having emigrated to Britain and America. Although O'Connell's Repeal Association was soon to fail, new nationalist movements would replace it, and a new momentum would surround them, until the aspirations of the dominant Irish presence in Westminster had long abandoned the mere repeal of the Act of Union and instead turned towards the notion of an independent Irish republic.